Everything changes, it all stays the same. The first Monday morning of the new season and it feels like the close of the most tedious saga ever, Cesc Fábregas at last returning to Barcelona, made no difference. Nor did the 274 transfers, 131 players in and 143 players out, the seven new coaches, the three new teams, or the nine kick-off times, including a 12-hour footballing Sunday that begins at midday and ends at midnight, destroying marriages up and down the country from Cádiz to Catalunya. It was as if the summer never happened; even the extra week off because of a players' strike – so often threatened, finally carried out 27 years after one of the game's most historic teams took their first tentative step thanks to a now repentant scab – didn't usher in the revolution.

Instead, the season started with the Spanish Super Cup and with José Mourinho again pointing the finger. Then on Saturday evening, La Liga started again and it too had a familiar feel; league football picked up pretty much where it left off on 21 May. With Barcelona's European commitments taking them out of circulation, literally this time, and with Madrid tearing their other opponents apart – a brilliant 6-0 win over Zaragoza, with Mesut Ozil especially outstanding, makes it 27 goals in their last five league games. With television viewers missing what's actually happening thanks to a director who would rather show them a pointless close-up of someone scratching their nose in slow motion or a half-arsed replay of a half-chance. And with another great collection of merchandise. This time it's the FC Barcelona kitchen set, complete with spatulas, forks and pizza slicers, or the Real Madrid tracksuit. Yours free* in AS.

Meanwhile, Granada played fellow promoted side Real Betis. There wasn't a single player in either squad who had been born the last time Granada played in the first division, back in the summer of '76 and as a business model it's fascinating, Granada effectively becoming Udinese's Spanish branch.

But no one seemed to care, the minutiae of Madrid proving more moving than Granada's historic return. Even for those who do know Granada, not much had changed there either: their coach, Fabri González, was imprisoned again and moaning that he felt like a "delinquent". Locked behind a metal gate by police to stop fights breaking out at the end of Granada's play-off match in the summer, accused of being a "disgrace" by his opposite number, this time he was entrapped in a glass box, going potty behind the Perspex as he served out the first of what are likely to be many touchline bans.

Week one, which was actually week two, started with Manolo Preciado's magnificent moustache, with broadcasters again locked out of the stadiums – although this time it was the radio, not the TV — with Jonathan de Guzmán yet again leading Mallorca, even as he fights to leave, and with Getafe playing in an empty stadium, despite their best efforts to drum up support. The fascinating Marcelo Bielsa was in charge at Athletic Bilbao, but despite a lovely goal from Ander Iturraspe, his debut ended with an unremarkable draw against new arrivals Rayo Vallecano. Atlético's new signing Radamel Falcao was at the Vicente Calderón but he was sitting up in the stands alongside the once-brilliant but soon-to-be departing Diego Forlán as he waits for the paperwork to come through.

As Falcao sat frustrated, the season started with Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo, Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Valencia's Roberto Soldado belting in the goals. Negredo, who got seven in his last four games last season, scored two; Ronaldo, who got 11 in his last four, scored three; and Soldado, who got 11 in his last eight, scored four — even if one of them was at the wrong end. Fans celebrated; the president, Manolo Llorente, who has once again sold his best player but built an impressive squad, Juan Mata joining Davids Villa and Silva in departing, was probably wondering how much money he could get this time. Up at the other end, the dozen Racing Santander fans who turned up at the Mestalla wondered if life in administration, post-Ahsan Ali Syed, might not be so bad after all. But Soldado's own goal, a header guided expertly past his keeper, was not enough to stop poor Héctor Cúper doing what he does best and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Returning to Spain and making his debut against the team he took to two successive Champions league finals, the Argentinian coach saw his Racing Santander side go one down after 54 seconds but somehow lead Valencia 3-2 with three minutes to go and even more incredibly lose 4-3 when Soldado got two in two minutes. For the man who would still come second if there was a competition for coming second, who lost a cup final and a Cup Winners' Cup final with Mallorca, lost those two Champions League finals with Valencia, lost a Champions League place on the final day of the 2000-01 season thanks to the most ludicrously brilliant last-minute goal ever, blew the Italian title on the final day, and who finished second with both Huracán and Lanús, it was all horribly familiar.

