Sport is back in Spain. La Liga is underway, the Vuelta a España begins today (for which there is an excellent preview on SBNation's cycling blog, Podium Cafe), and the Spanish national basketball team made it to the semifinals in Rio. But no event is larger than the return of the Primera División. And Real Madrid begin the season in beautiful San Sebastián.
La Real finished last season ninth, which is wholly indicative of the season they had. A dreadful start put then-manager David Moyes out of a job, only for Sacristán bookend a solid fall and winter campaign with a poor spring. They were 11th in goal difference, and the seventh-best home team in La Liga. By any metric, Real Sociedad were mid-table last year.
Real Sociedad spent the offseason shopping in the bargain bin, bringing in Willian José (not that Willian), Juanmi, and Toño for a combined...€6.5 million. Most notably, they lost defender Diego Reyes after his loan expired and he returned to Porto. It seems La Real are banking on team continuity and the managerial acumen of Eusebio Sacristán to vie for a Europa League spot in 2016. They'll likely roll out a 4-2-3-1, with Asier Illarramendi (remember him?) and Carlos Vela being the names to watch for.
Anoeta has classically felled La Liga contenders of late. In 2014, La Real beat Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, and Barcelona at home, and last year they beat Barcelona yet again, while falling to Real only by way of a late Bale header. Every stadium buzzes just a bit louder for home openers, and it will be no different at Anoeta on Sunday. Real should expect an electric environment.
Real Madrid have looked only inward to boost their squad, bringing back Álvaro Morata for Juve, and Marco Asensio from Espanyol, while it seems bigger roles are in store for Mateo Kovačić, James Rodríguez, and Lucas Vázquez. Many of the aforementioned will see the pitch at Anoeta due to injuries (I'd be remiss if I didn't plug our positional previews, which feature tons of analysis for every player in Real Madrid's first team).
Out will be Luka Modrić (rollover suspension), Cristiano Ronaldo (knee), Pepe (thigh/Euro recovery), Fábio Coentrão (general existence), Karim Benzema (hip), and Keylor Navas (Achilles). Álvaro Morata's status is uncertain after he picked up a knock in training (and as a long time lobbyist for letting Sergio Ramos take a whack at center-forward, I see this as a primo opportunity to test my rather dumb hypothesis). It also appears Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos have fully recovered from their arduous Euro matches.
And yet Zinedine Zidane might not be sweating too much over his sidelined stars, as he'll be able to field a robust attacking squad against a La Real side which will be looking to lean on their defense.
La Real's propensity for bringing it at home against top teams makes this a less than ideal Liga opener for Madrid, but Madrid's quality should be too much for La Real to hold off.
Real Sociedad: Rulli; Yuri, Martínez, Elustondo, Zaldúa; Bergara, Illarramendi; Zurutuza, Oyarzbal, Vela; Juanmi
Real Madrid: Casilla; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, James; Bale, Morata, Asensio
This season, the MM staff will be keeping a running tally of who lands the most accurate predictions over the length of the season. Scoring will be: 1 point for guessing the correct result, 2 points for the correct scoreline, and 3 points for correct goal-scorers. Feel free to guess and follow along in the comments below!