The 2013/14 season of La Liga kicks off this weekend. Champions Barcelona once again prepare to start the campaign with a new coach. Argentine Gerardo Martino took over at Camp Nou in less than ideal circumstances after Tito Vilanova was forced to step down to continue his battle with cancer and will need to instill continuity in the face of continued high expectations.
Martino will need to quickly cement an understanding between goal machine Lionel Messi and new signing Neymar, the talented Brazilian striker signed from Santos. The new coach will also be expecting greater consistency this season from the Barcelona engine room. Xavi looked jaded at times last term alongside Andres Iniesta and with Thiago Alcantara moving to Bayern Munich, the pressure on Messi as the source of both goals and creativity will be immense. Meanwhile, the club looks set to retain Cesc Fabregas, the midfielder having been the subject of sustained interest from Manchester United.
Defense was Barca’s achilles heel last term and a fallible backline could once again be their undoing. Chelsea’s David Luiz and fellow Brazilian international Thiago Silva were identified as potential long-term replacements for veteran skipper Carles Puyol, and Luiz has emerged as the primary target. Chelsea seem unlikely to let the Brazilian go and Daniel Agger, Jan Vertonghen, Jeremy Mathieu and Vincent Kompany have all been linked with a move to Camp Nou.
The arrival of Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid heralds a new dawn at the Santiago Bernabeu following Jose Mourinho’s final turbulent year at the helm. The Italian has made two significant midfield signings, bringing in Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad and the exciting and highly-rated 21-year-old playmaker Isco from Malaga. Illarramendi, a 23-year-old defensive midfielder, is seen as a long-term replacement for Xabi Alonso. Striker Gonzalo Higuain, meanwhile, has joined Napoli.
Speculation has continued to surround the future of Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu. Ancelotti has insisted that the brilliant but temperamental Portuguese is vital to the club, but admits his future is uncertain. Attempts by Real Madrid to lure Gareth Bale away from Tottenham Hotspur have added to the uncertainty surrounding Ronaldo, who has often said he is unhappy in the Spanish capital, though it remains to be seen whether Los Blancos are prepared to meet the London club’s €93m asking price for the Welsh international.
Last season’s Primera was a three-horse race for much of the campaign until the challenge of Atletico Madrid lost momentum towards the end, but Los Colchoneros held on for an impressive third-placed finish. The prolific Radamel Falcao, scorer of 28 goals in La Liga for Atleti last season, has moved on to Monaco and his replacement, David Villa, is an interesting choice. Although 31 years old and plagued with injury in recent seasons, he scored 48 times in 116 games for Barcelona and remains Spain’s leading all-time marksman.