This weekend saw Spain’s big two face tough away trips to the Basque Country, while Atlético Madrid welcomed another Basque team, Eibar, to the Wanda Metropolitano. This weeks roundup will focus on these three big matches, which became a tale of three goalkeepers.
Atlético Madrid 1-1 Eibar
Los Colchoneros’ bad start to the season continued on Saturday as they welcomed Eibar to the Wanda Metropolitano. Atléti looked sluggish after the international break but it was Eibar’s one and only international call up who was the man of the match. Marko Dmitrović put together a string of brilliant saves to deny Atlético in the first half but not before Cote had managed to crash a long range drive off the bar in the early stages for Eibar. Dmitrović closed down the space Griezmann had made for himself as he wriggled free in the area and then saved brilliantly to deny Saúl, whose header looked destined for the back of the net. The Serbian goalkeeper followed that up by again denying Griezmann as the Frenchman ran on to a through-ball before stopping Godín from a corner.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with Atlético applying pressure but being denied an easy route to goal. Dmitrović continued where he had left off, first getting in front of an out-of-sorts Diego Costa, before denying Godín for a second time. Costa’s lack of form is becoming a real worry for Diego Simeone, with it now being seven months since the Spain international scored a league goal. A second Eibar defender smashed the crossbar as Anaitz Arbilla hit a powerful long-range shot that had beaten Oblak in the Atlético goal before Dmitrović denied Griezmann for a third time.
The game seemed to be petering out to a 0-0 draw when, in the 87th minute, Sergi Enrich bundled the ball over the line to put the Basque side into the lead. The goal was scrappy but should have been defended much better with Pablo de Blasis being given time to take the ball down and cross in the area and Enrich remaining unmarked. Atléti’s forward line have struggled so far this season and if the defence follows suit it could be a long season for Diego Simeone’s men. Diego Godín thought he had equalised for his team but saw his header come crashing off the bar before Atlético’s salvation arrived in the 94th minute. Scoring on his debut, Borja Garcés salvaged a point for his team with a low shot into the corner following a cut back. A draw was the least the team from Madrid deserved but if they want to challenge for anything this season they will need to show a drastic improvement.
Real Sociedad 1-2 Barcelona
Saturday also saw the unveiling of the refurbished Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian. The running track has gone and the fans are now closer to the pitch in an attempt to reclaim the atmosphere of the historic Atotxa stadium, which was closed in 1993. Anoeta has famously been a difficult place for Barcelona to travel to, with the Catalans picking up only one solitary victory since 2007 and this looked to be the case again for most of the match at the weekend.
Before the match Imanol Agirretxe said farewell to the crowd after retiring from football due to persistent injuries. Real Sociedad have lost a core group of experienced players over the summer and Asier Garitano will be hoping that some of his youngsters will be able to step up and replace Agirretxe, Xabi Prieto and Carlos Martínez. One of these youngsters, Aritz Elustondo put Real Sociedad into a deserved lead after twelve minutes by neatly firing home a loose ball from a free kick. Barça struggled to find their rhythm in the first half and rarely threatened the Real Sociedad defence with any clear cut opportunities. Elustondo’s performance was impressive aside from his goal as he remained a calm presence, deftly intercepting the Barça forwards as well as providing a playmaking option from deep.
Despite the introduction of Coutinho at half time the Barcelona midfield still struggled to pick the decisive passes, as an experimental line-up with Ivan Rakitić playing as the pivot looked as though they were operating without a real plan. It took the introduction of Busquets for Barcelona to really look threatening; the tempo of the game increased perceptibly and Jordi Alba was given free reign of the left flank. Real Sociedad still had chances on the counter attack but Juanmi and Oyarzabal snatched at theirm and were punished as Luis Suárez scored an ugly goal to equalise following a corner. Suárez’ movement left him in space on the edge of the six yard box following a terrible parry from Gerónimo Rulli in the Real Sociedad goal and the Uruguayan marksman simply had to tap the ball into the back of the net.
Rulli made up for his mistake with a smart save from Coutinho but immediately embarrassed himself again as Barcelona scored their winner following another set piece. A deep corner from Messi didn’t look particularly threatening until Rulli threw himself at it, diverting the ball towards the centre of the penalty area in the process. The ball fell to Ousmane Dembélé and his scuffed shot managed to find its way into the back of the net, much to Rulli’s horror. The Argentinian goalkeeper was highly touted following a strange transfer to and from Manchester City a few years ago and made his international debut in a win against Guatemala this month but he was also on the verge of leaving the Basque Country for Boca Juniors in the summer. With Miguel Ángel Moyá waiting on the bench Asier Garitano needs to make a decision as to whether Rulli is a viable long term option for the club because his recent form has been sub-par to say the very least.
