La Liga Team of the Weekend of August 22-25
The 2014-15 La Liga season got underway at the weekend, with all its usual fanfare and expectation.
Atletico Madrid began their defence of the title with a draw at Rayo Vallecano, while Barcelona and Real Madrid picked up home wins and clean sheets against Elche and Cordoba respectively. Elsewhere, Eibar picked up a surprise win over Real Sociedad and Villarreal were impressive in beating Levante.
Here's our first La Liga team of the week for the new campaign.
GK: Enaut Zubikarai, Real Sociedad
Enaut Zubikarai was Claudio Bravo's back-up last season, but with the Chilean having departed for Barcelona, the 30-year-old has got his chance to be Real Sociedad's new No. 1.
La Real came under real pressure from minnows Eibar early on, and Zubikarai had to make a string of rushes from goal to close out space behind his defence, while also producing a few routine stops during the game.
He was beaten by a free-kick that found the far top corner but made an absolutely superb fingertip save beforehand to keep Sociedad level at 0-0.
In the second half, he made a number of blocks from shots to keep his side in the game, though they ended up losing 1-0.
DC: Nicolas Otamendi, Valencia
Valencia and Sevilla are expected to be two of the sides vying for a top-four place come the end of the season, and they opened the new campaign with a 1-1 draw against each other.
Nicolas Otamendi was the pick of the Valencia defenders, passing well out of defence and being a rock at the back after his side both fell behind in the score and also went down to 10 men.
The Argentinian made plenty of clearances on the stretch and a couple of block tackles to help prevent Sevilla doubling their lead, before a late equaliser earned his own side a point.
DC: Miranda, Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid couldn't find a way past Rayo Vallecano, the team with the league's worst defence last season, in a first half that they dominated. After the break, though, it was Rayo who were more creative and pushing for the goal, leading Atletico to defend rigorously to keep themselves from defeat.
Miranda was key to maintaining the clean sheet, making plenty of uncompromising clearances to deny Rayo's attackers any semblance of a clear chance on goal.
If you can't win, at least make sure you don't lose—Miranda took that to heart with his second-half display.
DC: Jeremy Mathieu, Barcelona
Jeremy Mathieu slotted straight into the Barcelona team at centre-back for his debut against Elche and produced a very composed, competent performance.
The strong French defender was quick to make challenges on the rare forays forward that the away side managed, was always on hand to take over possession and redistribute the ball into midfield—and if any proof of him being cool enough on the ball were needed, he recorded a 99 percent pass accuracy on his debut.
Even after defensive partner Javier Mascherano was sent off, Mathieu remained in control as Barcelona had to defend more and didn't put a foot wrong.
MR: Denis Cheryshev, Villarreal
Villarreal took the game to Levante from the outset as they opened the season with a win away from home and Denis Cheryshev's running with the ball, ability to pick a pass and willingness to get into the penalty box was key to their impressive start.
Denis played from both flanks, starting on the left but switching throughout and roaming the width of the penalty area as he looked to get involved in buildup play. His defensive contribution also shouldn't be overlooked as he chased back and made sure he aggressively harassed the opposition at every opportunity.
After his side had missed a hat-full for first-half chances, Ikechukwu Uche and then Denis himself found the net in the second half, with our man running in to score on the slide late on in the match and confirm a 2-0 win.
MC: Toni Kroos, Real Madrid
Real Madrid lacked any real fluidity or dynamism around the edge of the penalty area against newly promoted Cordoba, but still picked up a 2-0 win.
Their most impressive man on the night was German central midfielder Toni Kroos, who demonstrated all the composure, ability on the ball and positional awareness that will be expected of him at the heart of this immensely talented side.
Kroos roamed forward in the first half as Real dominated, spraying passes in every direction and delivered the corner for Karim Benzema to head in from, before a more resolute and defensive display in the second half saw him win the ball for his side numerous times and then set away transitions in play from deep.
MC: Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona
If Mathieu immediately looked at home in Barcelona's first game of the season, Ivan Rakitic simply looked as though he had been playing alongside Andres Iniesta all his career.
The Croatian was excellent on the ball, constantly looking to receive the pass in space and find the front three with clever passes around the edge of the penalty box.
His chipped pass—via an ineffective header—set up the second goal just moments after the break, and he was an impressive all-round performer as Barca dominated in a 3-0 win over Elche.
MC: Bruno, Villarreal
Just edging out Rakitic's team-mate Andres Iniesta for our last central midfield spot is Villarreal's Bruno.
The captain was key to everything about his team's effervescent and positive start to the season, as they look to improve upon last term's sixth-place finish.
Bruno used the ball well, covered immense amounts of ground to support the attack from the second line and also protect his defenc and held the midfield together at all times for his side.
Levante rarely managed to penetrate through the middle, where Bruno was so dominant, and the midfielder was extremely quick to surge forward with the ball at his feet during the 2-0 win.
ML: Nolito, Celta Vigo
Nolito played from a left-sided position for Celta Vigo at the weekend, swapping flanks a couple of times during the game, and his performance was such that he couldn't be left out of the team of the week.
He had already caused problems with his dribbling before a well-taken goal through the keeper's legs opened the scoring for his side, and he later claimed an assist too, sliding a pass through for Joaquin Larrivey to wrap up the win.
Celta beat Getafe 3-1.
FW: Munir, Barcelona
The front two both come from the same team, and first up is an 18-year-old debutant.
Considering he only made his Barcelona B debut earlier this year, Munir's rise to senior-team starter and goalscoring debutant has been rather meteoric, and having impressed in pre-season he took that form into Barcelona's 3-0 win over Elche.
Playing from the left of the front three, Munir was electric in his movement and struck the bar with a shot early on, before finishing coolly within seconds of the restart. What a way to introduce himself to La Liga.
FW: Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Man of the match for Barcelona, though, was Lionel Messi.
The Argentinian forward showed none of the sluggishness and the lack of impact of his latter World Cup performances and was instead full of drive, dribbling and ingenuity as he had the killer impact to score twice in the 3-0 win.
Messi dropped deep to pick up the ball, linked play and threaded passes, before producing two typical placed finishes after fine initial control to help his side take the points.