Saturday, August 25, 2007

La Liga 2007-8....The Return Of The Big Spenders

It’s been a tough summer for sport, filled only with drugged up cyclists trying to climb mountain passes, and pijo tennis players grunting their way around Europe; but it doesn’t matter because the Spanish football season starts again today! The close season has seen huge amounts of money being spent by a handful of the major clubs. Meanwhile, I look back at the incorrect predictions I made for last season, and I don’t see much reason to change them greatly for this one – even though I will probably be wrong again.

The great divide between a handful of clubs competing for the top spots and the rest is more evident than ever as the spending by many smaller clubs is clearly designed to do no more than just keep them afloat in the top division. So once again it looks like a competition between Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid. Who else could possibly be added to this list? Zaragoza had quite an impressive season last year, but I’m not sure if they have invested in improving the squad to make a bigger impact. The Getafes and Osasunas can prove tough teams to beat, but don’t usually keep the momentum going for a whole season. Meanwhile, Villareal finished very strongly last season after a dismal beginning, and they are a well run team but we will see whether the loss of Forlán as well as Riquelme dooms them to mid-table status. Perhaps Rossi will fill the gap left by Forlán.

Champions last season more because of the inconsistency of their rivals than because of any of their own virtues, the inevitable and overdue clear out has happened at Real Madrid. They have spent a fortune this summer on new players and despite the German trainer it seems they are looking more to Holland as a source of new talent than anywhere else. However, the big spending does not seem to be at all focused, and the prices they have paid for some players are astonishing. Schuster can’t complain that he is forced to work with a team he has inherited, but neither does he have the team he wants. What has been very interesting is the incapacity of Madrid to attract the really big names, despite an apparent willingness to spend whatever is necessary. The early signs are not good, and this being Real Madrid there are already rumours before the first game of the season that the club is searching for possible alternative trainers. Even by Madrid standards this seems a bit premature, but poor pre-season performances topped by the double defeat they received in the Supercopa at the hands of Sevilla is more than sufficient to provoke murmurs of discontent in this club.

Atlético Madrid may have lost Fernando Torres to Liverpool, but they have invested a surprisingly large amount of money in the team, considering the other interests of those who run the club. The combination of Forlán and Agüero both looked very good in a UEFA Cup game that I watched the other week, and if these two players maintain form then they could be much more effective than an attack based solely around the overrated Torres (an opinion obviously not shared by Rafa Benitez). There will also be the erratic contribution of Reyes and Luis Garcia. So when their new acquisitions are on song we can expect some decent football, the question – as always with Atlético – is whether they will be able to maintain any consistency. They start against Real Madrid today.

Valencia have become more of a Spanish team, in the sense of their squad rather than just their location. They now provide the backbone of the national squad, whether that is as much of a distinction as it sounds is open to debate. They were very fitful last season, but when they were on form with everyone fit they were as good as anyone else in the top group of teams. Sevilla were really the Spanish team of last season, taking the UEFA Cup for a second consecutive year as well as the Copa del Rey. If they hadn’t suffered from vertigo every time they went top of the league, they would have added that title to the list as well. Despite the almost inevitable loss of Alves, they have maintained most of their squad (and more importantly their coach) and show every sign of being one of the main contenders again this season. Behind the scenes, an efficient scouting system seems to be a major part of their recent success.

Which brings us to Barcelona, the team that disappointed so much last season as they seemed to lose their way after a triumphant couple of seasons. Much has been made of the addition of Henry, and it will be interesting to see if he combines well with Eto’o. He’s not a young striker any more, but then nor is Van Nistelrooy in Madrid. Perhaps just as important could be the addition of the Argentinian Gabi Milito in defence, he certainly looks a much better deal than Pepe, the Portuguese defender that Real Madrid brought in at a much higher price. If anyone is going to shine, this should be the year of Messi. Their offensive capabilities should be beyond doubt, it’s the rest that has to work as well if they are going to recover their dominant position.

Of the other teams, the only newcomer that appears to have money to spend is Murcia, whilst it remains to be seen whether “big” clubs such as Betis or Athletic Bilbao can turn things around enough to avoid being caught again in relegation battles. So let’s go for a prediction, neither Madrid nor Barça will win the league; the title this year will end up in Sevilla or Valencia. The advantage of not having many readers is that I won’t have loads of people reminding me how wrong I was come May 2008.

Meanwhile in the background there is the bizarre television war over rights to matches, which could see us having no televised live games this weekend, or having more than we expected to see! Behind it all I suspect the beginning of a deeper battle between rival media groups that will extend well beyond the issue of who shows Sevilla against Getafe. It’s a game of two halves, following a chaotic first half, soothing wads of money will be applied in the right places and normal service will be resumed. If not, there is always the Premier League – with 2 live games every weekend on Spanish TV.


