Girona FC v Real Valladolid CF – Friday 17th August, 2018. Kick off: 19:15 GMT
La Liga action kicks off for the 2018/19 season this Friday night, as one of last year’s surprise packages, Girona, entertain newly-promoted Real Valladolid at the Estadi Montilivi. This will be the first meeting of these sides in the top division, but they are familiar opponents in the second tier and one does not have to scratch too far below the surface to uncover further connections between the clubs.
Having finished second in the Segunda in 2016/17, Girona earned the right to play in the top flight for the first time in the their history. They defied many people’s predictions during the last campaign and in finished a very respectable 10th position.
This was thanks in large part to the tactical nous of manger Pablo Machín, who was able to garner the best from his available players, and a 21-goal haul from Cristhian Struani. The Uruguyan forward signed for the Catalans in July 2017 following two seasons in Middlesbrough and was a revelation in La Liga, finishing 5th in the scoring charts with only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez and Iago Aspas scoring more goals.
Machín recently departed after four years in Girona to take over the reigns at Sevilla, so Eusebio Sacristán comes in to try and build on last season’s positives. The 54-year-old has deep connections with Real Valladolid, having been born in the area and going on to enjoy two successful spells with the club between 1983-87 and 1997-02. His management CV also includes time at the helm of Celta, Barcelona B and Real Sociedad.
Fans’ favourite Johan Mojica, makes a permanent move to the club for 5 million Euros from Rayo Vallecano following two loan spells with Girona and is a great addition to a solid squad. A versatile and flamboyant player, he is a left-back by trade but can get forward or play on the left wing when called upon.
He spent time in the Segunda with Real Valladolid between 2014 and 2016. Also re-joining the Catalans on a permanent deal is Marc Muniesa. The centre-back makes the switch from Stoke City, who he joined on a free transfer from Barcelona B in the summer of 2103, having spent last season at the Estadi Montilivi on-loan.
Girona come into this campaign on the back of a very successful pre-season showing where they lost just two of their warm-up matches. They competed in the La Liga World Tournament, dismantling Melbourne City FC 6-0 and Kerala Blasters FC 5-0, before dispatching a Tottenham Hotspur side 4-1. Their most recent encounter saw them play out an entertaining 3-3 draw with Getafe after going 2-0 up inside the first half.
Real Valladolid found their route to La Liga via the playoffs last season, completing a remarkable turnaround when it looked like their season had been lost. In December, Real Valladolid were sitting as low as 13th place. Sergio González took over as manager in April with the team languishing outside the playoff spots, but moulded a team that had previously looked sluggish and without fight into a squad that won six out of their next eight fixtures to edge into the next stage of the competition.
From there, they successfully navigated their rivals Sporting Gijón and neighbours Numancia over a pair of two-legged encounters to seal their return to the top flight following a four year absence.
Striker Jaime Mata, a former Girona player, was the catalyst for much of Pucela’s success, leading the league in scoring with 35 goals including the playoff matches and he will be a huge loss after a summer move to Getafe.
Also absent from last year’s line-up is Pablo Hervías who was hugely influential in the latter stages of the season, as the right-winger returned to his parent club Eibar after a year’s loan at the José Zorrilla. Centre-back, Deivid, who missed the promotion run-in with injury, has signed for Las Palmas.
Criticised for a slow start in the summer transfer market, Sergio’s side have made up for lost time by bringing in reinforcements to the forward line.
Three loan additions in Keko from Malaga, Ivi López from Levante, and Roma’s ex-international at under-21 level Daniele Verde, have big shoes to fill if the José Zorrilla faithful are to be appeased following the loss of Mata, and they are joined by the permanent transfer of central midfielder Rubén Alcaraz from none other than Girona. Alcaraz was with Almería on-loan last season and moves on a 4-year, 800,000 Euro deal.
Their build-up to their La Liga return has been low-key. They beat Atlético Tordesillas 4-1, then won against Almería 1-0. Two draws (0-0 with Malaga and 1-1 with Deportivo La Coruña) took place during a training camp in Marbella. They lost on penalties to Alavés and drew 0-0 with Real Oviedo in a three-way tournament, before beating fellow promotion-gainers Rayo Vallecano 2-0 in Íscar. Their final preseason match saw them fall 1-0 to Nuremberg in Germany last Saturday.
The two sides have met on eleven previous occasions, and Friday’s visitors hold a slight advantage with 5 wins to Girona’s 4. There have been two draws in their encounters, with only one being goalless.
Girona will be without left back Johan Mojica through injury, with Carles Planas and Jonas Ramalho also out while Aday Benitez is suspended from the end of last season.
Visitors Valladolid also have three players out injured with Ivi Lopez, David Mayoral and Luismi Sanchez set to miss the opening game.
This match will herald the new era of La Liga broadcasting in the UK by Eleven Sports, as they won the rights to show the league after a long association with Sky Sports. It will also mark the first time that a La Liga game has been shown live and without a fee on Eleven Sports Facebook page, with plans to broadcast one match per week via this medium.
Girona (4-1-4-1): Bono; Porro, Bernardo, Juanpe, Muniesa; Timor; Aleix Garcia, Granell, Portu, Borja Garcia; Lozano
Real Valladolid (4-1-4-1): Masip; Moyano, Olivas, Calero, Nacho; Fernandez; Anuar, Alcaraz, Keko, Villa; Ramos
Girona 2-1 Real Valladolid