Any doubts that we are in for another two horse race this season were dissipated when Barcelona beat Villarreal 5-0 on Monday evening. With five back men out through injury or suspension, Guardiola put out a line-up with only one natural defender, Abidal. But even he wasn't needed as the Catalans over-ran the team who finished fourth in the league last season. Alexis, Messi and Busquets all went close before Thiago ran through from midfield to open the scoring midway through the first half. Messi set up Fàbregas for a second on the stroke of half time, and two minutes after the restart Thiago put Alexis through for a third on his La Liga debut. Messi then added two more from Iniesta and Thiago assists to take his team up to second in the table, just a goal short of Madrid, who scored six in Zaragoza on Sunday. Nobody else it would seem has a realistic look-in this year. (29.08.11)
Real Madrid sent a message to Barcelona that they are not going to have it all their own way this season after thrashing a naive Zaragoza side 0-6. Cristiano Ronaldo started off the scoring after Özil put him through midway through the first half, and Marcelo added a second after combining with fellow fullback Sergio Ramos three minutes later. Local keeper Roberto did well to stop a couple of Ronaldo free kicks and a shot from Benzema either side of half time, but twenty minutes in to the second half a shot from Di María was blocked, and Xabi Alonso ran on to the rebound to drill a low shot past the keeper. A few minutes later Ronaldo got on the end of Di María's cross to make it four, and Kaká came on to score the fifth and then set up Ronaldo for his hat-trick. It's as if we've never been away!
The last match on Sunday evening was the local derby between Sevilla and Málaga, the home side winning it 2-1 in the end thanks to two goals in the first half from Negredo. There was a lot of speculation as to how Pelegrini's side would get on after their summer spending spree, but within a minute and a half they were behind when Negredo got between two defenders to head in a Jesús Navas cross. Midway through the first half the Spanish international striker scored his second from Perotti's cross, and he should have had a hat-trick after the break when he shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Otherwise Trochowski tested Willy with a couple of long shots, and the visitors hardly got a look in until Cazorla curled a free kick in to the top corner of the net with ten minutes to go. After that there were some nervous moments for the home fans, but they held on for a win which helps restore morale after their elimination from the Europa League on Thursday.
Mallorca had been concerned about the lack of new signings this summer, but they started the season with a win after beating Espanyol 1-0. Both teams had lost their star strikers this summer, Webó moving to Turkey and Osvaldo signing for Roma, and they were sorely missed as neither side were able to convert their chances, Luis García, Alfaro, Hemed and Ramis all missing the target before the break. Alvaro Vázquez did go closer than anyone after the restart, but with just over an hour on the clock Hemed laid the ball back for De Guzmán, whose shot took a deflection off Moreno to wrong-foot Cristian Alvarez. That was all it needed to wrap things up, but with De Guzmán himself possibly on his way ou and no new faces likely to join either team in the next few days, both could be facing a long, hard season.
Atlético Madrid came in to their noon kick-off match with Osasuna full of confidence after their comfortable win in the Europa League qualifier, but in the end the exertions of that game plus the heat of the mid-day sun took their toll, and they could do no more than draw 0-0. Manzano's side didn't cause too many problems for Riesgo until late in the first half, the keeper saving from Adrián and then seeing Salvio's angled shot hit the post. Riesgo was injured just before the break, but his replacement Andrés proved an able substitute, with saves from Adrián and Mario. Reyes also hit the post again, but in the end Nino almost won it for the visitors when he shot just wide of goal later on. Falcao had to watch it all from the stands as his transfer had still not come through. Atlético could have done with him today.
Athletic Bilbao were also held to a 1-1 draw by newly promoted Rayo Vallecano later in the afternoon, a good result for the visitors, who have not been given much of a chance of staying up this season. The visitors actually had the first chance of the game, Trashorras shooting over the top, but the nippy Muniain came close to beating Dani later in the first half, and Llorente had a penalty appeal turned down before Iturraspe cut in from the left to open the scoring early in the second half. Rayo didn't give up though, Movilla equalising a few minutes later after Lass chested back Casado's cross, and only a good save from Iraizoz prevented Botelho from scoring for the Madrid based team soon afterwards. Gabilondo and Llorente did try their luck for Athletic later on, but in the end they had to make do with a point.
A 1-1 draw as well between Getafe and Levante, a result which at least gets both sides off the mark after dicing with relegation last season. There were many new faces in both teams, including the two coaches (Luis García was suspended and had to watch from the stands), and with several players already out injured, Levante in particular lined up without a recognised striker in the starting eleven. Chances were even in the first half, Miku bringing a good save out of Munúa and Rubén Suárez firing a free kick just wide, but with just over an hour on the clock Miku ran on to a return pass from Lacen to thump a shot past the keeper. Juanlu levelled the scores though a quarter of an hour later, the referee turning down claims that substitute Aranda had handled the ball in the build up, and that was how it stayed. (28.08.11)
The strike is over, and it's back to playing football. And what an exciting start to the season, especially at the Mestalla stadium, where Valencia overturned a two goal deficit to beat Racing Santander 4-3! New coach Héctor Cúper turned up at his old hunting ground with a makeshift side, having virtually not made any new signings this summer, and when Soldado took advantage of a rebound to open the scoring in the first minute it looked like the locals were going to run away with it. However six minutes later Soldado headed Kennedy's corner in to his own net, and soon afterwards Acosta slid the ball past Guaita to put the visitors ahead. Soldado and Adil Rami went close as Valencia pushed forward, but ten minutes after the restart Adrián picked up the ball after a shot from Munitis was blocked to score a third for the Cantabrians. Rami headed in a Pablo corner three minutes later to narrow the gap again, and Jonas hit the post a few minutes later. But with a possible surprise result on the cards, Soldado stepped up to score two in the last three minutes to complete a hat-trick and give the Ches the three points.
Two goals from Agirretxe helped Real Sociedad to a 1-2 victory at Sporting Gijón in the first match of the new season. The first chance fell to the locals, Bravo pushing out a header from Botía on the line. But Carlos Vela volleyed just wide at the other end, and with ten minutes to go to the break Agirretxe got on the end of a Carlo Martínez cross to head wide of Juan Pablo. The local keeper did well to push a long shot from Zurutuza over the bar early in the second half, and Bravo responded with a save from Barral. Almost immediately though De la Bella crossed in for Xabi Prieto to set up Agirretxe to head his second of the evening, and Real were on top. Their joy only lasted three minutes though until Carlos Martínez was sent off for giving away a penalty on Botía which De las Cuevas converted. Trejo and Sangoy both went close as Sporting pushed for the equaliser, but their challenge ended when Lora was sent off for a second bookable offence near the end.
Later in the evening Betis beat neighbours Granada 0-1 in the battle between two of the newly promoted sides. A big crowd turned up to see the return of the locals to the top flight after an absence of 35 years, and they were almost able to cheer a goal early on when Casto did well to push a Mainz header over the bar. After that though the visitors took control, Rubén Castro bringing a good save out of Roberto and Mario heading just wide. Sixteen year old winger Vadillo caused some problems for the local defence as well until he was clogged by half time substitute Martins, and his replacement Jorge Molina also went close a couple of times later on. Mainz also headed a free kick against his own crossbar, but a draw seemed on the cards until late substitute Jonathan Pereira got away down the left wing and crossed in for Rubén Castro to head the winner. Bad luck for Granada, who have come up from the third to the first tier of Spanish football in just two seasons, but they will have to adapt quickly to the new level if they are to achieve their objective of staying up for another year. (27.08.11)