With our brand new La Liga section finding its way onto your screens imminently, Will Bolton, one of our new writers, tells you exactly why you should be paying attention to Spain's fantastic footballing world.
We may be only six games into the new La Liga season but it is already being touted as one of the most frantic and unpredictable leagues in over a decade. A casual glance at the current league standings, with the all too familiar ‘big three’ of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid leading the way, would suggest once again another three way battle for the title, with the chasing pack competing for the other lucrative Champions League place. However, closer inspection of events both on and off the field reveals a fascinating league full of intrigue.
No team exemplifies the erratic nature of this season’s top flight than newly promoted Alaves, who followed up an impressive 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderón with a shock 2-1 victory at the home of the champions, FC Barcelona. Nor are they the only team sending shock waves through Spanish football. Last weekend saw Las Palmas secure an unlikely point against Real Madrid whilst Eibar, largely written off at the start of this season given last year’s extraordinary campaign which saw them avoid relegation, have taken ten points from their opening six matches.
One thing that hasn’t shocked anyone is Valencia chairman Peter Lim’s sacking of manager Pako Ayestaran at the Mestalla, less than six months after the removal of Gary Neville. Why the board of directors don’t hand Voro Gonzalez the role on a permanent basis is anyone's guess, especially considering he has served as caretaker manager on three occasions recently. Villas-Boas is currently the bookies favourite to be next in line to face the wrath of an over-expectant and impatient Valencia fan base.
Lionel Messi’s injury lay off leaves Barca manager Luis Enrique with the unenviable task of replacing the irreplaceable. How his side cope without their talisman will be largely determined by how the manager tweaks his front three to accommodate the strengths of Arda Turan, who tends to stray from his position out wide with less frequency than his fellow attackers. Although hardly a stranger to high pressing from his time at Atletico Madrid, how he performs when given the license to roam will be interesting to watch. Indeed, whether it is he or Paco Alcacer who starts against Celta Vigo on Sunday is fascinating in itself. It is a huge chance for both to stake a claim in disrupting the captivating partnership of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, who have scored ten of FC Barcelona’s last twelve goals. Good luck to them.
Over at the the Bernabéu, Zinedine Zidane once again showcased his managerial credentials at the weekend, substituting a below-par Cristiano Ronaldo. This year’s inevitable Ballon d’or winner’s strop wrongly stole the limelight from a fantastic Las Palmas display, yet nevertheless was significant in the Portuguese international’s Real Madrid career. It is difficult to recall the last time Ronaldo was substituted for tactical reasons, and is indicative of the fact he is no longer able to play ninety minutes every game for nine months of the year. Thankfully, Zidane has shown he is capable of dealing with the big egos (of which Real Madrid have plenty), whilst maintaining their respect, unlike predecessors Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho. How Ronaldo reacts to his new role will be crucial to the success of Real Madrid’s season, and is another riveting sub-plot to an exciting season of Spanish football.
William is one of our two new La Liga writers who will be covering all aspects of Spanish football for us from now on! Enjoy!
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