They're really not messing about, this Atletico side. They are level at the top of the table with Barcelona and at 3-0 up they were wanting more. Tim Stannard is in love...
These are truly exciting times in Spain. There are three teams who could end the weekend top of the table and there's a very decent chance that Atletico could lead...
Barcelona knocking seven past lowly cannon fodder in the Camp Nou is not really news-worthy these days in La Liga. After all, Osasuna were on the receiving end of eight two years ago, and countless sides have subsequently been buried by four, five or six strikes. Leo Messi scoring a brace and a smattering of assists is not really worth a headline either. That could be considered a quiet night by the Argentinean's standards.
What has got tongues-a-wagging in Spain, though, is the sight of a non-pouting Messi dutifully trotting off the pitch after 70 minutes to spend the rest of the match on the bench during the 7-0 win over Levante. The last time that took place in a situation when the footballer was not injured was on May 1 2010 against Villarreal. Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova always appeared to be too scared of Messi's grumpy wrath and insisted on playing their star forward until the final seconds of games that had been won for a good 89 minutes.
Tata Martino admitted that he would have done the same as his predecessors in a different scenario. "No coach is going to take Messi off in a close game," said the new manager after the match, but a new regime means new rules and a footballer doing what he is told by his manager. This more pragmatic approach to running Barça's squad extends to the rest of the side too, with Andrés Iniesta and Jordi Alba starting the game on the bench having travelled to Ecuador with the Spanish national side during the week.
The Barça pair were in good company with Neymar also sitting pitch-side and only joining the match half-way through the second half when Barça were 6-0 up. Martino had previously hinted at this decision, having said that the Brazilian's fitness levels were not perfect.
Although this rotation policy may be considered an innovation from the new manager, the Catalan club's intensity, work rate and ruthlessness was nothing new, claimed Martino. "These were just saved or archived," explained the Argentinean manager.
Carlo Ancelotti decided to begin his league campaign with a big, table-thumping decision too, to show who is the Mack Daddy at the Santiago Bernabéu. Iker Casillas was left on the bench with Diego López starting in a goal, a situation that continued from José Mourinho's time at the club. That action was thought to be the Portuguese manager making a personal point against the club captain in a private battle of wills.
The unsullied-by-scandal Ancelotti choosing to follow the same course must raise questions about the apparent reason for this lack in confidence of two managers in relation to the club captain. "The decision was taken just for today," sighed the Italian manager who was asked for his rationale for the move three times in the post-match press conference.
Although Real Madrid matched the victory of Barcelona, the performance was considerably different. Until three minutes from the end of the game, the home side were set to pick up just the single point in a 1-1 draw with Betis. It could be argued that Madrid would have been fortunate to get that, considering how many chances the Andalusians spurned after taking the lead after 13 minutes.
That goal came after an astonishing turn of pace from midfielder, Cedrick, a footballer who spent €1.20 to buy himself out of a contract with Numancia to join Betis in the close season. Real Madrid had to rely on Isco, who cost €30 million, to pick up the victory with a late header.
As Martino noted, Barcelona only had to reclaim a style of play that had fallen into disuse to beat Levante. Ancelotti has a more challenging job in trying to create a team that is tighter defensively, and is capable of a more elaborate and patient style of play than the gung-ho counter-attacking preferred by Mourinho.
What both managers have in common is that they are under enormous pressure from supporters, presidents and press as they go about their decision-making day. The new Big Two bosses have already shown, though, that they have the trousers big enough to do things their own way and ignore everyone else.
Round 1 Results
Real Sociedad 2-0 Getafe
Valladolid 1-2 Athletic Bilbao
Valencia 1-0 Málaga
Barcelona 7-0 Levante
Real Madrid 2-1 Betis
Sevilla 1-3 Atlético Madrid
Osasuna 1-2 Granada
Rayo Vallecano vs. Elche
Celta Vigo vs. Espanyol
Almería vs. Villarreal
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter