From Ancelotti to Zidane via Messi & Ronaldo - an A-Z of La Liga in 2013-14

As the new season in Spain starts this weekend, Goal runs through many of the things to watch out for in the current campaign with an A-Z of all things Primera Division in 2013-14
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

La Liga is back. Spain's Primera Division season in 2012-13 was concluded as recently as the opening weekend of June, but top-flight football kicked off again on Saturday in the Iberian nation as the 2013-14 campaign got underway.

Much has changed since last season, with multiple summer signings, new coaches, promoted clubs, player departures and more in what has been a hectic 10 weeks.

So with pre-season out of the way and the real season upon us already, Goal takes a look at many of the things to look out for in the current campaign with an A-Z of La Liga for 2013-14.

A is for Ancelotti: The Italian coach has replaced Jose Mourinho at the Santiago Bernabeu and will look to emulate the Portuguese by winning a league title in his fourth different country, having already claimed championships in Italy (with AC Milan), England (Chelsea) and France (Paris Saint-Germain).

B is for Bale: The summer's longest transfer saga has yet to be concluded but Real remain keen to bring the Welsh winger to Madrid from Tottenham for a world-record fee of around €100 million, eclipsing the €94m Florentino Perez paid Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

C is for Casillas: Benched by Mourinho last season, the Spain shot-stopper is expected to return as Madrid's first-choice goalkeeper as Ancelotti's side start their Liga campaign against Betis on Sunday. However, the Italian kept his cards close to his chest on Saturday as he refused to reveal whether Iker or Diego Lopez would get the nod on Sunday.

D is for debt: In what is a sad reflection of Spain's current crisis, the 40 clubs in Primera and Segunda owe a massive €4 billion in total debt, €610 million of that to tax authorities.

E is for exodus:
With debts mounting, many of La Liga's clubs have been forced to sell their prized assets this summer. Radamel Falcao left Atletico Madrid to join Monaco, Valencia sold Roberto Soldado to Tottenham, Sevilla said goodbye to Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo (who both joined Manchester City), while Fernando Llorente swapped Athletic Bilbao for Juventus. Other prominent personalities, such as Mourinho, Gonzalo Higuain, Thiago, Eric Abidal, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon, also left La Liga this summer.

F is for Fabregas: The Barcelona midfielder was wanted by Manchester United, but chose to stay at Camp Nou and compete for a starting spot under new coach Gerardo Martino.

G is for goalkeepers: Barcelona's Victor Valdes will be playing his last season in La Liga as he plans to move on at the end of his contract next summer, while Atletico Madrid must make the most of their brilliant Belgian Thibaut Courtois, whose loan from Chelsea has been extended until 2014.

H is for history: Real Madrid have won La Liga a record 32 times, while Barcelona have lifted the Primera Division trophy on 22 occasions. The last team from outside the big two to claim the title was Valencia in 2004. Barca sporting director and former Spain goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta holds the record for most league appearances (622), while Athletic Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra is still top of the goal charts with 251 Primera Division strikes.

I is for Isco: A pillar of the magnificent Malaga team which reached the last eight of the Champions League last season, Isco signed for Madrid in the summer and if his pre-season performances are anything to go by, the €30m paid by Real for the young Spain star looks like a bargain.

J is for Jose: He may be gone, but he certainly hasn't been forgotten. Mourinho's teams often struggle after he moves on and Madrid will be out to prove that is not the case this time around. The Portuguese, now at Chelsea, is also likely to speak more about his time at Real during the course of the current campaign.

K is for Kondogbia: The all-action midfielder was linked with Madrid earlier this summer but is staying at Sevilla and big things are expected from the Frenchman under Unai Emery in 2013-14.

L is for late nights: Things happen late in Spain and La Liga is no exception, with plenty of 23:00CET kick-offs this season to keep the action going into the early hours.

