FC Barcelona

Spain’ s BBVA Primera Liga kicks off this coming weekend with FC Barcelona the side everyone has to beat.

FC Barcelona

The team coached by Luis Enrique won the treble last season and followed that up with the European Supercup, but a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Athletic Club Bilbao in the Spanish Supercup will give their main title rivals, Real and Atletico Madrid hopes that the Catalans are not invincible.

Although Barca have signed Arda Turan from Atletico and Aleix Vidal from Sevilla, they will not be able to play until January because of a FIFA ban and if Pedro Rodriguez departs to Manchester United, that could leave Barca’ s squad looking slightly short of numbers.

There have also been questions raised over Barca’ s defense over pre-season, while Luis Enrique has to decide whether Claudio Bravo or Ter Stegen, who has struggled over the summer, is first choice in goal.

Barca could also miss the cool head of veteran former captain, Xavi Hernandez, but any side that has an attacking trio of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, is still going to be the side to beat.

The arrival of Rafael Benitez to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid has brought a subtle chance of style in the Spanish capital with Benitez deciding to build from the back.

Perhaps he too knows that with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karmin Benzema, his side too is always going to score goals and the club needs to reduce the number of goals they conceded.

Real Madrid have also seen a talismanic figure abandon the club with Iker Casilas joining Porto and it remains to be seen whether Kiko Casilla or Keylor Navas is first choice in goals (unless David De Gea joins over the next fortnight, which could still happen).

Real Madrid have brought in full back Danilio, while Casemiro has returned from Porto and young Croatian Mateo Kovacic from Inter Milan and will also be almost impossible to beat in their Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Much will depend on the form of Ronaldo and Bale, although it is now time for Bale to stamp his authority on La Liga, while it will be interesting to see how Ronaldo’ s fitness holds up after a season struggling with a knee injury and a summer with back problems.

Atletico Madrid will depend once again on Diego Simeone’ s work ethic and ability to forge his players into a tight unit.

Atletico have lost central defender Joao Miranda, but Stefan Savic has arrived and Felipe Luis has returned after a season in England and the club have signed attacking firepower in Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto, while youngster Oliver Torres should give some much needed creativity in the middle of the pitch.

Antoine Griezmann also guarantees goals, while Atletico’ s discipline should keep them close to the top of the table, as long as the demands of League, Cup and Champions League, added to the commitment Simeone demands from his players doesn’ t end up burning his squad out before May.

In reality those three are the only three sides with realistic title hopes, but others such as Sevilla, who brilliantly retained the Europa League title last season, and Valencia, will hope to dent the top three.

In the case of both clubs much depends on how their squads can cope with the rigors of playing in the Champions League, although Unai Emery at Sevilla can always be relied on to produce a well-drilled effective team, despite the loss of striker Carlos Bacca and Vidal.

Kevin Gameiro and Ciro Immobile should guarantee goals, while Stefan N’ Zonzi is a midfield powerhouse and Adil Rami, who was once at Valencia, a powerful central defender.

There are more doubts over Valencia, who have had a turbulent summer off the pitch and who seem to base their recruitment policy on players on the roster of super-agent Jorge Mendes.

If Valencia fail to reach the group stage of the Champions League, Mestalla’ s demanding fans could well turn on coach, Nuno Espiritu Santo and despite the obvious talent in the squad, unity has not always been the biggest asset at a club that has had more than its share of controversy.

Villarreal, Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Sociedad will be aiming to finish at least in the top-six with Villarreal replacing Vietto with Roberto Soldado, who needs to recover from his two poor seasons in England.
Athletic, buoyed by their win in the Supercup will look to Aritz Aduriz to continue scoring goals, while the club’ s fans are excited at young prospects such as Inaki Williams, Sabin Merino and Javi Eraso, who has returned to the club from Leganees.

Meanwhile David Moyes knows that the time has come for him to make his experience count in his first full season at Real Sociedad, although his side may still need a couple of signings to be considered serious challengers.

Celta Vigo should start the season with guarantees of not suffering, but just about every other club will kick off the campaign more focused on avoiding relegation than in battling for Europe.

Economic reasons see the majority of teams filled with free transfers and loan players and the sides which have signed best and which are bravest on the pitch are the ones that will survive.

Of the remaining sides Rayo Vallecano always promise attacking football, while returnees Betis look to have enough firepower in their squad, while Eibar, Levante, Granada, Las Palmas and Sporting Gijon look to be in the biggest danger of the drop. Enditem

Source: Xinhua


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