It was to be expected. La Liga’s announcement of a partnership with an apparently diligent, professional media company to enter the US / Canadian market was met with outrage, as the statement mentioned that one match will be played in the Americas for the next 15 seasons. Where is the opinion of the fans? What happens with season ticket holders? And what about the players? This is again Javier Tebas doing things on his own, for his own benefit, and destroying the sport as we know it, and as it should be.
Granted, Tebas is as shady as they come. His track record trying to make La Liga a decent competitor to the Premier League in foreign markets is terrible. But perhaps there’s something to be said about La Liga trying to enter a very sophisticated market in alliance with a company that will demand plenty of improvement of the tournament as a product, if this joint venture wants to succeed.
The calendar must stop being a mess, and will have to be defined before the season starts, especially if one of the matches is to be played abroad. The refs will have to receive plenty of funds and training so that potential new fans don’t dismiss La Liga as a suspicious competition. But, more importantly, measures to increase competition and augment the interest of this tournament will have to be taken. Salary cap? Drafts? Closed league? Many of those items will have to be discussed if La Liga wants to have any chance of becoming a serious business in the US and Canada.
And to those complaining bitterly about the chance of a match being played abroad, here’s something a lot more infuriating that happens every summer without anyone making a serious move to stop it: a bunch of 22:15 kick off times this opening matchday, assuming a) that all fans are on holidays and can stay up until late, which is obviously not true and b) that they enjoy leaving a football match after midnight, which is obviously not true either.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Girona vs Valladolid: 1. (Fri – 20:15)
I have to admit a certain sympathy for the visitors, as my grandma was born there and my grandfather, a Madridista socio, also became a socio of Valladolid and watched them in the Pneumonia Stadium almost as often as Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Yes, sporting bigamy, but they played for different objectives.
Sympathetic as I am to Valladolid, Girona should prevail in this one. Despite Pablo Machin’s desertion to Sevilla, new coach Eusebio should do well with this squad, very similar in competitive terms to last season’s. While the hosts look solid, Valladolid have found a few loanees that don’t look like enough dynamite to avoid the relegation battle. Clear ‘1’.
- Betis vs Levante: 1. (Fri – 22:15)
First 22:15 match of the weekend. Yes, Sevilla is really hot in the summer and a late kickoff makes sense, but 22:15? Really?
The home side have done smart businesses in the summer. A handful of players just like Quique Setien likes them – classy, able with the ball – are going to strengthen the side and add a depth that Betis lacked last season. Canales and Inui, together with William Carvalho, should take Betis a step further.
Levante pulled off a rightful miracle to avoid relegation last season, but nothing in their summer moves makes this scribe believe that their performance this season will be good. If you want to laugh at some madridista’s expense, they’ve been trying to get Borja Mayoral, Lopetegui’s first offensive option off the bench, on loan during the summer. Let’s jump to the next match before I break down and start crying.
- Celta vs Espanyol: 1. (Sat – 18:15)
Both teams look a lot worse now than they did in May. The silly season has left them without some of their best players, although Gerard Moreno’s exit to Villarreal will be felt by Espanyol a lot more than the sale of Tucu Hernandez or Jonny on Celta’s side.
New coaches on both benches too. One thing is clear: Espanyol will struggle to score all season. This is one of the easiest chances Celta will have to get three points at home.
- Villarreal vs Real Sociedad: 1. (Sat – 20:15)
Villarreal keep outsmarting the upper middle class of La Liga in every single transfer window. Well aware that they’d lose the talented Rodri, they’ve done a few great pieces of business – namely, Pedraza, Cazorla, Moreno, Layún, Funes Mori—, and now have an even more intimidating squad than last season’s. The same can’t be said about Real Sociedad, for whom the smartest move has been their new coach, Asier Garitano. Smart and hard worker, he’ll get the most out of this squad, but losing Canales, Prieto and Odriozola without decent replacements is hard to cover for, at least in less than six weeks working with the team. Another ‘1’. By the way, Phil believes that Real Sociedad could be a dark horse. You see, always the most diverse opinions in LigaFever.
