Why Real Madrid Could Have Barcelona's Number in La Liga Next Season
For the first time since before Pep Guardiola turned Barcelona into the best team in football, Xavi and company enter the new season without the league trophy in hand.
Last season, Real Madrid won their first La Liga title under Jose Mourinho, and they did it in record fashion.
Los Merengues scored more goals in La Liga than any club had ever done in one of Europe's major leagues. They finished with 100 points, the most in league history.
Cristiano Ronaldo beat his own scoring record set a year before and also broke countless other records en route to the league title.
In the end, Real Madrid won La Liga by nine points—with the emotionally clinching victory coming against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
The final point tally was large, but if not for a few late slip-ups by Mourinho's men, Real could have won the league by much more.
As a response, I have put together a few reasons why Real Madrid could retain their title as they begin a new era of league dominance.
After reading, let us know who you think will win La Liga and why.
Even if Real Madrid were to not make any more moves this summer, the current team is good enough to win La Liga.
They proved it last season, and there is no one on the team that has declined significantly or reached a certain age to make us think otherwise.
The best players are staying in Madrid, and the core group is still together.
As the season ended this past May, lots of questions surrounded Gonzalo Higuain.
There were concerns that he may leave the club due to not getting more opportunities to start. In the end, fans were delighted to hear that the Argentinian would stay in Madrid. This ensures that Europe's best attacking trio will stay together for at least another season.
The midfield may lose Kaka, but Luka Modric provides even more stable depth, and the team will likely make a few more moves.
Not to mention, they will still have one of football's best managers leading them.
Some say that Real Madrid have not improved enough to beat Barcelona.
To that I say this: Last time I checked, it was Barcelona who needed to improve, not Real Madrid.
Players Are Hitting Their Prime
Not only is the record-breaking squad still together, the core group of players are hitting their prime.
Unlike the first Galacticos era from the early 2000s, this Real Madrid team focuses on youth and veteran leadership when buying superstars.
Going into next season, we can expect Ronaldo, Mezut Ozil, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria and potentially Luka Modric to be playing the best football of their careers.
With Jese Rodriguez, Alex Fernandez and the rest of Real's academy players only getting better, Real Madrid looks set for the foreseeable future.
This is a team not only built to repeat as champions, but built to start a new domestic and even European dynasty.
Barcelona Have Improved?
Apart from signing a backup keeper, the only signing made by Barcelona this summer has been Jordi Alba.
An incredible Euro 2012 campaign seems to make many fans forget about the inconsistent play from Alba in La Liga last season.
He often struggled getting back into position from attacks and left Valencia's defense vulnerable to fast breaks.
Barcelona's possession-based football will limit those types of mistakes, but it still makes them vulnerable to counters.
More importantly, Alba does not solve Barcelona' s problems. Alba is not a defensive upgrade over Eric Abidal—not yet.
He is a fabulous signing, don't get me wrong. He will instantly make the team better.
But left-back has not been the major concern over the last two season. Yes, Barcelona were much worse after Eric Abidal was lost, but the defensive problems were there long before that.
Last season, their central defense was awful on set pieces, suffered from poor man-marking and positioning from the center backs, were too often beaten by counter attacks with speedy center forwards and could not stay healthy.
The big solution the club found was Marc Bartra and Marc Muniesa—the latter already being lost for the season.
No disrespect to Barta, whom I rate very highly, but he is not going to solve Barcelona's defense.
In the last two season, Real Madrid knew that they could beat any team in football.
However, the mental edge held by Barcelona continued to hamper Los Merengues.
Every time they faced Barcelona, there was an air of concern in the build up to Clasicos and then a visible look of defeat as soon as plans went awry.
Now, as they showed in the last Clasico, Real has no mental hump to overcome. They know beyond any doubt that they can beat Barcelona.
The only real advantage Barcelona had on Real Madrid before was a mental one. Now Madrid enters the season with newfound confidence and motivation.
For the first time in years, Barcelona fans are feeling a bit less confident about facing their arch rivals.
Having that on-field presence that can intimidate even the best opponents is an immense advantage. Just ask Barcelona.
Last Season, Real Madrid Were Not at Their Best
Yes, Real Madrid beat Barcelona by nine points in La Liga. Yes, they scored 100 points—the most in league history.
The reason that should worry Barcelona is because they still were not at their best. Poor squad rotation and getting over the final mental hump nearly cost Real the league.
Dropping points late in the season to Villarreal, Malaga and Valencia was understandable given the quality of those teams, but a lot of that was because of exhaustion and poor management on the side of Real Madrid.
Despite dropping those six points, Real still did not lose a single game in the second half.
With reinforcements at every position likely being brought in this summer, Real Madrid will not only be a stronger team, they will be better built to handle multiple tournaments.
In addition, Real is more tactically diverse. While stopping Barcelona is just as hard, it is slightly easier to prepare since the strategy from La Blaugrana is predictable.
They can win matches with or without majority possession, on the counter attack, in open non-stop attacks, on set pieces, on the ground and any other way necessary.
First of all, I must once again give praise to Lionel Messi.
He had perhaps the greatest individual season in the history of football and made his claim as the best player in the world hard to argue.
Of course, that amounted to nothing when it came to winning La Liga.
While Barcelona fans will sleep easier knowing that the team won four trophies, they failed to win the one(s) that mattered.
Cristiano Ronaldo is just as big a factor as Messi. First of all, he only finished behind Messi's numbers by a small amount and broke even more records last season.
More importantly, he showed that he can step up when his team needed him most.
Whether it was a derby that could have swayed momentum in Barcelona's favor, a Clasico that could have cost his team the league or a Champions League semifinal, Ronaldo performed.
He is Real Madrid's answer to Lionel Messi. He is the obvious, yet unstoppable X-factor.
Am I saying he is better than Messi? No, that debate is tired and endless.
What I am saying is that Cristiano Ronaldo is playing his best football, some of the best the world has ever seen.
I am saying that for every step Messi takes toward leading his team to glory, Ronaldo will match him blow for blow.
Real Madrid Is the Most Complete Team in Spain
When you study Real Madrid, you will notice that there is not a single weak spot in the entire team.
They have the best keeper in football, the best central defensive pairing in the league, an elite midfield and the best attacking unit in Spain.
The only player that can be considered sub-par is an underrated Alavaro Arbeloa, who is still one of the top fullbacks in the league.
Even the depth is peerless with guys like Nuri Sahin, Fabio Coentrao, Gonzalo Higuain and maybe Luka Modric able to come off the bench when needed.
Compare that to Barcelona where there are many question marks going into the season.
Victor Valdes proved last season that he can be a liability in goal. The attacking front was wrecked by injuries last season, and there is still no deep-scoring threat.
The depth consists of unproven and perhaps unready youth products who stumbled last season when it mattered most.
David Villa is back, but many fans seem to forget that even before getting injured, Villa was the most off-form forward on the team.
Most importantly, the central defense is a mess. This was the main reason Barcelona struggled last season, and no fix has been found yet.
Carles Puyol can't be expected to start every match, and as of now, a handful of questionable youth products are all the club has to bring off the bench.
In short, Real Madrid is the most complete and balanced team in Spain, while Barcelona may have not have done enough to patch its holes this summer.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!