Tuesday, August 25, 2015

La Liga Week in Review: 8/25

Antoine Griezmann celebrates with teammates after a free-kick goal.
By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

The sound of a singular whistle was heard all across Spain this weekend as each top-flight soccer side played the first of its 38 grueling La Liga matches.

Fans of newly promoted sides celebrated with boots of wine and cold Mahou, while supporters of prohibitive favorites will be looking for their nearest nail salon after games of utter suspense.

Here are my takeaways from an exciting first week in La Liga.

Stock Up

1. Isco (Real Madrid)

After a tantalizing pre-season and calls from supporters, Rafa Benitez rewarded the Spanish midfielder with a surprise start over superstar James Rodriguez.

For a side that lacked major creativity and cohesion, Isco was the constant, sending off well-placed passes and threatening shots. The headache for Benitez will come selection time as forward Karim Benzema is expected back next week from injury. After a 0-0 draw, the pressure is on to find the right combination, and Isco’s display has most certainly earned him another look.

2. Las Palmas, Sporting de Gijón, Real Betis

All newly promoted, all partying like it’s 1999.

Each of these sides brought one mission into the opening weekend- don’t get embarrassed. Instead, they may have just put the rest of the league on notice. The three combined to score only 1 goal, but what they lacked in offense, they more than made up for defensively.

3. Roberto Soldado (Villareal) 

After netting 59 goals in 101 games for Valenica, the Spanish striker was one of the hottest commodities available on the transfer market two summers ago. English side Tottenham brought in the Brinks truck and splashed out 26 million pounds for his services. 

After netting a grand total of 7 goals in 52 games, Soldado vanished deep into the London fog. Now back in La Liga with ambitious side Villarreal, Soldado provided the lone goal in securing a draw away at Betis.

Stock Down

1. Barcelona’s depth

In the midst of winning a historic Treble last season, it was easy to forget the transfer ban slapped on Barcelona back in 2014. While the exits of Pedro and Xavi this summer may have been expected, injuries and suspensions were not.

Going into Bilbao, they were already shorthanded without Neymar (mumps) and Pique (suspension). After the 90 were called, Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets were joining their counterparts on the sidelines. With summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal not available until January, Barca will need to make do without completely wilting physically.

2. Rafa Benitez (Real Madrid) 

As an unapologetic Madrid supporter, one can only laugh at the inclusion of Rafa. I always fancied myself as a more patient and level-headed fan than the majority, but maybe I was wrong.

After all it’s only the first game.

Still, I couldn’t help but yell at my television, cursing the heavens, baffled by the lack of direction against a newly promoted side. With a draw, Madrid already finds themselves two points back with more questions than answers. In front of the Madrid faithful next week, there will nowhere to hide from the cascade of whistles that will rain down with a repeat performance.

3. Kevin Gameiro (Sevilla) 

After the departure of forward Carlos Bacca this summer to AC Milan, Gamerio was given the first crack at cementing his place as starting striker. Instead, fans were left scratching their heads after he squandered three point-blank chances to score for Sevilla in the first 20-minutes.

The result was a 0-0 draw to Malaga that cost his side three points, all with Atletico coming to town next week. Emery will need to decide if he is keeping his faith in the Frenchman or inserting a Ciro Immobile, who has much to prove.
Gameiro rues one of his many misses.
Goal of the Week

Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

With a dearth of highlights this week in the scoring department, Suarez provides the magic and the game winner against Athletic Bilbao.

Games to Watch in Week 2

1. Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid 8/30 – 2:30 PM  
2. Real Madrid vs. Real Betis 8/29- 4:30 PM
3. Real Sociedad vs. Sporting 8/29 – 12:30 PM

*All times Eastern 

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