Barcelona team to beat as new La Liga season kicks off

Barclona, Aug 18 (IANS) Spanish La Liga kicks off this coming weekend with defending champions FC Barcelona the side every club has to beat.

The team coached by Luis Enrique won three major trophies last season and followed that up with the European Super Cup this season, but a 1-5 aggregate defeat to Athletic Club Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup will give their main title rivals, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid hopes that the Catalans are not invincible, reports Xinhua.

Although Barcelona have signed midfielders Arda Turan from Atletico and Aleix Vidal from Sevilla, they will not be able to play until January because of a FIFA transfer ban. And if striker Pedro Rodriguez departs, that could leave the squad short of numbers.

There have also been questions raised over Barcelona’s defence during the pre-season, while Enrique has to decide whether Claudio Bravo or the truggling Ter Stegen is first choice in goal.

Barcelona could also miss former captain Xavi Hernandez but any side that has an attacking trio of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, is still going to be the side to beat.

The arrival of Rafael Benitez to replace Carlo Ancelotti as coach has brought a subtle change of style at Real Madrid with Benitez deciding to build from the back.

Perhaps he knows that with scoring troika of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karmin Benzema, his side is free to score goals and all his side needs to do is to reduce the number of goals they conceded.

Real Madrid also has to settle the goalkeeping issue as Kiko Casilla or Keylor Navas are waiting to get the nod.

Real Madrid have brought in full back Danilio but much will depend on the form of Ronaldo and Bale. It is perhaps time for Bale to stamp his authority, while it will be interesting to see how Ronaldo’s fitness holds up after struggling with knee injury and back problems last season.

Atletico Madrid will depend once again on coach Diego Simeone’s work ethic and ability to forge his players into a tight unit.

Atletico have lost central defender Joao Miranda, but Stefan Savic has arrived and the club have signed forwards in Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto, while youngster Oliver Torres should give some much needed creativity in the midfield.

In reality only these three sides have realistic title hopes, but others such as Sevilla, who brilliantly retained the Europa League title last season, and Valencia, will hope to dent the top three.

In the case of both clubs much depends on how their squads can cope with the rigours of playing in the Champions League and th domestic Spanish league.

Clubs Villarreal, Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Sociedad will be aiming to finish at least in the top-six.

Athletic, buoyed by their win in the Spanish Super Cup will look to striker Aritz Aduriz to continue scoring goals, while the club’s fans are excited at young prospects such as Inaki Williams, Sabin Merino and Javi Eraso, who has returned to the club from Leganees.

Celta Vigo should escape relegation while Rayo Vallecano promises attacking football, while Real Betis, Eibar, Levante, Granada, Las Palmas and Sporting Gijon will all look to avoid relegation.

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