Real Madrid & Barcelona: 2012/13 La Liga preview
The more things change in La Liga, the more they stay the same. As 2012/13 begins Josep Guardiola and Santi Cazorla may have left, but the build-up to the new season has been familiar, with the big two again set to dominate and the chasing pack beset by financial problems and mismanagement.
Eyes are on Barcelona to see how Tito Vilanova deals with the step up to the top job. Vilanova has lost none of his big name players, has David Villa back fit and Leo Messi fresh after a full pre-season, but overturning an impressively confident Madrid side looks a big ask.
The summer’s biggest drama played out at Malaga, where fans expecting big money signings before a debut Champions League campaign have instead seen stars Cazorla and Salomon Rondon sold to keep the club afloat. Coach Manuel Pellegrini has reacted calmly and professionally, but another fourth placed finish looks very unlikely.
Supporters at Athletic Bilbao, another club which had seemed on the up, are also worried as an outstanding generation of Basque youngsters could be splitting up with Fernando Llorente possibly only the first to leave. This prospect chimes with wider worries that the dominance of Madrid and Barcelona looks unlikely to be challenged for the foreseeable future.
That concern is linked to the ongoing row over the distribution of TV revenues among La Liga’s 20 clubs. A 13 strong ‘rebel’ group threatened to strike in a bid to gain a fairer share of the available cash, while a commercial battle between rival broadcasters and inertia or worse among the league’s administrators added to the confusion.
The rebels have agreed to kick off as planned, but a lasting solution to the problem is as far away as ever. The mood is more positive at last season’s third-placed Valencia, where incoming coach Mauricio Pellegrino has kept hold of star-man Roberto Soldado, while adding promising new arrivals Fernando Gago and Andres Guardado.
Atletico Madrid fans are also relieved Colombian hitman Radamel Falcao has stayed put, making Champions League qualification a plausible target in Diego Simeone’s first full season in charge.
Also looking up should be Sevilla, with boss Michel having a full pre-season to blend together his new look squad. Surprise top-six challengers could be the well coached duo of Real Mallorca and Getafe, or Real Sociedad’s own bunch of talented young Basque players.
Strong finishes to last season also have fans at Betis and Zaragoza in a positive mood. Of the new guys Deportivo la Coruna – and their new Portuguese contingent – look most likely to do well.
With money for new arrivals tight, Celta Vigo and Real Valladolid seem set for a long battle for survival alongside Granada and Rayo Vallecano, who fired popular coach Jose Ramon Sandoval despite their last day survival. Surprise strugglers could be Espanyol, where a promising young team has been broken-up.
There are no such dark clouds at Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s men have kept all their stars on board and Luka Modric for Kaka would be an upgrade. Blancos fans should be smiling again next May.
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