BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 19: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (2nd R) celebrates with his tem-mates after scoring their second goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Camp Nou on August 19, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

La Liga, Week 1: Real Madrid Draw, Barcelona Crush Real Sociedad

Barcelona have the early advantage in the La Liga title race, demolishing Real Sociedad while seeing Real Madrid held to a 1-1 draw by Valencia.

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La Liga 2012 Week 1: Ex-Segunda Teams Sweep

It was a good day to be a recently-ascended Liga team Monday evening, as they went 2-0 against their better-credentialed opponents, in a relatively shocking display of how weak the bottom of the Liga remains. Rayo Vallecano, last year's ascendant side-turned-almost-relegated-catastrophe, also took home a victory against Granada, another almost-descended-near-catastrophe.

Deportivo 2-0 Osasuna

Depor looked fantastic in their Liga BBVA debut, pressuring a tired-looking Osasuna side from the start. While Osasuna, who almost managed to grab the last European spot last season, defended brusquely, Depor showcased a fungible, exciting style, able to attack from any direction at any time.

They broke through in the 52nd minute, when Riki took on a couple defenders after a brilliant pass, and slapped in a goal. The key moment for Depor, however, was the entrance of Nelson Oliveira, the young Portuguese forward. Oliveira dominated Osasuna's back line all game, creating danger everywhere he went. He was finally compensated for his efforts when, in the 92nd minute, he slotted a ball into Osasuna's net.

Zaragoza 0-1 Valladolid

Valladolid made their triumphant return to Primera the same way they ascended: with a happy, exciting game, not losing the ball in bad places, and constantly moving themselves around their opponent. And Zaragoza began the Liga much the way they played their last: boringly sterile, though trying desperately not to lose. And hey, it worked last year, so why not keep doing it this year. (Poor Villarreal. Zara should've gone down, not them.)

Valladolid was in complete control of the match, and they found their winner on 45 minutes, when Óscar and Omar combined down the right side, the latter finally smashing in a brilliant cross to the former who slotted it home with ease.

Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Granada

Much like Zaragoza, Rayo and Granada picked up more or less where they left off last year: desperately trying to hang on to their top-flight football. Rayo was more or less successful, while Granada was not: neither side was particularly impressive on the night, but a brilliant free kick by Trashorras in the 90th minute stole the win for the Vallecanos. And that was all they needed last year to be successful: a well placed goal at the right time--right, Villarreal?


Atletico Madrid Vs. Levante: 1-1 Draw, Enter Sandman

Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao wants us all to know that he's going to beat Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for this season's pichichi trophy. He's sure of it. But his quest to unseat the two best players in the world did not begin well Sunday night, as Atletico Madrid and Levante slugged out a 1-1 draw that had most fans asleep by halftime--and not just because halftime was at 11:45 PM.

Neither team seemed able to create any real danger on the night, though Atleti seemed to have most of the play--or whatever "play" existed. Levante, as was their wont last season, was more than happy to defend, especially on their home turf. El Zhar edged the locals in front within five minutes on a tricky piece of skill off a corner, but Arda Turan equalized within 15 minutes for Atleti, as he dashed past the Levante defense and unleashed a cannon from outside the area.

That would be pretty much it for both sides for the rest of the game--Levante would hit the post towards the end, but it seemed almost accidental, against the run of "play."

The LFP would do well to take note: if they want to schedule games that run until 1AM, it'd be pretty smart to at least try not to allow Levante to take part in them.


Athletic Bilbao Vs. Real Betis 2012: Betis Win Despite Giving Up 3-Goal Lead

In what is certainly the best game of this current Liga--and what will be a strong contender for game of the season down the road--Athletic Bilbao rallied back from a three-goal first half deficit against Real Betis, only to stumble and concede twice in the final ten minutes to lose 3-5. The game appeared dead long before Marcelo Bielsa's men began to come back, but despite the second-half heroics, Bilbao was just no match for Betis on a night when the teams combined to score eight goals.

Betis played an exciting, up-tempo game against Athletic, hitting the Basque side quickly and often on the counter with pace, and through the center for the midfield. Bilbao looked sloppy all evening, and it eventually cost them dearly, when, in the 6th minute Beñat robbed a loose ball in the center of the pitch, and fed Rubén Castro, who slotted it by keeper Iraizoz. The goals would just keep coming for Betis after that, with Jorge Molina netting twenty minutes later--off a fantastic counter attack--and Beñat adding his own after a bad clearance from the Athletic defense.

But the lions would come roaring back in the second half, clearly feeling energized, and with a stronger center of the field. They controlled the tempo early on, and didn't let Betis through: Bielsa had clearly expressed his desire to keep the center of the midfield tight, and it showed throughout the half. First, Aduriz, immediately upon coming onto the pitch for the second half, found De Marcos in full sprint towards the Andalusian goal. 1-3, but the game still seemed out of reach.

Then, San José scored. San Mamés was a madhouse. The entire place was furiously pushing their boys on. 2-3. It was happening. Minutes later, it did happen--but not before a very telling couple of Betis chances. San José blasted home another corner with his head, and the game was all tied up. San Mamés was rocking. It seemed like the whole place was going to come tumbling down.

The lions had done it.

