Written By Onyeka Daniel
The new La Liga season is set to kick off on August 12 with Osasuna playing Sevilla at home in the opening fixture. Of course, at this stage, it will be very hard to predict who will be lifting the trophy come June 2023, but with most clubs almost done with their transfer activities and combining their forms from last season, the top contenders for the trophy can be ascertained.
It’s almost a given that Real Madrid and Barcelona will be challenging for the La Liga crown every season and this season will not be an exception, owing partly to Real Madrid’s status as current holders, while Barcelona have recruited very well in the transfer market and will be looking to put the disappointment of last season behind them.
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Real Madrid just like last season have recruited very little, signing just Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer after his contract with Chelsea expired and also signed French midfield schemer, Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco for a fee of €100 million and he’s seen as a long term replacement for Casemiro. The Los Blancos have also been able to trim their squad, letting the likes of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo to leave the club after the expiration of their contract.
But of course, they’ve been able to retain the core of their squad and can bank on continuity to get them going into the new season. With Carlo Ancelotti still in charge, the Los Blancos are the favorites for the title, whilst also not forgetting the influence of their fitness coach, Antonio Pintus, whose rigorous training method always prove to be very beneficial to the squad at crucial moments of the season as we saw towards the end of last season when the team turned on the gear when other teams were starting to tire off.
But one thing that could come to haunt the team is their failure to find a suitable backup for Karim Benzema, plus the fact that Ancelotti used a core of 15 players for last season. The 34-years old had probably one of his best seasons for the Los Blancos and this performances rightly earned the chance to win the Ballon d’Or title as his goals, assists and overall contribution was very instrumental as they conquered Europe and their domestic League.
Given the peculiarity of this season especially as it’s a World Cup year, the games will be coming in thick and fast and there will be the need to make adequate use of a full squad to avoid injuries and fatigue. Ancelotti has already hinted that he plans to play Eden Hazard as a ‘9’, it remains to be seen if this experiment will work out or not.
Barcelona after a disappointing start to last season, managed to turn their fortunes around and finish strongly, placing 2nd behind Real Madrid and it all started with the appointment of Xavi Hernandez as coach in October last year. Now with half a season under his belt and a of course a pre-season, the Barcelona legend should be able to stamp his identity on the team and that is evidenced in the signings that the club has made so far.
They’ve brought in Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha, Andres Christensen and Franck Kessie to strengthen the team, although it’s still not clear if they can be eligible to play when the league resumes this weekend. It shows that the Blaugrana have been very clear about their plans and now they wouldn’t have any excuses whatsoever.
Conceding goals and not converting their chances was their biggest undoing last season and they seem to have corrected that, but it’s yet to be seen how well the team has blended and can withstand real opposition when the League kicks off. Much of their problems seems to be more administrative as the Catalans boast of a squad depth that is worthy of envy, but they still need to bring in a quality right-back as they currently have the option of Sergino Dest and Serge Roberto, while Ronald Araujo can also be drafted into that position.
Of the three, only Dest is a natural right-back. All in all, should Xavi manage to get the team to click early enough, they have a genuine chance of winning the La Liga title, but of course, they would have to go through Real Madrid first.
For several seasons, Atletico Madrid have been able to present a challenge to both powerhouses in Spanish football, with Diego Simeone being the main driving force, but they’ve been on a steady decline recently and it all came to a head last season when the Los Rojiblancos went from winning the title to struggling to make it into the top four. With little activity in the transfer market, which seems to be the theme for most European clubs except Barcelona, Atletico will find it hard to challenge for the title this season.
Instead, they would be rather content with making it into the top four again. Perhaps solving their right-back problem with the signing of Nahuel Molina can help propel the club to a better campaign than last season. Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Betis, Real Sociedad and maybe to large extent, Valencia will fight for the remaining spot that will qualify for UEFA Champions League, the Europa League and the European Conference League spots.
While the battle for the title is expected to be fierce, the battle to avoid relegation will probably be the same or even much more fierce. Alaves, Levante and Granada were relegated last season with just one point separating Granada in the 18th position and Cadiz in the 17th position. Almeria, Valladolid and Girona are the clubs that gained promotion.
The three are the prime candidate to go down again, but if they can be daring like Rayo Vallecano were when they gained promotion, they can earn their place in the league beyond this season, perhaps slugging it out with the likes of Cadiz, Mallorca and possibly Getafe for a chance to stay up.
With the World Cup in Qatar between expected to complicate the football calendar, the coach that can better utilize his full squad may find himself level above his peers while the team with the better squad depth won’t struggle that much with the tight schedule, but of course, injuries and other unforeseen circumstances are always bound to happen.
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