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Spanish Football Summary: Matchday 1 – Barca and Real dominant, Atletico dramatically held



Whilst our beloved Premier League kicked off last weekend, this weekend was the turn of La Liga Santander to get started in Spain. In one of the bizarre Spanish traditions, all eyes were on the Camp Nou to see last year’s champions Barcelona given their trophy before kick off as they faced up against former Sunderland boss Gus Poyet, now in charge of Real Betis.

The Catalans made it look easy, with a hat-trick from Luis Suarez, two from a blond Lionel Messi, and an opening strike from the much maligned Arda Turan, who replaced Neymar in a more attacking role than previously used. Betis didn’t give up though, with an equaliser from Ruben Castro, the highest scoring Spaniard in 2016, and another strike from their captain to save some embarrassment late on. It was an emotional day though, as Claudio Bravo made what is expected to be his final appearance in Barcelona colours ahead of a move to Manchester City.

That meant that the pressure was on Real Madrid to produce the goods, as they faced a tough trip to the Anoeta to face Real Sociedad without Cristiano Ronaldo. With one defeat and a draw in their last four visits, Zinedine Zidane knew that his side could not afford to slip up early on in the race for the title, but Gareth Bale stepped up to the plate with a powerful header to put the Champions League winners ahead in just the second minute. The Welshman was not expected to last the full 90 after a short pre-season, but he did and added another strike in injury time to wrap up a 3-0 victory after a lob from debutant and sensation Marco Asensio just before half time.

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Back in the capital, Atletico were the last of the three big sides to kick off their campaigns as they were held to a dramatic draw by newly promoted side Alaves. Some superb defending looked to have given the new boys a point heading into injury time before Fernando Torres was yanked down, seemingly outside the box, and a controversial penalty was given. Converted by Kevin Gameiro on his debut, Manu went up the other end and smashed one into the bottom corner to bring the scores back level in the 96th minute to the frustration of Diego Simeone.

Even more entertaining was the Saturday late night fixture which featured ten goals as Sevilla eventually saw off Espanyol. A combination of some appalling defending and superb attacking saw Quique Flores, previously of Watford, disappointed as former Chile manager Jorge Sampaoli got off to the perfect manager. 3-3 at half time, Sevilla stretched out a lead in the second half to give them a three goal advantage before Gerard Moreno pulled one back.

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On the east coast, Valencia continued their downward spiral with a 4-2 home defeat to Las Palmas. With said to be Barcelona-bound forward Paco Alcacer starting and Arsenal target Shkodran Mustafi pairing Aymen Abdennour, eyed by Everton, in the second half, los Che threw away an early lead thanks to Santi Mina’s brace. Debutant Kevin Prince Boateng was on the scoresheet for the Canary Island side as they got off to a dream start to the season at Mestalla as boos rung around the ground regarding Peter Lim’s management of the club.

Unfortunately not all of the headlines of the opening weekend were for positive reasons, as referee Carlos Clos Gomez was forced to call the derby between Sporting Gijon and Athletic Bilbao to a temporary halt due to racist chanting directed at Inaki Williams. With the game back underway and the chanting halted, Athletic were disappointing, conceding two in the first ten minutes after the break before Isma Lopez missed a penalty to save the score from reaching embarrassing levels.

On the field, Villarreal have had a disastrous few weeks following the loss of popular manager Marcelino. Defeat to a ten man Monaco side in their first leg of a Champions League qualifier, new boss Fran Escriba was delighted when Samuel Castillejo opened the scoring on the hour mark. The joy was shortlived though, with less than 240 seconds passing before Ezequiel Ponce brought Granada back level. Villareal through everything at the hosts but Guillermo Ochoa, of 2014 World Cup fame, held the Yellow Submarine at bay to earn his side a point.

There was also a dream start for Leganes, as the side from a small Madrid suburb defeated Celta Vigo away from home with a 1-0 victory, despite having David Timor sent off from the bench for a touchline skirmish with former Liverpool number nine Iago Aspas. In a heated affair, a 75th minute strike from Victor Diaz was decisive in giving victory to the newly promoted side.

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As the first game of the season kicked off on the south coast at Malaga on Friday night, there was drama as former Arsenal starlet Fran Merida, now 26-years-old, was the perfect impact sub to score a late equaliser for another newly promoted side, Osasuna. Last season’s play-off winners stood firm against Malaga, who have invested heavily this summer, and Juande Ramos will be disappointed not to have started better.

So too will Eibar, who continue their La Liga fantasy as one of the smallest clubs to ever maintain such a long stay in the top division. Their season started well with experienced defender Ivan Ramis opening the scoring, but Deportivo had other ideas, as Lucas Perez scored a late penalty with only three minutes left on the clock to give his side the lead to mark a complete turnaround for the Galicians.