M is for Messi: Leo scored in 19 consecutive Liga rounds last season and netted in two more after returning from injury to make it 21 in a row for him personally. He has won the Pichichi prize for each of the last two seasons, with his record standing at 50 league goals in 2011-12. He has also claimed the Ballon d'Or for the last four years. Along with Cristiano Ronaldo, he will be the main man again this season in La Liga as Barcelona seek a fifth title in six seasons.

N is for Neymar: While much is expected of Messi as usual, the Argentine's association with summer signing Neymar also excites. The Brazilian has adapted well in pre-season and even though he is yet to face top-class opposition in Barca colours, his brilliant performances in the Confederations Cup in June have Blaugrana fans hailing him already as another Ronaldinho.

O is for Osasuna: The Navarrans face a perennial struggle for survival in La Liga but if they manage to beat the drop again this term, they will have spent 15 straight seasons in the top flight - thus beating their previous mark of 14 (set between 1981 and 1994).
P is for promoted teams: Elche are back in Spain's top flight after 24 years in the lower leagues, while Almeria return following two seasons in Segunda and Villarreal bounce back straight away from their surprising drop in 2011-12. All three will be delighted to still be in the Primera Division come next summer.

Q is for quick: Studies last season revealed Levante's Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins (now at Seattle Sounders) to be the fastest player in La Liga, running at 34 kilometres per hour according to tests. That made the African a shade faster than Cristiano Ronaldo, who was clocked at 33.6 km/hour. Lionel Messi, incidentally, can peak at 31 km/h.

R is for Ronaldo: Cristiano has been on fantastic form in pre-season and is close to agreeing a new deal with Real Madrid, meaning his rivalry with Barcelona's Lionel Messi is likely to go on for many years yet. Ronaldo won the Pichichi prize in 2010-11 when he struck 40 league goals, scored against every team in 2011-12 and has 146 goals in just 135 league appearances for the Spanish side.

S is for Simeone: Atletico's Argentine coach has worked wonders at the Vicente Calderon, claiming the Uefa Super Cup and the Copa del Rey last season (and the Europa League in 2011-12) as well as steering the capital club to a third-placed finish in La Liga. Without Radamel Falcao, he now faces a huge challenge to build on those successes in 2013-14.

T is for Tata: Barcelona's new coach replaced Tito Vilanova late last month and takes charge of the Catalan club for the first time in an official game on Sunday. Martino is expected to maintain Barca's philosophy and says he wants his team to "attack high up the pitch" and press from the front as they did so effectively under Pep Guardiola.

U is for Uefa competitions: La Liga is well represented in Europe this season, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico and Real Sociedad competing in the Champions League (although the Basques must first overcome a tricky qualifier against Lyon), while Valencia, Betis and Sevilla will be in action in the Europa League.

V is for Villa: Spain striker David Villa played out of position at Barcelona and was largely left on the bench last season, but the 31-year-old has looked sharp in pre-season for new club Atletico Madrid and has already won large sectors of the club's support - even though he faces an unenviable task in replacing outgoing striker Falcao at the Vicente Calderon.

W is for wages: Messi is currently the league's highest earner with wages of around €16m per year after tax, which is €4m more than the budget of promoted club Elche. At the other end of the scale, many players at the smaller sides bring in well under €100,000 per annum.

X is for Xavi: The Barcelona midfielder showed signs of slowing down in the Confederations Cup and is likely to be given more rest time this season as he sets out to win an eighth Primera Division title with the Catalan club.

Y is for youth: Spain claimed the European Under-21 championship in the summer and there will be plenty of exciting talents to watch out for in La Liga this term, including Isco, Jese, Alvaro Morata. Dani Carvajal and Asier Illarramendi at Madrid, Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez, Atletico midfielder Koke and Barca youngsters Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya and Cristian Tello.

Z is for Zidane: The former France and Madrid hero will sit on the Bernabeu bench this season alongside Ancelotti and is probably the only assistant coach in La Liga who is more high profile than the boss himself. President Florentino Perez has hinted that the former midfielder could coach Madrid one day and his time as assistant is the ideal preparation for that role in future.

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