The 2022-23 La Liga season kicks off in Spain this weekend with some subtle changes to rules and the uncertainty over the effects of a pre-season break for the World Cup finals will cause.
Referees have been told to clamp down on time wasting and add on extra time if needed and (in theory) they should also alter their interpretation of handball in the penalty area, with only clear infractions given as penalties.
The first three rounds of matches won’t have midday or mid-afternoon games due to the probability of hot weather and the season kicks off just as temperatures appear to be easing after the hottest summer on record in Spain, reports Xinhua.
There is also some uncertainty over which players will be able to play in the opening weekend, with several clubs (among them FC Barcelona) struggling to meet La Liga’s tough financial fair play rules and complete the inscription of their new signings.
The first game of the season is in Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium where the always solid outfit from Pamplona takes on Sevilla. It will be interesting to see how Sevilla perform after signing attacking midfielder Isco from Real Madrid but losing first-choice central defenders Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde.
Celta Vigo have been one of Spain’s more active teams in the transfer window, although much will still depend on Iago Aspas when they take on Espanyol. The visitors have new coach Diego Martinez in change and signed striker, Joselu from Alaves, although there are big doubts over the future of Spain international Raul de Tomas.
Valladolid are back in the elite after a brief hiatus in the second division, but have a tough return when they face Villarreal. Villareal have had a good pre-season and look to be serious candidates for a top-four finish.
Big spending FC Barcelona kick off their season at home to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday and at the time of writing it is still uncertain whether new signings Franck Kessie, Robert Lewandowski, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde and Raphinha or Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto will be able to play due to financial restrictions.
The club is expected to activate another economic lever (ie sell off more assets) by the weekend to ensure at least some of the seven are available.
Real Madrid get their title defence underway to newly promoted Almeria, and as they showed in the European Supercup win away to Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday, it looks to be business as usual for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, although Ancelotti has announced some changes for the weekend.
Sunday’s other matches see Real Sociedad, who have several changes in attack and are still without the injured Mikel Oyarzabal, visit Cadiz, who last season avoided relegation on the last day of the season.
Gennaro Gattuso makes his debut as Valencia coach and will hope to have Nico Gonzalez available for the visit of newly promoted Girona, after losing Goncalo Guedes to Wolves.
There are also three games on Monday (which is a public holiday in Spain). Ernesto Valverde begins his third tenure at Athletic Club Bilbao at home to Javier Aguirre’s Mallorca — a side unbeaten in pre-season.
There is a derby in the south of Madrid as Atletico Madrid travel to face Gerafe with a slight doubt over whether or not Antoine Griezmann will be available, while the last game of the day sees Betis (another side with some financial fair play issues) at home to Elche, strengthened by the signing of former Levante striker Roger Marti.