All set for a Spanish fiesta


1 In action (from left) are Valencia’s Negredo, Real Madrid’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi – they are among the leading lights of La Liga. 2 Real Madrid coach Rafael Benitez with Gareth Bale.3 Barcelona’s Turkish midfielder Arda Turan (left) and defender Aleix Vidal (right) at an official team presentation.

One of the best leagues in the world is back. The 2015/16 La Liga season, with all its excitement, both on and off the field, kicks off this weekend.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have long been regarded as clear favourites in a straightforward battle for the title but after what has transpired over the last couple of seasons, La Liga is no longer a two-horse race.

Atletico Madrid broke the duopoly with a title after jockeying their way to the top of the table on the final day of the 13/14 season at the Camp Nou.

Beaten to the finish line on that occasion, Barcelona got back in the saddle and claimed the championship last season. It was no easy feat though with the club pulling through a mid-season “crisis” with Luis Enrique’s job under threat.

Their great rivals, Real Madrid, made things worse with a record-breaking run of 22 straight wins in all competitions that propelled them to the top of the table and a Club World Cup title.

It all came crashing down for Los Merengues in January however as Ancelotti’s side struggled with injuries and a lack of squad rotation in that crucial period. In the end, it was Enrique who kept his job, winning the UEFA Champions League and Copa Del Rey along the way while Ancelotti was kindly given the opportunity for a sabbatical (sacked) by his generous employers.

Incidentally, it was Valencia that ended Real’s record breaking run with a fine 2-1 win at the Mestalla. Their new owner, Peter Lim, provided a fresh injection of funds, leadership and,talent. His investment paid off as they secured fourth place with a style of play that combined defensive intensity with swift counter-attacks.

So, what can we expect from this season? Well, first of all, we get to see how Barcelona cope until January with their transfer ban.

Mind you, they have signed Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan despite the ban although the pair won’t feature until 2016. We then get to find out how Enrique eventually fits these players into the team and how Barca’s style evolves with the changes in personnel.

Real Madrid will look to put up a renewed challenge under new boss Rafael Benitez. With the world-class talent available to him, he will need to deliver exciting, attacking football along with major trophies. Such are the demands at Real Madrid.

Atletico Madrid had an underwhelming 14/15 season by Diego Simeone’s high standards. Finishing third has prompted Atletico to splash the cash on quality attackers in the form of Luciano Vietto, Jackson Martinez and, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco. They have now got a solid, well-balanced squad to push for domestic and continental glory.

Valencia will look to build on their progress from last season and have added a raft of talented young stars to boost their squad. Nuno will need to develop these young players while maintaining Valencia’s challenge on multiple fronts this season. They will regard themselves as dark horses for the title.

Rounding up the top five, Sevilla have once again proven to be the best at signing undervalued stars with eight players coming in for a reported total of 25 million euros. YevhenKonoplyanka being the pick of the bunch after signing on a free from Dnipro. With the depth they now have in the squad, they certainly have the potential to upset the applecart.

The likes of Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal will also create talking points over the course of the season. For now though,the wait is over, the teams are raring to go and it is time to let them out of the gate. It promises to be another high quality season of Spanish football.

Roshan Rai is a former professional footballer turned Analyst/Commentator. He is a resident football analyst on Fox Sports Asia and occasionally works on Astro’s coverage of Malaysian football. He is also an AFC licensed coach. He can be contacted at rhyshrai@hotmail.com or on twitter @RhyshRai

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