But there was still 10 minutes. Betis playmaker Cañas, who had been brought on in the second half to reinforce the center, grabbed a ball in the midfield and sprinted towards the corner flag. He held up there just a second, as San Mamés was roaring, and slipped a ball back to Pozuelo, who slammed it past Iraizoz.


And then there was a huge roar. The stadium would not be denied. With eight minutes left, Athletic were going to try to do the unimaginable: come back again.

This time, it wasn't to be: four minutes later, Jonathan Pereira slipped a ball through the Athletic defense, and on to the running boot of Jorge Molina, who flipped it up and over a crushed-looking Iraizoz. 3-5.

San Mamés was silent, as people began to look for their belongings.


Real Madrid Vs. Valencia: Final Score 1-1, Los Blancos Start Season With Draw

Real Madrid got their season underway with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite controlling most of the match, they couldn't hold onto their first half lead, allowing Jonas to pull the visitors back to level terms just before the break and then finding themselves unable to break down a packed Los Che defence.

Gonzalo Higuain got the hosts off to a superb start, taking down a great pass over the top from Angel di Maria to go one on one against Diego Alves. To say it wasn't a clean finish would be an understatement -- a superb stop from the Valencia goalkeeper blocked the Argentinian's first effort. The rebound went straight back to Higuain, who fired the ball back into Alves' legs, collecting the rebound again before finally boring of the impromptu tennis game and lashing into the back of the net to make it 1-0.

But their lead didn't last. Real wasted several clear chances before halftime, and Valencia hit them hard just prior to the break. Former Madrid man Fernando Gago won a dangerous-looking free kick on the right, and Pepe and Iker Casillas wiped each other out in a nasty-looking collision as both tried for the ball. That left Jonas free to nod Tino Costa's delivery into an empty net for the equaliser, although possibly more worrying for Madrid fans was the length of time which both players stayed on the ground.

Indeed, Raul Albiol came on at the break, replacing Pepe*. That substitution didn't do much to change the home side's fortunes: Try as they might, Madrid simply couldn't score. Diego Alves continued making spectacular saves all evening, and the closest that the hosts came to re-breaking the deadlock was when Higuain hit the crossbar from close range just after the hour mark. Indeed, it was Valencia who would next put the ball in the back of the net, although Roberto Soldado had the strike ruled out for offside.

*It must be slightly difficult to tell when Pepe is concussed.

So, the champions of Spain had to settle for a 1-1 draw in their opening match of the 2012/13 season. With dropped points at a real premium, Madrid's struggles represent a great chance for arch-rivals Barcelona to take a very early lead in this year's title race.


Real Madrid Vs. Valencia 2012: Game Time, TV Schedule, Live Updates And More

Real Madrid begin their title defense on Sunday against Valencia.


Barcelona Vs. Real Sociedad 2012: Game Time, TV Schedule, Live Updates And More

Barcelona open their season against Real Sociedad, a team that played them very though in two meetings last year.


La Liga 2012, Weak 1: Malaga, Sevilla, Mallorca Just Victors In Opening Salvo

"Football doesn't understand justice," said Celta coach Paco Herrera after his side's 1-0 defeat at the hands of not-as-soulless-as-maybe-I-thought Málaga. I don't know if that's true--I tend not to think of "football" as an entity that can understand or not understand things, but rather as a wrathful, demon-god intent on destroying the dreams of the faithful (you know, the usual). But I do know that football can be pretty silly sometimes, and, at others, have a well-developed sense of narrative tension. The first games of the 2012-2013 Liga season certainly showcased everything I just described.

Málaga 1-0 Celta Vigo

This game was over the moment 16 year-old Fabrice took the pitch. He came in thirteen minutes into the second half, taking out Seba Fernández (non-existant), and immediately took hold of the game: he latched onto the ball, running energetically at a Celta defense that was not expecting a youthful explosion. It was exactly what his beaten-down team needed, when, after a strong first 45, they were looking worse and worse as the second half wore on. Celta were growing, stretching the pitch, moving the ball well--like a team that never left Primera. And Málaga were looking like what they are--a soulless shell of the budding superteam of yesteryear.

Thanks to Fabrice, and his brilliant goal--a culmination of a fantastic counterattack--we get to put the Málaga-bashing on hold for at least a week.

Sevilla 2-1 Getafe

Jesús Navas remains the best part of Sevilla's game. There's really no doubt about it. The addition of attacking back/midfielder Cicinho (remember him?!) will only help him prove that as the year goes on. It's unclear, however, that Sevilla really deserved this win, as José Antonio Reyes (remember him?!) took a huge dive in the area to secure a penalty that would put Sevilla up by two. It was a horrendous call, and you can't fault Getafe for complaining endlessly, especially after Alexis rallied them back to 2-1. Tough match for Geta, good start for Sevilla.

Mallorca 2-1 Espanyol

In the inaugural 11 PM CET game, Mallorca came away with a toughly contested, but ultimately well-deserved win over Espanyol. Israeli striker Hemed netted twice to take the lead in the pichichi race (Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and company haven't played yet, but HEY IT STILL COUNTS), and both of his goals were beauties. The first came after only two minutes; Espanyol equalized only four after that thanks to Wakaso. And it looked like the game would end in a stale mate, with neither side attacking completely, and both appearing content with a defensive, control-oriented game plan. It wouldn't be until the 85th minute that Hemed would find the net again, starting Mallorca out on the right track as they try to regain some of their past European "glory" ("participation").

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