La Liga is considered a two-horse race, the bookies agree
The new Spanish season gets underway in just over two weeks’ time with a mouthwatering El Clasico, Real Madrid and Barcelona contest the Supercopa de España, over two legs. The first game gets kicks off on Sunday 13th August at the Camp Nou. The second leg will be played at the Bernabeu on Wednesday 16ht August. The league schedule gets underway with a double doubleheader, when, Leganes take on Alaves at The Estadio Municipal de Butarque, two hours later, Valencia takes on Las Palmas at the Mestalla. Let’s get straight into Part One of this season’s preview.
Head coach – Zinedine Zidane
The defending champions are firm favourites to retain the league. Zidane has worked wonders since taking over the helm, winning the Spanish league, The Champions League (twice) and the UEFA Super Cup. Madrid’s early season schedule is a busy one. The Spanish Super Cup is preceded by the UEFA Super Cup tie with Manchester United on August 8th. Zidane has been quoted in the media as stating that he’s not bothered by his team’s pre-season form, a draw against Manchester United was followed by defeats to Manchester City and fierce rivals, Barcelona. “Poor Madrid gunned down in Miami” were the headlines in the latest edition of Marca. Madrid’s league campaign gets underway with an away trip to Deportivo.
It will be a relatively new-look Madrid. Àlvaro Morata has left for Chelsea, Danilo is also heading for the Premier League and Manchester City. James Rodriguez has moved on loan to German champions, Bayern Munich. 19-year-old Left-back Theo Hernández arrives from neighbours Atlético for a fee of around €27m. Dani Ceballos has signed from Real Betis for a fee of around €15m. The 20-year-old will be looking to put a difficult time at Betis behind him. Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are yet to find any early season rhythm, neither player has managed to find the back-of-the net, that could all change in the build up to the new season. Marco Asensio’s excellent counter-attack in the preseason defeat to Barcelona may have left a good impression on his head-coach, but the 21-year-old will have to remain patient for a regular run out in the starting XI.
It’s unlikely that Real Madrid will spend any time outside of the top-three, Zidane has set the bar extremely high. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t getting any younger, he will be even more hungry for further success.
Head coach – Ernesto Valverde
Valverde arrives from Athletic Bilbao and his first task was to try and retain the services of Neymar. The formidable striker looks to be set for a whopping €222m move to Paris Saint-Germain. Neymar is almost irreplaceable, his on-field performances with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi have left many a journalist and pundit searching for unused superlatives. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is rumoured to be on Valverde’s wanted list as a potential replacement for Neymar. Valverde is under real pressure to deliver silverware, a journey that would have been made easier if he had the trident of Neymar, Suarez and Messi at his disposal.
“It depends on what [Neymar] wants, as he could be at any club in the world,” the defender said in an interview with ESPN. He can be in Paris, Barcelona, Chelsea or [Manchester] City. All the clubs will want him, so it’s about your priorities. What do you want? Do you want more money or do you want to win titles?” Pique – inteview with ESPN
Valverde’s second task is to challenge for honours, both domestically and in Europe. Barcelona’s new head-coach has a real chance of signalling his arrival at the Camp Nou by guiding Barcelona to the Spanish Super Cup. Barcelona starts their league campaign with the visit of Quique Setién’s Real Betis. The visitors will be trying to avoid a repeat of last season’s scoreline of the same fixture, on that occasion, Barcelona ran out comfortable 6-2 winners, Suarez helped himself to a hat-trick. Barcelona have strengthened at the back, Nélson Semedo and Gerard Deulofeu arrive in Barcelona from Benfica and Everton respectively. The margins of success and failure are narrow, last season Barcelona fell four points short of a La Liga title.
It’s going to be an interesting season in La Liga, for the Spanish heavyweights at least. Enjoy the displays from Messi and Ronaldo, football’s elite won’t be around for ever.