A bunch of new faces took to the fields across La Liga last weekend when the 2018/19 season kicked off.
Great anticipation surrounded how the likes of Atletico Madrid’s France winger Thomas Lemar would get on after his capture from Monaco, plus Brazilian midfielder Arthur’s bow for champions Barcelona.
But this pair weren’t the only debutants to prosper in the opening round.
Here, we pick out the top-five footballers who quickly ingratiated themselves in Spain’s top flight.
ANDRE SILVA (SEVILLA)
There is only one place to start this list.
Andre Silva wasted no time impressing in Sevilla’s 4-1 dismantling of promoted Rayo Vallecano. The Portugal forward exorcised memories from his miserable debut campaign at AC Milan, rocketing in a fine hat-trick for this term’s temporary employers.
This meant he’s scored more goals in one La Liga game than he did in the entirety of 2017/18’s Serie A.
PERU NOLASKOAIN (ATHLETIC BILBAO)
Bilbao’s fabled academy appears to have churned out another premium talent to watch.
Nolaskoain, 19, experienced a dream first run-out in Spain’s elite competition.
The centre-back reacted quickest to loop in a header from Susaeta’s first-half corner. He was then able to stand tall and ensure a 2-1 victory was earned against Leganes.
It looks like Bilbao have a successor to Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte on their hands.
The midfielder was given little more than 15 minutes on the fabled Camp Nou turf.
But this was time enough to show he can be a useful addition to head coach Ernesto Valverde’s armoury this season.
The 22-year-old had only been on the pitch for five minutes when some astute link-up play with compatriot Philippe Coutinho led to his side’s final goal in the 3-0 defeat of Alaves.
THEO HERNANDEZ (REAL SOCIEDAD)
It is all about game time for the Real Madrid loanee this season.
The 20-year-old left-back only made 10 starts last term after his defection across the capital from Atletico. With the significant roadblock of Brazil superstar Marcelo removed, Hernandez looks set to blossom at Real Sociedad.
The France youth international played all 90 minutes as La Real impressively won 2-1 at Villarreal.
THOMAS LEMAR (ATLETICO MADRID)
Head coach Diego Simeone handed another show of confidence to his standout attacking addition.
It’s not easy being a forward player for the demanding Argentine. But Lemar has now started in both the UEFA Super Cup and the daunting La Liga opener at resurgent Valencia, from which a 1-1 draw was gained.
Lemar pulled off one dribble and one key pass. But his easy assimilation is shown by a tally of four tackles.
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.
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.”