Today at the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian, northernmost Spain, hosts Real Sociedad came back from an early 0-2 deficit to beat Real Madrid 4-2 in the second round of Spanish Football’s La Liga. Earlier in the day visiting Barcelona needed a bit of Lionel Messi magic late in their match away against Villarreal to pull a 1-0 victory with the score coming at the 81st minute.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid got back into its winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Eibar yesterday. The formula was the same, the multiple-yellow-card style the same, and the rhythm of early score and defensive tactics thereafter remained intact. A 12th minute score by Joao Miranda and a 25th minute one by Mario Mandzukic was all that was needed as Eibar managed a 33rd minute response and no more.
In the day’s earlier game, at El Madrigal, in the eastern coastal region of the country, Barcelona dominated play and opportunities but were met by a resolute Villarreal who would bend but not break and who had their own chances at an upset go begging. The visitors always looked the more dangerous side but it was not until the second half addition of substitutes Neymar and Xavi that the offense began to click producing a series of chances that could have turned the close match into a runaway.
The eventual winning play involved Messi going down the right wing and getting around his marker before crossing the ball from close in through the legs of the Villarreal keeper, Sergio Ansejo, for the easy tap in from 19-year-old Barcelona B striker Sandro Ramirez. The victory was fair in that the Catalans did all the right things to win, but tough on a Villarreal who did everything right and were unlucky to concede such a goal.
The game at Anoeta was a thriller in that Real Madrid, missing the still-recovering-from-injury Cristiano Ronaldo, was nonetheless clicking on all cylinders for about 30 minutes. They earned a 5th minute headed goal from Sergio Ramos off a Toni Kroos corner and a pretty 11th minute goal from Gareth Bale off work by Luka Modric. But the score line seemed to spur the hosts on and had the opposite effect on the visitors. So that at the 35th Real Sociedad got one back before drawing even at the 41st.
The second half was an even affair but with a decided slant toward the hosts. Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid’s coach, seemed at a loss as to how to restart the engine that had clearly sputtered and was still not finding a rhythm as the second half wore on. By the 65th minute the hosts were up one goal and by the 75th minute up two. Ancelotti decided to bring in Sami Khedira (74th minute) and Alvaro Arbeloa (77th) as his substitutions to counter the scores from his opponents. What he was thinking would be interesting to find out.
As the day’s action was coming to a close, with Elche and Granada playing the late game and at 0-0 as of this writing. Two things emerged as very early portents for the season. First, Barcelona is finding a way to win without major contributions from Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, or the suspended Luis Suarez. When the Catalans have all of their weapons at their disposal they will be scary and if their rut of good luck continues, perhaps still atop the table.
The second portent concerns the Merengues. Real Madrid has all players but their ace at their disposal, but as was the case last year, Ancelotti does not seem to have a handle on his own roster or a settled set of strategic options for his star-laden side. When his team fell behind he had no counter in terms of strategic options or offensive substitutions. Until Ronaldo comes back to save the day, again, the coach and his team will have a rough go of it.
Barcelona will end the day atop the standings, Atletico Madrid will be in fifth and Real Madrid in tenth.