Spain's Primera Division kicks off again over the weekend with three teams in the mix for the title in what promises to be another fascinating campaign. But who will win it?
Like last season, Atletico, Barcelona and Real Madrid are again in the running for the title this time around, in what is no longer considered a "two-team league."
Atleti is the defending champion after surprisingly claiming La Liga last season, but Diego Simeone's side must overcome the loss of several key players. Meanwhile, Barca begins a new project under Luis Enrique and Madrid looks strong (despite a poor preseason) as it starts a second season under Carlo Ancelotti.
But which of the three will win it? Here, Goal journalists Paul Macdonald, Pilar Suarez and Ben Hayward take up the debate ...
|"PLAYER LOSSES WON'T WORRY SHREWD SIMEONE"
By Ben Hayward
Not so long ago, the Primera Division was widely referred to as a two-team league, but Atletico Madrid made light of its relatively small budget to claim the title in 2013-14.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has left to rejoin parent club Chelsea, while star striker Diego Costa and left back Filipe Luis have also moved to Stamford Bridge. After the loss of Radamel Falcao last summer, though, Atleti showed that player departures don't necessarily mean the team will be weakened.
Coach Diego Simeone places just as much emphasis on mentality and attitude than on personnel and, in any case, Atleti has bought well this summer. Mario Mandzukic will score goals, Antoine Griezmann was one of La Liga's finest forwards at Real Sociedad, goalkeeper Jan Oblak is another superb prospect and left back Guilherme Siqueira was scouted by many of Europe's top teams before Atleti moved in.
With Barca needing to find its feet under a new coach and Madrid more suited to the cup competitions (Carlo Ancelotti has won only three league titles in his coaching career), there is no reason Atleti can't achieve the impossible once again. One game at a time.
|"LUIS ENRIQUE CAN CHANGE BARCA LIKE PEP DID"
By Pilar Suarez
Barcelona begins a new era, the Luis Enrique era — an era in which change is the centerpiece. With a new coach, new players and a new strategy, there are also renewed hopes for Barca fans following a difficult time in 2013-14.
Many supporters still seem unhappy with the players brought in this window, but Luis Enrique is satisfied and it shows in his words and his confidence as his team prepares to fight again for La Liga — starting Aug. 24.
After the disappointment of last season, Barca is under pressure again to win it all — and the Blaugrana can achieve it. Luis Enrique is key to their success; the club needed a strong leader and he can be that man. Although inexperienced at the very highest level, Lucho knows the club inside out and historically, big changes have brought big success at Camp Nou. It happened with Johan Cruyff, it happened with Pep Guardiola and it can happen again with Luis Enrique.
Success won't happen overnight and patience will be needed to overtake an Atletico side full of fight and a very powerful Madrid team, but La Liga lasts for 38 games and Barca has what it takes to claim the title for a fifth time in seven seasons.
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|"ASTUTE ANCELOTTI HAS ORGANIZED THE CHAOS"
By Paul Macdonald
The phrase "two players for every position" has been spoken about great teams before; but never has been it so apparent than for Real Madrid in 2014. There aren't just two players, there are two international, world-class athletes in every position, and with another five trophies up for grabs for the Blancos between now and next May, that unrivaled depth will be absolutely necessary.
And with a squad such as this comes the fortitude to see a Liga campaign to its culmination. Despite the acclaim of last season, Madrid has just one league title victory since 2008 — an imbalance it will look to immediately redress.
There is stability - Carlo Ancelotti, the deliverer of La Decima, remains one of the most astute coaches in the game, while Gareth Bale's full preseason is an impossibly exciting prospect. And then there's James Rodriguez, and Toni Kroos. And yes, Cristiano Ronaldo, already putting his World Cup frustration behind him.
There's nothing embarrassing about this assortment of riches — simply purpose to destroy everything before them. For once, the annual chaos at Santiago Bernabeu is organized.