Ah, It’s good to have La Liga back. In the first round of matches, Barcelona fell to common foes and opened more doors in the process. Real Madrid took care of business with the help of familiar friends, and Atletico Madrid got nostalgic in their home win as well.
La Liga Weekly Review
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Barcelona
Barcelona were exposed in a way they probably didn’t expect on Friday night against Athletic Bilbao. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to them that the attack looked disjointed. No Lionel Messi, no Sergio Busquets, no Ivan Rakitic and it showed. One might think that slotting in Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Carles Alenya could supplement that.
But everyone should know football isn’t that simple. A midfield three of de Jong, Alenya and Sergi Roberto could be really good given time to develop continuity. But with Busquets, Rakitic and Arthur Melo needing game-time, that won’t happen. Once those players return its unlikely that they’ll have a performance this poor in midfield.
The real concerns come in the attack. Luis Suarez went off after 35 minutes and has been ruled out for roughly six weeks with a calf injury. Not that he did much to help the cohesion.
Nor did Ousmane Dembele who spent Friday night giving the ball away, and Monday in the training room after straining his hamstring. The Frenchman, along with Suarez, and possibly Messi won’t be back until after the first international break.
Opening the Neymar Door
So Barcelona go into their next game against Real Betis with the likely forward line of Antoine Griezmann, Rafinha Alcantara and Carles Perez. That is enough evidence they should go get Neymar right now. Whether or not he fits is irrelevant if you lose three forwards to injury in two weeks.
But the other thing that makes this viable is Philippe Coutinho’s move to Bayern Munich. The deal is structured so that Bayern pay all of Coutinho’s salary plus an €8.5 million loan fee. That may or may not be enough money to pay for Neymar’s salary, depending on whom your listening too.
What it does for sure is open an obvious hole in the squad for Neymar to fill. And after a performance like the one in Bilbao, they may yet need him. It at least adds a nice wrinkle this La Liga season.
La Liga Elsewhere: Real Madrid
Obviously, Barcelona weren’t the only team in action in La Liga this weekend. Real Madrid travelled to Celta Vigo on Saturday, looking for their first road win since February! It came as a surprise to most if not all that Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos were two of Madrid’s best players in this game.
Bale, publicly unwanted by Zinedine Zidane, has been the consummate professional, getting on with his business. In this game against Celta, his business was all over the field.
He found himself on the left-hand side schooling defenders before setting up Real Madrid’s first goal. But for most of the match, he found himself on the right-hand side, tracking back while Alvaro Ordorizola overlapped.
The other standout starter was Toni Kroos. Kroos looked off the pace in preseason, playing out of position subbing for Casemiro. With his Brazilian buddy back, Kroos was able to impact the game going forward as we all expect. That performance was capped off by a rocket strike for Madrid’s second goal.
Sidenote: goals that go in off the underside of the crossbar are better. It’s such a lovely image, seeing the ball careen down off the bar while the scorer runs off to celebrate.
Atletico Get First La Liga Win
Finally, the last game of the weekend took place at the Wanda Metropolitano between Getafe and Atletico Madrid. This has been dubbed a new look Atletico, and I’m not talking about the eight summer signings. I’m talking about stylistically, the new players combining with the old to make a much more attacking Atletico.
After a strong preseason, it felt like they really were going to transition, but after week one of La Liga things feel much different. Their 1-0 win over Getafe wasn’t just ugly, it was a grind. Atletico scored early and then held on without doing much in the way of creative football. In fact, they spent the last 15 minutes of the game under siege from Getafe.
It’s never going to be easy for a team that has played so much defensive football to change their style. You have to introduce new players that have enough quality to bend the style to their liking. Antoine Griezmann wasn’t that, nor is Thomas Lemar, but Joao Felix, that’s another story.
The young Portuguese international didn’t do much on Sunday, but he pulled out all the magic for his second-half penalty winning run. He drove the entire Getafe team with him into the penalty area and that was just a glimpse of what is still to come.
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