Real Sociedad had chances to equalise as the game became more frantic and mistake-ridden towards the final whistle but they couldn’t capitalise in the way that Barcelona had done. It was an ugly win for Barcelona with their opponents deserving a draw at the very least but, come the end of the season, three points is three points and Barcelona continue their unbeaten start to the season.
Athletic Club 1-1 Real Madrid
The final match of Saturday saw Real Madrid also travel to the Basque Country as they visited the San Mames in Bilbao. With two new managers coming up against each other both teams were looking to lay down a marker for their season by getting a result. Thibaut Courtois made his debut for Real Madrid, relegating Keylor Navas to the bench, but it was opposition goalkeeper Unai Simon who shone on Saturday evening. Simon started the season as fourth choice at Athletic Club and was loaned out to Elche in the second division; however, the sale of Kepa to Chelsea, injury to Iago Herrerín and a contract impasse with Álex Remiro led to Simon being recalled and thrust immediately into the first team. After quietly impressing in Athletic’s first two games of the season Simon showed a real calmness and maturity against Madrid, which won a point for his team.
Like Barcelona a few hours earlier Madrid got off to a slow start and were exposed by Athletic Club, who looked dangerous on the counter attack. Iñaki Williams looked to stretch the Madrid defence with his pace and provide space for Susaeta, Raúl García, and Muniain behind him. At the other end Karim Benzema played centrally allowing Asensio and Bale to float from flank to flank but Madrid’s build up play was stifled time and time again by the Athletic defence. Both teams had half chances and long shots but it was Athletic Club who made the breakthrough first with Iker Muniain bundling the ball home after 32 minutes. The impressive Óscar de Marcos raced into the Madrid penalty area from full back and centred for Iñaki Williams whose touch brought the ball into the path of Muniain who couldn’t miss from two yards. Athletic Club deserved to open the scoring in much the same way that their rivals in San Sebastian had done earlier in the day and it would be a test of their abilities to keep a wounded Real Madrid side out. Athletic thought they had doubled their lead minutes later as Raúl García neatly finished from a free kick but the midfielder was a long way offside.
Half time brought a change for Madrid as Casemiro came on for Dani Ceballos and immediately the Brazilian midfielder brought a more aggressive streak out in his team by facing off against Raúl García. These two purveyors of the darker arts in football enjoyed a physical battle that simmered without boiling over and ended good narturedly with a show of mutual respect at the final whistle. Athletic continued to threaten and would have scored more if Williams had the predatory instincts of the injured Aritz Aduriz; however, the Basque team’s attacking options are limited and, following an injury to Muniain, they could only turn to new boy Ander Capa from the bench. This substitution signaled the start of a sustained period of pressure for Madrid and Isco headed home a Bale cross just after the hour mark. Simon had kept out Bale and Ramos moments earlier but could do nothing about Isco’s point blank header.
Both teams had chances as the match drew to a close but Simon saved well from Asensio and Susaeta squandered a chance at the other end. Julen Lopetegui bravely replaced Bale with Lucas Vázquez as he searched for a winner but it wasn’t to be and both teams will be disappointed to only manage a draw. A frantic end to end game showed that Real Madrid need to add a cutting edge to their game if they are to challenge Barcelona for the league title this season. Lopetegui will be disappointed in the lack of impact a few of his players had, namely Kroos, Ceballos and Isco and this lack of creativity could prove to be the clubs undoing without Cristiano Ronaldo to muster something from nothing.
Huesca 0-1 Rayo Vallecano
Valencia 0-0 Real Betis
Leganés 0-1 Villarreal
Espanyol 1-0 Levante
Real Valladolid 0-1 Alavés
Sevilla 0-2 Getafe
Girona 3-2 Celta Vigo
Performance of the week: It has to be Cristhian Stuani whose two goals saw Girona beat Celta on Monday night. The veteran striker has continued his good form into the start of the season and put paid to any suggestions that Girona might struggle without Pablo Machín at the helm.
Disappointment of the week: Sevilla. A two-goal loss to Getafe at home is one thing but doing it without putting up a real fight is another. This Sevilla team don’t seem to have any real plan and the summer signings don’t seem to fit into Machín’s preferred system. After a disappointing season last year Sevilla will be looking to improve quickly.