La Liga wrap: Barcelona signal their intent under Tito Vilanova

Tom Wellman reflects on an action-packed first weekend of La Liga, as Barcelona beat Real Sociedad and Real Madrid falter

lionel messi
Lionel Messi netted 73 goals in 60 games for Barcelona last term Photo: The Sport Review

lionel messi

Barcelona signal their intent under Vilanova

Just three-and-a-half minutes had elapsed before Carles Puyol headed the first of Barcelona’s five goals at the Camp Nou on Sunday in their 5-1 rout of Real Sociedad. New boss Tito Vilanova could not have wished for a more impressive start to his reign having succeeded Pep Guardiola in the summer, as Lionel Messi scored twice and David Villa marked his return from eight months out with a broken leg as he struck a late goal. With rivals Real Madrid only able to draw with Valencia, the Catalans have sent out a message to their fellow title contenders, and lead the table after matchday one.

Meagre Madrid held at home by Pellegrino’s Valencia

Jonas’ header five minutes before half-time prevented defending champions Real Madrid from making the perfect start to their title defence, failing to pick up three points in a below par performance. At the third time of asking, Gonzalo Higuaín gave Madrid the lead inside 10 minutes but Los Blancos could not hold out for a win, which in the end, was not merited. Up front, Madrid were feeble and impatient, and it wasn’t long before Cristiano Ronaldo grew tired of probing in the final third and took it upon himself to try and score from long distance. Jose Mourinho will be left dissatisfied with his squad ahead of the Supercopa fixture with Barcelona on Thursday, and with injury concerns as Pepe was hospitalised after a horrific collision just as Jonas equalised.

Possession isn’t everything as Betis edge Bilbao in classic

Despite dominating the ball for long periods of the game, Athletic Bilbao were taught a first-half lesson in counter-attacking football by Real Betis on Sunday. Within 30 minutes, Betis were 3-0 up at the San Mames, decimating a lacklustre Bilbao defence and eventually prevailed 5-3. Having caught the hearts of millions last year with their magical Europa League run, pre-season has been dominated by talk of star players Fernando Llorente and Javier Martínez departing, both of whom were omitted from the squad by Marcelo Bielsa. A second-half fight back to 3-3 helped Bilbao briefly recover some dignity, but Betis snatched the win with two goals in the last 10 minutes, proving that scintillating keep-ball tactics can be beaten.

Olinga makes history but highlights Málaga’s desperation

Off-field problems marred Málaga’s preparations for their Champions League debut campaign, but they still managed to beat Celta Vigo in the La Liga curtain-raiser on Saturday. A single goal from 16-year-old Fabrice Olinga claimed the points for the Southerners in a scrappy and wasteful affair. As well as notching the opening goal of the season, Olinga became the youngest ever La Liga scorer at 16 years and 98 days, surpassing Iker Muniain’s previous record. Despite this, the inclusion of Olinga rather shows the difficult situation within the club, pinning their hopes of a winning goal on a schoolboy. Their lack of a goal scorer is a well-known problem and without further investment Málaga could be relying on Olinga a lot more this season.

Opening games pass by without drama in spite of TV rows

Yet again, the first round of La Liga fixtures were threatened by strike action as a row over television deals became known. Thirteen clubs had raised their concerns about several factors, one of which was the scheduling of televised games. Irrespective of these demands, the opening weekend commenced unlike the year before and Real Mallorca’s Tomer Hemed became the first player to score on different days during the same match due to the 11pm kick off against Espanyol. Aside from the fact matches are starting at a ridiculous time for players and spectators to comprehend, the imbalanced sharing of TV revenue has further angered many La Liga teams and the LFP are under pressure to change their apparent favouritism for the bigger sides. Perhaps we are finally about to see the Barça/Real constriction on the league loosen this year.

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