The Big Chorizo said...

ANd how do reckon Murcia will get on? Everybody here is very excited about the new stadium and the chance to watch some decent matches, whether or not they win any.

Graeme said...

I suspect they will struggle Matthew, their main signing is Baiano from Celta who is one of these players who can be occasionally brilliant, but who can also disappear from sight for half the season! I have read interesting things about another of their strikers, Goitom, but even a good striker fails if he doesn't get the supply. They have come up last season with Valladolid, who spend practically nothing, but who seem to have a solid team. It will be interesting to see who does better. The new stadium, and the fact they have money to spend, is a tribute to the power of the pelotazo.

Tom said...

Nah, I'm confident that Barça will prevail this year. Madrid barely scraped the league title last season... Eto'o and Messi were injured for ages... this year, injuries aside, should prove different. Champions league will be trick but it's doable.

Good analysis, though :-)

The Big Chorizo said...

hmmm, I think I need to learn a bit more about's raining here today and Murcian people don't do rain very well so we'll have to see if that affects moral against Zaragoza.

The new stadium is very shiny :-) and right next to two new enormous shopping centres which straddle the Alicante-Murcia motorway.

Graeme said...

I can't imagine you picking anyone else Tom. The question mark over Barça is why they failed last season, their summer signings don't resolve the issue and it wasn't just because of injuries that they didn't do better - by season's end they were all there. Maybe it was a blip, maybe there are more profound problems in the team. Still, I didn't see anyone challenging them last season so I have to put it down to the curse of South of Watford. Both my English and Spanish teams were relegated so don't come here telling me its just superstition.

Graeme said...

It's rained in Madrid as well Matthew, but it's really only a problem if your team is playing Athletic Bilbao, Racing Santander or Deportivo, all of whom are used to playing on pitches where the ball doesn't travel more than 2 metres no matter how hard you kick it. So don't worry.

leftbanker said...

I'm looking forward to my first full season of La Liga (I got here last November). It's nice to be able to get good analysis of Spanish football on your page. Most of the websites I have come across for La Liga are pretty weak, whether in Spanish or English. Thanks.

Amunt Valencia!

Ian Curtis said...

A ver si sin Fernandito Torres mi Atleti hace algo de una vez. Yo estoy muy contento con que se haya ido; llevaba años deseándolo, era la venta perfecta: jugador que es corrientito, por decirlo suave, pero que en el extranjero se creen que es la hostia (sobre todo en Inglaterra). Lo dicho, negociazo.

Este año creo que puede ser el año. La derrota de ayer era esperable; casi deseable: la última vez que ganamos al Madrid (99-00) bajamos a Segunda.

OFF-TOPIC: esto va para el autor. Veo que todo el mundo escribe aquí en inglés, británicos y españoles. La verdad es que no le había dado importancia hasta ahora, pero me he dado cuenta de que sólo yo escribo en español.
Debo hacerlo en inglés, en el que más o menos me manejo? Perdería un poco de fluidez, pero hablaría como el resto de los participantes. Tú qué opinas? Quizás sí, no?

Graeme said...

Well, let me try this again as Telefonica removed my right to reply on my first attempt.

Thanks, leftbanker, and enjoy your season. My prediction for the title to go somewhere else this year is as much based on desire as anything else. It's tedious to have Madrid and Barça dominating things and its always good to see someone else break their grip.

ian curtis, I'm happy to see that the sale of Torres seems to have lifted the fatalistic "it's no use, we always fail" cloud that hangs over many Atleti supporters. Admittedly, it is based on hard experience. I don't think this will be your year, I feel all the major new signings are potentially very good but I doubt they will be consistent enough. Anyway, I must try and get down to the Calderón a few times before they knock it down.

On the language you use for your comments: I impose no language policy on those who leave comments on this blog. Clearly, if you start writing them in serbo-croat then things get more difficult. I suspect most readers of this blog understand both English and Spanish - at least when we are discussing football. Perhaps if you are replying to someone else's comment it's better to use the same language as they do, otherwise use whichever suits you best. Saludos, and lets hope I'm wrong about your team.

Ian Curtis said...

Well, I'll be bilingual, then: sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English, and that way there's no problem (prepare for BAAAD English).

I must try and get down to the Calderón a few times before they knock it down
Oh, we Colchoneros are pesimistics by ourselves, don't make us be even more! Don't be a jinx! LOL

Graeme said...

Don't worry, my jinx only works with successful teams so you should be safe ;)

On the evidence so far your English seems fine. Anyway, I'll adopt the attitude of the restaurant in Madrid that says "we don't speak English but we promise not to laugh at your Spanish".