La Liga’s top three may have a familiar look, but the start of the season has been far from normal.
Defending champions Barcelona will need to plan for life without the injured Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane has given Cristiano Ronaldo a taste of his future by substituting him for tactical reasons, and James Rodriguez has made an unlikely return to favour despite seeming destined for the Bernabeu exit.
And it’s certainly not just the top of the table where there’s intrigue.
Minnows Eibar, Las Palmas and Alaves have all defied their critics to make strong starts to the season, while Valencia and Sevilla will provide plenty of interest over the course of the campaign.
There is so much more to La Liga than the big three, and that’ll prove the case even more this season.
Sure, the cream always rises to the top, but we’ve already seen Barcelona, Atletico and Real Madrid suffer little stumbles.
Barca were beaten at home by Alaves, Atletico were held in their first two games, against a promoted side, and Real in their last two, and perhaps only one of those results was even slightly expected.
Roughly €400m was spent by Spanish top-division clubs this summer, and there have been some fascinating recruits.
Already Kevin Gameiro, Nicola Sansone and Luciano Vietto are proving their worth, and there’s plenty of value for money further down the league.
Some teams have undergone wholesale changes, a couple have done very little in the transfer market, but almost half of them have changed coach.
Evolution, revolution, consistency, chaos
La Liga has it all this term.
This season, the issue of rotation will be greater than ever.
The conundrum is clear: how do you give your top players enough rest when they’re playing games every three days, and still produce the best results?
Although they signed six other very decent players this summer, the issue of Barcelona’s over-reliance on Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar persists – it was no surprise that MSN scored 10 of the 12 goals in the two games that followed the Alaves defeat.
The real test comes now with Messi’s injury, how it’s managed and how quickly the likes of Arda Turan and Paco Alcacer can learn and fit together in that front three while he recovers.
The BBC are back at Real Madrid, but not exactly firing – especially Cristiano Ronaldo, who was taken off in the 2-2 draw at Las Palmas, perhaps for the first time in his Real Madrid career as a tactical substitution when the result was still in the balance.
It’s not just about managing energy levels here, it’s managing egos too.
Both are equally challenging.
Cristiano Ronaldo was far from impressed after being substituted for Real Madrid at Las Palmas.
The La Liga leaders conceded a late equaliser as Barcelona
Cristiano Ronaldo was far from impressed after being substituted for Real Madrid at Las Palmas. The La Liga leaders conceded a late equaliser as Barcelona.
Questions of identity
With new coaches trying to shape new teams in their image, we’re getting some interesting results.
None more so than at Sevilla, where the difference in styles from one era to another could hardly be more stark.
Unai Emery’s concept, based on a strong work ethic, has been succeeded by something altogether less ordered as Jorge Sampaoli puts his ideas into place.
The attack-at-all-costs philosophy that we saw in their La Liga opener against Espanyol now seems to have evolved, for the time being, into a more cautious approach.
However, you look at Sevilla’s summer business and you wonder whether Sampaoli has the players to deliver that, especially having failed to adequately replace Grzegorz Krychowiak who followed Unai Emery to PSG.
A few Sevilla players have admitted how demanding it is to adapt to Sampaoli’s principles, so expect a few more bumps in the road, such as Salvatore Sirigu’s red card in Athletic Bilbao, until things settle down.
Source: Sky Sports