With the opening weekend kicking off without many of the league’s biggest stars as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and more, there is a lot more to come as this campaing untails. Atletico will be frustrated to have suffered an early setback in comparison to their rivals, particularly at home to newly promoted Alaves, but they are determined to see off the Vicente Calderon with one last season to remember. With incidents of racism returning to Spain, fans of La Liga will be keen to stamp out the ugly side of the game as soon as possible and will be focusing their attention on the beautiful side, clearly on display with superb finishing from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez amongst others.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by L.F.Salas.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Atletico Madrid

What is Diego Costa’s Chelsea legacy after three eventful years in the Premier League?

Rob Meech



Diego Costa

Diego Costa’s controversial Chelsea career is finally set to come to an end. According to The Guardian, the Blues have agreed to sell the striker back to his former club, Atletico Madrid, for £57 million, subject to agreeing personal terms and passing a medical. Costa scored 59 goals from 120 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea, winning the Premier League title on two occasions as well as the League Cup.

His uncompromising style won him few friends but there was no denying his influence and suitability to England’s top-flight. Costa’s relationship with Antonio Conte turned sour this summer when it emerged the Chelsea manager had told the Brazilian-born forward via text message that he was no longer in his plans. Costa pushed for a return to Atletico and was ostracised by Conte, who will no doubt be relieved this saga is now resolved.

What is Costa’s legacy at Chelsea?

Regardless of the negative reputation he had among the wider public, Costa was loved by the majority of Chelsea supporters and played a huge part in their domestic success during his spell at the club. Due to its competitiveness, the Premier League is notoriously difficult to win, so for the Blues to have done so twice in three years – under two different managers – is a remarkable feat. Costa’s goals were fundamental to this. Put simply, the Blues would not have been crowned champions without him. He netted 20 times in each of their title-winning campaigns and made life miserable for defenders.

Costa never strayed too far from controversy though and occasionally crossed the line of acceptable conduct. Infamously, he received a three-match ban in January 2015 for stamping. But the 28-year-old was always at his best when playing on the edge. Take that out of his game and he would definitely not be the same player. Jose Mourinho understood this compromise, but Conte found it harder to accommodate. With his high-intensity style, the Italian needed to know he could rely on each and every one of his players. Ultimately, he could not trust Costa to follow his instructions.

How will Chelsea fare without him?

Conte is a ruthless character and once he had made it clear that Costa’s days at Stamford Bridge were numbered, there was never a way back. The high-profile capture of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid was confirmation, if it were needed, that their relationship was irreparable and Conte had moved on. The biggest compliment that can be paid to the Spaniard, though, is that Conte signed a replacement very much in his image. Costa had taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, and Morata has very similar attributes. He too, has started in blistering fashion and looks tailor-made for the English game.

After their opening-day blip against Burnley, Chelsea have rediscovered their best form and are unbeaten in four Premier League games. On that score, it doesn’t appear that they are missing Costa. No player is bigger than the club and Conte had obviously grown tired of the Spain international’s antics, however entertaining they were for us, the viewers. Financially, the Blues have made an enormous profit on Costa, having signed him for £32 million just over three years ago.

Can Costa rebuild his career at Atletico?

Costa’s public desire to rejoin the club at which he won the La Liga title in 2014, highlights the affiliation he has with the club. He is perfectly suited to Diego Simeone’s brand of football and he will relish linking up with Antoine Griezmann. Atletico of course, remain under a transfer embargo, which means Costa will not be eligible to play for them until January. But once he is, it will surprise nobody if he is back on the goalscoring trail straight away.

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Atletico Madrid

Could Atletico Madrid striker Nicolas Gaitan make a surprise move to Watford to pave the way for Diego Costa’s return?




This is certainly one of the more surprising stories to surface from transfer deadline day but the Hertfordshire Mercury claim that Watford have been offered Atletico Madrid striker Nicolas Gaitan.

It is understood that the Spanish side are looking to clear room for Diego Costa – who is edging closer to an Atletico return according to the Daily Mail – and as such are ready to off-load Gaitan.

The report continues to say that although the La Liga outfit would rather have an up-front loan fee paid in the region of €2 million (£1.8 million) they are happy to add an option to buy in the deal.

What could the Argentine international bring to Vicarage Road?

It’s fair to say that Watford fans didn’t expect this when they woke up this morning. Nicolas Gaitan has been one of the most consistent goal-scorers across Europe in the past seven seasons, bursting on to the scene at Benfica in 2010 after arriving from Argentine side Boca Juniors.

In a six-year spell, spanning over 250 appearances, the 29-year-old found the net 41 times in all competitions and played a massive part in Benfica winning three consecutive Primeira Liga titles.

Despite beginning his footballing career in Argentina as more of a left-sided midfielder he began to develop into a dangerous player further up the pitch in Portugal, often being utilised in the number ten role just behind the striker, but he could easily fit in wherever Watford boss Marco Silva sees fit.

