The Spanish Primera Liga gets underway this weekend with Barcelona defending the title they won for the 23rd time last season. Real Madrid, under new leadership, will again provide the Catalans with their sternest challenge, but expect Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla to be leading those determined not to let the top two have it all their own way.
Barcelona, who also won the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, banged in 110 La Liga goals in 2014/15 with Lionel Messi hitting 43 of them. Cristiano Ronaldo outscored the little Argentine, grabbing 48 of Los Blancos’ 118 goals but, as always, La Liga is about so much more than arguably the world’s two greatest club sides and its top two stars.
Messi’s goals were crucial in landing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique the Spanish championship at the first time of asking. A fans’ favorite in his playing days at Camp Nou, the Barca boss will again have an enviable array of talent at his disposal, ready for their next assault on the Primera crown.
With Luis Suarez and Neymar alongside Messi, Barca have a frontline comprising three of the planet’s finest attacking players. The Brazilian will miss the start of the campaign with injury but Barca have the depth to cope without him. The talismanic Xavi Hernandez has gone, but Ivan Rakitic had a fine debut season for the Catalans and is gradually beginning to fill the master’s shoes.
Real Madrid wasted no time in installing Rafa Benitez as their new coach as the curtain came down on an ultimately disastrous campaign for the capital city giants and the former Valencia, Liverpool, Chelsea and Napoli supremo is already moulding a side with greater strength and resilience to mount a serious challenge to Enrique’s men.
Not that Benitez has rung major changes. He has, however, looked to build a team with sufficient back-up for key players like Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. The long-running saga linking Sergio Ramos with a move to Manchester United was eventually extinguished and, with David de Gea remaining at Old Trafford, Keylor Navas and new signing Kiko Casilla will battle it out to replace Iker Casillas between the posts.
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Meanwhile, on the other side of the capital, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has engineered significant signings over the summer that should ensure that a refreshed Atleti can be serious challengers to the big two. Colombian striker Jackson Martinez and the highly-rated young Argentine Luciano Vietto have joined from Porto and Villarreal respectively and could between them provide goals aplenty for Los Colchoneros.
Valencia will be looking to build on a fine 2014/15, but may feel the loss of defender Nicolas Otamendi who has joined Manchester City. Coach Nuno Espirito Santo has added Club Brugge goalkeeper Matthew Ryan to Los Che’s ranks after Diego Alves suffered a serious knee injury at the end of last season, while former Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville has joined the coaching staff at Mestalla.
SEE MORE: View the 2015/16 La Liga TV schedule for US.
Europa League winners Sevilla were one of the most watchable teams in La Liga last season. As always, sporting director Monchi, the man with the most valuable contacts book in soccer, has been wheeling and dealing to create a new line-up at the Sanchez Pizjuan to build on last term’s success. Ukrainian winger Yevhen Konoplyanka impressed for Dnipro in the Europa League final and Sevilla wasted no time in adding him to Unai Emery’s squad alongside Dortmund loanee Ciro Immobile, Danish midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli and French defender Adil Rami.
Of the rest, Athletic Club and Villarreal will once again be challenging the bigger boys, while among the newly-promoted sides Real Betis are perhaps best equipped to go the distance and even finish in the top half of the table. Fellow promotees Las Palmas and Sporting Gijon may struggle and time could finally be called on Granada’s Primera Liga tenancy. Eibar escaped the drop last season only thanks to Elche’s financial difficulties, but the tiny Basque outfit may not be so lucky this time.
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