Last year in La Liga, toward the end of the season, it was a close race for third and fourth place with Valencia, Malaga and Atletico Madrid trading blows to one another.
However, Barcelona and Real Madrid were in a league of their own competing for the top spot in the Spanish soccer league.
Despite this, it was Real Madrid’s year to shine, as they won La Liga by nine points and set records with a plus-89 goal differential and 32 overall wins.
While Cristiano Ronaldo and Madrid bested Barcelona last season, Lionel Messi and Co. have a great chance to step up in 2012-13 and prove that they are Spain’s best club.
Why, do you say? Let’s take a look.
Last year Lionel Messi stole the show in La Liga, scoring a league-best 50 goals, and his 16 assists were second only to Mesut Ozil’s 17.
The best thing about this offseason for Barca is that they don’t have to worry about their biggest star departing.
While there was speculation that Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala wanted to sign both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo this offseason, there was virtually no threat to Leo’s allegiance to Barcelona as he’ll be back for them in 2012-13.
While it will be tough to duplicate a season like he had in 2011-12, if anyone could do it, Leo would be the player to pull it off.
Ever since he arrived on the scene in 2005-06, Messi has proven the “new Maradona” tag wasn’t just hype, making defenders look silly and scoring almost at will.
The scariest thing is that he’s only 25 and is in position to outscore Ronaldo once again.
With Eric Abidal slowly deteriorating, Barcelona was in need of a youthful defensive sign this offseason, and that’s exactly what they got when signing Jordi Alba.
The 23-year-old Spaniard has proven that he’s a reliable and versatile defender over the past two or three years, and he will look to improve at Camp Nou.
Even though he started out as a midfielder, Alba fully transitioned to left back in 2010-11 for Valencia and showed his promise.
As previously mentioned, Alba is extremely versatile and has the ability push the ball up the field and score (as evidence of his Euro 2012 final goal against Italy).
After signing him to a five-year deal, Alba will be expected to become a stalwart presence for Barca’s defensive line, starting in 2012-13 against the likes of Ronaldo and Benzema.
Sure, it may take away goals from Messi, but if Barcelona were able to pry Neymar away from Santos, they would be set for a La Liga title.
After logging 24 goals for his Brazilian club last season, Neymar has been thrust into the transfer-window spotlight, gaining offers from almost every European powerhouse.
However, Santos said that Neymar can’t possibly leave the club until after his contract expires in 2014.
Despite this, constant rumors have linked the 20-year-old phenom with an agreed deal with Barcelona.
While his on- and off-ball skills are impeccable, what might be the most impressive thing about Neymar is his awareness and intelligence on the pitch at such a young age.
If Barcelona are able to pair the young Brazilian with Lionel Messi, anyone who plays the Spanish club should watch out, including Real Madrid.
According to reports, the 34-year-old defensive stalwart Carles Puyol is on the verge of extending his time at Barcelona with a new contract.
After suffering a knee injury that held him out of Euro 2012, it would have been understandable if Puyol hung up the cleats.
However, with him coming back, Barcelona receives a vocal leader and a brick-wall defender in the middle.
As long as he’s able to return to form following the injury, Puyol should will help form a formidable back line—one that will give Real Madrid fits.
Let’s take a quick look at Real Madrid’s historic campaign last year: 100 points, 121 goals, plus-89 goal differential and 32 overall wins (16 on the road).
Is it realistic to believe that Mourinho’s men can replicate this?
Even though Barcelona had an “off” year based on their historic standards, it still took Real a ridiculous year to hold off Barca and win the league by nine points.
Also, it’s not like Madrid is out this offseason looking to improve their team like Barcelona has (Jordi Alba, possibly Neymar).
While Real Madrid has been speculated bidders for the Brazilian star and Luka Modric, they really haven’t gone out there and made much legitimate noise.
Coupled with the fact that years like 2011-12 are hard to repeat, expect Real Madrid to drop off in 2012-13, making it easier for Barcelona to slide into the No. 1 spot.