After the players strike, La Liga started last weekend. The Spanish competition counts on some of the best, if not the best players of the World. Most of them play in the two main (if not only) favorites to win the title: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF. The Catalans led by Pep Guardiola defend their crown and their objective is to extend their domination one more year to win the fourth consecutive title, like Johan Cruyff's Dream Team did in the early 90s. As always, in front of them, the eternal rival, Real Madrid CF. Jose Mourinho, their coach and leader, has his biggest challenge in front of him. The two giants will fight for only one crown and the tension between both clubs seems higher than ever and you can cut the think air with a knife.
Aside them, there are some historical clubs that will try to spice this bipolar league. In recent years, Valencia CF seems to be the 3rd club of the competition and their goal is to stay there despite the exit of Mata. Unai Emery will have to keep his team in Champions League spots with his low profile team. Aside them, Atlético Madrid start the post-Agüero era and the antidote has a name: Falcao, the most expensive signing of their history. Special interest in Athletic Club, who brought Bielsa to take the Basque club to a new level and, why not, fight for a place in the UEFA Champions League. We can not forget others like Villarreal CF, Sevilla FC or the rising Málaga CF.
We count on the opinion of several important members of the prestigious football forum xtratime.org, who give us their view:
What do you expect from your club for La Liga season that is about to start?
Lo Puto Crack (FC Barcelona) - I expect Barcelona to win La Liga again this year. There's no doubt that Madrid will push us all the way, and it would be no shame to lose to such a talented team but it still would be disappointing to lose La Liga because I think that Barcelona still have the strongest team in Spain. The Barcelona squad has also gotten stronger since last year. The emergence of Thiago and the arrivals of both Alexis Sanchéz and Cesc Fabregas give Barcelona great depth in their squad in midfield and forward positions. The only concern for me is depth at the back. Fóntas has been promoted, but it remains to be seen if Pep trusts him enough to start in the bigger matches. Injuries to key players at the back again this year could prove a disaster for Barcelona if they came at a difficult moment in the season. Pep does seem to like Mascherano as back-up for the centre-back position, and in truth, he has been pretty damn good when played there.
peterman (Real Madrid CF) - I expect a club whose main aim/reference is reaching something close to 100 points. It will be difficult to do so but the squad has been designed for that target, with the inclussion of Sahin and Coentrao.
With Sahin there is one more creative element that will make the team gain control in midfield while in possession, which will add a new dimension to Madrid's game and in the proccess get access to a type of football that will be more beautiful for the Bernabeu. Coentrao will add versatility and intensity. A luxury squad player, which is, in my opinion, a very good adquisition. Apart from that, I expect at least one of the young promising players (Marcelo, Ozil, Benzema etc) to gain some level to get closer to the best players in the world.
Mestalla (Valencia CF) - I have higher expectations for Valencia this season than I did last season, unfortunately however high these expectations are, I doubt we can finish in a better position than we did last season. So you see, these expectations are a bit pointless Ofcourse I'm primarily talking about the League, the cup competitions can go either way.
The reason I'm looking forward to this campaign, is that I believe we've signed well, and even though we've lost Mata and Joaquin, I honestly believe we have a better squad with better depth.
I'm also in a bit of a minority, which is strange, who think that whatever happens, Emery would always Overcome and Conquer in the end
Friki (Valencia CF) - From the beginning I thought we could be a very annoying opponent to Real Madrid and Barcelona, not winning the league or something like that but atleast to eliminate a bit of the far advantage the two teams have. Now after the sell of Mata, we're back to step one more or less so I'm hoping we could keep atleast the same place as last season
Knoert (Athletic Club) - Within between spot 5 and 8.
Who do you consider is the main favorite to win the title?
