The ball fell from high, high in the night sky: it flew 40 or 50 meters, twisted and bent, came down fast and from an awkward angle. Positioned near the touchline, the former Chile international barely moved, shifting positions almost imperceptibly and watching him to the right foot as if guiding him there himself, a Jedi mind trick. Then he tamed it with a single gentle touch, as gentle as if he could have worn slippers, and obediently pointed it to the left before tossing it to one of his players. All this with the nonchalance of a man who doesn’t try.
There were gasps and then applause from 50,622 people. Nice to see you again.
On the bench, Real Betis’ substitutes and staff also started clapping. There were giggles, open mouths, faces that said: Damn it, did you just see that? Oh, they had seen well – and that was it Manager who just did that.
Asked about that moment afterwards, Manuel Pellegrini, the 68-year-old Betis coach, smiled, a man who hasn’t played in 36 years. “Well,” he said, “I had to be on par with the team.”
Manuel Pellegrini’s first touch 😍 pic.twitter.com/EBfEG4W0FL
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 16, 2022
That’s a certain level – and it wasn’t just Betis.
It was late Monday night and his team had just wrapped up the first weekend of another league season with a 3-0 win over Elche. It had opened four days earlier with neighbors Sevilla losing 2-1 at Osasuna, the first goal of the year scored by header from Chimy Avila, he with the self-made tattoos, the wildest life story on his skin and the thick ones thighs of ham.
It couldn’t have started in a better place, and it probably couldn’t have ended in a better place either: El Sadar and the Benito Villamarin full and lively, noisy. And between that Avila goal – just nine minutes into the 2022/23 season, the noise in El Sadar engulfing everything – and Juanmi’s beautifully struck strike just before 11pm on Monday, a lot had happened. And a lot of it so good.
There were goals everywhere except Barcelona and Athletic Club, which didn’t make much sense, let alone boring. After all, Athletic fired 23 shots, including two that ricocheted off the post, and Barcelona made 21 of them. Robert Lewandowski had the ball in the net as fully as he had in a year on his debut at a Camp Nou – at least for the men’s side – and it was received magnificently only for it to be ruled offside. Seven years in a row he had scored on opening night, but that was in Germany. Spain is something different, something good.
LaLiga was back and maybe it’s the wait, maybe it’s that miss youbut boy was it fun.
There were 49 debutants Primeraquite a few old faces too – you will never guess who scored Celta Vigo’s first goal of the season – and many of the moments that make it up. “La Primera en La Frentesaid Julen Lopetegui at the end of the opening night of the opening weekend. Roughly it means something like: bam, a slap in the face from the start. And that’s how it felt. Not so much because of the absurdly weak penalty he rightly lamented – although he was right, having just seen the referee make the very sort of decision they had promised not to make four days earlier – but because of the whole thing. That hit you, sensory overload.
“I’m very emotional, I feel like crying,” said Aimar Oroz. A 22-year-old boy with just 10 minutes to go, making his first start for Osasuna, scored the winner from the penalty spot at El Sadar, which Lopetegui moaned about – a first game that was wild, frenetic and very fun to start eventually done on the spot. He had the nerve to take it. Not just to take it, but to take it to Avila.
“Print?” Oroz said afterwards, “Nope. It’s just you, the ball and the goal,” and now he was beaming. “I feel like a little kid,” he continued, and not just because he’s, well, one who stands with a cheeky grin and doesn’t really know what else to say. “I slept well last night, but I guess I won’t tonight.”
He wasn’t the only one. Jackson and Baena, two youth products, scored Villarreal’s goals the next day as they went ahead with a 3-0 win in Valladolid, although they were later joined by Betis and Atletico there. Baena’s second strike in particular was outstanding – a hard shot that went into the top corner.
Then there was Barcelona, who were finally able to swap Palankas to the game but was saved by Rayo Vallecano who should have won at the last minute and who might only have had two chances but arguably had the best two of the game. They didn’t, although Isi Palazon flew, but in the last 10 months Rayo has now played against Barcelona three times under coach Andoni Iraola; They didn’t concede a goal.
Before that, Espanyol drew 2-2 at Celta from a 2-0 deficit. Iago Aspas scored the first goal, but you knew that. Espanyol new signing Joselu equalized in the 98th minute.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Celta coach Chaco Coudet, but it was simple: Oscar Mingueza, who he sent on to help in the 91st minute, missed a penalty Joselu would never miss. And what, drama and fun aside, suited new manager Diego Martinez perfectly: his celebration, reaching out to his players and throwing them together underscored the value he saw in the way they had done it how being fast could help – track the unit every coach strives for.
That was Saturday. Sunday brought us manager Gennaro Gattuso, sweating in Valencia where Carlos Soler scored the only goal, Take Kubo’s winner for Real Sociedad through what he called a “crazy” pass from Premier League champions Mikel Merino against the second division champions. Almeria, back in Spain’s top flight after seven years, even left and scored after just five minutes, 50 seconds against Real Madrid, the place went wild and for an hour or so believed that maybe, just maybe, they could actually do it.
Real Madrid take the lead from a David Alaba free-kick
But Madrid equalized through Lucas Vazquez, and then assistant Davide Ancelotti sent David Alaba with simple instructions: goal. And no, this is not a joke. He really did. The Austrian was preparing to come on as a substitute when Madrid conceded a free-kick, Carlo’s son urged his father to make the move faster than planned, Karim Benzema motioned for Alaba to come and take it too. And so he did, rolling the ball off the post into the net with his very first touch and running back to the bench, where he was told: told you.
“It was a little crazy,” Alaba said of what it was — everything. Oh what fun we had.
There was more. Ernesto Valverde returned to San Mames on Monday – “It was emotional,” he said – and then Atletico scored three goals at Getafe, which doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
All three goals came from robberies high up on the pitch, Atletico cutting through the middle. One was scored by Antoine Griezmann – a substitute who hadn’t scored since January – and two by Alvaro Morata, the man who has been at his most outlandish level a week ago and seems constantly in search of an unattainable fortune, but who might have grabbed it this time, Simeone said afterwards: “We hope he stays.”
And all three had been provided by Joao Felix, giving almost as many assists in one night south of town as all of last season. “That’s okay [for the second]…” said Morata, his lack of words just about to express how brilliant it had been, an angled ball without a look that knocked out a team.
It had been fine, and it wasn’t over for an opening weekend that reminded everyone why they love this – so glad to have it all back. Not because Nabil Fekir would do something crazy to end it, sneak up behind Enzo Rocco and take the ball out on the touchline, go inside, brake, pull away, stop, start and get into the area, still on his feet despite being dragged, kicked and shoved, the victim of at least four fouls fleeing to the touchline where he set up Borja Iglesias brilliantly. But because his Manager was and conjured up a magical note that greeted everyone with a wow.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/spanish-laliga/story/4724704/he-did-what!-laligas-opening-weekend-delighted-with-goalsdebuts-and-surprises He did what?! LaLiga’s opening weekend delighted with goals, debuts and surprises