Start as you mean to go on is certainly a suitable phrase to describe FC Barcelona, who are the only team in LaLiga with a perfect record after the first four rounds of fixtures in the Spanish elite, aiming to retain the league title they’ve won three times in the last four seasons. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid have already begun to lose ground, after Matchday 3 saw all three teams in action against Basque Country opponents.
Barça Show Resolve at Anoeta
The 2017-18 champions look the team to beat after thrashing SD Huesca 8-2 before the international break, as their traditional rivals have already faltered and lost ground at the top of the table, even if it’s still very early days in the 2018-19 campaign. Considered as 8/15 favourites at Betway, as of 17th September and after the fourth round of LaLiga fixtures, Barcelona will be still hoping to improve after their stressful game against Real Sociedad.
Supporters of the host side provided a superb atmosphere in the newly refurbished Anoeta stadium, much-improved thanks to removing the running track, giving La Real fans the chance to get closer to the action on the pitch. Their team also made the perfect start when Aritz Elustondo fired Real Sociedad ahead in just the 12th minute, then stoutly held Barcelona at bay until half-time.
Barça boss Ernesto Valverde rang in the changes after the break, first replacing Nélson Samedo with Philippe Coutinho, then Rafinha with talismanic midfielder Sergio Busquets, just shy of the hour mark. The difference was telling and in the space of three frantic minutes, the dynamic of the game changed completely.
Having spurned good chances to extend their lead, Real Sociedad were punished in the 63rd minute when Luis Suárez scored after a goalmouth scramble. Barcelona piled on the pressure and after a great effort by Coutinho was tipped over, Ousmane Dembélé fired in the winner in the 66th minute, drilling his finish through a crowd of players after the hosts failed to clear a corner. Messi might have drawn a blank in this game, but his team still managed to secure all three points.
Real Madrid Frustrated in Bilbao
The side managed by Julen Lopetegui had matched their arch-rivals Barcelona, winning all three of their opening LaLiga games, but that’s where the streak ended for Real Madrid following a frustrating evening against Athletic Club Bilbao, who have made a promising start to the campaign with Eduardo Berizzo at the helm.
Always a fiercely contested encounter, the match at San Mames was no different after an end to end start electrified the crowd. Both teams had early chances to edge ahead, but for the heroics of Unai Simón and Thibaut Courtois in either goal. However, poor defending led to Athletic taking the lead in the 32nd minute, leaving Iker Muniain to gleefully bundle the ball over the line.
Real Madrid reacted powerfully but great chances by Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos were denied, with Simón saving everything that came his way. However, the talented 21-year-old keeper couldn’t stop a finely directed header by Isco in the 64th minute, after Gareth Bale supplied the perfect precision cross from the right flank.
In the end, despite the best efforts of Marco Asensio for Real Madrid and Mikel Rico for Athletic Bilbao, the goalkeepers once again came up trumps, leaving both sides having to settle for a 1-1 draw and share of the points.
Atletico Madrid Continue to Struggle
Many felt this might be another great season from Atletico Madrid, after they warmed up for the league season by thrashing Real Madrid 4-2 in the European Super Cup. Having only won one of their opening four encounters in LaLiga, manager Diego Simeone must be wondering what has gone wrong since for his side.
Antoine Griezmann has only netted once so far, after turning down a summer move to Barcelona and winning the 2018 World Cup with France. Likewise, Diego Costa has yet to score and drew another blank in the latest match against SD Eibar, who showed no fear in their latest visit to the Wanda Metropolitano.
Tight and tense right from the start between the two sides, neither could break the deadlock by the interval, despite good opportunities at either end. In the second half when Eibar full-back Aniatz Arbilla thundered a shot against the crossbar, it seemed like the ball just didn’t want to go in, with the outcome seeming destined to be a goalless draw.
Nevertheless, Eibar were rewarded for their persistence and even though it was a scrappy finish by Sergi Enrich, it looked enough to take all three points in the 87th minute. However, whether they’re in good form or otherwise, Atletico Madrid never give up. Deep into stoppage time, substitute Borja Garcés struck superbly from near the penalty spot, earning his side a point.
Europe Next for Spain’s Big Three
LaLiga temporarily slips down the list of priorities for Spain’s most powerful trio of clubs, as they look to make a flying start in the first games of the Champions League group stage. Real Madrid get the defence of their European crown off to a home start against AS Roma, while Atletico Madrid travel for a tricky duel away at AS Monaco. Finally, Barcelona will be keen to maintain their excellent form, hosting PSV Eindhoven at the Camp Nou.