To attract a team like Atletico Madrid you already know that there’s a little bit of flair to his play, comfortable when driving at a static back-four and using his speed and close ball-control for results.

His excellent sense of vision in and around the final third would be an incredibly underrated asset should he join too, and he could spark a very productive partnership indeed with new man Andre Gray.

And although he played second fiddle to Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torries for most of last season, scoring three times in just 11 starts in La Liga, there’s little doubt he’d impress at Watford.

The Boot Room’s Verdict (1/5)

The arrival of Gaitan really would send Watford supporters into dream land following the summer business done to date, but this is one of those deals that is dependent on something else happening.

And with Costa’s future well and truly in the air, and time ticking away, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time remaining before the deadline to see both Chelsea and Watford complete their deals.

Gaitan to Watford
Reader Rating1 Vote1.85
Transfer Likelihood
The Boot Room's Verdict
The arrival of Gaitan really would send Watford supporters into dream land following the summer business done to date, but this is one of those deals that is dependent on something else happening. And with Costa’s future well and truly in the air, and time ticking away, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time remaining before the deadline to see both Chelsea and Watford complete their deals.
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Atletico Madrid

As Atletico close in on Diego Costa, will Chelsea’s Antonio Conte rue his decision?




All decisions have consequences, and football managers in particular live or die by the paths that they choose during the course of their job.

So, with the Mirror reporting that Atletico Madrid are closing in on a £30 million deal for Chelsea outcast and former Los Rojiblancos striker Diego Costa, Antonio Conte will be the latest manager to put himself on the line with a seemingly impulsive leadership decision.

After telling the controversial forward that he was no longer part of the club’s plans by text at the end of last season, one of the summer’s most unsavoury transfer sagas could well be coming to a close.

The question is whether Conte will rue his decision in a season in which Chelsea must compete on both domestic and continental fronts, or unify the squad by removing an occasionally unsettling influence from its midst?

Will Conte return home to Madrid?

The deal itself is an unusual one, as while all parties are motivated to complete the transfer there is no guarantee that Atletico will sign their man before the window closes.

Due to the breakdown of the relationship between player and manager and Costa’s decision to remain in his native Brazil until a deal is concluded, Chelsea are determined to drive a hard bargain and the club’s posturing has hindered talks.

Even with a £30 million compromise in the offing, this is a transfer that is likely to run and run until the final moments of the window.

Atletico’s transfer embargo has also complicated any potential deal, but as The Guardian confirmed in pre-season the club can officially agree terms with Costa if Chelsea accept their bid.

The player would then be eligible to represent the club when the embargo is lifted on January, although Atletico would be keen for Costa to play on loan somewhere else in order to maintain his match fitness. This is unlikely to be a deal-breaker, but it could distract Atletico in their attempts to land the Brazilian-born Spanish striker.

Everton may also be ready to provide a solution, with the club short of established strikers and the Independent reporting that manager Ronald Koeman would be willing to secure his services on a short-term loan. This would certainly add another piece to the jigsaw, helping to smooth any complications and help Costa achieve his dream move back to Madrid.

Will Conte Regret his Actions?

The saga surrounding Costa has been bizarre, with the striker deemed surplus to requirements despite scoring 20 league goals in 35 appearances as the Blues secured the title in Conte’s first season as manager. The issue first emerged last January, when Costa was linked to a move to China amid concerns over his fitness and dedication to the club.

Although a deal did not materialise, this seemed to fracture the relationship between the player and his manager, with the Italian famously discarding his striker by text at the end of last season.

While the relationship is almost certainly beyond repair, the question that remains is whether Conte will rue his conduct towards Costa. Deeming an experienced and proven forward surplus to requirements so soon after the season ended appeared reckless at best, particular with the Blues already short of alternative number -nines.

The subsequent signing of Alvaro Morata has done little to assuage the issue, as Chelsea continue to lack a strong and powerful centre-forward who can retain possession and link play.

Morata’s disappointing display during the 2-1 win against Tottenham at Wembley reaffirmed this, as while the Blues secured an impressive win they were constantly subjected to heavy pressure from Spurs due to their inability to retain the ball. Morata was too easily dominated by Tottenham’s powerful centre-halves, and Chelsea would have greatly benefited from Costa’s presence.

This is a trend that could well be repeated during other away games this season, during which the Blues will need to find alternative ways of playing if they are to be successful.

Time will tell for Conte, but Chelsea need options in attack

On a fundamental level, the Blues need further options and number in attack, particularly as they look to compete in both the Premier League and the Champions League this season.

In this respect, discarding a player who is capable of scoring 20 or more goals each season seems detrimental to the team, regardless of how difficult he can be to manage within the group.

Only time will tell whether Conte made an inspired managerial decision by axing Costa, or simply allowed ego and impulse to weaken his squad at a time when Chelsea are looking to build on last years’ success.

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