Lo Puto Crack (FC Barcelona) - It's a toss up between the big two again. It's hard to see many teams taking too many points off both Barcelona and Madrid, so it will likely come down to the two Clasicos. These matches are always tense and closely fought so whomever performs better(or get's the better results) over these two games will have the advantage in La Liga in my opinion. It's very hard to see the likes of Valencia, Villarreal, Sevilla, Atletico and Malaga challenge the top two considering the the strength of the squads of the top two. Malaga, in particular, have improved their team greatly, but it's still almost impossible for any team in La Liga to challenge Barcelona or Madrid at this moment in time. It just shows how strong those two are.
peterman (Real Madrid CF) - The main favorite is Barcelona, with Real Madrid as close second. Barcelona is also stronger than ever, with Alexis, Cesc and a very promising Thiago.
Mestalla (Valencia CF) - Well for me Real Madrid have looking great so far this early on in the season, and I think they'll challenge Barca even more than they did last season. To be honest, I haven't watched neither of Barca's or Madrid's preseason, but the impression I get from Cules is that their rival did indeed have a better preseason.
I think this will ultimately be decided by who wins the Clásicos. I'm not saying they'll beat everyone else in La Liga and hold perfect winning records, surely they'll drop some points here and there to smaller teams, but what I'm saying that regardless of how many points the big two drop, I doubt Barca and Madrid will be apart by 7-8 points this season (before any Clásicos are played), so those 6 points from the Clásicos will prove to be really valuable.
I honestly can't say who'll win the league season from what i've seen so far, too many factors to be considered. Like are Barca as hungry as Madrid are to win the league? I doubt they are, I'm sure Madrid wants it more now than ever since the last time they won it is 2008. But hunger isn't everything, if it was, then Madrid should've won last season. Barca have a playing system that has been proven almost impossible to beat (you have to be at your absolute best to beat them) over 38 games, and they have not lost the vital players it requires, infact they have made some re-inforcements in Cesc and Sanchez.
So bottom-line is Barca's biggest enemy is complacency, if they are, then the title would go to the Capital. If they played like they have ever since Pep arrived though, then I see them lifting it for a fourth year in a row.
Friki (Valencia CF) - Of two teams? Well, Barcelona then since they're practically unbeatable and with Cesc and Alexis, they have something new coming in. I feel though that the defence can be hurt quite easily. Sure, Mascherano has been very good as a CB when Puyol is missed but still, one injury on Alves and on a CB it looks very shaky. Players like Fontas and Muniesa are very talented but still young and inexperienced.
But still, Barcelona are my favourites to win
Knoert (Athletic Club) - FC Barcelona
Among the favorites, who do you consider is going to struggle or fail?
Lo Puto Crack (FC Barcelona) - Valencia may struggle to stay among the Champions League places. They've just sold Juan Mata to Chelsea and Isco to Malaga, and after the sales of David Silva and David Villa last summer, it's hard to see where the creativity is going to come from in that team. I think they may fail to get into Europe at all next year unless they make a few signings. It doesn't look like any big new signings will be made, considering their financial status, so with a thin squad, a lack of top tier talent and with Champions League football making their fixtures pile up, it looks like they may struggle a bit this year.
peterman (Real Madrid CF) - Those with injury problems in key players.
Mestalla (Valencia CF) - I haven't followed any of Sevilla's, Atleti's or Villarreal's transfer campaigns in detail so I'm too ill-informed to make a judgement now. However it's safe to say that Atleti, will always remain Atleti, even if they had Messi and Ronaldo playing for them on either flank
Friki (Valencia CF) - Of two teams again? Not sure if Real Madrid will struggle, hopefully for us in Valencia but no, it will be a tight fight and if failing is coming second (which it is by Real Madrid's standards) then Real Madrid will the ones who "fail".
Knoert (Athletic Club) - I don't have much faith in Sevilla
About the European competitions, who is your favorite to win the UEFA Champions League?
