La Liga opening round shows Lionel Messi will almost battle Atletico and Real Madrid alone

Andy West 22/08/2018
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

What did we learn from the opening week of the new La Liga season?

Well, it’s dangerous to attempt to make any meaningful conclusions from just one game, but the opening round of fixtures told us quite a lot.

The first thing is something we already knew, and have known for a long time: as long as they have Lionel Messi, Barcelona will always have a chance.

The reigning champions were labouring through their opening week home meeting with Alaves in much the same way they had laboured through large chunks of the previous campaign. And then, with the deadlock still intact 20 minutes into the second half, something happened which had also invariably happened last season: Messi happened.

The Argentine’s brilliant free-kick goal obviously changed the complexion of the game, providing the platform to go on and secure an eventually comfortable 3-0 victory (including another goal for Messi), and it’s not at all fanciful so suggest that Alaves would have held on for a point if it hadn’t been for the influence of Barca’s newly-appointed captain.

As we saw last season, setting up the team with a solid defensive shape and then relying on Messi to do the rest can be sufficient to secure success, but the overall team performance showed there is still plenty of room for improvement within the Blaugrana ranks.

Especially going forward, where Ousmane Dembele again flattered to deceive and Luis Suarez continued to perform well below his best.

If the Catalan club want to achieve their stated aim of returning to European supremacy following three consecutive seasons of Real Madrid Champions League triumphs, they will need their front line players – especially Dembele and Suarez – to offer a lot more than they did in the season opener.

Over in the white half of Madrid, quite a change is taking place. New Real coach Julen Lopetegtui is implementing a new style of play based on ball retention and solid defence, which is really exactly what the team needs after two years of Zinedine Zidane’s hectic and chaotic approach.

However, the 2-0 opening night victory over Getafe showed precisely the limitations of that system and precisely where Cristiano Ronaldo could be badly missed: creating chances.

Even though they controlled 78 per cent of possession, Los Blancos barely mustered any meaningful efforts on goal, with nervous visiting goalkeeper David Soria only forced into one save and both the home team’s goals coming directly from defensive errors.

Against better teams that Getafe that lack of incision will be a big problem. In the past it never was, because Ronaldo would always be there to somehow fashion five or six shots on goal, one or two of which would invariably go in. Now, though, Real’s attacking options are limited to say the least and it would be a surprise if Lopetegui does not enter the transfer market for another striker in the next week or so.

A few miles across town, the same can certainly not be said of Atletico Madrid, who are suddenly blessed by more attacking options than they know what to do with.

Nikola Kalinic, for example, has played precisely zero minutes for his new club since joining from AC Milan, while Gelson Martins has been limited to a brief cameo from the bench in Monday’s exciting 1-1 draw at Valencia.

For the first time, Diego Simeone is blessed with a rich abundance of players who can cause damage to the opposition, and his willingness to play in-form Angel Correa and new signing Thomas Lemar on the wings in such a hostile environment as Valencia is a promising early indication that he will not be shy in using them.

Simeone has never been able to confidently field such attacking line-ups until now, and although his core defensive principles will not be sacrificed the added dimension provided by the new forwards could make his team an entirely new proposition.

That, at least, is the early conclusion. And if Atletico can hit their stride at home by walloping Rayo Vallecano this weekend, it would be another sign they are ready to seriously challenge the big two.

Most popular

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone insists both sides had desire to win the game

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone said that his side’s desire to beat Valencia led to the game boiling over at the end.

Spain striker Rodrigo cancelled out Angel Correa’s first-half effort, with Valencia holding them a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla.

Speaking after the game, Simeone said: “Both teams went to win, the match was open at the end and there was a lot of chaos which I didn’t like.

“A match with Valencia will always have a strong profile, we are similar teams with different nuances.

“I’m left satisfied, we put in a controlled performance after playing 120 minutes.”

Most popular

Antoine Griezmann believes Atletico Madrid should have beaten Valencia

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Antoine Griezmann believes Atletico Madrid should have beaten Valencia, but they failed to execute the perfect game plan.

Spain striker Rodrigo cancelled out Angel Correa’s first-half effort, with Valencia holding them a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla.

Speaking after the game, Griezmann said: “It was a match that we should have won, but we didn’t do things perfectly. We played a good first half, we were fine in the first 20 minutes in the second half but then we lost a bit of order.

“We had a chance, we didn’t do well enough and they levelled the match, we have to watch the match and improve.”

Los Rojiblancos are expected to fight both Barcelona and Real Madrid for the La Liga title, but Monday’s draw means they have already fallen behind their rivals

“We want to improve on last year, we’ll see how far we can go,” he said.

“We want to win all of our matches.

“At the end of the season we’ll see where we are.”

Most popular