Yes, even when everything changes nothing does. There was no revolution.

Not even down in Andalucía, where the (other) side that everyone really, really wanted to see were playing. This summer, Barcelona spent €60m (£53m), Atlético Madrid spent €59m (officially at least – in fact, they spent rather less; the rest was stumped up by an investment fund bringing third-party ownership to the Calderón), Real Madrid spent €55m and Valencia spent €22.5m. So far, so standard. And then there was Málaga, bought out by the Qatari sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani last summer, who spent €58m on nine new players – to go with the money they spent on five new players midway through last season.

Júlio Baptista had already rescued them back then; they had won eight of their last ten matches before an irrelevant final day, beaten by Barça B. Now, they had a clean slate and a load of new players. Fans packed the stadium to see Joaquín presented and to hear him crack jokes, and he had been joined by Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jérémy Toulalan and Santi Cazorla. It was not just names, either. This was a project, Van Nistelrooy explained, that was logical, patient and well thought out. A project run by men who know what it means to take a third force and challenge the Madrid and Barcelona duopoly.

Málaga's coach, Manuel Pellegrini, had been backed when he lost 7-0 to Madrid and then to Osasuna last season, leaving the side teetering perilously close to the drop, because the faith in a man who had taken Villarreal to a Champions League semi-final remained intact. The sporting director, Antonio Fernández, the man who discovered Baptista and Dani Alves, had taken Sevilla to within a whisker of winning the 2006-07 league title. No wonder supporters could hardly wait. They were not alone. There was a real buzz about this bow. Málaga had been denied the chance to open their season against Barcelona at home but here they were away at Sevilla. Signing Cazorla from Villarreal was symbolic of the challenge. Now they could defeat Sevilla too, prelude to a pop and the behemoths.


With Baptista absent through injury, Van Nistelrooy's partnership with José Salomón Rondón did not work. Nor, especially, did the centre-backs, with Martín Demichelis not entirely surprisingly slow and out of position. Meanwhile, Cazorla scored a wonderful free-kick but was largely peripheral. Most of all, though, it did not work because up front for Sevilla, Negredo did.

The striker has gone from the must-have star to angry and ineffective waste of money and back again. He was a one-man-team scoring 18 and 13 goals at Almería, then got just 11 and almost half as many red cards in his first campaign at Sevilla. A superb second half to last season, though, saw him reach 20 goals and on Sunday night he carried on where he left off, at his bludgeoning best – perfectly positioned and powerful, brilliant in front of goal. The complete No9, AS calling him "the Sheikh of Nervión".

"Negredo," says Sport, "sends Málaga's galácticos into orbit," while Marca describe him as the "signing the sheikh forgot to make".

When Thani took over at Málaga he overlooked the east, home to Valencia and Villarreal, Spain's other Champions League teams this season, to announce his plan to construct a power base in the south which could challenge the north and the centre. Beating Barcelona and Madrid will be far from easy; Sunday night showed that beating Sevilla is not necessarily a simple task either. Málaga already knew that; others might recognise it too. The new season started in Spain but there was no revolution. Not yet.

Week 1 results: Sporting 1-2 Real Sociedad, Valencia 4-3 Racing Santander, Granada 0-1 Real Betis, Atlético Madrid 0-0 Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Rayo, Getafe 1-1 Levante, Mallorca 1-0 Espanyol, Real Zaragoza 0-6 Real Madrid, Sevilla 2-1 Málaga.

Monday night: Barcelona v Villarreal.

*Yours for lots of tokens and €9.95 to cover the brilliantly named "postage and manipulation". The scab, by the way, was Míchel — the first of the famous Quinta del Buitre to play for Real Madrid. He got his debut as a youth-teamer filling in for striking first-team players, a decision he now says he regrets. He was too young to know any better and had no idea of the real significance of the strike.


Sid Lowe

The GuardianTramp

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