The defending Copa Del Rey Champion started off their campaign in style, while we lose another left back to a release clause.
Our new league campaign started against Levante, who we bizarrely drew 3-3 against in both games last season. This time around, we got our three goals and held them to one (Toko opened and Chukwueze had a brace). We then had to go to the Mestalla for an astonishingly early derbi with Valencia. Javi Ontiveros opened the scoring (our front three is really something) but we went into half level because of Geoffrey Kondogbia’s goal in the 30th minute. Chukwueze picked up a knock in the 66th minute and things looked destined for a draw when in the 94th minute our talisman Toko Ekambi grabbed a late winner. We then picked up routine wins 1-0 at home against Espanyol (Ontiveros) and 3-1 on the road against Alaves (Morlanes, Toko, Iborra). The last league game in this set was at home against Getafe where we were the better side but drew 1-1 (Ontiveros). We did lose Dalbert to injury for about a month.
Our current situation in the league is joint top on points with FC Barcelona (though behind on goal differential). It’s my opinion that if our squad stays focused we can maximize our potential points against the bottom feeders in the league and find ourselves in Champions League places again. That’s the goal.
Our first champions league match in ages was against Lokomotiv Moscow on the road. 15,563 in attendance in a stadium that seats 27,000, we must not have inspired many ticket sales. These trips to eastern Europe are notoriously difficult in European competition so I was wary, but we still heavily rotated the squad, starting a front three of Marin, Gomez, and Kouame and also starting loanee Fede Valverde.
Lokomotiv were not without talent. Eder of Euro 2016 Final fame was in the XI, as were Benedikt Howedes and Grzegorz Krychowiak. That said, we were simply too much for them, taking 60% possession, 17 shots to 5, and comfortably winning 2-0 with a early second half goal from Kouame and a Puskas award candidate from Gerard Moreno, who scored on his first touch from about 40 yards out (no, I don’t know why their keeper was that far out of position).
We may not win the group, because we have Man City to deal with, but I am confident we’ll see the knockout stages. I’m hoping Real, Barca, and Atleti all finish second in their groups as well, because that gives me (I think) the best chance of seeing a less talented fluke group champion in the round of 16.
Real Madrid away is our next league fixture, followed by Atleti at home, then City at home in the Champions League. We’ve started well, but we’re about to really find out what this team is made of. If you promised me three straight draws, I’d take it. I’ll be very impressed if we come out with at least one win and no losses.
Outside of the window, Norwich agreed to terms with Alberto Moren and hit is 8.5m release fee. I’m thrilled. A player the club got for free being sold for that kind of money? Win. I signed Englishman Demitri Mitchell on a free and sent him to the reserves then promoted Alfonso Pedraza, who is a solid player, 24 years old. When Dalbert gets healthy again I’m probably going to let Alberto finish his time at the club in Segunda B.