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5 Things We Learned in La Liga - Week 1

A few takeaways from an exciting opening weekend

Sevilla FC v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

1 - Sevilla have already gone full-Sampaoli!

Sevilla's matches with Real Madrid and Barcelona in the UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup had left behind a puzzling identity of what this club was going to look like. The Andalucians had been positive for stretches, and one could see the potential, especially offensively, but the deficiencies were also obvious. Was it a matter of the extremely stiff competition they faced or would this squad need more time to procure an identity than many believed? I for one was starting to get extremely nervous. I have followed this tatted up, bald headed, roaring beast all the way back to his Universidad de Chile days. Sampaoli had built a reputation for relentless attacking, and his consistent mantra of rebellion extended to every aspect of his coaching.

When he was appointed to replace Unai Emery back in June, this was the sort of footballing style his arrival had pointed to. "I'm tremendously passionate about attacking," he told his club's official website. "[Sevilla fans will] see a coach who never wants to stop being a protagonist. For that we need a rebellious group."

Well if 90 minutes against Espanyol was any indication, it appears we have gotten what we expected. 26 shots. 3-3 at the half. 6-4 at the final whistle.

This absolute cracker of a match had my fingers almost self destructing attempting to tweet out the scoring updates. It was unpredictable, madness, defensively horrible, but most of all — fun.

Real Sociedad de Futbol v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

2 - Gareth Bale continues to score goals with his head and Marco Asensio could be a star in the making

When the league fixtures were announced earlier this summer most people were probably looking for the dates of El Clasico’s or the other various derbies La Liga has to offer. But if there is one man who should’ve been circling the calendar for a trip to San Sebastian, it was Gareth Bale. In three trips to the Anoeta he had scored every time, and with Ronaldo and Benzema out of the lineup with injuries, the onus would once again be on the Welshmen. It took only 90 seconds, but Dani Carvajal would send in a cross to a streaking blur that resembled a half cheetah- half samurai. Bale leaped to the sky, reaching the ball with his head at the apex before detonating it into the back of the net. It was his 10th headed goal since the beggining of last season, the most of any player in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

After spending a very solid year away on loan at Espnayol which included 4 goals and 12 assists, 20 year old Marco Asensio was recalled to the Spanish capital with a very uncertain future. After all, Madrid already possessed some very well known (and expensive) midfield options that would surely take precedence in the pecking order. As has been customary under Florentino Perez’s reign, his Galacticos play, no questions asked. But Zinedine Zidane is no ordinary manager. His name carries weight, and when you win the Champions League in your first 5 months on the job, he might as well walk around with an elephant strapped to his back. Instead of loaning the young Spaniard out again, Zidane was determined to see if his pup could bite, other big egos be dammed. Against Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup, it was Asensio’s goal from nearly 30 yards out that put Madrid ahead. With Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo out for the opener, it was assumed Zidane would turn to his household names to fill the spots, specifically James or Isco. But again, Zidane entrusted the young Asensio who repaid his managers faith with a silky smooth chip for a goal that was well beyond his years. Former Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque recently labeled Asensio, somewhat controversially, “Spain’s most talented player”. If this early sample size is any indication, the old man may be on to something.

Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: First Leg Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

3 - Spain still has a huge problem with racism no matter what anyone says

For all of the good we got to witness throughout LaLiga this weekend, there was a disgusting 30 seconds that emanated from the north end of El Molinon that trumped it all. During the match between Sporting Gijon and Athletic Club, the referee was forced to temporarily stop the game due to racist chants directed towards Iñaki Williams. In an effort to defuse the situation, a public announcement was made by the club to stop the chants at once. The game continued and, despite the chants dissipating, the whole stadium whistled Williams, even though he was the victim of the sick and vile act. It was another stain on Spain’s troubled history with racist behavior towards black players, with none being worse than the late Luis Aragones calling Thierry Henry “a black piece of s*it” to Jose Reyes during a training session. If this problem is going to quelled once and for all, the La Liga hierarchy need to put their money where their mouth is. Two years ago, Javier Tebas, La Liga's president, said "We must close the parts of the stadiums where they sing racist chants.” Was it all lip service? Now we find out.

4 - So you’re a newly promoted side? No problem.

For Osasuna, it took 3 years. Deportivo Alavés; 10. CD Leganés; 88.

All three newly promoted sides arrived to Jornada 1 with one singular emotion — joy. The joy of just being here, experiencing this competition and making that type of money. But something else also happened this weekend that was quite unexpected; All 3 sides won or drew their matches. Osasuna kicked things off with an impressive draw on the road against Málaga, with their lone goal scored by non-other than former Arsenal “legend” Fran Mérida.

From there it only got crazier.

Seen as little more than a tune-up, Alavés strolled into the Calderón with absolutely nothing to lose. Atleti had peppered goal keeper Fernando Pacheco with 26 shots for 91 minutes, but miraculously, none found the back of the net. But then in 92nd minute Fernando Torres was taken down in the box and it all seemed to unravel. Former Sevilla man Kevin Gamiero stepped to the spot and drilled the penalty, allowing the crowd of 36,421 to send out a collective sigh of relief. With the referee about to put his lips to the whistle to blow for full-time, Manu García had other ideas. He turned and smashed Alavés’ first shot on target, and only their second in total. From 25 yards it rocketed in and a precious point was earned.

Finally, the tiny Madrid satellite club, Leganés, were playing at Celta Vigo in their first La Liga game in their history. With the score deadlocked through 75 minutes, Víctor Díaz scored their very first goal in the top flight for their very first win. And with that all three of the minnows became sharks — for a weekend at least.

Barcelona v Mallorca - La Liga Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

5 - Your stadium might not be full but at least it looks that way on TV!

A ruling from the LaLiga big wigs has come into effect this season that decrees that if the stand opposite the main TV camera during televised games is not full to 75% capacity, then fines will be finding their way to the plush mahogany desk’s of the offending club.

Instead of more affordable ticket prices or the altering of kickoff times that run close to when discotheques open their doors, the league has opted to supply you with a fresh and shiny tarp to mask the embarrassment! 43.7% of seats sat empty across the first and second divisions last year, with only Real Madrid and Eibar occupying over 80% and only eight clubs sitting above the 75% threshold. Spain is a unique country in that 60% of the population support two clubs (Real Madrid and Barcelona) and with the stagnating economy, especially among young people, sporting events are often out of people’s budgets. As we saw on Saturday, not even the Camp Nou is immune. The announced attendance of 65,731 was well below the 99,354 capacity, and no section was more pronounced than the south end behind the goal. It remains to be seen just how effective the new policy will be, but at least your eyes will be deceived.

Other random facts

- Barcelona have won their last 9 competitive matches by a score of 37-2.

- Kevin-Prince Boateng became the 6th player in history to score in the 4 major European Leagues (ESP-ENG-GER-ITA).

- The 40 goals scored in the first week of La Liga were the most since the 1996-97 season when there were 22 teams.

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