It’s going to be strange getting used to it but it was something which had to happen – LaLiga has moved away from its previous, unappealing format - a completely symmetrical tournament in which the second round of matches was effectively a mirror image of the first round. Until now, the same rivals would meet on the corresponding weekend in the second half of the season – only the venue would change. That’s how it’s been for the past 90 years: the draw for the first weekend of action was made and after that, following a simple calculation, the rest of the fixtures were drawn up. That was the procedure until El Clásico gained more prominence, when it was decided not to stage it too close to the start of the season, or too near the end. And of course in the past, there was always leeway given to clubs who were doing structural work on their stadiums or about to inaugurate a new one, which meant they were excused from playing the first game at home.
LaLiga's top-of-the-bill matches
So an asymmetric fixtures calendar is all we have ever known, but I am all for the new format. For many years now, the English league tended to concentrate the best matches over the Christmas break. Now, it’s about making sure that the big games – such as the big local derbys and matches between historic rivals don’t fall on inconvenient dates. I can recall a Madrid-Barça being played at the start of the season on at least two occasions – the ones which stick in my mind include the game when [Miguel Ángel] Bustillo suffered a horrific injury, and another Clásico at the Bernabéu when a young Ramón Calderé exploded onto the scene. Naturally, meeting on the opening day meant that Barça and Madrid would face each other again in the first game of the second round of matches. Even back then it wasn’t ideal – and now that both clubs have grown so much it would be even worse. That scenario has always been avoided which I think is a good thing.
Copa del Rey format
And of course it’s not only about Madrid and Barça, we also have Atleti, who are now a major force – as well as all of the local derbys, which equally deserve to be played on appropriate dates. The new format goes against tradition but when all is said and done it still respects the main principle which is that everyone plays each other, home and away, and from that point of view the overall reckoning is more or less symmetrical. I was also pleased to see Tebas and Rubiales in agreement for once. That leaves us the Copa del Rey final. Here we have something which football could take from basketball – in which the semi-finals and the final take place in the same week, in the same city – perhaps over Easter. It upsets me to see the Copa converted into the fly in the ointment – hopefully an agreement can be reached about that.