The Spanish season got off to an early start this year to accommodate a football calendar that is threatening to run to 12 months of the year. This change was not appreciated by everyone and Barcelona’s crowd of 57,721 against Real Sociedad was their lowest league attendance for four years. The drop in attendance was even more marked elsewhere with only 20,000 fans watching Sevilla play Getafe. That represents 50% of last season?s average who were willing to sit in the 37 degree heat for an early start to La Liga.
In La Coruna, Deportivo fans displayed banners blaming television for the ever-expanding fixture list and it was a similar story at Rayo Vallecano. The worst turnout was just 11,000 to see Zaragoza lose 1-0 at home to Valladolid. It is not just the early start to the season that is upsetting the fans. The kick off times have been set to fit in with the TV schedules with an incredible nine different time slots from Saturday to Monday night to provide almost constant action. Most staggering of all, the last time slot is 11pm on Monday and Zaragoza fans vented their anger by booing and waving banners. Not surprisingly, all three late kick-offs attracted poor attendances with only 11.000 at Mallorca v Espanyol and 14,000 watching Levante versus Atletico Madrid. The authorities need to think long and hard about the situation. Working families with young children cannot possibly justify attending football matches at these ridiculous kick-off times. If the sport continues to pander to television at the expense of the supporters, fans will continue to vote with their feet and the social fabric of football in Spain will be undermined.
On the pitch, it was Barcelona who made the early headlines. They stormed to a 5-1 win over Real Sociedad under new coach Tito Vilanova with David Villa scoring on his return from a broken leg suffered in December. Lionel Messi scored twice with goals by Puyol and Pedro signalling Barca?s intent for the new season. Jose Mourinho?s Real Madrid could not respond and were held to a 1-1 draw by Valencia. The opening game is hardly likely to be significant in the overall scheme of things but it is definitely advantage Barcelona after day 1 of La Liga.
World Player of the Year Messi scored a league record 50 goals last season and settled any early season nerves with two strikes that helped them to a 3-1 lead inside 15 minutes at the Nou Camp. Pedro smashed home a fourth just before the interval and Villa?s goal put the icing on the cake for the home supporters in the closing stages. Spain’s all-time leading scorer with 51 goals, was forced to miss Spain?s Euro 2012 triumph and he was given a massive ovation when he replaced Pedro after 74 minutes. It was a very emotional return to action and sets him on his way to recovering a regular team and international starting place. With new signings Jordi Alba and Alex Song, and Villa back and scoring goals, things could hardly look brighter for new coach Tito Vilanova. Many felt that he may struggle to fill the shoes of Pep Guardiola after last season?s disappointing Champions League and La Liga results but Barcelona seem to have returned with a new hunger.
Real Madrid only dropped 14 points in their 38 matches last term on their way to recording a record tally of 100 league points. They will be desperate not to make any mistake when they travel to Getafe, beaten 2-1 at Sevilla last weekend. Barcelona go to Osasuna who were beaten 2-0 by Deportivo La Coruna in their opening fixture. Real Betis beat Athletic Bilbao 5-3 at San Mames in the best match of the opening round of fixtures, staging a remarkable recovery from 3-0 down with goals from Oscar De Marcos, Mikel San Jose (2), Alejandro Pozuelo and Jorge Molina. Levante drew 1-1 with Atletico Madrid, Celta de Vigo lost 1-0 at home to Malaga, Mallorca beat Espanyol 2-1 and Rayo Vallecano beat Granada 1-0.