The end of a very long first weekend, with Tito Vilanova's Barcelona starting off in top spot. Three more games were played on Monday evening, with new boys Deportivo and Valladolid both winning their opening matches. Deportivo were back in the top flight just a year after going down, and it looks like they mean to stay after they beat Osasuna 2-0. Oltra lined up with some old, familiar faces such as Valerón and Manuel Pablo, but also some new ones such as Pizzi, who volleyed a shot against the crossbar in the opening minutes, Osasuna's new signing Llorente brought a good save out of Aranzubia, and Nino fired a shot just wide, but Riki should have given the Galicians the lead when he fired a penalty kick against the upright after Flaño brought down Bruno Gama inside the area. The Ex Madrid B and Getafe striker made up for his miss though early in the second half, firing a shot inside Andrés Fernández's near post after cutting in from the right, and substitute Nelson Oliveira got in on the act as well, lifting a shot over the head of the keeper to make it two in time added on.
Valladolid are also back in the first division, in their case after a two year wait, and they got the first three points under their belts thanks to a 0-1 win at Zaragoza. The locals had the better of the opening minutes, with Paco Montañés in particular going close a couple of times. But later in the first half Oscar, Javi Guerra and Ebert all missed chances, and on the stroke of half time Oscar ran on to a return cross from Omar to force a shot past Roberto. After the restart Rubén did well to turn a Postiga header round the post, but a few minutes later Valladolid had a chance to go further ahead when Ebert's free kick hit Apoño on the arm, the referee awarding a hotly disputed penalty. However Roberto pushed Víctor Pérez's spot kick on to the post, and the Maños could have saved a point had Rukavina not cleared Edu Oriol's lob off the line with his shoulder near the end.
Rayo Vallecano and Granada saved themselves from relegation last season in a nail-biting last match at Vallecas, and as luck would have it they were paired together again to kick off the new season. Once again though Rayo won it 1-0 in the last minute, and if last time out it was Tamudo who saved them, this time around it was an impressive Trashorras free kick which gave them the three points. Rayo had had the better of the first half, although the best chance of all fell to Iñigo López, who headed a corner against the crossbar. After the restart local keeper Rubén had to make important saves from El-Arabi and Floro Flores amongst others, but with a goal-less draw seemingly on the cards, Trashorras stepped up to produce his master stroke. (20.08.12)
A change of manager at Barcelona, but no change in their style of play as Tito Vilanova's side kicked off with a 5-1 victory over Real Sociedad. As assistant to Guardiola, the new coach was always expected to carry on the same vein, and within four minutes team captain Puyol got on the end of Xavi's corner to head them in to the lead. Chori Castro equalised for the visitors soon afterwards after Illarramendi played on Xabi Prieto's pass, but two "house specials" from Messi in the next five minutes finished them off, the first after shrugging off two tackles before thrashing the ball in to the net, and the second when he got in front of Ansotegi to drive Tello's cross past Bravo. After that Real hardly troubled Víctor Valdés, and Messi went close a couple of times before Pedro got on the end of Tello's high cross to make it four. Things slowed down after the break as the heat took its toll, and Vilanova decided he could risk David Villa, back in the squad after an eight month injury lay off. And "El Guaje" signalled his return with his side's fifth, firing a shot wide of the keeper after combining with Iniesta down the left wing. A perfect start for the new man, although the real test will come over the next couple of weeks when they meet arch-rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.
Barça already have the edge over Real Madrid though after Mourinho's side could only draw 1-1 against Valencia in their opening game. Higuaín was given the striker's role ahead of Benzema, and with less than ten minutes gone he repaid his manager's faith in him with the opening goal, controlling Di María's pass and beating Diego Alves at the third attempt after the keeper saved his first two shots. Tino Costa almost caught out Casillas at the other end though with a long free kick, and with the first half coming to an end Jonas got on the end of another Costa free kick to head the equaliser, the play ending with Casillas and Pepe (who subsequently had to be substituted) stretched out on the turf after a clash of heads. Early in the second half Soldado got the ball in the net after a long chase only to be pulled up for a questionable offside, but after that Madrid took control, Higuaín heading against the bar and Diego Alves pulling off first class saves from Özil, Benzema and Callejón. For the second season in a row though the Ches came away from the Bernabeu stadium with a point, and their new coach Pellegrino was more than satisfied with his team's performance.
