Atletico Madrid opened the new La Liga campaign by doing what Atletico Madrid do best: grinding out an intensely contested 1-0 victory over Getafe at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Alvaro Morata’s header was the difference between the sides in a game which saw both sides reduced to ten men, but there were plenty more talking points to emerge from a contest which was rarely pretty but always competitive.
Here are three of the key storylines.
Joao Felix lights up the Metropolitano
After a stunning run of form during pre-season, all eyes were on Atletico’s teen wonder Joao Felix on his competitive debut. The Portuguese starlet became the third-most expensive player in history when the Rojiblancos splashed out €120 million to secure his services from Benfica in the summer, and he lived up to the initial billing by excelling in the friendly schedule – especially during a crazy 7-3 thrashing of Real Madrid.
Performing to that kind of standard in a competitive setting was always going to be a different matter, and against the rigid defensive wall set up by Getafe – who did a great job of denying any space to play in – he initially struggled to make a significant impact.
However, Joao Felix lived up to his billing with one explosive piece of action ten minutes into the second half. Picking up a loose ball in midfield, he embarked upon a magical 40-yard dribble by nutmegging the first opponent, sidestepping the second, driving past a third and continuing his run into the penalty area, where he was brought down for a penalty by a desperate challenge from Bruno Gonzalez.
Morata spoiled the moment by having his spot-kick saved by Getafe keeper David Soria, but that sensational run was enough to keep the Atletico faithful happy and suggest that this special teenager will be able to fulfil all the lofty expectations which are being piled upon his shoulders.
Cmon Joao Felix, these people have family too. pic.twitter.com/a3x4xDbCYE— God of Thunder ⚡️⚡️ (@Mana_K_Tum_) August 18, 2019
Atletico grind it out
Connected to the arrival of Felix is the question of whether Atletico boss Diego Simeone is planning to implement a more open and expansive style of play in the coming campaign, as opposed to the cautious and defensive-minded approach he has preached throughout his eight years in charge.
Hard-working and stubborn Getafe are perhaps not the best opponents to gauge Simeone’s future intentions, but on this evidence it will be more of the same – with a bit of stardust from Joao Felix – after Atletico stuck to their old routine by grinding out a hard-earned 1-0 victory.
The pattern of the game was clearly affected by red cards for Getafe skipper and Atletico left-back Renan Lodi just before the break, but even before those dismissals the pattern had been cast as Atletico offered up a fairly conservative but typically organised display.
Tellingly, the best individual performances came from defenders, with English right-back Kieran Trippier providing a magnificent cross for Morata’s goal and central defensive duo Jose Maria Gimenez and Stefan Savic giving Getafe’s forward line no room to breathe. And although Simeone has a wealth of forward talent at his disposal, the early indications are that business will continue as usual.
Getafe lack cutting edge
Getafe were last season’s big success story in La Liga, rising from obscurity to finish in fifth place and narrowly miss out on a spot in the Champions League, and the question of whether they will prove to be lasting achievers rather than one-season wonders is one of the most intriguing topics as we enter the new campaign,
Manager Jose Bordalas has been able to keep together the core of last season’s squad, adding more firepower with the capture of Enric Gallego from relegated Huesca and thrust down the left wing through Barcelona loanee Marc Cucurella.
And this was a typical Getafe performance, very much mirroring Atletico’s style: an organised defensive unit, working hard to close down space, attempting to attack through width from the full-backs and displaying a never say die attitude.
It wasn’t quite enough, with the home team’s defence yielding virtually no clear chances and Getafe only truly threatening from the occasional set-piece and a speculative 30-yard piledriver from sub Angel Rodriguez which crashed against the crossbar. It’s too early to tell whether Bordalas’s men will repeat last season’s heroics, but this time around they didn’t quite have enough attacking quality to earn a point.
Atletico Madrid gained a 1-0 opening night victory as Kieran Trippier delivered a brilliant cross for Alvaro Morata to head home, before a dogged defensive display did the rest.
But there were bad nights for two players with red cards, while Morata also missed a penalty.
Find out more with our full player ratings.
Oblak 6. Wasn’t called into action too often but was safe as houses with everything he needed to do.
Trippier 8. Excellent debut for the England International, including a magnificent cross onto Morata’s head for the winner.
Savic 8. Warrior like performance in the heart of defence, typified by two brave blocks in the wall from free-kicks.
Gimenez 7. Showed he is ready to grow into a leadership role following the departure of compatriot Diego Godin.
Lodi 5. Bright and committed before having his debut ruined just before the break with a quickfire pair of yellow cards.
Koke 7. Kept things ticking over in the midfield battleground, helping Atlético manage the flow of the game.
Saul 6. Covered every blade of grass, including a spell at left back following the first half dismissal of Lodi.
Partey 6. Had a role in the goal by releasing Trippier, and was generally solid and comfortable in midfield.
Lemar 5. Worked hard but struggled to influence the game against a solid Getafe defence and was replaced.
Felix 7. Initially kept quiet before exploding into life with an astonishing 40-yard dribble to win a penalty. Came off injured.
Morata 7. Took his goal with a powerful header and led the line well, but spoiled his night with a penalty miss.
Hermoso 6. Played out of position at left back following the dismissal of Lodi and did a steady job.
Llorente 6. Came off the bench to make his debut and kept things tidy as he sat in front of the back four.
Vitolo 6. Added a spark down the left but missed a great one on one change to seal the points.
The results from the first matchday of the 2019/20 La Liga season were even more important for Real Madrid than initially perceived.
Barcelona slumped to their first opening day defeat in 11 years after a late acrobatic goal from Athletic Bilbao legend Aritz Aduriz caused San Mames to erupt. A day later, Los Blancos cruised to a comfortable 3-1 win over Celta Vigo despite star signing Eden Hazard missing due to injury and Luka Modric being sent off during the game.
Madrid thus finished a La Liga matchday above rivals Barcelona for the first time in 818 days.
The last time they finished above Barcelona was on the last matchday of the 2016/17 season when they clinched the title. Between the two dates, the Blaugrana have won two league titles, one Copa del Rey and Los Blancos have won the Champions League twice.
Madrid have had three managerial changes during this period, with Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari enduring short and forgettable stints before Zinedine Zidane returned to coach the side. On the other hand, Barcelona have changed their boss just once, with Luis Enrique making way for Ernesto Valverde.
The capital side endured several nightmares in El Clasicos that were played in the same period. Barcelona accumulated 10 out of a possible 12 points in four games and maintained an impressive aggregate of 11-4. Additionally, the Catalans also knocked their rivals out of the Copa del Rey once before succumbing to Valencia in the finals.
The last time Madrid finished above Barcelona on the opening day was back in the 2007/08 season and they went on to win the title. This result should therefore be a massive morale-booster for Los Blancos, who have fast-tracked their rebuild having spent 300m euros this summer.
On paper, it’s merely three points but psychologically it could go a long way in convincing Madrid that they could break their rivals’ stranglehold on La Liga this season.