Atletico Madrid failed to get their La Liga title bid off to a winning start as Rodrigo earned Valencia a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla Stadium on Monday.
Angel Correa gave Diego Simeone’s visitors a 26th-minute lead, but Rodrigo struck in the second half for the home team and last season’s runners-up Atletico failed to find a winner.
Here, we rate both sides.
Neto 7: Did very well to repel a low strike from Costa and had few other saves to make, but dealt well with whatever came his way.
Piccini 6: Did a decent defensive job against Lemar but couldn’t get forward much and lost concentration to play Correa onside for the opener.
Garay 6: Slightly lucky to stay on the pitch after committing a professional foul on Costa, but soon had to leave through injury.
Gabriel 7: Occasionally struggled with Costa’s pace and power but made a few timely interventions, including a key late goalmouth clearance.
Gaya 6: Found himself in trouble with Correa’s sharp movement early on, but improved as the game progressed and kept going to the end.
Soler 5: The least effective of the midfielders on show, with little involvement. Had one chance to shoot but dragged it well wide. Substituted.
Kondogbia 7: Did a good job defensively by breaking up several attacks, despite often finding himself outnumbered in the first half as Atletico swept forward.
Parejo 6: Couldn’t get on the ball or influence the game too much, but worked so hard defensively he collapsed with cramp near the end.
Wass 6: Had the first shot of the game but fired over. Teed up Rodrigo for the equaliser and nearly won it with a late low strike.
Mina 5: Anonymous in the centre forward position, unable to either link play or provide a presence inside the penalty area. Substituted for Gameiro.
Rodrigo 8: Always Valencia’s biggest threat, crashing one fierce strike over the bar and sending another just wide before thumping home the leveller.
Gameiro 6: Came on for his Valencia debut against his former club and could have won it at the death, but his shot lacked power.
Diakhaby 6: Not particularly convincing after replacing Garay, but just managed to get himself in the right place. Poor use of the ball.
Batshuayi 6: Another debutant from the bench, the on-loan Chelsea man worked hard and caused some problems for Atletico but lacked finesse.
ATLETICO MADRID 4-4-2
Oblak 7: Commanding whenever he was called upon, including two late saves to deny Wass – a very good stop – and former teammate Gameiro.
Juanfran 7: Methodical and progressive down the right wing, combining with Correa before the Atletico goalscorer tired in the second half.
Savic 7: Untroubled at the back and comfortably had the measure of Mina. Sent a decent headed chance wide from a corner.
Godin 6: A generally strong display of old-school defending but blotted his copybook by getting drawn out of position for the equaliser.
Luis 7: Prominent in the early stages and continued to offer constructive attacking play in what could have been his last Atletico appearance.
Correa 7: Full of confidence from the opening whistle, and netted the opener with calm assurance. Faded after the break and was replaced.
Koke 7: An understated but always available presence in the middle of the pitch, sending some dangerous balls into the box.
Saul 8: Oozed class in the centre of midfield, directing play with composed passing. Rifled a late free-kick over the top from 25 yards.
Lemar 5: Quiet on his league debut, defending well and making the occasional threatening burst but lacking penetration. Replaced after the break.
Griezmann 6: Linked play well, especially with a brilliant disguised reverse pass to Correa for the opener, but still short of fitness and was substituted.
Costa 7: Terrorised Valencia in the first half, snatching at early chance and forcing a great save with a fierce drive. Less effective towards the end.
Vitolo 6: Sent on for Lemar down the left and contributed well, producing some powerful dribbles but couldn’t quite combine with Costa.
Martins 5: Another league debutant, the Portuguese winger showed some skill with his slick ball work but had no end product.
Partey 5: Off the pace after entering the fray, struggling to find the same wavelength as his teammates and offering little.
Bale’s cross was headed in by Dani Carvajal for Real’s opening goal in their first match of the new campaign in La Liga, and he later scored his side’s second at the Bernabeu.
