Top 4: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Real Sociedad
1. Real Madrid – In 19 months at the helm, Zinedine Zidane has seven trophies to his name already and given the situation of their hated rivals coupled with their own depth, an eighth seems very likely for Los Blancos. With Isco, Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovačić in the ascendancy as well the purchase of Theo Hernández as added insurance for the mercurial Marcelo, the future is just as bright as the past two seasons have been for the two-time defending European champs. Factor in that Toni Kroos is entering his prime, Luka Modrić still oozes class and Cristiano Ronaldo has converted into an all-time great penalty box merchant, Madrid look serious threats not only to retain their La Liga title, but for a treble as well.
2. Barcelona – Chaos has been rife at the Nou Camp this summer. Despite pocketing a crap load of money from the mind-boggling sale of Neymar Jr. before his prime and throwing mega millions of notes at Ousmane Dembélé to replace him, this won’t be enough to get this Barca back on song. With no ready-made replacement for an ageing Iniesta in the heart of midfield, the higher-ups already (inexplicably) shelling out some of that Neymar money on former Tottenham reject, Paulinho, and the defense in a bit of shambles, the Blaugrana are as vulnerable as we’ve seen them for some time. Their Messi(ah) won’t be enough to save them; this mess could yet take a while to fix.
3. Atlético Madrid – Despite moving into a new stadium this season, there’s little freshness about this Atléti squad considering the transfer ban that’s hovering over them. That could change in January if they can convince Chelsea to let Diego Costa return ‘home’ but for now, it’s the same cast of characters led by Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Carrasco and that menacing defensive setup. After the gap between themselves and the two super teams was significantly widened last season, Los Rojiblancos will at least make things interesting. But they will yet again have to watch their city rivals take all the glory.
4. Real Sociedad – The spanner in the works so to speak. Fourth place in Spain has been more and more up for grabs each year and, having defied the odds in 2013 to finish fourth when Griezmann was their leading man, the Basques will return to Europe’s premiere competition this season.
Though Sociedad will lose Carlos Vela in February to the MLS, a returning Imanol Agirretxe alongside Willian José, Juanmi, promising youngster, Mikel Oyarzabal and long-time captain, Xabi Prieto, should be enough to keep Sociedad’s attack in gear. They’ll have to do their utmost best to keep their best defender, Iñigo Martínez, amidst Barcelona interest, but given the defensive frailties of Sevilla and lack of depth at Villarreal, La Real appear to be the best candidates to capitalise on such an opportunity and bring Champions League football back to San Sebastian.