Schuster cruises Real to glory
With Bernd Schuster at the helm, Real Madrid secured the club's 31st league title and their second in the post- galáctico era with an impressive 27 wins, four draws and seven defeats, scoring 84 goals and conceding 36 along the way.
Without doubt, one of the keys to Madrid's latest triumph was solid defending. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas marshalled the league's meanest defence, ably abetted by the influential Fabio Cannavaro and Sergio Ramos. Team captain Raul, back to something approaching his best, weighed in with 18 goals, two more than Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had his share of injury problems to contend with this season. In midfield, Guti repaid the faith shown in him by his German coach with a series of superb performances, while Robinho was equally effective with his flashes of brilliance in the final third.
In all, it was a triumphant debut for Schuster in his first season at a big club, the coach having laid the groundwork for his stated ambition of guiding the Merengues back to the summit of European football.
The end of an era
Few Barcelona fans will ever forget 17 May 2006, the day the club became champions of Europe for the second time. Yet just two years on to the day, it felt like the end of an era for the Catalans as they saw off Murcia to finish a disappointing third in the table - a result that means they will have to negotiate the final qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League next season. This year's modest returns unsurprisingly brought an end to the tenure of Frank Rijkaard, who, after five years of fluctuating fortunes as coach, makes way for former Barça star Josep Guardiola.
With playing duties finished for another season, the spotlight now shifts to many of the club's big names, who reportedly have been sharing a less than harmonious dressing room for some time now. Ronaldinho, who only featured 17 times during the latest campaign, has been the subject of transfer speculation for months now, while both Samuel Eto'o and Deco are said to be considering a change of scene. With the winds of change buffeting and several of their players openly for sale, it could be a frantic couple of months for Barcelona before the dust settles on transfer negotiations.
Elsewhere, Villarreal return to the Champions League in style
after a dazzling campaign that saw them finish a lofty second. The
club's Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini deserves much credit
after fashioning a slick and effective side without the benefit of
big-name stars. "
This term, the relegation tears were shared by Levante, Murcia
and Real Zaragoza, the former simply unable to get off the foot of
the table after a season bedevilled by financial and on-field
problems. Zaragoza, meanwhile, began the 2007/08 campaign with high
hopes and a UEFA Cup berth but ended up back in the second division
after five years in top flight.
Despite boasting the likes of Roberto Ayala, Diego Milito, Sergio Garcia, Carlos Diogo and Pablo Aimar, the team failed to generate any real momentum, a situation most certainly not helped by the managerial merry-go-round this season. In all, Victor Fernandez, Ander Garitano, Javier Irureta and Manolo Vilanova had stints in charge, resulting in an unsettled squad that struggled to find its style and identity on the pitch.
Valencia enjoyed somewhat better fortunes, although their tenth-place finish belied some widely fluctuating form in one of their worst seasons in recent memory. For all of that, Los Chés will take some consolation from their qualification for next year's UEFA Cup courtesy of a surprise win in this season's Copa del Rey.
The Mexican Javier Aguirre steered Atletico Madrid back into the Champions League 12 years on from their last appearance in the competition. The prolific strike partnership forged by Sergio 'Kun' Aguero and Diego Forlan (36 goals between them) more than made up for the loss of Fernando Torres, himself a resounding success in his maiden year in England.
Sevilla, for their part, had to make do with a berth in the UEFA Cup, a competition they have fond memories of after victories in 2006 and 2007. Competing alongside them will be Marcelino's Racing Santander, who secured the club's first European appearance in their 95-year history. Meanwhile, Deportivo la Coruna, who looked destined for the drop at the halfway stage in the season, managed to turn things round in the final months. Miguel Angel Lotina's side were rewarded with a place in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, a tournament they have previously won.
Special mention must also go to Almeria, who, in their first season back in La Liga, finished a very respectable eighth. The role of novice coach Unai Emery was incalculable, with his side even embarrassing the champions with a 2-0 win in Andalucia.
This season's top scorer was Real Mallorca's Dani Guiza, whose 27 goals had his side in the running for a European berth right up until the final matchday. The Spanish striker did see some tangible reward for his dazzling contribution, however, thanks to his inclusion in the national team's squad for UEFA EURO 2008. Also in the goals this term was Sevilla's Brazilian attacker Luis Fabiano, who finished runner-up in the scoring charts with 24.
Among the most promising talents to feature this season were Barcelona starlets Bojan Krkic and Giovani Dos Santos, who more than once stole the limelight from their illustrious team-mates at Camp Nou. Final mention goes to Getafe's talented duo of Esteban Granero and Ruben de la Red, who figured prominently in many of their side's best performances this campaign.