La Liga preview: Barcelona, Real Madrid set to dominate
After last season's two-horse race to the title, Barcelona and Real Madrid prepare to battle again on the eve of the La Liga season.
Having broken Barcelona's three-year stranglehold on the Spanish title, Jose Mourinho's Real loom as the favourites for what has become one of the most predictable pieces of silverware in world football.
The Portuguese saw his side claim the title by a healthy margin of nine points but perhaps more glaring was Barcelona's 30-point gap to third-placed Valencia.
The champions kick-start their campaign at home to Valencia on Sunday with relatively the same squad as last year, aside from Sergio Canales and Fernando Gago (both Valencia), having fended off PSG's interest in Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain.
Tottenham's wantaway playmaker Luka Modric has provided the sole focus of Mourinho's transfer dealings and although the Croatian is yet to sign, president Florentino Perez has shown great patience in the past and could well seal the deal at the last hour.
That aside, there has been little action from La Liga clubs on the transfer market with the higher profile deals that were completed, largely done within the league.
Jordi Alba's move from Valencia to Barcelona typified the drain of talent away from La Liga's also-rans.
He will slot into Tito Vilanova's squad as he replaces Pep Guardiola as coach after four glittering years at the Nou Camp.
His 14-million-pound move looks an increasingly good bit of business after his starring role for Spain as they defended their European Championship title in Poland and Ukraine.
Add to that striker David Villa, who will be back in contention for a place after nearly 12 months on the sidelines, and Barcelona will virtually have another new signing on their hands.
They host Real Sociedad on Saturday where fans will catch the first competitive glimpse of the changes Vilanova has made to the system after a full pre-season in charge.
Meanwhile, Sevilla have prized away goalkeeper Diego Lopez from relegated Villarreal, Dutch defender Hedwiges Maduro (Valencia) and Alberto Botia (Sporting Gijon) during a busy window of transfer activity for the club.
Last year's ninth-placed side have made wholesale changes to their squad after finishing outside the top five for the first time since 2005-06 and will look to make amends, starting at home to Getafe on Saturday.
As well as Canales (7.5 million euros) and Gago (3.5 million euros), Valencia splashed out on Sporting Lisbon's defender Joao Pereira and Las Palmas midfielder Jonathan Viera in a bid to cover for Alba's move.
They'll be looking for another top-three finish and to keep pace with the top two and will be given a golden opportunity to do so away to Real on Saturday.
In other fixtures on Saturday Celta Vigo welcome cash-strapped Malaga and Mallorca entertain Espanyol.
Athletic Bilbao host Real Betis on Sunday and Levante are at home to Atletico Madrid, who should have new signings Aritz Aduriz (Valencia) and Daniel Diaz (Getafe) in their squad.
On Monday, Deportivo La Coruna welcome Osasuna in their first game back in the top flight, Rayo Vallecano do battle with Granada after both narrowly avoided relegation last season, and Real Zaragoza are at home to Real Valladolid.