“I was pleased with the team in general and Gareth put in a great performance,” said Lopetegui.
“Bale offers us solutions. He played well, like many of his teammates.”
Lopetegui added: “In the structure that we are trying to create, there are players with different characteristics and Gareth has his own.
“He gives us something different and we need to take advantage of that. We are delighted with how it’s going.”
Real’s next outing is away at Girona next Sunday evening.
After the midweek drama of their Super Cup loss to local rivals Atletico, the league campaign started in a far more smooth style for Real Madrid with a 2-0 victory over Getafe which epitomised the phrase ‘routine home win’.
It was a far from spectacular performance from Julen Lopetegui’s team, who created few chances and scored their goals thanks to sloppy defensive errors – firstly goalkeeper David Soria weakly punching straight onto the head of Dani Carvajal, and then otherwise impeccable defender Djene Dakonam losing possession to Marco Asensio in the build-up to Gareth Bale’s second.
But the most significant aspect of the home team’s performance was at the other end of the field, where Getafe were unable to create any clear chances and never even looked like doing so.
This is a new development. Throughout Zinedine Zidane’s reign, and especially last season, Real were constantly vulnerable at the back. Even when they won games they looked in danger of conceding, always giving their opposition hope that goalscoring opportunities would come their way.
Los Blancos finished last season with 44 goals conceded in La Liga – double the tally of Atletico – and only kept consecutive clean sheets on two occasions. Their Champions League campaign was also nearly derailed by defensive frailties, with Juventus and Bayern Munich both only failing to knock out the eventual champions by squandering hatfuls of chances in narrow exits at the Bernabeu.
Life under Zidane in the latter stages of the Frenchman’s time in charge was a thrilling if unpredictable roller-coaster ride, with his team regularly appearing to be teetering on the verge of disaster before invariably somehow managing to rescue themselves with daredevil attacking play.
Although that haphazard approach was enough to secure dominance in Europe, it was insufficient to mount a meaningful challenge for the league title, reflected in Madrid’s third-place finish, 17 points behind Barcelona.
With the same personnel, however, it already appears that Lopetegui is giving his team much more solid defensive foundations, instigating a more cautious approach which can be summed up with one word: control.
Zidane’s teams, even at their best, rarely had control. They didn’t want it that way. They preferred wide open and chaotically fast-paced games which would allow their individual quality to shine through – and very often, that worked.
Lopetegui, in contrast, has already managed to extract a far more diligent and disciplined performance out of his team, who enjoyed 78.1% of possession against Getafe on Sunday night – their third-highest total for a decade and more than ever achieved under Zidane.
How was it done? Firstly, it’s worth noting that both Luka Modric and Casemiro were left on the bench while Toni Kroos was installed as the deep-lying ‘pivot’ in the centre of midfield, anchoring his team with authoritative passing ability: over the course of the game, the German international completed a remarkable 119 of his 121 attempted passes.
More than the contribution of individuals, however, the greater level of control exerted by Madrid in their first league game under Lopetegui was a collective achievement. The team was tighter and more compact, denying Getafe the space to play by sticking closer together and preventing any gaps from opening up.
Even Marcelo was restrained, spending the game closer to the halfway line than his usual preferred territory of the opposition penalty area, and the flamboyant Brazilian’s reticence to over-commit himself resonated throughout the team – only five of the 793 passes completed by Madrid came inside the Getafe penalty area, with the vast majority being played a few yards either side of the halfway line.
This conservative but orderly approach was also displayed by Lopetegui in his previous job with the Spanish national team, who conceded just three goals in ten games during the World Cup qualifying campaign, suggesting that Madrid fans should prepare themselves for many more games like the uninspiring but entirely efficient job they executed against Getafe on Sunday.
Of course, it’s dangerous to make long-term conclusions on the basis of just one game, and the poor performance of Getafe should be taken into account. But from what we saw this weekend, Lopetegui is rapidly leading his team from chaos towards control – and, to challenge on the domestic front, that could prove to be exactly what they need.