Friday, August 28, 2009

Spain: 2009-10 La Liga Preview

Earlier today Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl mentioned on Twitter that he plans to watch every Barcelona and Real Madrid match this season. That's not a bad idea because following the two Spanish giants should give you the entire story of the upcoming La Liga season.

Depending on your perspective, the campaign will be a predictable two-team runaway or a compelling battle between two of the game's marquee squads. It's not like Real and Barca aren't accustomed to dominating the league. The rivals have combined to win 50 of 78 league titles and boast 12 European Cups between them. But this year the gap between the top two is even greater. Barcelona are fresh off a treble winning season, highlighted by a Champions League triumph over Manchester United, while Real Madrid landed the two biggest stars of the transfer season with the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka.

The defending champs feature Player of the Year Lionel Messi, but their hungriest star will be Inter Milan transfer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish international is eager to capture the European glory that eluded him at the San Siro, and how well he fills in for Samuel Eto'o will be a major factor in how much hardware the Catalans secure this season.

While many Real Madrid line-ups have looked unbeatable on paper, the results in recent years have been a mixed bag. Real's performance in Europe has been especially disappointing; the nine-time champs haven't been a factor since their last title in 2002. The current collection of Galacticos, including Lyon transfer Karim Benzema and national team goalkeeper Iker Casillas is designed to do what their rivals did last year. The stage is set for a perfect ending: Madrid could capture a record 10th European Cup on their home field next May.

As for the 18 other squads, they'll be jockeying for 2010-11 Champions League and Europa League slots. Among those in contention are Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Villareal and Valencia. How many points these squads capture in matches against Barca and Real will determine not only their own fate, but the detsination of the league crown.

Picking a winner is a heads or tails proposition, but Real has far too much talent not to be considered the favorites. They're my pick to win the league and I'll be surprised if they're not hoisting Europe's biggest prize at the Bernabeu at the end of the season.

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