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Strike threat leaves cloud over La Liga

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Lionel Messi scored twice for Barcelona on the opening weekend © AFP / LLUIS GENE

MADRID, Spain, Aug 24 – The prospect of a player strike hangs over Spanish football heading into the second week of the season, as Barcelona and Real Madrid look to build on winning starts to the campaign.

La Liga bosses dropped a bombshell on the eve of the campaign when they announced their intention to stage top-flight matches in the United States, starting from this season.

However, a move announced as part of attempts to improve the Spanish league’s global popularity has this week been attacked by the country’s players union, AFE.

“Footballers are not for sale. We don’t only think about money,” said AFE president David Aganzo, once a striker on Madrid’s books.

The union say they hope to persuade league chiefs to change their minds at a meeting next month, with strike action promised if they do not get the outcome they are hoping for.

“We are worried for supporters. We see football in a different way. Going to the United States is madness,” Aganzo added.

The AFE have also said that match scheduling is a concern, with Valencia’s opening weekend draw with Atletico Madrid one of two games played on Monday night.

Matches that do not finish until after midnight are also a feature of the start of the new season, with champions Barcelona’s match at Valladolid one such game this weekend.

– Messi in fine fettle already –

Ernesto Valverde’s side face their newly promoted opponents fresh from starting their title defence by beating Alaves 3-0 at the Camp Nou, with Lionel Messi scoring a brace, including a superb free-kick.

“Finding a way to stop Messi is practically impossible,” said Valladolid coach Sergio Gonzalez.

“We will try to ensure that he touches the ball as little as possible. That is great in theory, but the important thing is to stay focused.”

While Messi looked as brilliant as ever against Alaves, Real began life in La Liga without Cristiano Ronaldo by beating Getafe 2-0.

For now, the two great individuals of the last decade continue to be compared with one another, even with Ronaldo having left for Juventus.

“People rarely mention one without mentioning the other,” Valverde said in an interview with Barcelona club media.

“A lot of people are interested, me too, to see how it will affect Real Madrid’s football and what they might do in the transfer market, and also knowing that Ronaldo is at another club and what that might mean for La Liga and the Champions League too.”

– Courtois awaits debut –

Will Thibaut Courtois make his Real Madrid debut in Girona? © AFP / JAVIER SORIANO

The early signs for Real are that Gareth Bale will step forward, after he scored one goal and made another against Getafe to give new coach Julen Lopetegui his first win at the helm.

The European champions go to Catalonia on Sunday night to face Girona — who beat them in this fixture last season — with Thibaut Courtois still waiting to make his debut in goal following his arrival from Chelsea.

Atletico have been tipped to make a serious push for the title this season, and they started with a 1-1 draw at Valencia, despite Angel Correa giving them the lead.

Diego Simeone’s side have a derby at home to newly-promoted Rayo Vallecano on Saturday evening and come into the game with winger Vitolo having been ruled out for several weeks with a knee injury.

Rayo look set to welcome back striker Raul de Tomas on loan from Real Madrid, with media reports saying he has agreed to return to the club for whom he netted 24 times on loan during their run to promotion last season.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Getafe v Eibar (1815), Leganes v Real Sociedad (2015)

Saturday

Alaves v Betis (1615), Atletico Madrid v Rayo Vallecano (1815), Valladolid v Barcelona (2015)

Sunday

Espanyol v Valencia (1615), Girona v Real Madrid, Sevilla v Villarreal (both 2015)

Monday

Levante v Celta Vigo (1815), Athletic Bilbao v Huesca (2000)

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