Real Madrid haven’t won back-to-back La Liga titles in 14 years, but that’s the challenge facing Carlo Ancelotti’s Spanish champions as they kick off this season’s campaign in Almeria at the weekend. ‘opening. The fixture list for 2022-23 was released on Thursday, with the season starting the weekend of August 14, taking a World Cup break from November 9 to December 29 and ending the weekend of June 4.
As well as Madrid’s trip to Almeria, the opening weekend will see Barcelona – who finished second last time out, 13 points behind, after coach Xavi salvaged their season – hosts Rayo Vallecano and the Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid to Getafe. Andalusian giants Real Betis and Sevilla will start their seasons against Elche and Osasuna, respectively, while Real Sociedad, who briefly topped the table last year before Madrid took over, will play Cadiz, and Valencia, now led by Gennaro Gattuso, will start against the playoffs. winners Girona.
Beyond this opening weekend, what does the fixture list tell us about the type of season we can expect to see in Spain this year?
Madrid must repeat their strong start from last year
Surely it won’t be so easy for Real Madrid this time around. Last season’s title win – topping the table for all but six of the 38 matchdays – was never in doubt. Rivals Barcelona and Atletico struggled early on, and Ancelotti’s side were consistent from the start, apart from some minor wobbles in October and January.
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Just like last year, the club have asked to play the first three games of this season away to allow the redevelopment work at the Santiago Bernabeu to continue at full speed until August, when many Madridistas are anyway on the beach. This means they will travel to Almeria – back in the top flight for the first time in seven years – Celta Vigo and Espanyol, before finally playing a game at home on the weekend of September 4 against Real Betis. Madrid took seven of a possible nine points from their first three away matches last season and will be looking for a similar comeback this time around.
Xavi must maintain form away from Barca
Barca’s 2021-22 season has been conditioned by the horrific October run that forced president Joan Laporta to pull the trigger on one club legend, Ronald Koeman, and appoint another, Xavi. They won just one of five league games that month – including losses to Atletico, Real Madrid and Rayo – leaving them ninth in the table and Xavi with a mountain to climb.
This time, Barca’s start looks potentially straightforward at Camp Nou – they host Rayo, Real Valladolid and Elche in their first three home games – but tricky on the road. They will travel to Real Sociedad on matchday two and Sevilla on matchday four, while the first Classic of the season also returns on the ninth day.
Xavi will be looking for his side to replicate the solid away form that saw them win six consecutive league matches on the road between February and May last season, including their 4-0 thrashing against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
Atletico’s title hopes will be tested from the start
Atletico Madrid suffered something of an identity crisis last season, losing their famous defensive solidity as coach Simeone tried to strike a balance between a more expansive attacking approach and maintaining clean sheets. The low point came in December when they lost four league games in a row, the worst streak of the Simeone era. Only a late rally, with 10 wins from their last 14 games, secured Champions League football for the 10th consecutive season.
The 2022-23 schedule has given Atletico a difficult start. They face Unai Emery’s Villarreal on matchday two and Gattuso’s new-look Valencia on matchday three, both in August, before traveling to Real Sociedad on matchday four, facing the derby with the Real Madrid on matchday six (the weekend of September 18). , then a trip to Seville on the seventh day.
The race for the top four looks more competitive than ever
Even though last year’s top four ended up looking familiar – there were no surprises between Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico and Sevilla – there were times when a changing of the guard seemed possible, with Real Sociedad, Real Betis and even Andoni Iraola’s Rayo. Vallecano finds himself in the Champions League places.
This season, Villarreal will expect a more serious challenge in the top four, without the serious distraction of a Champions League run, while Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis, orchestrated by Nabil Fekir and Sergio Canales, should once again to entertain.
The Seville derbies will, as always, be unpredictable. The first will be played at Betis’ Benito Villamarin on Matchday 13, the weekend of November 6, while the second at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan will arrive late, on Matchday 35.
Real Sociedad’s first Basque derby with an athletic club led by Marcelo Bielsa or Ernesto Valverde – depending on which presidential candidate wins this week’s election – will take place on day 17, the weekend of January 14, at the Reale Arena .
Games not to be missed
August 21: Real Sociedad v Barcelona
The first big test for Xavi’s side this season came on matchday two. San Sebastian was a nightmarish trip for Barca – they went seven league games without winning there between 2011 and 2016 – but their record has improved dramatically of late, including a 1-0 win last time out in April. The Real have played some of La Liga’s most attractive football in recent seasons under coach Imanol Alguacil.
September 18: Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid
Atletico emerged victorious in Madrid’s last derby at the Wanda Metropolitano – Yannick Carrasco scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory on May 8 – but with Real Madrid already confirmed as league winners and Ancelotti rested Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior, Thibaut Courtois and Luka Modric, it looked like a hollow victory. It will be a much more serious matter, with Simeone keen to prove that Atletico can become genuine title contenders again.
October 16: Real Madrid v Barcelona
The classic. You may have heard of it. Club football’s greatest game needs no introduction, so we’ll keep it short: Spanish and European champions Real Madrid take on a Barcelona side that demolished them 4-0 in the from their previous visit to the Bernabeu on March 20. For this to happen once was embarrassing; a similar result this time would be truly historic.
November 6: Real Betis v Sevilla
The last time these two sides met at the Benito Villamarin – in the Copa del Rey in January – the game descended into chaos when Nabil Fekir’s direct goal from a corner kick was followed by the Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan hit by an object thrown from the crowd and the match was suspended. Hopefully this time the focus can stay where it should be: on the loudest, most colorful and most competitive derby in Spanish football, between two teams with real ambitions to rival the big three.
December 31: Barcelona v Espanyol
The mid-season break for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar adds another fascinating and unpredictable variable this year: how Madrid, Barca, Atletico and the rest will deal with going seven weeks without a league game competitive ? In particular, how will the international players who participated in the tournament be when they return home? We’ll get our first clues on Matchday 15 – the first round of fixtures, which will be played from December 29-31 – and the pick of them is the Catalan derby.
May 28: Sevilla v Real Madrid
If there is still a title race in the penultimate round and Real Madrid are in the thick of it, their trip to Sanchez Pizjuan on Matchday 37 will indeed be very interesting. Madrid’s 3-2 win at Sevilla on April 17 – a textbook, absurd comeback, recovering from 2-0 down in the first half hour with Benzema scoring a 90th-minute winner – looked like the decisive moment in the history of their season. Who’s to say we won’t see a similar drama this time around?