LaLiga 2017/2018 Matchday 1 Roundup: Red cards, controversy and easy wins for Real Madrid and Barcelona
The return of the Spanish top flight brought with it refereeing controversy, upsets and a steadfast composure from last campaign's top two
In many ways, the opening weekend of LaLiga's season was just an extension of what we already knew, or at least suspected, from the upper echelons of Spanish football. Real Madrid cruised to a rather simple 3-0 victory, while Barcelona eased their way beyond Real Betis at Camp Nou.
At the start of the 2016/2017 campaign, Luis Enrique's side blasted Betis out of the water in a 6-2 victory, but plenty has changed since then. Ernesto Valverde left Athletic Bilbao to take the reins in Catalonia, Neymar said his farewells and departed for Paris Saint-Germain and Quique Setien has managed to get the wheels in motion for a period of transition at the Benito Villamarin.
Lionel Messi struck the woodwork three times, as Barca jogged to the finish line without a goal from their talismanic Argentine, with Gerard Deulofeu impacting in a game where he needed to make a statement for himself. It was a more energetic performance than their wilting two Spanish Super Cup legs against Real Madrid, one with more belief and purpose, high pressing and positivity.
Later on Sunday evening, Zinedine Zidane's men ensured that they too would canter to three points, with two mistakes from Pepe Mel's Deportivo La Coruna side laying down the red carpet, of sorts, to Isco and company. Keylor Navas made two fantastic early one-on-one saves to deny Florin Andone, and even denied a penalty effort from the hosts - but the reality was simply that Real Madrid were otherwise unflustered. Except for Sergio Ramos, who saw red late on after a catalogue of rather overt offences.
Leganes and Alaves raised the curtain on the division during a wet lettuce fight on Friday evening, before a new look Valencia struggled to put ten-man Las Palmas to the sword. Alen Halilovic was red carded for a poorly timed challenge on Jose Gaya, but Marcelino's group didn't quite click into top gear in front of goal. Two 1-0 wins, both for the hosts, with no complaints to be had from either defeated party.
Saturday, however, offered a change of pace. Celta Vigo lost narrowly to Real Sociedad, as a wrongly awarded penalty afforded Willian Jose the opportunity to stroke home a great finish to aid Eusebio's side, before Atletico Madrid and Sevilla's opening fixtures saw Antoine Griezmann and Ever Banega both red carded for dissent.
Without Griezmann, Atleti were able to battle from two goals behind to draw 2-2 with Primera new boys Girona, who showed during a frenetic first 45 minutes that they have quality to offer at Montilivi this campaign. Sans Banega, Eduardo Berizzo couldn't inspire Sevilla to poke their noses in front versus Espanyol, ending his first LaLiga game as coach in a disappointing 1-1 draw.
Controversy reigned supreme once again on Sunday, as Getafe scraped a hard-fought point at San Mames against Athletic Bilbao. The newly promoted side ought to have left with all three after a Markel Bergara header crept over Kepa's line, unbeknownst to the officials, sparing the young goalkeeper's blushes and ultimately Kuko Ziganda's first league match as Los Leones boss. Eibar, who featured a day later, got their own campaign underway with a narrow 1-0 win against Malaga, underwent a negative pre-season and look in drab shape.
Levante ensured that all three promoted sides went unbeaten on their opening top-flight match day, as a weakened Villarreal outfit fell foul to a well-drilled unit in Valencia.
Morales was a thorn in the visitors' side all evening, and eventually won a late penalty from a clumsy sliding challenge from Antonio Rukavina, with Levante's cohesiveness and hard working spirit resulting in a deserved 1-0 victory.
LaLiga has competitive, spirited new boys, while Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to look unfazed by the challenge ahead.
Plentiful refereeing errors across just 10 top-flight fixtures suggest that there could be plenty more kinks in the road ahead, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Spain's top two maintain their current first and second-place statuses for the duration of the campaign.