Although the economy is slowing things down more than usual during the summer transfer market, this 2010-2011 edition of La Liga promises to be packed with excitement. Regarding last season, the only thing that seems to remain untouched is Barcelona and Real Madrid’s monopoly of first and second position of the league table. Despite it still being a two-team league, the fight between the new Real and a more experienced Barcelona promises to be an exhilarating show for football fans. Beyond that, thanks to a great summer transfer window, numerous new contenders appear as strong candidates for the European competition spots (3rd to 6th). On the other hand, many teams have lacked business savvy over the past months,and some deflated squads will struggle to equal their achievements from the 2009-2010 season.
“In Mou We Trust” is the new motto of Real Madrid fans all over the globe. Florentino Perez’s Galáctico (term used by the press to describe his star acquisitions) of the year comes in the form of a manager. In his eight years as club president, Florentino has brought the superstar likes of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Robinho, Kaká, and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, fearing the possibility of Barcelona claiming a third consecutive league title, the all powerful madridista president has steered away from bringing new offensive powerhouses and has taken a new approach; signing last season’s most successful coach: José Mourinho, and giving him full control of first team affairs (a first in Real’s recent history).
The Portuguese manager has already incorporated Ricardo Carvalho (from Chelsea), Sami Khedira (Stuttgart), Pedro León (Getafe), Di María (Benfica), Canales (Santander), and Mesut Özil (Werder Bremen), none of which are of a "galáctico" or superstar nature. As a matter of fact, Carvalho is the only signing above 23 years of age. Mourinho has brought a new transfer philosophy to Real: if the youth academy doesn’t produce, bring in Europe’s most promising young players. After conquering titles in his three previous clubs (FC Porto, Chelsea and Inter), ‘The Special One’ will now try to add some Spanish silverware to his personal trophy case. “This season will only be an acceptable one if we win at least two of the three titles we are in contention for”, said a confident Mourinho during his first press conference at the club.
Star signing: Mesut Özil. Along with Thomas Müller, the World Cup in South Africa's best young performer. Look for this young german and Canales to cause awe in Real Madrid’s offensive midfield. Many say Özil is not what Mourinho's squad needed, and they are probably right, but any fan would be excited to see what he can bring to the table.
Mourinho’s statement is a bold one. Especially considering that the face of Spain, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Champions, is mostly reflected in the squad of their team to beat and nemesis FC Barcelona. A whopping eight national team players that lifted the World Cup in South Africa will adorn Barça’s starting eleven lineup this season: Victor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro and David Villa.
Spain’s ‘tiqui-taca’ passing play style will be represented throughout the campaign by the “blaugrana” entity. Led by Pep Guardiola, the most successful young coach of our time, the reigning Liga champions are the team to beat this season. Barcelona fans can be more optimistic than ever. Propelled by the best youth academy in Spain, Barça’s short and long term future shine bright.
Star signing: David Villa. The four-time top Spanish scorer of La Liga is the perfect complement to Barça’s attack. Villa has the ability to play on the wing or up top, and will be a prime mark for Xavi and Iniesta’s assists.
When news struck of Raúl’s switch to German side Schalke 04, Cristiano Ronaldo immediately let Real Madrid know of his intention to don the ex-captain’s number ‘7’. The Portuguese star hopes that going back to being ‘CR7’ will allow him to shine the way he did during his time at Manchester United. Those close to him know that what most angers him is when people automatically assume he is the world’s second best player, behind Lionel Messi. However, if anything, last season proved that Barça’s Argentinian player is still alone at the top of football’s olympus.
Messi shined in key matches throughout the season, while Cristiano was nowhere to be found in both “Clásicos” against Barça, the Atletico derby, Champions League elimination versus Lyon at home and the Alcorconazo (Copa del Rey fiasco against Second Division B side, Alcorcon). If Mourinho can prepare his pupil mentally to not succumb to the pressure of key matches throughout the 2010-2011 season, Cristiano may then prove he can be at Messi’s level.
Atletico: Despite a poor Liga performance last season, Atletico managed to snap a 14-year title drought by winning the 2010 Europa League. Preserving the attacking duo of Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, and the signing of two top-notch defensive players like Filipe Luis (Deportivo), and Diego Godin (Villarreal) have boosted expectations.
Espanyol: After a shaky start in 2009, the “Periquitos” ended the year on a high note. By signing Mattioni (Mallorca), Dátolo (Naples), and Osvaldo (Bologna), Espanyol have added quality to their defense, midfield, and attack, respectively. To compensate for Mattioni's recent injury, Espanyol have just improved their attack by snapping up Sergio García from Betis.
Villarreal: The yellow submarine has invested heftily in its scouting program over the last years, and their efforts are paying off. It is said that every time top-notch clubs ask why they aren’t signing South America’s best young talents, one answer is replied: “Villarreal already has”. This season, six talented youngsters have been called up from their B squad.
Sevilla: No substantial signings, losing the Spanish Super Cup to Barcelona, and not qualifying for the Champions League have given Sevilla the worst possible start to what looks like will be a gloomy season.
Mallorca: Being stripped of your first birth in European competition since 2003 over economic issues is a tough pill to swallow. But even more rough for Mallorca is having had to get rid of the manager (Gregorio Manzano) and three key players (Borja Valero, Mattioni, and Mario Suárez) of the successful 2009-2010 campaign due to the same economic turmoil.
Valencia: Dealing with the loss of World Cup champions David Villa (Barcelona) and David Silva (Manchester City) will be tough on Valencia. At this point, reaching a Champions League spot for a second consecutive season seems like a herculean task, if not a miracle.