Europe’s most attractive and glamorous domestic football league, La Liga, shall kick-off this weekend. Sportspundit takes a look at what’s in store for the clubs in a three part series starting with an exploration of the title race…..
Barcelona - Looking To Pick Up Where They Left Off
Last season Catalan giants FC Barcelona ran everyone ragged as they marched to a convincing Spanish Primera Division triumph. It was their 19th Liga success in their victory and in 2008-2009 they also won the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, becoming the first Spanish club to win the fabled treble.
This season Barcelona should be the favourites again to win the Spanish Primera Division title as they are still as much strong as they were last season, if not stronger. They do have made a couple of key changes to their side, though.
Samuel Eto’o has been shipped off to Inter Milan and in exchange they have signed the hugely talented but often a big game failure Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is one of the most intelligent and creative strikers in Europe and his addition to the Barcelona line-up adds a whole new dimension to the Barca squad.
If the attacking department of Barcelona lacked anything last season, then it was a centre-forward who could hold the ball up, shield it and also head home crosses. As great a goalscorer Samuel Eto’o is, he is more of an athlete and finisher than a creator and against Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Champions League he couldn’t much in either legs. Ibra, on the other hand, has quicksilver intelligence and his stature allows him to score headers. Daniel Alves’s crosses from the right flank would be perfect for him.
Barcelona have also signed left-back Maxwell from Inter and the Brazilian is expected to provide a stiff competition to Eric Abidal. The rest of the team stays as it was with Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta and Xavi all playing their roles in the attacking section, as Josep Guardiola shall once again play with a 4-3-3 formation.
Barcelona’s breathtaking, attacking, attractive and wholesome football last season was arguably the best and certainly the most dominating this decade has observed and it is likely that they would continue on their run in the 2009-2010 campaign too.
Real Madrid - Looking To Bounce Back
It is also equally likely that Real Madrid challenge Barcelona for the Liga crown. Last season the Blancos were immersed in institutional crisis as they managed only a second placed finish and that too only after Juande Ramos replaced Bernd Schuster in December. Thereafter started an amazing run by Madrid that eventually led them to second spot in the table.
This season Madrid would have a new look and a new feel to their squad. In fact, they would have several things new: Florentino Perez is the new president, Jorge Valdano is the new general-director, Zinedine Zidane is the new club ambassador and Manuel Pellegrini is the new coach.
As for the players, there would be a whole host of changes. In the summer Madrid signed central defender Raul Albiol, central midfielder Xabi Alonso, striker Karim Benzema, winger Cristiano Ronaldo and attacking midfielder Kaka. Manuel Pellegrini has a tough task of integrating all these players into the staring xi but once they are all settled they should start playing the galactic football that people expect them to.
This season Madrid shall be fighting on all fronts and a Liga title is expected. If anything goes wrong, then Madrid’s over 200 million euro worth of summer spending to create the Second Coming of the Galacticos would be deemed a failure. Madrid do have the players and the depth in squad to win back the Spanish Primera Division title but much will depend on how the players play alongside each other.
The Rest - Not Good Enough?
There are a number of other Liga clubs that do have the players to give both Barcelona and Real Madrid a run for their money. Sevilla have made some brilliant additions to the squad in signing defensive midfielder Didier Zokora, right-back Sanchez and centre-forward Alvaro Negredo, Valencia have done well to retain the services of David Silva and David Villa and Atletico Madrid have arguably the best attacking duo in Europe in Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero.
But it appears at the moment that it will be either Barcelona or Real Madrid who would win the Liga this season.