LaLiga is back and matchday one of the 2023/24 season contained a sufficient amount of controversy that it already feels like it was never really away.
It may not go down as one of the great opening weekends in the history of the Spanish top flight. None of the matches developed into true classics, but there were plenty of surprise results and enough talking points to leave Spanish football fans with a tasty appetiser for what’s to come.
116 minutes but no goals for angry Barça at the Coliseum
Much of the controversy stemmed from the Coliseum Alfonso Perez and a game that went almost exactly to script. With Pepe Bordalas back in permanent charge of a Getafe side that is missing the man who has scored 45% of their goals across the last two seasons, there was only ever going to be one gameplan for the visit of champions Barcelona.
Getafe were always going to scrap, fight and above all defend whilst using delaying tactics whenever the opportunity arose. The result was an increasingly agitated and at times angry Barça who enjoyed a miserable evening in South Madrid with Raphinha and later Xavi sent off across the course a game which produced a staggering 26 minutes of Stoppage Time (10 in the First Half and 16 in Second).
For a moment, as the clock ticked towards midnight on Sunday, Barcelona looked like they might get a late reprieve and a chance to still end a bruising game with all the points. Referee César Soto Grado was instructed to check the monitor for a potential Barça penalty, but instead saw, or as Xavi put it “invented”, a handball from Gavi.
No penalty, no goals and one unhappy trip back to Barcelona for Xavi and his men.
Injury woe overshadows bright Real Madrid display
On the surface, this was unquestionably Real Madrid’s weekend, at least as far as the two title favourites were concerned as the first blows in what promises to be a long, tight race at the top began.
Faced with a tough fixture in boisterous Bilbao, a youthful Real Madrid eleven, no longer with Karim Benzema in attack and with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric only on the bench, could easily have been rattled or at least started slowly against Athletic Club.
Not so. Los Blancos quickly took control of the match with Rodrygo and debutant Jude Bellingham on target as the visitors assumed a 2-0 lead in a dominant First Half display. Ernesto Valverde responded with three Half Time changes as Iker Muniain, Nico Williams and Unai Gomez were all withdrawn and while they got a greater foothold in the match, Athletic never looked like denying Carlo Ancelotti’s side a winning start.
There were plenty of positives for Real Madrid, but they also head into what is only the second week of the season reeling from a double injury blow with Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao both suffering ACL tears within the space of just three days.
Both will now miss the majority of this season, a significant blow to Real Madrid’s hopes of challenging for domestic and European silverware.
A slow start for the new boys
Opening weekends frequently throw up memorable wins for at least one of the newly promoted sides but there was little joy this year. Granada and Alaves, both returning to the top flight after only one season in the Segunda, were beaten away on Monday night.
Alaves offered very little goal threat in a 1-0 defeat against fellow relegation candidates Cadiz and are reeling from a major injury blow of their own with new signing Giuliano Simeone suffering a horrible leg and ankle break.
Granada meanwhile had something of a free hit with a trip to the Civitas Metropolitano first up. They fell behind late in the First Half but managed to level the game through teenaged forward Samu Omorodion, only for a Memphis Depay screamer to set Atleti up for a 3-1 win.
Las Palmas did get a point as they played their first top flight match in more than five years. However there wasn’t a huge amount in their performance in the 1-1 home draw with Mallorca that suggested they’ll be anything but strugglers this term.
Osasuna ruin Benitez’s big day at Balaidos
There were plenty of home fans left disappointed on the opening weekend, none more so than those in Vigo where a packed out Balaidos welcomed new Celta boss Rafa Benitez and most likely waved goodbye to Gabri Veiga.
As party poopers go, Osasuna are perhaps the best placed team in LaLiga to play the role. Jagoba Arrasate’s side go about their business with a minimal amount of fuss and even European qualification last season hasn’t really changed how they are perceived.
They were too strong for a Celta team that you suspect may change considerably between now and September once the funds from Veiga’s likely move to Napoli arrive. Goals from Ruben Garcia and Moi Gomez secured a good start for the visitors who will be in Conference League play-off round action later this month.
Road wins for Rayo, Valencia & Betis
There were five away wins in total on matchday one, with Rayo Vallecano and Valencia responding to difficult summers and pre-season doubts with road successes on Friday night.
Rayo were aided by some charitable Almeria defending as two First Half penalties ensured Francisco got the better of Vicente Moreno in a meeting of two newly appointed coaches.
Valencia’s triumph was even more surprising as Ruben Baraja’s side upset recently crowned Europa League winners Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. As was frequently the case at the end of last term, it was one of Los Che’s new crop of youngsters who proved the match winner with Javi Guerra supplying a cool finish to settle the game in the 88th minute.
To a slightly lesser degree, some have doubted Real Betis going into this season but they put in a strong opening day performance to win 2-1 at Villarreal with an impressive display from a leaner looking Isco making it a good start for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.