- Barcelona vs Alavés: 1. (Sat – 22:15)
Alaves enjoyed a phenomenal second half of the season, based on their home performances and the great motivation work by their coach. But can they upset Barcelona at the Camp Nou after letting go 14 players in the summer? Don’t think so. Even less now that Dembele has a competitive replacement breathing down his neck. This will be a rout.
- Eibar vs Huesca: 2. (Sun – 18:15)
Eibar has lost Capa, Inui and Dani Garcia. Too many holes to fill and the chance for newcomers Huesca to start the season with an upset. I’ll root for any team who pays Luisinho a salary to play in La Liga, so this is a clear ‘2’. And yes, I know that 80% of Huesca players have probably spent 15 minutes together before this match.
- Rayo Vallecano vs Sevilla: X. (Sun – 20:15)
Sevilla should be firing at all cylinders already, as they’ve played a few competitive matches already. Their fans look enchanted with new coach Machin and the level of effort and focus he’s brought to the side, so on paper the cash should go on the visitors. However, don’t underestimate Rayo’s comeback to the top flight. As Phil mentioned in his preview, they’ve lost their top two players last season, but Vallecas is such a tough pitch to play that they could very well get a point on Sunday.
- Real Madrid vs Getafe: 1. (Sun – 22:15)
An admission of guilt: when writing the intro my personal concerns took the better of me. I work on Monday and detest late kickoffs at the Bernabeu, so this fixture just kills me.
If you add the grim outlook of the season for the hosts, there’s really not much will to go watch Mayoral come off the bench on the 70th minute. Real Madrid should win this one easily, as Getafe have pulled a Getafe and changed 80% of their squad over the summer. However, the fact that the hosts have played it beyond safe in the last few transfer windows has taken them from having probably the deepest 23-player group in history two seasons ago to a much depleted side this summer. Letting Cristiano Ronaldo go without hiring any striker is impossible to explain, and it’s even more bizarre that club sources say that they’re looking for a 40M top offensive player. With that price they could have signed whoever they wanted back in the eighties.
This is probably the weekend in which Madrid is at its emptiest, given that most Madrileños are on the beach, so even if Real Madrid fail to win the storm can be weathered until the beginning of September. But it’s hard to see this group contending for the title for a full season. The last two La Liga titles – under Mourinho and Zidane – were the result of very solid squads, and this one looks shaky, injury prone, even lacking focus if we judge the performance of its back four in the European Supercup. It will be a long, long season.
- Valencia vs Atlético de Madrid: 2. (Mon – 20:00)
The is the best match of the weekend: two pretenders that won’t want to start the season with a defeat. Atleti, excellently reinforced and with the highest paid coach of the tournament, look determined to do something memorable this year. Valencia, now with a squad that Marcelino has designed in detail, can compete with any top level squad.
This column has raised its expectations of Atleti. They must win every match. Simeone has run out of excuses: he has the squad he dreamed of and needs to deliver every week.
- Athletic de Bilbao vs Leganés: X. (Mon – 22:00)
Don’t think Athletic and Berizzo will be a good match. This squad requires a level of energy and exigency that the Argentinean, skilled with a different kind of gifts, lacks. Their off-season hasn’t been great, even with their self-imposed limitations to sign players.
Leganes have pulled another Getafe and changed the whole squad, give or take. They signed Vesga from Athletic, so he’s destined to drive the hosts nuts on Monday. A boring draw, probably.
- Girona vs Valladolid:
- Betis vs Levante:
- Celta vs Espanyol:
- Villarreal vs Real Sociedad:
- Barcelona vs Alavés:
- Eibar vs Huesca:
- Rayo Vallecano vs Sevilla:
- Real Madrid vs Getafe:
- Valencia vs Atlético de Madrid:
- Athletic de Bilbao vs Leganés: