Ballon D’or, Ballon D’or, Ballon D’or. That’s how La Liga seems to be shaping up for the coming 2009/ 2010 season. Firstly we have Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leit, known to us common folk as Kaka, the inspirational Brazilian playmaker who won the coveted prize two seasons ago. His highly publicised transfer to Real Madrid this summer being eclipsed only by that of Cristiano Ronaldo, who conveniently happens to be the current holder of the Ballon D’or. Finally, we have Leo Messi, who for all intents and purposes seems to be the easiest choice for this year’s Ballon D’or. For the above reasons it may be fair to say that this year La Liga looks to the most intriguing of all the European leagues. However, you’d be wrong, there are much much more reasons to be excited about the coming season if you happen to be a supporter of the Primera Liga.
Can Florentino Perez’ business model of signing the most popular and marketable players in the world actually translate to success on the football pitch? History has proved to be a bit ambiguous in this regard, in his first spell at Madrid he managed to win two league titles and a CL in two seasons, but not a single trophy afterwards. What was the key? Simple – Balance, or in other words, Claude Makelele. It remains to be seen whether Madrid possess this balance in the form of Lassy or Mahamadou Diarra. Perez has never pulled off this many high profile signings in one transfer period, but one thing is for sure though and that is we are all in for a treat if the signings of C. Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Albiol, and Alonso can click with the existing talents of Higuain, both Diarras, Casillas and Ramos.
Next we come to Los Blancos biggest enemies – F.C Barcelona, who have taken a somewhat different approach in their summer dealings. Pep Guardiola has never made his desire for a large dominant centre forward a secret, and in Zlatan Ibrahimovic he may have found the best possible fit for that criteria in world football. However it has come at a large cost, a cost of 43 million euros and a club legend to be exact. The acquisition of Ibrahimovic for such a cost is causing shock worldwide, but one person that matters is remaining calm, cool and collected. That man is Guardiola, and who are we to question a man who won an unprecedented treble in his first season at the club? It’s a massive gamble, and Eto’o’s goals and passion will be sorely missed. However, let’s not forget that Ibrahimovic has won 5 Serie A titles in 5 seasons (if you let me ignore the tiny Calciopoli match fixing scandal that is). Also, Barcelona have the advantage of not needing to gel, as the team is virtually the same, with the addition of Maxwell, Henrique, and some La Masia prospects to bolster an already impressively deep squad.
Valencia are no longer in the toilet financially, and Atletico have managed to hold onto their attacking potency. The fact that both of these teams have managed to hold onto their key players means that the fight for the title next season will be much closer that people expect. David Villa in my eyes is still the best striker in the world, and in David Silva, Mata and Fernandes, they have three players capable of turning any game on its head. However, have Valencia got the stability to make a genuine title challenge, something that has alluded them for a few seasons now? In Unai Emery, Los Che have one of the best managers in the league, they also have financially security (which is nice considering they were a few minutes away from being auctioned off at a bingo raffle only a few months ago), thus it seems the club is infinitely more healthy, and anything other than a CL place will be viewed as a failure.
Atletico Madrid, or known by alot of Spanish as Patetico Madrid, the team that torments it’s fans by giving them hope of a league challenge, only to be dashed by losing their next 5 games in a row to the likes of Numancia and Sporting. There’s no doubting that they have one of the strongest attacks in world football, any team would be blessed to have a combination of Maxi, Simao, Forlan (who single handedly got them 4th place last season with 32 goals and 10 assists), Aguero, and Reyes. They also seemed to have banished their bad luck in the goal keeping department after securing the signing of up and coming Sergio Asenjo. Again, like Valencia, making anything other than the CL places means Los Colchoneros’ campaign will be seen as a disaster.
Other teams that will be hoping to fight for the title are Sevilla, who under Del Nido always come on strong regardless of personnel. More interestingly, however, will be how Villareal cope without their charismatic manager, Manuel Pellegrini. A team who’s entire city would just barely fill the Camp Nou to 50% capacity, can they expect to challenge for the league despite losing their inspirational manager? Coupled with the fact that their most vital players (Senna and Pires) are all getting a year older, it’s not looking very promising for the yellow submarine. A lot of pressure will now be on the shoulders of Santi Cazorla, Rossi, and Godin, a young promising spine.
As usual with La Liga, outside the top 6 there is no guarantee on what teams will be battling it out for mid-table positions, or relegation dog fights. Can Malaga be as impressive as last season? Can Tenerife hope to emulate Malaga and not only avoid relegation, but finish in the top 10? Can Zaragoza replace Milito, Zapater, and Oliviera with the likes of Uche, Matuzalem, and Ponzio? Can Basque giants Athletic Bilbao progress with the help of Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente? How will Almeria cope after losing their talisman Negredo?
We have all this to look forward to without even mentioning the influence of Deportivo or Espanyol, who have recently suffered the tragic loss of captain Daniel Jarque. It goes without saying that most people expect La Liga to be a two horse race this season, but with Real Madrid in transition, no real losses in personnel to Atletico, Valencia, Sevilla, and the reintroduction of Zaragoza it looks like this league campaign will be one of the most entertaining in the past decade.
Now it’s time to get off the fence and make some outright predictions.
- Champions: F.C Barcelona
- Top 4: F.C Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Valencia
- Europa league: Sevilla, Espanyol
- Copa Del Rey: Espanyol
- Relegation: Xerez, Sporting, Tenerife