La Liga set for battle of the stars
Money doesn't always ensure success but it certainly helps and Real Madrid hope their new collection of expensive 'Galacticos' live up to the hype and help overcome Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona side full of confidence after last season's historic treble.
Last season Real were ordinary compared to the dazzling Barcelona and a quick-fix was the only answer as they recruited a new manager and almost an entire team at a cost of over €250 million. New coach Manuel Pellegrini has arrived from Villarreal and watched on as Real, who rarely consult the manager on signings, splashed the cash on Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Raul Albiol among others.
A cool €163 million was spent to lure Brazilian Kaka from AC Milan and world record signing Ronaldo from Manchester United as Real bid to outshine a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona. With Ronaldo and Kaka joining Messi in the Spanish league, football fans can now directly compare three of the world's most gifted stars and judge for themselves who is the best player on the planet.
"I think we can win the big trophies with the team that we have," said Ronaldo. "However, we have to recognise that Barcelona are the champions, have a great team and a magnificent coach."
Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is rarely talked about in the same bracket as Ronaldo and company so this is his big chance to shine after joining champions Barcelona from Inter Milan in a €69 million deal that saw Samuel Eto'o go the opposite way. "Barcelona won everything last season so the pressure will be on Madrid because they have spent so much on players." said Ibrahimovic.
In the last campaign Barcelona beat Real twice as well as Chelsea and Manchester United on route to winning a league, Kings Cup and UEFA Champions League treble and if they can reproduce that form they will take some stopping. While the league is the top priority, Europe will have an extra edge for both sides with the UEFA Champions League final being played at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Real have not won the trophy since 2002 when the prototype Galactico team of Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo came up trumps. Barcelona have won the trophy twice recently in 2006 and 2009 and nothing would be sweeter than winning the competition on the ground of their fiercest rivals.
Real host Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday night in the season curtain-raiser while Barcelona begin their title defence against Sporting Gijon on Monday due to their UEFA Super Cup commitments. It is hard to look past Barcelona and Real for the league title with the other top sides lacking the squad depth and genuine quality to make an impact.
Atletico Madrid have done well to hold onto Sergio "Kun" Aguero and the league's top-scorer Diego Forlan as coach Abel Resino attempts to push the club to the next level by winning a major trophy for the first time since 1996. Villarreal failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League so should be able to focus on the league more but the loss of manager Pellegrini to Real could take some time to absorb.
Sevilla performed admirably to finish third last season and have signed forward Alvaro Negredo for €15 million from Real but Champions League qualification is the realistic target. The highlight fixture of the opening weekend is on Sunday when Sevilla travel to Valencia who have somehow managed to hang onto their star duo of David Villa and David Silva despite well-publicised financial problems.
Barcelona and Real both wanted Villa but Valencia refused to budge on their asking price and the Spanish international remains a Valencia player. Elsewhere Espanyol have made an intriguing signing with Japanese international midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura arriving from Celtic.
The Barcelona club are still in mourning after their captain Dani Jarque died of a heart attack at a pre-season training camp at the age of 26 and the league will pay their respects on the opening day of the 2009/10 season. Real Zaragoza, Tenerife and Xerez are the three newcomers to the league and Sunday will be a special day for second division champions Xerez who will play their first ever game in the top-flight against Real Mallorca.