Elsewhere there was an amazing match at the San Mamés stadium, Betis running out 3-5 victors over Athletic Bilbao to start the season in second place pending the rest of the day one games. There were protests from the fans against Llorente and Javi Martínez, both of whom had been left out of the side pending their big money moves out of Spain, and the supporters were even less happy when the visitors raced in to a three goal lead at half time. One of the men who did the damage was ex Athletic midfielder Beñat (himself a leading candidate to replace the outgoing players), who crossed in for Rubén Castro to open the scoring in the sixth minute, and then drilled home the third himself after Molina had scored his team's second. The Basque pride was restored after the restart though, De Marcos running on to a through ball from half time substitute Aduríz to get one back, and San José making it all square with two more goals in ten minutes, both headers from Ibai Gómez corners. But then they ran out of steam, and Betis went back in front with goals from Pozuelo and Molina to tie up the three points. Not quite what the fans wanted, but in the end they appreciated the spirit that their players had showed.
Another late-night game on Sunday, Europa League participants Levante and Atlético Madrid drawing 1-1 in a fixture which finished well after midnight. The locals went in front in the fifth minute, El Zhar firing a shot past Courtois after Miranda could only part clear Barkero's corner. But a quarter of an hour later Atleti equalised, Arda Turan picking the ball up in midfield and running on to drive an impressive shot wide of Munúa. Later in the first half Iborra rattled the crossbar with a shot from outside of the area, but otherwise neither keeper was particularly troubled until Munúa had to save from a Kader free kick late on. He and promising Spanish youth international Oliver Torres had both come on for their debuts in the second half. They probably had to ask permission from their parents to stay up that late! (19.08.12)
It is probably fitting in this time of economic crisis that the first goal in La Liga this season was scored by the youngest person in the competition, Málaga's Fabrice Olinga setting a new record at 16 years and 98 days after getting the only goal in a 0-1 victory at Celta. Both sides had had their chances in a lively match, Joaquín and Isco testing Javi Varas and Willy saving a couple of times from De Lucas amongst others. With no new signings to turn to, Pellegrini had no doubts in bringing on Olinga with half an hour to go, and although he failed to beat the keeper after Isco's shot came back off the bar, he got a knee to Buonanotte's cross a few minutes later to deflect the ball in to the net. Celta could have saved a point late on, De Lucas heading against the upright, and Cabral firing a shot against the crossbar from a couple of yards out, but they will have to wait a bit longer for their first points after returning to the top flight following a five year absence.
Later in the evening Sevilla beat Getafe 2-1 to get their season off to a winning start. Jesús Navas and Negredo were presented with medals before the kick off for their part in Spain's European Championship win, and both went close early on. But it was Fazio who opened the scoring, the Argentinian defender getting above his markers to head Rakitic's cross wide of Moyá. Shortly before half time Reyes won his side a penalty when he fell rather easily under Valera's challenge, Negredo stepping up to make it two from the resulting spot kick. And although Alexis headed one back against his old side early in the second half, the Andalusians could have won by a bigger margin had Rakitic not hit the bar later on.
With the summer heat making early kick-offs impossible, the league has scheduled several games during the first two weekends for eleven o'clock at night. The first of those was in Mallorca, where the locals ran out 2-1 winners against Espanyol thanks to goals by Hemed at the start and end of the match. The Israeli striker started things off as early as the third minute, picking up Nsue's cross before beating Cristian Alvarez with a shot on the turn. Just three minutes later though the visitors were level, Wakaso pulling down a long clearance by Cristian Gómez and rounding his marker before firing in an angled shot which took a deflection off a defender. Alvarez did well to save from Ximo and Pereira before the break, and Nunes headed against the crossbar following the restart. But with a draw looking ever more likely, Pereira fired a long shot against the bar, and Hemed latched on to the rebound to volley a first time shot past the keeper. (18.08.12)