RICH GET RICHER AS LA LIGA’S ALSO-RANS SELL
Big-spending Barca, Real only legitimate contenders for Spanish crown, writes.
Looking at the Spanish sports pages over the typically baking summer months, it would appear the nation’s soccer was in rude health, on and off the pitch.
In Catalonia, Neymar has dominated attention after his 57 million euro ($74 million) move from Santos to Barcelona was confirmed in June, while in the capital, Real Madrid backed up their 69 million euro investment in the young Spanish duo of Isco and Asier Illarramendi with an on-going pursuit of the 100 million euro rated Gareth Bale in a saga that looks set to run well into the final days of the transfer window.
But beneath the big two, the game in Spain has continued to reflect the general aili ng Spani s h economy with even clubs in the Champions League forced to sell their best players.
As a result, the already colossal gap between Real and Barca and the rest continues to increase as do fears that by continuing to use an unbalanced TV deal that greatly favors the big two, La Liga will further descend into a turgid twohorse race.
However, whilst both Barca and Real have been active in the transfer market, there are concerns that both have so far failed to bring in the type of players they really needed after falling at the semifinal stage of the Champions League last season.
Neymar’s arrival should certainly ease the scoring burden Lionel Messi has carried almost single-handedly for the past two seasons, but the Catalans still look threadbare at the back with captain Carles Puyol having undergone two operations during the close season and he is not due back till at least September.
Real, meanwhile, has bolstered an already strong midfield, but hasn’t so far replaced Gonzalo Higuain after he joined Napoli last month, leaving only Karim Benzema and youngster Alvaro Morata to fill the lone striker’s position.
There is though already a great deal more calm around Los Blancos following the departure of Jose Mourinho with the management team of Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane highly respected by the squad and the players themselves coming together as a unit following the public clashes and fallouts that marked the Portuguese’s final season at the Bernabeu.
That greater unity should mean Real pushes Barca a great deal closer than it did last season, but the title will again be defined by small margins.
Such is their dominance that first Real and then Barca amassed 100 points in winning the title in the past two seasons and with the gap only set to widen between them and the rest, it is highly likely whoever becomes champion will need to register a century of points once more.
In the battle for Champions League places, Atletico Madrid seems the best set despite losing star Radamel Falcao to Monaco. Atletico has arguably done the best business in terms of value for money as it replaced the 60 million euro Colombian with David Villa for an inital fee of just 2.1 million euros.
Continuing an uncharacteristic period of stability since Diego Simeone took charge of the club in December 2011, Atletico is the only club to finish in the top six last season that hasn’t changed manager over the offseason and it is a heavy favorite to be the best of the rest once more.
Further down, Valencia, Sevilla, Real Betis and Real Sociedad are all likely to be in the mix for the European places despite losing key players in recent months.
Valencia has replaced new Spurs signing Roberto Soldado with a former Spurs player, Helder Postiga, for a tenth of the price it sold Soldado, while Sevilla has also seen two Spanish internationals depart as Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo have joined Manchester City.
However, they will still most likely battle it out for the final Champions League place as last season’s surprise package Sociedad hasn’t invested heavily in its squad despite the 39 million euro windfall it received from Illarramendi’s departure.
Betis has lost its key creative lynchpin in Benat Extebarria after he rejoined Athletic Bilbao and the Basques themselves will be hoping for a far more successful campaign than their 12th- placed finish last season following the appointment of the highly-rated Ernesto Valverde as manager.
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi looks on as he takes part in a training session at the FC Barcelona Sports Center Joan Gamper in Sant Joan Despi, near Barcelona, on July 29.