The new LaLiga season starts this weekend with El Clasico foes Barcelona and Real Madrid getting their respective campaigns under way against Real Betis and Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
Neymar-less Barca are out to reclaim the Spanish crown from Zinedine Zidane’s Real – deprived of Cristiano Ronaldo for four games – while the likes of Sevilla will look to gatecrash the title race.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some points of interest ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Who’s going to win it?
Real Madrid. A change of manager rarely has a destabilising effect at Barca but, coupled with the shock departure of Neymar for Paris St Germain, uncertainty is currently the catchword at the Nou Camp. Under Ernesto Valverde the Blaugrana ought to lose no tactical nous and even without Neymar they will be ruthless in front of goal, but the momentum is with Zidane’s men at the Bernabeu and, unlike in Barcelona, there is no real capital pressure to prioritise a pursuit of the Champions League trophy. And, in Marco Asensio, Real boast the most exciting breakthrough talent in Spain.
Who will be the surprise package?
No-one upset the established order in May with Alaves looking good for European football until they faded to ninth. Former Champions League regulars Malaga, after a few years of drifting, look poised to surge up the table from 11th after making a canny appointment in the shape of the well-travelled Michel, who delivered an immediate upturn in results when he arrived in the spring. Beyond that Valencia remain an unpredictable entity with unfulfilled potential.
Who are the summer signings to watch?
Unusually for a Spanish summer the focus was less on the players who arrived in LaLiga than on who departed, with class acts Neymar, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez all moving on. Barca’s activity has been understated – Nelson Semedo and Paulinho are shrewd captures – while Real opted to add in strength in depth by picking up Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos. Sevilla were the busiest club: Luis Muriel, Simon Kjaer, Nolito, Ever Banega and Jesus Navas were just a few of the names through the door at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan ahead of an expected assault on the top three.
Who came up and who’s going down?
Levante and Getafe are back in the top flight after single-term absences but it might be relative unknowns Girona who fare best. Pablo Machin’s Catalans have borrowed four players – Pablo Maffeo, Aleix Garcia, Douglas Luiz and Marlos Moreno – from Manchester City and should use them wisely in what will be a tough fight for survival. Leganes pulled it off last season but have thus far failed to strengthen significantly and might face the drop. Celta Vigo and Las Palmas should be wary, too.
Any other business?
No mention of Cristiano Ronaldo? The Real Madrid hitman, who has enjoyed another stellar year despite registering his lowest tally of league goals during his Bernabeu career, continues to hog the headlines.
The 32-year-old Portuguese – now a four-time Champions League winner – is expecting his fourth child this year but celebrations for both matters have been somewhat spoiled by his court trial for alleged failure to pay taxes in full – he denies the charges – and the small matter of a five-match ban – one of which he has served already – which has sidelined him for the hotly anticipated start of the new campaign.
Ronaldo slammed the Spanish football federation for the “exaggerated and ridiculous” sanction that arrived after he pushed the referee in the back during the first leg of the Supercopa de Espana. Never a dull moment.
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