LaLiga Matchday 1: Real start title defence at new boys Almeria
All eyes will be on defending champions Real Madrid and arch-rivals Barcelona as the 2022-23 LaLiga season kicks off.
Los Blancos travel to newly-promoted Almeria in the first hurdle of their title defence, while Barca host Rayo Vallecano.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla — the other members of last year’s top four — visit Getafe and Osasuna, respectively.
Another newly-promoted side — Real Valladolid — face last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal in a stern test of their LaLiga credentials.
Game of the week: Almeria vs Real Madrid (Sunday, 9pm)
On paper, the 2021-22 LaLiga and Champions League winners could hardly have asked for a kinder opening fixture.
Almeria just earned promotion back to the top flight and have won just one of their 12 prior encounters with Real Madrid in the division, losing nine and conceding 38 times in the process — more than they have against any other opponent.
Furthermore, Los Blancos possess the lethal Karim Benzema — last year’s top scorer — who has been involved in nine goals in just seven LaLiga games against Almeria (four goals, five assists).
However, the hosts boast a strong opening-day record, losing just once on the first outing of each of their last six top-flight campaigns (two wins, three draws).
The visitors’ record is even stronger, with Real last losing their first LaLiga game of the season in 2008.
Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano (Saturday, 8pm)
Barcelona will be hoping to snatch the title back from their old foes this season, having failed to win a LaLiga crown since 2018-19.
However, their recent record against Saturday’s opponents Rayo Vallecano makes for grim reading, losing their last two league meetings without scoring.
Furthermore, Xavi’s men failed to find the net in either of their final two LaLiga games last term, highlighting their issues in attack.
The Catalan giants will likely look to new signing Robert Lewandowski to solve that problem — the Polish striker scored in his first match of the season in each of his last seven campaigns with former club Bayern Munich, netting 10 times in those fixtures.
Getafe vs Atletico Madrid (Monday, 6.30pm)
Atletico Madrid underwhelmed last season, slumping to a third-place finish, 15 points back from city rivals Real.
They will hope to start this campaign more positively and may be encouraged by their record against their first opponents Getafe.
Diego Simeone's side are unbeaten in their last 19 clashes against their fellow capital club in the league (17 wins, two draws), keeping a whopping 17 clean sheets in that run.
Furthermore, Atleti have not lost their opening LaLiga fixture since 2009, while Getafe have only claimed victory in one such game in the last 11 seasons.
Osasuna vs Sevilla (Friday, 8pm)
Sevilla appeared to be mounting a surprise title charge in 2021-22, but fell away and ultimately finished fourth.
It was a largely encouraging season in which they boasted the best defensive record in the division and lost just four league games — the joint fewest in LaLiga along with winners Real Madrid.
However, their division-high 16 draws held them back, with 11 of those coming in their 18 league matches in 2022 — the most of any team in Europe's top five leagues this calendar year.
Julen Lopetegui's side have won eight of their last 10 LaLiga meetings with Osasuna though and will hope Lucas Ocampos can add to his tally of three goals in three games against these opponents.
Real Valladolid vs Villarreal (Saturday, 6pm)
Since finishing fifth in 2019-20, Villarreal have been rather distracted in LaLiga, with their attention primarily turned towards their progress in European competition.
Successive seventh-place finishes have followed, along with a Europa League victory and a run to the Champions League semi-finals last term.
However, the Yellow Submarine now find themselves in the Europa Conference League play-off round.
Newly-promoted Real Valladolid appear to be the perfect springboard for a strong LaLiga campaign with Unai Emery's men going unbeaten in their last five meetings in the competition (three wins, two draws).
It may not all be plain sailing for the ex-Arsenal boss — who will manage his 400th LaLiga game.
Villarreal have failed to score in 75% of their league trips to Valladolid and have drawn each of their last three opening LaLiga outings.
The weekend's other games
Celta Vigo vs Espanyol (Saturday, 4pm)
Cadiz vs Real Sociedad (Sunday, 4.30pm)
Valencia vs Girona (Sunday, 6:30pm)
Athletic Bilbao vs Mallorca (Monday, 4.30pm)
Real Betis vs Elche (Monday, 8.30pm)
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