LaLiga’s fixtures for the 2023-24 season (stream all games live on ESPN+) were released on Thursday and the new campaign is already bubbling with promise after some busy transfer market activity.
As Real Madrid look to reclaim the title from rivals Barcelona, they have spent €103 million to sign England midfielder Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund and might not be done yet, with a possible €120m-plus move for either Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe or Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane after star striker Karim Benzema left for Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile financially stricken Barca, who won the league for the first time since 2019 last season, are closing in on the free transfer signing of Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan as they attempt to build on that success while balancing their books.
Atletico Madrid, who were perhaps the best team in Spain in the second half of the campaign, led by the impressive Antoine Griezmann, will be hoping to break up the Barca-Madrid duopoly, as they have managed to do twice under Diego Simeone in the past decade.
Elsewhere, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Betis and Athletic Club are among the teams who will start the season with hopes of finishing in the top four. At the other end of the spectrum, Granada, Las Palmas and Alaves have all returned to the top flight after brief spells in the second division.
With the fixtures now published and managers, players and supporters able to plot their path to glory — or otherwise — here are the talking points.
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The opening weekend
The new LaLiga season gets underway on Aug. 12, with Barca and Madrid both starting on the road. Barca face a difficult trip to Jose Bordalas’ Getafe, where they have often struggled in the past, and coach Xavi Hernandez moaned about the length of the grass after drawing there last season.
Madrid also have a tough start, away at Athletic, while Atletico face newly promoted Granada at home. Sevilla vs. Valencia and Villarreal vs. Real Betis are both fixtures to keep an eye on in the opening weekend of the campaign, too.
Barcelona’s Montjuic move
Barca step slightly into the unknown this season as they move away from Spotify Camp Nou while renovation work is carried out on the stadium. In the meantime, for around 15 months, they will play at the Olympic Stadium in the Montjuic area of the city, which sees their stadium capacity slashed from 100,000 to 50,000. Xavi has said it will be difficult to get used to but is hopeful it won’t affect the rebuild he is carrying out at the club.
First up in Montjuic will be Cadiz in the second week of the season (Aug. 20), but Barca face three of their first four games away from home. After Cadiz, they have challenging matches at Villarreal (Aug. 27) and Osasuna (Sept. 3), two teams that finished in the top seven last season, in the run-up to the September international break.
That tough run is followed by three home games out of four, with Real Betis, Celta Vigo and Sevilla all due to play, before an awkward-looking October. At a time when Champions League fixtures are coming thick and fast, Barca face Athletic (Oct. 22), Madrid (Oct. 29) and Real Sociedad (Nov. 5) in the league.
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Real Madrid on the road as well
Like Barca, Madrid also start with run of away games as work continues on the redevelopment of the Santiago Bernabeu. After facing Athletic, they travel to Almeria (Aug. 20) and Celta (Aug. 27). However, unlike Barca, they will be back in their home stadium by September when they host Getafe (Sept. 3) in a Madrid derby.
If Madrid can get a positive result at Athletic’s San Mames on the opening weekend, they should be in good shape come the first international break with those fixtures. Tougher tests await them after, though, with Real Sociedad and Atletico to come in back-to-back games in mid-September and consecutive away ties against Sevilla and Barca at the end of October.
Can Atletico build on strong finish?
Atletico’s form in the second half of last season allowed them to make significant ground on Madrid in the table, although they eventually came up just short in their pursuit of their city rivals, finishing one point behind them in third — with Barca 10 ahead of Madrid in the end. However, with 53 points from 24 games post-World Cup they had more than anyone else in LaLiga (Barca had 51), so Simeone will be hopeful of getting involved in next year’s title race.
A home game against Granada is the perfect start to the campaign, although away matches against Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano follow. It’s then Sevilla at home and Valencia away before the derby against Madrid. By that point, we should have a good idea about what sort of shape Simeone’s side will be in.
The other challengers
Real Sociedad took fourth place last season and will have to manage Champions League football with domestic games this time around, but they could not have asked for a better start. Girona, Celta Vigo, Las Palmas and Granada are four winnable fixtures and there is no reason why they can’t go into their game at Madrid (Sept. 17) with 10 or even 12 points. They have often started seasons very strongly under Imanol Alguacil.
Sevilla will be hoping they can continue their revival under Jose Luis Mendilibar, too. He took them from relegation candidates to Europa League winners — and a spot in next season’s Champions League as a result — but expectations will be raised now. A trip to Atletico aside, they will be happy with their opening five games, which also include Valencia, Alaves, Girona and Las Palmas.
Villarreal, Betis and Athletic will be among the other clubs looking to finish in the top four. Athletic could take advantage of not having to compete in Europe on Thursdays, with Villarreal and Betis both in the Europa League.
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Matches you don’t want to miss
Athletic Club vs. Real Madrid (Aug. 12)
A trip to San Mames always represents one of the trickiest away games for Madrid and Barca, while the difficulty level will rise with Carlo Ancelotti’s side having to go there in the first week of the season. In his second season back at the club, there will be renewed enthusiasm that Ernesto Valverde can lead the Basque side back into the upper echelons of the table and a fierce atmosphere will await Madrid.
Villarreal vs. Barcelona (Aug. 27)
Like Athletic, Villarreal have posed problems for Barcelona and Madrid in recent years, beating the latter at the Estadio de la Ceramica last season and narrowly losing to the Catalans. There is also the added spice of former Barca coach Quique Setien now being in charge at Villarreal. He will relish the chance to get one over his ex-employers so early in the campaign.
Atletico vs. Real Madrid (Sept. 24)
A one-sided derby has been reinvigorated over the last decade since Simeone took over at Atletico. This season’s first Madrid derby comes early in the campaign and the Rojiblancos will be delighted they are at home for it. The return game will be staged at the start of February.
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Club (Oct. 1)
The Basque derby is one of the biggest derbies in Spain, but it feels especially important this season as Athletic look to shift the balance back in their favour. La Real‘s fourth-place finish, and a spot in the Champions League, has firmly established the two-time LaLiga winners as the dominant team in the north of Spain. Athletic, eight-time league winners, will want to reverse that trend. Their first chance comes on Oct. 1 in San Sebastian, with the return game in Bilbao pencilled for the start of January.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (Oct. 29)
Arguably the biggest game in European club football, the first Clasico of the season between Barca and Madrid will be at the end of October. It will also be the first Clasico played in Montjuic. It falls in the 11th gameweek of the season, so Bellingham, Gundogan and any other new signings should be more than accustomed to their new surroundings. The second meeting between the two giants, at the Bernabeu in April could be a potential title decider.
Sevilla vs. Real Betis (Nov. 12)
In terms of pure atmosphere and passion, the Seville derby is right up there with the Clasico and the Basque derby. The fervour with which the anthems are belted out pre-game gives you goosebumps. On the pitch, there is often drama, too, and that will be no different this year as Sevilla, under Mendilibar, look to overthrow Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis as the No.1 side in the city.