Spanish Football Summary: Matchday 2 – Surprise early leader, Atletico to face relegation battle?
As Julian Lopetegui named his first squad for La Roja on Saturday morning, with Iker Casillas, Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin the notable absences, it provided a brief break from the madness of La Liga, but the crazy goings on soon returned, though nobody quite expected Atletico Madrid to be being touted as relegation candidates by their own players after two games played.
The Madrid club, whose 94th minute penalty last weekend was cancelled out by a 96th minute equaliser by newly promoted Alaves, faced another side who have just come up in their city rivals Leganes. One of the smallest clubs to ever have played in the Spanish top flight, initial reactions to the fixtures list suggested that the start was an easy one for Diego Simeone’s team, but they once again laboured to a 0-0 draw with few chances for either side. After the game, returning forward Antoine Griezmann admitted, live on television, that if his side continue to play how they have so far this season, they’ll be fighting relegation.
It was far from easy going for their city rivals either as Real Madrid welcomed Celta Vigo for their first fixture at the Bernabeu this season. It took an 81st minute strike from Toni Kroos to earn the three points after Zinedine Zidane’s side were fortunate to see Alvaro Morata’s first goal since his return stand, when it should have been ruled out for offside.
Barcelona also faced a challenge in the shape of Athletic Bilbao in what is always one of the toughest away trips of the season to San Mames. However, Ivan Rakitic’s strike was enough to make the difference, despite the Croatian being lucky not to concede a late penalty which left Athletic fans fuming as they could have salvaged a point at the death in a close duel between the two sides.
Two of last season’s most successful sides also faced up under new management as Fran Escriba’s Villarreal took on Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla. Having conceded four and scored six last weekend, few would have expected Sevilla to keep a clean sheet and draw a blank in this one, but a 0-0 draw was the result in a game dominated by the yellow submarine with Sampaoli’s goalkeeper Sergio Rico making a case to maintain the number one shirt despite Salvatore Sirigu’s loan arrival from PSG.
Valencia also continued their capitulation with a 1-0 defeat to Eibar. The main headlines will be about Pako Ayrestan’s decision to leave Paco Alcacer in the stands with a move to Barcelona seemingly imminent, but Pedro Leon’s follow-up after a missed spot-kick gave the northern club the three points on the day. With Ezequiel Garay a rumoured replacement for Shkodran Mustafi, and Munir expected to join, Valencia need additions, and quickly.
Espanyol, who made their eighth signing of the summer this week, had their own collapse, though on a much smaller scale as they surrendered a two goal lead to draw 2-2 with Malaga, with Charles’ late injury time strike giving the visitors a point to take back to the south coast following a Gerard Moreno brace for los Pericos.
Real Sociedad prevented Osasuna from celebrating their home return to La Liga as former Southampton forward Juanmi netted his first goal in blue and white stripes before an Unai Garcia own goal gave the side from San Sebastián the three points as Osasuna continue their search for their first win of the season.
Further along the most northern coast of Spain, Sporting Gijon came up against fellow promoted side Alaves, fresh from their last minute equaliser against Atletico last weekend. The away side again stood firm for a second consecutive clean sheet, but failed to muster that goal, and the score line remained goalless.
Gus Poyet made his bow in the Benito Villamarin with his new club Real Betis but they faced a dull 90 minutes in Seville as Deportivo ground out a 0-0 draw. In the Friday evening heat, neither side looked like scoring and both failed to break the deadlock despite a flurry of choices for Rubén Castro.
Perhaps the performance of the weekend would go to Las Palmas, who saw off Granada in style with a 5-1 victory, former Portsmouth midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng making it two in two since signing for the club, and ex-Liverpool winger Nabil El Zhar netting two. The result means that the Canary Islands side go top of the league table with only two games played, with one goal advantage over Barcelona and two over Real Madrid as the only three teams to have won both of their first two fixtures.
Whilst Griezmann’s comments may have been a slight exaggeration, Atletico’s failure to penetrate two weak and inexperienced defences should be concerning for Diego Simeone. None of the major sides set La Liga alight this weekend, with the two Clasico clubs facing tricky games, and their performances showed that La Liga is a little more competitive than outsiders like to think it is.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Real Madrid.
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