La Liga 2012, Week 1 Preview And Fixtures: What's Past Is Prologue

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 21: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF shake hands prior to the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on April 21, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. Real Madrid CF won 1-2. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

With only a few changes at Real Madrid and Barcelona, this year, for the first time in a while, the past is truly prologue.

She that is queen of Tunis; she that dwells
Ten leagues beyond man's life; she that from Naples
Can have no note, unless the sun were post--
The man i' the moon's too slow--till new-born chins
Be rough and razorable; she that--from whom?
We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again,
And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.

(Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act II Scene i)

For the first time in an impossibly large number of years, Real Madrid and Barcelona will have spent less than €100 million combined on new players this offseason. This is particularly absurd when you consider that, for a few years, each club spent individually almost €100 million. Neither José Mourinho nor incoming coach Tito Vilanova (of eye-poked-fame) believe that their teams need much tweaking; if anything, the two signings the clubs have (or will have) made--defender Jordi Alba for Barcelona and center midfielder Luka Modric for the defending champions--will serve to bolster positions that are already relatively strong.

For the first time in a long time, the past really is prologue: when the two super powers meet for the SuperCup this coming week, they will be almost entirely composed of the same players that took the field in the Camp Nou last spring to decide the Liga. And when was the last time you could say that?

That's not to say that Spain's offseason has been boring: the national side won the Euros, then crashed brutally out of the Olympics. Málaga looked to be on the brink of being relegated from the Liga because of unpaid debts and taxes and had to hold a fire sale of all their talent to remain solvent. The two feuding media companies look to have made a deal that will allow us to watch la Liga on Spain. In the States, GolTV lost their rights to broadcast Spanish gamesto the fringe-y satellite-only station beIN (owned by Al-Jazeera Sports Media), making it less and less likely that anyone in this country will care about Spanish soccer.

And hey, guess what's part of that friendly media deal I just mentioned? One game a week will start at 11. PM. Two soccer teams will play each other. At 11 at night. 23:00.

Oh, and did I mention that Spain is toppling head-first into a crushing economic depression the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1930's, and that the mid- and low-level teams are being squeezed by the Spanish banking giants that have less and less credit to give out? The the bursting of the Málaga bubble was, in part, due to concerns about available credit (and a crazy owner)? And that it probably scared away other possible investors? And that Madrid and Barcelona still make 10 times more than any other club in television revenue, despite the fact that they both have an essentially unlimited credit budget, financed, partly, by major financial institutions that are collapsing and being propped up by the Spanish government courtesy of the European Central Bank?

Who's ready for some fútbol?

Saturday, August 18

Celta Vigo vs. Málaga CF

(19:00 CET, 1:00 PM EST)

It's nice to see Celta back up in Primera, after an extended absence. They were a great team in the early-2000's, and I have no doubt that they have the fanbase and the will to stay up. And hey, taking on the beaten down, soulless shell that once was Málaga will be a nice first game.

Pick: 2-1 to Celta.

Sevilla vs. Getafe

(21:00 CET, 3:00 PM EST)

These first games are insanely hard to pick, and neither of these sides have changed very much since last season. It will all be about who comes out ready to play--and I'm expecting that the Sánchez Pizjuán will be pretty excited to see Sevilla back in the saddle.

Pick: 1-0 to Sevilla.

Mallorca vs. Espanyol

(23:00 CET, 5:00 PM EST)

...11:00 PM CET. Come on, LFP. I mean, I'm not in Spain any more (back in the States). And I know it's actually better for me. But I like to stand up for the little guy. I mean, the game will end at almost 1:00 AM! That's, like, two hours before anyone is going to be ready to go out partying! How are the poor Spaniards supposed to sleep off their post-game buzz before waking up to stay out all night?

Pick: 1-1

Sunday, August 19

Real Madrid vs. Valencia

(19:00 CET, 1:00 PM EST)

If you thought Madrid is bad to start a season, well, you haven't looked at Valencia's record. OK, fine, they're pretty much the same. But still, neither team has won in a long time to begin a campaign. And they're playing each other. I'm not sure I expect that to change. But, then again, Valencia has Fernando Gago on their side, so that has to count for something.

Pick: 1-1

Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Betis

(19:00 CET, 1:00 PM EST)

Bilbao was pretty ghastly at the end of last season, especially after starting out so well. They've been in and out of trade rumors for the past few months, and we just have no idea what their lineup is going to look like in two weeks. I'd bet that this doesn't really affect them, though, because they're playing a pretty bad Betis side at home.

Pick: 2-0 to Athletic.

Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad

(21:00 CET, 3:00 PM EST)

I'm pretty much watching this game to see where (or if) Jordi Alba plays. Sociedad are a cute team; Barcelona is a juggernaut.

Pick: 3-0 to Tito.

Levante vs. Atlético Madrid

(23:00 CET, 5:00 PM EST)

Radamel Falcao says that he's going to score more goals than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo this season. I'm putting that odds at 135:1 that he comes within five of either of them, barring an injury that leads to either missing a third of a season or more. That said, I remain unimpressed by Levante.

Pick: 0-2 to Atleti.

Monday, August 20

Deportivo La Coruña vs. Osasuna

(19:00 CET, 1:00 PM EST)

Hey! It's Depor! They're back! And they're playing criminally-underrated Osasuna! I'm excited to try to explain later in the season why Madrid fans don't talk about Depor, and why they never feel comfortable playing in la Coruña. I won't now, though.

Pick: 1-1.

Rayo Vallecano vs. Granada

(21:00 CET, 3:00 PM EST)

Hey hey hey remember when Rayo was in contention for a European spot in April, then was within ten minutes of being relegated not three weeks later? Yeah, that was so 2011-2012. This year, they're totally going to be better.

Pick: 0-0.

Zaragoza vs. Valladolid

(23:00 CET, 5:00 PM EST)

Hey hey hey how many people in Spain will stay up until 1 AM on a Monday night to watch the two worst teams in the league play? Yeah, good play LFP. Scheduling: you're doing it wrong.

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