Jason Pereira


After last season’s thrilling title race, where the battle went right down to the wire with three teams capable of winning it on the final day of the season, La Liga has reclaimed its place as the most exciting league in Europe.While most predicted Real Madrid and Barcelona to challenge for the league, no one expected a spirited Sevilla side to compete with them all the way until the final game of the season, especially as the former two had spent much more on transfers. This year promises to be even better than last, with all teams strengthening as they look to claim Spain’s top domestic honour. Will it be Real Madrid, will it be Barcelona or will one of the chasing pack surprise everyone and storm to top place? Here I take a look at the four teams that I feel will be challenging for the title this year around. All odds are taken from CANBET.

al Madrid (6/4)

When all seemed lost last year, Real Madrid fought back from the pits and rose to wrest the title back from Barcelona. While the player that has to be most credited with their title win has now gone to LA Galaxy and the MLS, Real Madrid spent big in the summer to ensure that they could cope with the loss of David Beckham. Having shelled out over 100m euros to buy the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Gabriel Heinze, los Merengues lay down a clear marker of what they are capable of after destroying Villareal 5-0. Defence was perhaps Real Madrid’s weak point in the past- they quickly moved to try and fix that by purchasing Pepe, Drenthe, Metzelder and Heinze to go along with World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro and youth stalwart Sergio Ramos. Real Madrid have started well- fighting back to win their opening game against local rivals Atletico and then doing a demolition job on Villareal. After those promising results, Real Madrid currently sit at the top of the league table. With new manager Bernd Schuster willing to satisfy the Madrid philosophy of playing beautiful football they will look to not just regain the title they won last year, but do it in style as well.

Barcelona (10/11)

Nothing is worse than a wounded animal looking to regain its pride. Those that rejoiced after Real Madrid pipped Barcelona to the title last time around would do well to remember that this Barcelona team does not stay down for long.Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard has spent well in the transfer market, adding Thierry Henry, Eric Abidal and Yaya Touré to an already star studded Blaugranes lineup. Barcelona lost out on the last day of the season by virtue of their inferior head to head record against Real, although they will take heart in the fact that they scored more and conceded less than the champions. While they already knew they could score goals in La Liga their title hopes last season were given a massive dent when clinical marksman Samuel Eto’o was ruled out for a few months with injury, and with the purchase of the world class Thierry Henry to play up front, they have ensured such a problem will not happen again. Although Barcelona started off poorly, being held to a goalless draw by lowly Racing Santander they quickly roared back into the title race their next match, disposing of Athletico Bilbao at the Nou Camp- with Ronaldinho netting twice alongside summer signing Touré. While Barcelona have already conceded a two-point advantage to Real Madrid there is still plenty of time to make it up, and this year they will look to succeed in Europe as well- trying to win the trophy they last won in 2005/06.

Sevilla FC (10/1)

Having already won the UEFA Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup last year, Sevilla look to go in for the big one this time around. Possessing a lineup with no real star names apart from right back Daniel Alves, Sevilla will look once again to shock the football world and compete for the title. Although Sevilla are not made up of “big name” players in the way Real Madrid or Barcelona are, that is not to say they don’t have a collection of good players. In defence, Alves orchestrates attacks from his position at full back, while captain Javi Navarro, centre back Julien Escudé and Ivica Dragutinović help to keep clean sheets. Sevilla moved to bolster their defensive ranks in the summer, bringing in Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz from Chelsea on loan as well as experienced goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis from Udinese to add to their squad. In midfield, Sevilla have enough creative players to be assured of creating chances- wingers Jesus Navas and Adriano complemented by the new arrival of ex-RC Lens captain Seydou Keita. Up front is the area where Sevilla are most blessed with quality. Most teams in the world would be happy with having the likes of Fredric Kanoute and Arouna Koné up front- Sevilla also have the Russian Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Brazilian Luis Fabiano and Argentine Javier Chevanton to compete for places. While Sevilla winning the title is a long shot considering their opposition, they cannot be ruled out considering the quality their team possesses.

Valencia CF (10/1)

Valencia were the last side to break the Real/Barca domination on La Liga when they ran off with the title in 2003/04. Los Che also took the title in the 2001/02 season, meaning that they have won La Liga just as many times as Barcelona in the present millennium. Last season Valencia finished ten points behind the champions; this season they will be looking to bridge that gap. Valencia have not won a major trophy for the last three years, which is unacceptable for a club of their stature. Valencia brought in a lot of talent this summer to try and win La Liga, and a simple look at their squad will show that they definitely have the capability of doing so. In defence, Valencia brought in experienced campaigner Ivan Helguera, a player who knows how to win titles, having done so with ex-club Real Madrid. They also brought in goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand to compete with Santiago Cañizares. In midfield, Valencia swooped in at the eleventh hour to steal Manuel Fernandes from under Everton’s noses, and the player will add some needed steel and power in midfield. The club already has a collection of brilliant attacking players- both winger Joaquin and young midfielder David Silva can cause problems on their day and when fit, captain David Albelda and Edu provide an able presence in the centre of the midfield. Up front, Valencia have one of the most coveted players in world football in David Villa, a player who reportedly has a £70 million buyout clause. They also have Fernando Morientes and Nikola Zigic capable of scoring goals, and Valencia will be hoping to taste success after being without it for so long.