New Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez suffered an embarrassing setback in his first outing in charge as his team was held to a 0-0 draw at promoted Sporting Gijon in their opening match of the La Liga season on Sunday, while Real's rivals and current European champions Barcelona got their bid for a sixth La Liga title in eight years off to a winning start when Luis Suarez buried a fine volley shortly after half-time to secure a hard-fought 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao.
Real's expensively assembled squad, including Fifa Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive player, could not find a way past Gijon's determined defence at the Molinon.
Barcelona's victory at the San Mames, in which Lionel Messi had a first-half penalty saved, was sweet revenge for their 5-1 aggregate defeat by Bilbao in this month's Spanish Super Cup. It came at a price, however, as both midfielder Sergio Busquets and fullback Dani Alves picked up injuries that ended their participation in the game. They will have tests on Monday and coach Luis Enrique said neither injury appeared to be serious.
"We know that these kinds of matches give us strength in our effort to win La Liga," Suarez told Spanish television. "We also knew that they would be a very difficult, very tough opponent," added the Uruguay striker.
If former Valencia coach Benitez was hoping for a rousing win on his return to La Liga after 11 years, he was sorely disappointed as Real drew a blank in Asturias. Gijon goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar was in fine form, particularly against Ronaldo, while Real's approach play looked lethargic and too many passes went astray.
Gijon -- whose resources are a fraction of those of their illustrious visitors -- also created chances and when Arnaldo Sanabria headed against the underside of the bar in the first half, television replays showed it may have just crossed the goal-line. "The gap between us and Madrid is immense," Cuellar told Spanish television.
"They are one of the best teams in the world but humility and solidarity won the day," he added. "Our objective remains very clear though and it's to avoid relegation. I would like to see how many kilometres my team mates ran. What a great job."
Real captain Sergio Ramos said some self-criticism was needed. "Anything other than a win is not good," added the Spain international. "But we shouldn't take anything away from the opponent. They pressured well high up the pitch in the first half."
A well-organised and hard-pressing Bilbao made life difficult for Barcelona in the early stages before Suarez was tripped by Gorka Elustondo in the penalty area in the 30th minute and Messi stepped up to take the spot kick. Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz made a fine diving stop, becoming only the second man after Valencia's Diego Alves to save a penalty from both Messi and Ronaldo.
It was Messi's 14th failed spot kick for Barca on the Argentina captain's 63rd attempt.
Barcelona made the breakthrough in the 54th minute when Suarez found space in the area and smashed a superb volley into the net from Jordi Alba's chipped centre.
Sergi Roberto, who had a fine game at right back after replacing Alves in the 19th minute, cracked a shot against the frame of the goal on the hour before Barcelona coach Luis Enrique had to make another change when Busquets appeared to damage an ankle in a clash with Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz.