New stadium, same old Atleti
If a swanky, new glassbowl-like stadium is a sign of a team’s progression than no one deserves it more than Atletico Madrid. To overcome the odds and snatch a league title in Spain is far from easy and they simply refuse to be left behind. Diego Simeone has amassed a squad which live and play by his blueprint so success continues to follow them.
At the weekend they finally got underway at the Wanda Metropolitano and, in typical Atletico fashion, it was a 1-0 victory for the home side. In many ways Malaga were the ideal opponents as they sat on zero points following the first three fixtures. However they showed a bit more bite, maybe hoping to capitalise on opening night nerves, but it wasn’t to be.
The goalscorer of the sole goal was none other than Antoine Griezmann. Perhaps, if it wasn’t due to the club’s transfer ban, he wouldn’t even be there right now. After a two-match suspension the floppy-haired Frenchman finally got his first – but certainly not last – goal of the season. Fine work from Angel Correa down the right, who beat his man, before drilling it across for Griezmann to steer home. It was also Griezmann’s 100th goal in LaLiga too. Fitting.
Is there a new BBC in town?
After a far from auspicious start Villarreal are beginning to hit their stride. Back to back defeats have now been followed by back to back victories. Another ray of hope for Yellow Submarine fans it’s that they have a forward line which is already showing signs of being one of the best in the league.
Cedric Bakambu saw his former strike partner Roberto Soldado join Besiktas this summer but his replacement is just as good, if not better. Carlos Bacca might not drop deep and link up play but he offers a constant goal threat. At the weekend he scored for the second week running. Samu Castillejo’s shot could only be palmed away but there was Bacca for an easy tap-in.
And while Alaves are probably the weakest team in the league right now, it was the perfect opportunity for Bakambu to get off the mark too. The first came as a result of a wicked deflection but the second was superb. Castillejo was the provider with a killer through ball and Bakambu drilled it first time past the keeper. The new BBC are firing on all cylinders.
Not great but Sevilla are still record breakers
Most clubs have players which stick around for more than 5-6 seasons and who develop a sense of loyalty to the shirt they pull on. For Sevilla – and their fans – no one tends to stick around for more than 2-3 seasons. That’s either because they don’t make the grade and are moved on or because they perform above expectations and search for pastures news. The club itself is all that matters.
This summer saw legendary figure Monchi join Roma as their director of football. He was the man to replace all those outgoings with even better players. Jorge Sampaoli, for six months the toast of European football, also left to take the Argentina job. Oscar Aries and Eduardo Berizzo are their replacements and while they remain a work in progress, they couldn’t have wished for a better start.
Since an opening day draw to Espanyol they’ve won three on the bounce. Factor in a Champions League play-off tie against Başakşehir, wholesale rotations, and that’s a fantastic points return. Berizzo is still working out his squad but he’s managing to pick up key results while he does that. There’s a lot more to come from this Sevilla side but this represents their best ever start to a LaLiga campaign. Not bad, not bad at all.
Ow-smane Dembele out until 2018
Speaking of teams who are defying their doubters, Barcelona remain the only side with a 100% record after four fixtures. Lionel Messi and company made hard work out of their trip to Getafe but unlikely hero Paulinho snatched all three points for Ernesto Valverde’s side. So what are Barcelona doing this section, I hear you ask? Well, less them, but more their bad luck.
Ousmane Dembele was the only big signing they managed to get over the line this summer. The bad news is he’s out for around four months. The skillful winger tore a tendon in his hamstring against Getafe and says goodbye to 2017. He looks set to miss all of Barcelona’s Champions League games as well as the first El Clasico in December.
Due to his style of play it’s important Barcelona don’t rush him back and potentially further aggravate the injury. In the meantime, it means yet more pressure is on Messi to perform as Luis Suarez struggles for form.
Bale boo boys silenced – for now
If you believed match reports and high profile commentary pieces, you’d think Gareth Bale is the only guy to ever play poorly in this Real Madrid side. Like sheep people buy into these ridiculous – and often hypocritical – hot takes and demand the Welshman is dropped. First it was Isco, now Marco Asensio. How dare Bale remain in the XI?
Well, because of goals like the one he scored against Real Sociedad, that’s why. Far too often his teammates ignore his runs behind the defence into space in favour of another twist or turn. His blistering pace is what made him famous in England and it’s what destroyed Marc Bartra’s career at Barcelona before it even started.
The problem for Bale is the writing is already on the wall. He can score six games in a row but the one time he misplaces a pass or underperforms the daggers will be out again. The praise comes through gritted teeth from certain quarters. Bale, for all he’s achieved at Madrid, deserves a lot more respect.
There was an ‘adios’ at Alaves this weekend
In amongst the drama up and down the country the first manager to receive his marching orders in LaLiga was Luis Zubeldi. He took over from Mauricio Pellegrino and has left his post at Alaves just four games into the season. I said last week they looked doomed already and another poor showing only confirms that suspicion.
Alaves are bottom of the table with zero points and are yet to score a single goal. The squad looks considerably weaker than last season and it’d take a brave man to try and steer them away from danger. Aitor Karanka has already turned down the chance following the recent passing of his father.
According to Spanish sources Javi Gracia is the club’s main target.