La Liga kicked off on Friday night with a 0-0 stalemate between Europa League champions Sevilla and Malaga, and goalless draws seemed to be in fashion with three other matches finishing scoreless, including Sporting Gijon who held Real Madrid in their first home game back in the Primera. Elsewhere, Barcelona scraped past Athletic Bilbao in their third meeting in just over a week, and Iago Aspas scored on his return to give Celta a 2-1 win.
Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona met for the third time in a week and, for the first time, Barca managed to get the better of the Basques, with Luis Suarez’s volley enough to give them a 1-0 win.
The Blaugrana got revenge for their Spanish Super Cup loss to Athletic, but it came at a cost as both Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets were substituted through injury. Alves left the pitch with a groin complaint and has since been ruled out indefinitely, while, fortunately for the Catalans, Busquets has been cleared of any serious damage and is expected to line up next week.
The injury to Alves saw central midfielder Sergi Roberto slot in at right-back, and with Martin Montoya leaving during the off-season and Barca still serving a transfer ban, they could be in a spot of bother while the Brazilian is sidelined.
An early penalty shout for the visitors was turned down by the referee, but shortly after they would have a spot kick when Elustondo was adjudged to have brought down Luis Suarez after misjudging the flight of a long ball – though replays indicated the defender got a solid touch on the ball. Justice was duly served however, as Gorka Iraizoz got down low to his right to keep out Leo Messi’s fairly tame penalty and guide it past the post for a corner. The Athletic goalkeeper was sprung into action again later in the half to make a smart save from a scuffed Suarez effort in what was becoming a fairly stop-start encounter.
The second half saw Los Leones face their own injury problems, with Balenziaga replaced on the 50-minute mark by former Eibar defender Eneko Boveda, and four minutes later Barca had taken the lead through Suarez. A long diagonal ball into space for Jordi Alba was met by a first-time cross with pinpoint accuracy, picking out an unmarked Suarez on the penalty spot whose left-footed volley was too powerful for Gorka.
The match continued its cagey nature, with plenty of fouls and few chances for either side as Barcelona held onto their lead, with Sergi Roberto rattling the crossbar for Barca and Ibai Gomez firing Athletic’s best chance over the bar in the 79th minute. Leo Messi nearly repeated his magical solo goal from the Copa Del Rey final against the same side last season, but his jinking run past three defenders ended with a shot straight at Iraizoz.
It wasn’t a vintage performance from Barcelona, but they’ll be happy to take three points against a side that have troubled them recently. The injury to Alves does give cause for concern, as the already understaffed squad may be without one of its starters for the foreseeable future.
There were only eight goals over the weekend – and then four in the Monday game – and three of those came in Celta Vigo‘s trip to Levante, where the Galicians took the three points, and top spot on the table, thanks to the returning Iago Aspas.
Simao Mate kicked out at Aspas in the opening five minutes and was given a straight red card, leaving Levante with a tough task ahead of them. It didn’t get any easier for the home side when they had a goal controversially disallowed for a foul, and with only four minutes left in the first half Celta took a 1-0 lead. A passage of passes that began on the halfway line culminated in Castro Otta’s cut back which was played into the path of Fabian Orellana, whose first-time strike found the bottom corner.
Verza pulled one back shortly after the break with a shot from range and the home side kept themselves in the game for a further 20 minutes, but the returning Iago Aspas eliminated any chance of an unlikely point for Les Granotes when he bundled home in the 77th minute to mark his return to his boyhood club with a decisive goal.
The biggest surprise of the weekend came at the Molinon, where new boys Sporting Gijon held Real Madrid to a scoreless draw in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. Molinon oldest ground in La Liga.
Rafa Benitez’s decision to start Jese up front in the absence of the injured Karim Benzema and play Gareth Bale in the trequartista role back-fired on the new Real boss, as they failed to trouble the scorers for the fifth time this season (including pre-season).
A sensational through-ball from Luke Modric saw Bale break the defensive line inside the opening 15 minutes, and the Welshman rounded the ‘keeper but fired into the side netting from a tight angle, when he may have been better off crossing for Cristiano Ronaldo at the far post.
It turned out to be that kind of evening for Los Blancos, and the frustration continued as they managed 27 shots but only mustered eight of them on target with a high percentage of those coming from distance, perhaps indicating a lack of patience required to break down a resolute defence.
While Sporting Gijon’s goalkeeper Ivan Cueller was called upon to make several acrobatic saves, the feisty, combative side from the second division actually came closest to breaking the deadlock. Antonio Sanabria beat both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in the air and his powerful header struck the underside of the crossbar before bouncing beyond Keylor Navas. But with just centimetres of the ball touching the goal-line it was correctly adjudged to not be a goal, though close calls like this reinforce the case for goal-line technology to be implemented in Spain.
The second half was more of the same as Real became more desperate to score but Gijon held strong and won a memorable point on their return to the top flight.
Antoine Griezmann continued his goal-scoring form for Atletico Madrid, scoring the only goal in an underwhelming 1-0 victory over Las Palmas at the Vicente Calderon. The Frenchman broke the deadlock in the 16th minute when his deflected free-kick wrong-footed Araujo in the Las Palmas goal.
While Los Colchoneros dominated possession the end-product was lacking, with only three of their 14 attempts hitting the target, and new signing Jackson Martinez failing to register a shot on his competitive debut. Once he and fellow new signings Luciano Vietto and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco get up to speed however, expect to see a more potent strike force. Koke was inches away of doubling the lead in the final moments when his free-kick struck the left upright.
Rayo Vallecano and Valencia played out the most entertaining of the 0-0 draws – the first time a clash between these two sides has ended scoreless in over 30 fixtures. Rayo goalkeeper Toño was crowned the player of the week by the Liga BBVA and was crucial in Rayo keeping Los Che at bay as both Alvaro Negredo and new signing Santi Mina went close to breaking the deadlock. His opposite number Maty Ryan also put in a solid performance and if the Australian keeps up this sort of form, Nuno will have quite the dilemma on his hands when club vice-captain Diego Alves returns from injury later in the year.
Salva Sevilla scored a peach of a free-kick against Getafe to give Espanyol a 1-0 win, while former Valencia marksman Roberto Soldado seems to have left his London woes behind him, opening the scoring for Villarreal in their 1-1 draw with newly-promoted Real Betis. Ruben Castro leveled for Betis in the 87th minute to snatch the points and the Yellow Submarine will be ruing missed opportunities as they failed to make the most of their dominance.
And to round out the opening matchday, Eibar, who only survived relegation thanks to Elche’s retrospective punishment, got off to a winning start with a 3-1 win away at Granada.
Results in full: Malaga 0-0 Sevilla; Deportivo La Coruña 0-0 Real Sociedad; Espanyol 1-0 Getafe; Atletico Madrid 1-0 Las Palmas; Rayo Vallecano 0-0 Valencia; Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Barcelona; Sporting Gijon 0-0 Real Madrid; Levante 1-2 Celta Vigo; Real Betis 1-1 Villarreal; Granada 1-3 Eibar.