As a new La Liga season lurks around the corner, there is no need even to mention the teams who will battle for the title, set in stone as it has been, year after year.
The really interesting storylines concern whether Neymar can link up with Leo Messi, and if Gareth Bale can do likewise with Cristiano Ronaldo if he moves to Real Madrid. These are the fascinating questions. Neymar showed at the Confederations Cup this summer that he can do it on a global stage, and not just in Brazil, and he will have to adapt to Barcelona’s system and become a real team player to excel alongside Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Barcelona also have a new coach in Gerardo Martino. A fellow Rosario native, Messi will be enthused by his arrival, and Martino’s impact will be intriguing.
At Real Madrid this has been an intriguing summer too. Missing out on Neymar means they are looking for a glamour signing to rival him. Bale would be ideal, and is looking likely, although they could have Luis Suarez if they want him too. But Real have also been building intelligently. Asier Illaramendi and Isco arrive, and they are two thirds of Spain’s midfield from this summer’s European under 21 championships, won again by the dominant Spaniards. With Dani Carvajal returning from Bayer Leverkusen, young Spanish talent is very much on the menu, particularly with youngsters Jese and Alvaro Morata breaking through up front.
Carlo Ancelotti replacing Jose Mourinho is another interesting storyline. How will his appointment affect the club? Can he make them harmonious again? Ancelotti has a superb track record in Europe, and his experience and tactical savvy could be perfect for Madrid as they look to usurp a transitional Barcelona.
Oh yes, there are other clubs in La Liga. The other 18 have been busy selling their best players to Barcelona, Real Madrid or other big teams in Europe. Even Barcelona and Real have lost players. Barca sold Thiago to Bayern Munich against their wishes, and Real Madrid likewise could not stop Gonzalo Higuain’s departure to Napoli.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid’s reward for third place and the Copa del Rey win last season was to lose Radamel Falcao to a newly promoted French team – Monaco. They have bought David Villa, a good capture, and brought in the reliable Martin Demichelis in defence, but there is much for Atletico to do to repeat last season’s heroics. Fourth place last time out, Real Sociedad have lost coach Phillip Montannier and the aforementioned Illaramendi. Bringing in Jose Angel could be a good signing but Real will do well to repeat fourth place.
Valencia are battling to hold onto their biggest names as usual, as the perpetually cash strapped club look set to lose Roberto Soldado to a Premier League team, most likely Tottenham or Liverpool. Oriol Romeu arrives on loan from Chelsea but a difficult campaign is in store for Los Che as they look to finish in the top four. Malaga continue the selling trend, the Qatari cash drying up quickly on the south coast as Demichelis, Isco, Manuel Iturra, Joaquin and Jeremy Toulalan all leave. But none of those departures is as damaging as the loss of Manuel Pellegrini to Manchester City. Malaga could struggle this term.
Real Betis have lost Benat and Jose Canas and Pepe Mel has done well with some of his signings this summer, such as Juan Verdu and Juanfran. Athletic Bilbao will hope to recover after a poor season under Marcelo Bielsa. Ernesto Valverde is a superb appointment in his place but he has a tough job on given the loss of Fernando Amorebieta and Fernando Llorente. Benat arrives from Real Betas, and Kike Sola from Osasuna, and they could be inspired signings. Sevilla could have challenged for a top four spot had they not lost Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo to Manchester City. Luis Alberto has also left, whilst Unai Emery has been busy rebuilding his team with the likes of Nicolas Pareja and Marko Marin. Valladolid and Getafe will have hopes of solid campaigns again whilst Granada should be good enough to survive too.
Villarreal are back in the big time and will hope to stay there. Signing Giovani dos Santos is a smart move, whilst Marcos Senna has left for the United States and Christian Zapata for AC Milan. Teams battling against the drop this season are likely to be Almeria and Elche, both promoted last season, and Celta Vigo, who survived at the death last time around but have lost Iago Aspas. Levante could have a difficult season after losing captain Sergio Ballesteros, and Osasuna will do well to replace Sola.