LaLiga Santander Matchday 1 preview: The start of what could be the tightest title race in years

Club football is back. The 2021/22 LaLiga Santander season gets up and running this weekend and the new campaign starts with some very tough fixtures for the main championship contenders. Atlético de Madrid, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC battled for the title last term, with Atleti coming out on top; all four will be determined to start the new year with a three-point haul against tricky opposition.
Before our first look at the favourites to win the competition, the new campaign kicks off at the league’s oldest stadium, at Mestalla at 9pm CEST on Friday night. There, Valencia CF will take on Getafe CF and, thanks to a neat quirk of the fixture list, this will see new Valencia coach José Bordalás take on the club he just left. These two teams have played out some fiery contests in recent years and now there’s another interesting dynamic in the mix.
Due to the intense heat of the Spanish summer, all fixtures of the opening matchday are taking place in the late afternoon or evening and the first of Saturday’s games is at 5pm CEST, when CA Osasuna welcome newly promoted RCD Espanyol to El Sadar. The Catalan club were excellent on their way to winning LaLiga SmartBank last season and are hoping to carry that momentum into this season’s campaign. RCD Mallorca were the other side to earn automatic promotion last term and they’re also in action on Saturday evening, welcoming Real Betis to their popular island home. Cádiz CF and Levante UD also meet on Saturday evening, after facing each other and drawing 2-2 on the final day of last season.
Real Madrid’s first match of the new season then takes place at 10pm CEST on Saturday night. Even though Los Blancos’ new coach Carlo Ancelotti has managed the club in LaLiga Santander before, the Italian will face a brand-new opponent in the form of D. Alavés. He never took on the Basque side during his previous stint in charge, but will be well aware of how tough they are to play at their Mendizorrotza home. Real Madrid famously lost there to a last-minute goal back in 2018.
The reigning champions Atlético de Madrid launch their title defence in the first game of Sunday at 5.30pm CEST. Like their capital city neighbours, they also start the season with a tough away trip as Diego Simeone must take his team to Galicia to face a RC Celta side that finished last season well and that have added some interesting reinforcements in the summer including Javi Galán and Franco Cervi.
Next up at 8pm CEST, is FC Barcelona vs Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou. It’s the first game of the post-Messi era, and so perhaps the most fascinating match in recent Barça history as the club’s remaining creative talents look to show how they fit in to Ronald Koeman’s setup. Their talent and ability to adapt will now be needed against a Real Sociedad side who finished fifth last season and who have a habit starting seasons well.
Sevilla FC will seriously believe they could challenge for the title in 2021/22. After finishing last year with a club-record points total of 77, they have strengthened the squad this summer with the signing of Erik Lamela and, expecting another tight title race, they’ll hope to start off by taking three points against newly promoted Rayo Vallecano. The last time Rayo were in the top flight (2018/19) they also faced Sevilla on Matchday 1 and it didn’t end well for them (4-1); they’ll be hoping to avoid a similar outcome this time around.
There are two further fixtures on Monday night, starting with Europa League champions Villarreal CF’s home game against Granada CF, a repeat of an unforgettable Matchday 1 fixture back in 2019 that finished 4-4. Both clubs have changed coach since then, but goals will still be expected. Villarreal will, though, hope that Carlos Bacca doesn’t score them, as the Colombian striker has just switched from yellow to the red and white of Granada.
The final fixture of this season’s opening round sees Elche CF host Athletic Club. It was this match-up that ensured Elche stayed up last season, beating the Basques 2-0 on the final day of the 2020/21 campaign to avoid relegation by the skin of their collective teeth. That was a huge win, but Athletic Club will be out for some revenge for their most recent competitive loss. That’s just one of the many fascinating storylines of the new season’s opening round.  
Watch LaLiga Santander live this weekend on BeINSports
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