After one full round in La Liga only five teams have won a game: Barcelona FC, Eibar, Espanyol, Atletico Madrid, and Celta Vigo. In a sputtering start to the 2015-16 season, minnows Eibar lead the table on goal differential, while Real Madrid was held to a 0-0 away draw to recently promoted Sporting Gijon. Defending champions Barcelona barely defeated hosts Athletic Bilbao 1-0, after Lionel Messi had his penalty saved, and recently promoted Las Palmas gave their hosts, Atletico Madrid, all they could handle in an opening squeaker of a win (1-0) for the Colchoneros.
Perhaps the loudest thuds were heard from the nation’s “two capitals” Madrid and Barcelona.
At Real the bells were tolling for everyone. Rafael Benitez seemed too small for his new coaching shoes. His starting line-up was questionable and his tactics produced a disjointed, uninspired and all around unimpressive performance in the team’s opening match. The roster Benitez inherited had a few key changes but none were unexpected. Iker Casillas is now at Porto and Asier Illarramendi is at Real Sociedad. So, the unsuccessful play was moslty dictated by the coach’s line-up and tactical choices.
Adding to that ringing sound in fans’ ears was Cristiano Ronaldo’s scowl. He seemed very ill at ease with the overtly stellar treatment being given his teammate Gareth Bale, who had the spotlight quite a bit longer than Ronnie is accustomed to sharing. Bale, for his part, was uncomfortable in his unusual field position and was unable to capitalize on his newly found team prominence. James Rodriguez did not start and his second half contributions quickly pointed out the folly of that prior decision. It will be interesting to see what happens at Real’s home opener against promoted Real Betis on Saturday.
At Barcelona, who previously seemed poised for a historic 2015-16, their recent rash of injuries, coupled with their still-in-effect-ban on bringing reinforcements in, spelled trouble. Gerard Pique is out for another two games for his recent red card. Dani Alves injured his groin and will be out at least a month. Adriano is out for another couple of weeks and Jordi Alba is rounding back into form slowly. Finally, Neymar is just now returning to duty after his illness. It will be late September before the Cules are in full force let alone kicking on all cylinders.
Though Spanish Football has a lot to cheer about, such as having a historic five sides in the 2015-16 Champions League, their domestic season needs some quick recalibration. If those balancing acts are quickly tended to we might have a season to remember for the potential is that many top notch sides have a lot to offer. If it takes a month or longer for things to settle—once the injured are mended, the new coaches have a firmer understanding of their charges and tactics, and the new teams and players are integrated into the league—we might be treated to another season altogether. That season will see teams trying to catch up to expectations let alone table spots. In either case, we have begun a season with much potential if an unsteady start.