Who will be the Spanish La Liga champions this year?
This weekend begins the first fixtures of the Spanish season, with Barcelona getting the defence of their title underway against Real Betis. Competing for the title with them this year will be Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side and Diego Simone’s Atletico. Looking at signings, pre-season, the managers and the squads, all three sides seem capable of going all the way, but just who is looking the team most likely to lift the trophy in May of next year?
Luis Enrique’s Barca side defeated Seville in the Spanish Super Cup 5-0 on aggregate to lift the trophy for the 12th time, inspired once again by a superb performance by Lionel Messi. With Messi, combined with Luis Suarez and Neymar, the front three scored 130 goals between them, helping Barca to win both La Liga and the Copa del Rey last season. This season they will go in as favourites for most competitions.
This season Barcelona still have the same attack, but have added depth to a squad. It has been suggested that they rely too much on the same team during a season which contains upwards of 60 games due to their guaranteed success in cup competitions, and so reinforcements have arrived. In have come Euro 2016 winner Andre Gomez, young French left-back Lucas Digne, youngster Denis Suarez and exciting centre-back Samuel Umtiti.
The team now has exciting players to come in, and with Munir and Arda Turan looking good in the Super Cup, Barcelona have a side capable of lasting in all competitions. This could be vital, as before Christmas of last season Barcelona brushed aside Real Madrid 4-0 and also beat Atletico Madrid, while after Christmas, both Madrid sides recorded victories against them in various competitions.
While other factors naturally were involved, a more fresh Barca side could have competed more, especially against a much organised Atletico in the Champions League. Barca however, did the double over Atletico in the league, and lost at home to Real Madrid in their only defeat against the big teams in La Liga. A repeat of this would highly likely see a repeat of a title-win.
Luis Enrique has immediately showed he is capable of leading this squad of world class players, and the side has an extremely capable mentality of winning trophies. With new squad depth, talented young players and the front three, Barcelona will surely be the team to beat this season, as well as the most entertaining, if the Super Cup is anything to go by.
Last season’s La Liga runners-up finished one point behind Barcelona, although it took a late resurgence from a newly invigorated Zinedine Zidane side to allow the title race to go as close as it did. Real won the El Clasico in April at the Nou Camp, and then went on to win the Champions League against Atletico on penalties. It will be interesting to see if Zidane can pick up where he left off when the season starts.
Cristiano Ronaldo once again scored over 50 goals in all competitions, and having won Euro 2016 with Portugal, will be looking to bring in more silverware. Real won the UEFA Super Cup against Seville without the likes of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo, who stuck 98 times between them last season. The goals may seem less than Barca’s front three, but with the return of Alvaro Morata, who scored 25 times for Juventus, Madrid could have a new dimension to their attack. If the strike force can have an uninterrupted season in terms of injuries and managerial casualties, they could easily break the 100 goal mark between them and really have a shot at overtaking Barcelona.
No major signings at the Bernabeu has raised question marks, with only Morata coming in and Marco Asensio returning from his loan spell at Espanyol. Maybe Zidane believes in his squad? Or maybe Real believe that spending all that money isn’t necessary this year? Either way, Real are the defending champions in the Champions League and the runners-up in La Liga and have plenty to prove and plenty to gain going in to the new season, starting away to Real Sociedad.
It seems like they are the most hard-working and most organised team on the planet. Diego Simone might not have the money of Barcelona or Real Madrid, but he certainly knows how to find a player, and how to organise a team. Never the favourites but always there at the end, Atletico finished a close 3rd in La Liga, and only lost on penalties in the Champions League final despite arguably being the better side. Once again, Atletico will go into the season as the underdogs.
Having failed to get Diego Costa, Atletico have brought in Kevin Gameiro to add to their strike-force of Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann, as well as bringing in Nico Gaitan from Benfica. Gameiro scored 39 goals in 92 appearances for Sevilla, and will help out Griezmann, who has scored 44 goals in 75 appearances. Fernando Torres has been signed permanently on a free, following his loan spell.
The biggest thing for Atletico is that their manager is still there, and so it is not against the odds to think that Atletico will find
a way to compete in all competitions, again. The young players will get better, the attack will improve, and once again they will find a way to beat the big teams. In La Liga, however, one aspect they will need to improve is their ability to beat Barcelona and Madrid in the league.
Barcelona did the double over them in the campaign, and Atletico’s inability to put Real away in the Champions League cost them on penalties. If Atletico can take their opportunities against the big teams, there is no reason why they won’t be celebrating in May, despite being the underdogs once again. Their season begins against Alaves at home.
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