Lo Puto Crack (FC Barcelona) - Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester United are the favourites for the Champions League this year in my opinion. Barcelona and Madrid are obviously very strong teams with fantastic squad depth, but I also like what Manchester United have done in terms of the signings they made and the players they have promoted. They've signed David De Gea from Atletico Madrid, and when he settles there he will show what a great keeper he is/will become. They also signed Ashley Young who gives them loads of pace and ability on either wing. Phil Jones is one for the future and is a very young but commanding centre back who looked brilliant in a poor Blackburn team last year. Playing behind both Vidic and Ferdinand will greatly help him develop as a player too. They promoted both Wellbeck and Cleverly, and both have been impressing so far. Chris Smalling is improving all the time too, so the future looks pretty bright for United. If I had to pick a final it would be Barcelona and Madrid. They are the two strongest teams in Europe at the moment and it would be quite a spectacle if the histrionics were keep to a minimum.
peterman (Real Madrid CF) - Barcelona, Real Madrid and the English clubs.
Mestalla (Valencia CF) - It's one of Madrid, Barca or United for me. Naturally, from those three, I would be rooting for the red devils.
Friki (Valencia CF) - No team has ever won the CL twice in a row (well, since they changed it to CL) so I'm not really expecting Barcelona to win it again, even though I wouldn't be suprised. I have Real Madrid and Manchester United there, slight advantage United since Ferguson is Ferguson.
Knoert (Athletic Club) - FC Barcelona and FC Bayern because the final is in Munich.
And your favorites for Serie A and the Premier League?
Lo Puto Crack (FC Barcelona) - Manchester United would be my favourites for the Premier League due to the fact that they have to most impressive squad in that league. The fact that they are serial winners helps too. They have a great winning mentality(instilled in his teams by the great Alex Ferguson). They are just know how to win and at the end of a long, hard fought season it may just help them cross the finish line as winners again. They'll be pushed close by the likes Manchester City, Chelsea and maybe even Liverpool, but they'd have to be favourites considering they won it last year and they have improved both their team and overall squad since then. I'm not that big a fan of the Premier League, but I think it's gonna be exciting this year.
In Serie A, Milan have to be favourites. My knowledege of Italian football is not that great due to the fact that I don't get to watch it that often. I looks like Juventus are still struggling, Udinese have been severely weakened by the loss of Sanchéz and Inler, and Napoli don't have the team to match up to that of Milan over a full season imo. That leaves Inter. They've just sold Samuel Eto'o to Anzi Makhachkala and it looks like they are struggling financially. I've seen them in a few games in pre-season and I wasn't too impressed with them(although preseason means little it has to be said). Serie A still looks like it is Milans to lose.
peterman (Real Madrid CF) - Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. I don't follow Serie A enough to give an interesting answer to that.
Mestalla (Valencia CF) - United for the EPL, even though I think Man City will stay very close and I expect Chelsea to do very well this season. United just has that nonnegotiable/unquestionable winning mentality that only a few teams like Barca and Madrid have these days, even if their rivals have superior transfer campaigns.
Friki (Valencia CF) - Serie A, not really following the league so much but Milan from what I've seen. Inter has a crazy Gasperini with a formation they have never ever played. Juventus have bought interesting with Vidal but I think Milan has the advantage there. Milan for me.
EPL is harder though, Chelsea can be a real threat now with Mata and Modric, it would add something fresh to the tired legs of Lampard and Drogba. City have probably one of the more interesting attacks out there and Mancini have won leagues before. Not sure though if Silva - Dzeko - Kun - Nasri is good to have defensively. United have a very young team but have a winning culture in the club and that's alot.
Hard to say, I might go for United there but it can go all ways IMO
Knoert (Athletic Club) - In EPL Manchester United once again, Serie A is hard to say as I don't really follow it closely but I'd say Juventus, they bought a lot new players.
All these interviews have been answered in the last couple of weeks. From here, I want to express my gratitude to all of them. Sadly, we could not count on the opinion of any Atlético Madrid fan at the end. Thank you all!