5 Things to look out for on the Opening Weekend in La Liga

5 Things to look out for on the Opening Weekend in La Liga
Alex Wrigley
Alex Wrigley
August 17, 2018
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Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.

Friday night sees the 2018/19 season in La Liga kick off and there is plenty to get excited about on the opening weekend. Barcelona and Real Madrid have both somewhat predictably been given winnable home games to kick things off but the opening round of fixtures concludes with a huge clash at the Mestalla where two of last season’s top four meet with Valencia hosting Atletico Madrid.

Los rojiblancos have spent big this summer and look like serious contenders this term in what should be a much tighter title race than the procession that was Barcelona’s win last time around. There’s plenty to look out for further down too and the opening round of fixtures should provide the first clues as to who is likely to be part of the relegation scrap and who might be capable of pushing for Europe. Here are five things to look out for on the opening weekend:

Unfancied new boys aim to prove their worth

The last few years have seen plenty of genuine minnows promoted to La Liga and many have defied the odds. Eibar and Leganes both survived their debut seasons and remain in the Spanish top flight heading into the 2018/19 campaign. Meanwhile last season saw La Liga debutants Girona and fellow new boys Getafe both secure top half finishes and narrowly miss out on European football.

Therefore recent history teaches us not to write off newly promoted sides but this season, it’s hard to fancy any of the three teams that have come up to succeed. Huesca become the 62nd team to participate in the Spanish Primera Division and are the bookies clear favourites for relegation. They are closely followed by Real Valladolid, back in the top flight after four seasons in the second tier but arguably with a weaker team than the one that won promotion via the play-offs after the departure of their star player. Rayo Vallecano complete the unfancied trio and have spent the most money with nearly £6 million invested in new players giving them the best chance of beating the drop.

All three teams are clear underdogs this weekend in their respective matches but will know that a good start is key as they look to carry the momentum of their promotion pushes last term into the new campaign.

Read more: La Liga Outright Tips

Who will start in goal for Real Madrid?

The opening weekend will also see numerous coaches end their pre-season tinkering and select what they perceive as their strongest elevens and there are many big calls that need to be made as new signings jostle for starting roles. None are bigger than the one facing Julen Lopetegui who must decide whether Thibaut Courtois or Keylor Navas starts in goal as Real Madrid take on Getafe this Sunday.

It’s safe to say that Courtois hasn’t joined Real Madrid to sit on the bench but Navas has already indicated his willingness to stay and fight for the number one jersey and has rarely let his team down in big games over the past four years since his move from Levante. The Costa Rican got the nod in the UEFA Super Cup in midweek but didn’t exactly help his cause by conceding a goal at his near post in just the first minute before going on to see a further three fly past him as Atleti won 4-2.

Navas has though helped Real Madrid win 10 trophies during his time at the Bernabeu so Courtois will have to fight hard for a starting role and it’ll be interesting to see who Lopetegui picks this weekend.

Read more: Can Atletico Madrid win more silverware?

Segunda Division goal machines aiming to make the step up

The top seven goalscorers in the Segunda Division last season will all be at top flight clubs this term and their ability to make the grade at a higher level could have a huge impact on their respective clubs survival prospects. The top scorer by some distance was Jaime Mata who bagged 33 goals for Real Valladolid and was the principal reason for their promotion. He has since left the club though to join Getafe while Sergi Guardiola has done likewise after netting 22 for Cordoba last term.

They may still face a battle to make the starting eleven with Getafe looking strong heading into the new season but the same can’t be said of Borja Iglesias, who is likely to go straight into the Espanyol team. The striker scored 22 times for Real Zaragoza last term and is viewed as a direct replacement for Gerard Moreno having completed a £9 million move. New boys Huesca will be hoping Colombian teenager Cucho Hernández can make the grade. The Watford loanee scored 16 times in their promotion winning campaign, as did midfielder Gonzalo Melero, who will be looking to prove his worth in the top flight.

Meanwhile over in the capital, Michael Santos should see plenty of action on loan at Leganes following his 17 goal contribution for Sporting Gijon last season. Across town 23 year old Raúl de Tomás is a wanted man just not by his current boss. The Real Madrid forward scored 24 goals on loan at Rayo Vallecano to help them to promotion and is expected to complete another loan move away this month, perhaps back to Vallecas.

New coaches target winning starts

This summer has been another bumper one for coaching changes and there are a few unfamiliar names leading clubs into the new season. Only avid fans of Mexican or Argentine football will know much about Antonio Mohamed. The 48 year old is the surprise choice to take over at Celta Vigo and is one of four Argentines who have taken jobs in La Liga this summer. The others include Eduardo Berizzo who starts out at Athletic Bilbao following his Sevilla sacking last season and former Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino, who returns to La Liga with Leganes. The quartet is completed by Leo France, the new coach for newly promoted Huesca. He has limited coaching experience but was Atletico Madrid’s first choice keeper in La Liga between 2004 and 2009.

Huesca’s promotion-winning coach Rubi takes over at Espanyol, who sacked Quique Sanchez Flores towards the end of last term. Asier Garitano left Leganes this summer and kicks off life as Real Sociedad boss with a tough away game at Villarreal. Sociedad’s old boss Eusebio is now in charge of Girona following Pablo Machin’s move to Sevilla in what was a real managerial merry-go-round at the start of the summer.

The biggest story was of course Julen Lopetegui’s decision to join Real Madrid and subsequent sacking by Spain on the eve of the World Cup. No new boss will be under more pressure to win this weekend, particularly following Real’s Super Cup defeat in Estonia.

Live Football on Facebook

There are also big changes in the way Spanish football will be broadcast this season. In the UK, Sky Sports have lost the rights to cover La Liga meaning viewers will have to fork out for a subscription to newcomers Eleven Sports in order to maintain access to all the live action. However they will be making some games free to view via Facebook in something of a landmark move which could be a sign of things to come. The opening match of the season between Girona and Real Valladolid as well as the Monday night showdown between Valencia and Atletico Madrid will be live on Eleven Sports Facebook in the UK.

La Liga have also signed a huge deal with the social network that will see every game in the Spanish top flight for the next three seasons shown for free on Facebook in India and across South Asia. It is the first deal of its kind and it will be interesting to see how successful the project is. As well as a notable change in the way live football is broadcast, it also marks a major step in La Liga’s bid to compete with the Premier League for global interest, in a week when the Spanish top flight also announced an intention to play regular season matches in the United States.

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