David Cartlidge poses the big questions, runs down the summer shenanigans and introduces the new kids on the block in Spain this term...
La Liga 2015/16 gets underway this weekend and as always the question remains: will anyone challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid for the crown? The other big posers centre around Rafa Benitez’s arrival in Madrid, the restructuring of Atletico Madrid and whether Barcelona can get even better after their Treble. Oh, and don’t forget ambitious Valencia and Europa League experts Sevilla, who will want their say, too. Spain's top flight might well be about to put across its strongest case ever for being about more than just two teams. La Liga kicks off with Sevilla's trip to Malaga on Friday night, so read on for all you need to know about what's coming up this term, starting with...
Three reasons why this season will be ace
1) Atletico have rebuilt – and it’s going to be fun
In the most significant restructuring at the club since Diego Simeone’s arrival back in 2011, Atleti are operating with a purpose to play dynamic, exciting football. Last season they were let down by a mediocre transfer window, but this time they feel strong enough to challenge again. They've kept the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Koke, and added Jackson Martinez and the exciting Yannick Ferreira Carrasco from Monaco. Throw into the mix Oliver Torres, returning from a successful loan at Porto, and we could well be talking about Atleti’s own boy wonder fulfilling his huge promise in May. Simeone’s men are working harder than ever before – and that’s saying something – so expect plenty of running on the field... and fireworks.
2) The chasing pack are fresh and hungry
It’s not just at Atletico Madrid where rebuilding has taken place. Sevilla have lost Carlos Bacca (to Milan) and Aleix Vidal (to Barcelona) but look to have bought well yet again and will want to improve on their Europa League win. They might well be about to put together their strongest La Liga challenge in years, and in Yevhen Konoplyanka have arguably made one of the most exciting signings in Europe. Ciro Immobile will be aiming to put a tough year at Borussia Dortmund behind him.
Valencia, meanwhile, continue to see the average age of their squad decrease, but haven't compromised on quality. Instead of splashing money on big names, Los Che have picked their incomings carefully to continue their ambitious push towards a return to the elite. Super agent Jorge Mendes still plays many cards at the club, to the chagrin of the club’s hardcore, but they'll find it difficult to deny the strength of this squad in comparison to previous years. Centre-back Nicolas Otamendi won't be stopping at the Mestalla this year, but in Celta Vigo's Santi Mina they've snapped up an exciting striker, while José Luis Gayà remains with the club and is on the brink of being a bona fide superstar full-back.