We are all excited to once again feast our eyes on the most attractive football in the world. It’s Barcelona’s MSN v.s. Real Madrid’s BBC (That’s if Karim doesn’t go to North London) with Diego “El Capo” Simeone and his gang ready to jump in and disrupt the order. Yes it’s a three horse race but the smaller clubs have a lot of entertainment to offer plus Sevilla is not a side to sleep on despite having lost Bacca and Vidal.
So now who is going to win the league this season? Predictions are tricky because anything can happen that can alter the situation such as injuries. But who has the best chance? These are the most likely contenders:
Diego Simeone is a fighter. He has a never say die mentality that is quite obviously contagious; and it has worked. Altleico has earned the respect of not only Los Blancos and El Blaugrana but also Europe. They might not have won anything last season but Simeone and company are not going anywhere. Gone are Turan and Mandzukic but Simeone hasn’t wasted any time bringing in new players. In are Jackson Martinez from Porto, Luciano Vietto from Villareal , Yannick Carrasco from Monaco while Filipe Luis has returned from Stamford Bridge. These are not the only signings as some young talent has also been brought in. With Antionne Griezmann in fine form these new additions will make this team much stronger than last year in attack and midfield. Martinez has a strong physical presence and is a real threat in the air. The Colombian will be very effective in dead ball situations and he should form a good partnership with Griezmann.
The Argentine Luciano Vietto is the player to look out for. He can dribble, his off the ball movement is impressive, and he has pace. This is who should partner the Frenchman up front. He might be weak in the air but that combination of pace and skill is a serious threat to any opposing defense. Mario Mandzukic will not be missed.
The Atleti fans must have been sorely disappointed when Arda Turan left to join Barcelona and they have good reason to feel that. The bearded winger added a spark to the midfield with his skill and creativity and as such Yannick Carrasco will have to prove himself a worthy replacement. His performance for Monaco in the 2014-2015 Champions League last 16 first leg win against Arsenal shows that there is promise. His direct style of play fits right into Simeone’s philosophy. When you consider other new signings such as Stefan Savić in defense, Thomas Partey and Oliver Torres in midfield along with the usual suspects, Gabi, Koke, Godin etc Simeone has a deep squad. Four genuinely impressive strikers, a strong, aggressive central midfielders, young prospects for the wider attacking positions and a back line that mixes youth and experience, tenacity and technique He’s prepared for the present and also thinking about the future.
Big things are expected from Atletico this season not just in the league but in Europe as well.
Last season was a spectacular disappointment for Los Blancos. Not only were they trophy less but they had to witness their hated rivals lift the Champions league cup and seal their second treble in the space of six years. They had started the season so well but as soon as the injuries came, as they always do, Madrid couldn’t cope and they slipped and were never able to get back in front. Now Ancelotti is gone and Benitez is in.
One would think that Madrid would take advantage of Barcelona’s transfer ban but there have been no significant signings since Rafa’s arrival. Instead he reached out and brought back some of Madrid’s loaned out talent. Players such as Denis Cheryshev, Casemiro and Lucas Vazquez have all been given a chance to compete for places and prove why they should be a part of the side. This will give him a chance to rest key players when needed and at the same time give these young players the opportunity to shine.
Fans are hoping that their new coach will be able to reignite the fire that went out in the second half of last season. Of course there is no need to motivate Cristiano Ronaldo but what does he have in store for Gareth Bale who didn’t have the best season last year? Based on the pre season matches this summer Rafa will be starting Bale in the number ten role. Perez wants Bale to become the focal point of the forward line and the coach will have to make his boss happy if he is to get off to a smooth start. Bale wants to play in this role so he must also be aware that he can’t afford to put in the type of performances that had fans whistling him mercilessly last season. Everyone, especially the local media, will be watching him closely. This change will push Isco and James Rodriguez out wide on the right. James is comfortable playing on the wing while Isco is a natural number 10. It will be interesting to see how the Spaniard will perform in that position.
Madrid’s new coach seems to be satisfied with the current squad since no significant signings have been made. That might please the fans but they must have faith. Rafa unlike Carlo will be able to make the most of every player he has at his disposal. With his achievements with Liverpool and Valencia it should be much easier to accomplish success with this squad. He has never managed a team with this much talent. All he has to offer is his experience and defensive philosophy which they desperately need but don’t expect Madrid to park the bus. Neither the fans nor the club will tolerate it but it will be essential if they are to have a successful season.
He will look to have a more balanced team than last year. In the 4-2-3-1, Kroos will be operating as one half of a holding duo rather than covering those duties on his own. In addition to this Benitez will turn to the defensive talents of Casemiro and Illarramendi when facing strong opposition demanding a greater two-way commitment in midfield.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to continue his merciless onslaught of goal scoring brilliance. This man’s ambition has no limits. He won’t be satisfied with just being last season’s leading goal scorer. This year he will look not only to remain the leading striker but he will want to win it all. This isn’t anything new; this is who he is and the only thing that will stop him is injuries. After a long rest CR7 will be out for blood and the rest of the team must follow his example. This team has a point to prove and that’s a dangerous team to be facing. Opponents will need to be prepared.
It must be déjà vu. In the same fashion as his former teammate, Luis Enrique won a treble in his first season as coach of FC Barcelona. Given how the season started off for him it couldn’t have ended any better for him. Señor Enrique and King Lionel did not get along in the beginning but they eventually worked things out and the rest is history.
Is this the beginning of a new era? Can he surpass Pep’s achievements with Barca? Only time will tell. The recent transfer ban provides a challenge or maybe not.
Although they won’t be playing until January the club has signed Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid and Aleix Vidal from Sevilla. Life must be great when you’re ‘Uefalona’ and can enjoy these luxuries. With the master playmaker enjoying retirement in Qatar the Blaugrana board wasted no time in replacing the irreplaceable. Turan is no Xavi but he does fit into this new Barca philosophy where counter attacking is just as important as possession. The 25 year old Vidal is the future replacement for Alves. Their presence will come in handy by the time January comes around.
Barca didn’t look great during the pre season. That might have disappointed the fans who paid to go see them play but no one really cares, especially the club. Pre-season was just a warm up for what was an exciting Uefa Super Cup match against Sevilla. Whoever paid to see that match got their money’s worth. There are some concerns about defense as they gave a three goal lead but it is clear that the attack will only get better as times rolls on. Luis Suarez will be in the lineup at the beginning of the season and he’s well rested. Messi seems to be his usual self and Rafinha should fill in nicely for Neymar who is sidelined with a case of the mumps. If Pedro should leave Rafinha will have more responsibility this season.
With the usual suspects around the back the Catalans won’t have to worry about chemistry. However they will have to be a lot more organized than they were against Sevilla if they want to continue their success. Barca is the team to beat the moment not just in Spain but also in Europe. Wherever there’s a weakness other clubs will be looking to exploit them so Enrique should be aware of this so it will be interesting to see how he addresses it.
Real and Atletico are hungry and foaming at the mouth. The future encounters with those teams won’t be easy and Barca will need to be prepared. When you’re at the top you either stay up there or you fall. The coach must know this because his hair is much greyer than it was when he took up the position in 2014. After the Super Cup victory he stated that “We’re always expected to win” showing that he’s well aware of the heat that never escapes the seat he has taken up. We are just going to have to wait and see how Barca copes this season.
Part 2 next week