Prentice’s La Liga Preview

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 14.48.53 by JACK PRENTICE

La Liga returns this weekend with the three usual suspects, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid all heavy favourites for what has become one of the most competitive title races in the world.

Real and Barca will as ever start as favourites, but Atletico will feel quietly confident that under manager Diego Simeone, anything is possible.

They start their La Liga campaign at home to newly promoted Alaves, a team who may be familiar to Liverpool fans after they beat the little Basque club in the 2001 Uefa Cup Final.

alaves
Alaves celebrate promotion back to La Liga. (Image Credit: en.as.com)

But while Liverpool have since won a Champions League, Alaves have been in the Spanish third tier and are finally back among the big boys following two promotions in three years.

Atleti have made four major signings over the transfer window. Croatian right back Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), French striker Kevin Gamerio (Sevilla), young midfielder Diogo Jota (Pacos) and Nicolas Gaitan from Benfica.

Los Rojiblancos made the Champions League final and were agonisingly close to winning La Liga last season, and against new boys Alaves they will be expected to begin their challenge for the title with ease.

Barcelona kick off their defence of the LA Liga title at home to Gus Poyet’s Real Betis with an injury-hit squad despite spending £70m on four new players.

While Samuel Umtiti, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes and Lucas Digne have bolstered the midfield and defence, Luis Enrique will be without the injured Jeremy Mathieu, Javier Mascherano, Andres Iniesta and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, while Brazil forward Neymar is currently at the Olympics with Brazil.

Poyet, sacked by Sunderland last year, joins after a short stint at Greek giants AEK Athens.

Betis finished mid-table in their first season back in La Liga after a short spell in Liga Adelante.

Madrid-win-UCL-2016
Madrid lifted the Champions League in Milan last May. (Image Credit: dailypost.ng)

At the Santiago Bernabeu, there is renewed optimism following an 11th Champions League win under then-interim manager and club legend Zinedine Zidane, after an awful start to the season saw Rafa Benitez sacked in January.

It has hardly been an off-season of upheavel at Real Madrid, with one major signing through the door in old-boy Alvaro Morata.

It’s clear to see that Zidane trusts a squad that almost caught Barcelona despite being 11 points off the pace when Benitez was sacked.

Meanwhile, Leganes kick off their first ever La Liga season away at Celta Vigo. Promotion means they are Madrid’s third club following the relegation of both Rayo Vallecano and Getafe.

Valencia begin Pako Ayesteran’s first full season in charge at home to Gran Canarian side Las Palmas, themselves in their second consecutive season following an impressive debut campaign.

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