As we get closer to the start of another La Liga campaign, the age old question of who will emerge victorious out of Real Madrid and Barcelona raises its head again. Can Zidane and his Real Madrid side retain the La Liga crown or will Barcelona, now managed by Ernesto Valverde regain bragging rights in Spain?
In this preview we’ll take a look at both team’s summer business so far and analyse whether there are any other teams in with a chance of upsetting the apple cart in Spain.
There haven’t been any marquee signings by Real Madrid so far this summer and unless they manage to pry David de Gea away from Manchester United then it is highly unlikely we will see Zidane usher any massive names through the door. So far this summer they have brought in Theo Hernandez (£25.5m, At. Madrid) and Dani Ceballos (£14.45, Real Betis) as Zidane looks to add some youthful exuberance to his side.
Much of the summer was filled with stories about Cristiano Ronaldo wanting to leave the reigning La Liga champions, but that never truly looked likely. The Portuguese superstar now appears settled in Madrid and has shifted his attentions over to getting fit for the new season. James Rodriguez, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao have left the club though and may soon be followed through the exit door by Alvaro Morata and Danilo.
If Morata does eventually leave the club, then you would expect Zidane to bring in some attacking reinforcements due to Ronaldo’s advancing years and Gareth Bale’s injury problems and it will be interesting to see who he moves for. You get the feeling that Real Madrid are now just biding their time before signing someone like Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero or Kylian Mbappe once Cristiano Ronaldo departs in a year or two.
Real Madrid were simply sublime last season in winning both the La Liga and Champions League titles, but question marks will be raised as to whether they have improved their team over the summer, stood still or even regressed with the departures?
There can be no doubt that in James Rodriguez, Pepe, Alvaro Morata and Danilo (if they depart) they have lost 4 quality players without really replacing them.
Similarly, to Real Madrid, there have not been any big name signings for Barcelona so far this summer with Nelson Semedo (£25.93m, Benfica) and the returning Gerard Deulofeu (£10.2m, Everton) the only players through the Camp Nou door so far.
The big change at Barcelona has been on the management bench though with Ernesto Valverde replacing Luis Enrique as manager of the Catalan giants. Valverde joins the club after spending 4 years as manager of Athletic Bilbao where he gained a reputation as a coach capable of organising his teams well and favouring a fast attacking style.
Valverde will have a task on his hands though as he looks to rebuild a side who looked very low on confidence at times last season as they slipped out of both the Champions League and La Liga title race early.
Lionel Messi looked jaded and uninterested at times last season and there are rumours that Neymar has had his head turned this summer due to interest from PSG, so it will not be easy for Valverde to bring harmony to the Barcelona dressing room.
Who Will Win La Liga?
Real Madrid and Barcelona are both available at 10/11 (Ladbrokes) and it certainly is a tough one to call this season with neither side looking as though they’ve really improved from last season.
I think that if Lionel Messi can stay fit this season and regain some of the hunger that he lacked at points last season then Barcelona could well regain the title from Real Madrid.
It is hard to look past the big two and Atletico Madrid are way back at 33/1 (Ladbrokes) in the betting after a transfer ban put pay to any hopes they had of improving their squad this summer. It looks to be a straight shoot out between Zidane and Valverde and I fancy the new man to come out on top next season, but whatever happens, it promises to be another intriguing campaign in Spain with neither side willing to give an inch in the title race.