La Liga preview

The big two in La Liga will duel for the title as Jose Mourinho’s Merengues seek to retain the trophy that they wrestled off their Catalan rivals after the Blaugrana’s three successive triumphs.

Tito Vilanova has taken over at Camp Nou after three seasons as Pep Guardiola’s understudy and it remains to be seen how the weight of responsibility affects his performances from the bench.

Valencia and Atletico de Madrid will both look to mount a challenge, but will be happy to perform well in Europe and push for a top four place as their demanding fans will expect.

Levante were last season’s surprise outfit and the Valencia-based minnows will not have many people believing that they can repeat the heroics that led to them competing in Europe for the first time this term.

Galicia again has two representatives in the first division as Deportivo de La Coruna and Celta Vigo both won promotion and both will be aiming for mid-table security.

Real Zaragoza stayed up on the last day and they will be joined by Real Valladolid, Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad and Granada as favourites to scrap to stay up throughout most of the year.

Atletico de Madrid

Coach: Diego Simeone

Stadium: Vicente Calderon

Star man: Radamel Falcao

League position last season: 5th

Atletico exceeded expectations last term as they shone in the Europa League as Radamel Falcao fired them to the trophy for the third time in three seasons. Coach Diego Simeone took the credit for the triumph after replacing Gregorio Manzano in December and now has the summer to mould his own squad. Goalkeeper Courtois is set to stay on loan, while Cristian Rodriguez has arrived from Porto, Emre from Fenerbaahce and Cata Diaz came from Getafe.

Athletic Bilbao

Coach: Marcelo Bielsa

Stadium: San Mames

Star man: Iker Muniain

League position last season: 10th

Athletic Club showed their potential last term with a mesmerising display against Manchester United in the Europa League, but only replicated that occasionally in the Primera Liga. The summer began with confusion over whether coach Marcelo Bielsa would remain, but as he said he would stay star striker Fernando Llorente stated he would not be renewing his contract at the club. Aduriz has arrived to bolster the attack, while Koikili Lertxundi, Igor Gabilondo and Aitor Ocio are among those that have left.

Barcelona

Coach: Tito Vilanova

Stadium: Camp Nou

Star man: Lionel Messi

League position last season: 2nd

The Blaugrana’s run-in last season was overshadowed by the news that Pep Guardiola would step down in the summer, and be replaced by assistant Tito Vianova, as arch rivals Real Madrid prevented him from having the perfect send-off as they won the league for the first time in four seasons but the team did add a 26th Copa del Rey title. Seydou Keita is the only first team player to leave while Jordi Alba has strengthened the defence.

Real Betis

Coach: Pepe Mel

Stadium: Benito Vilamarin

Star man: Ruben Castro

League position last season: 13th

The Andalucian giants returned to the Spanish top flight at the end of the 2010-11 season and won their opening four games last term to go first for two consecutive rounds. Those early weeks were the highlights of a campaign that saw them achieve the aim of staying in the division, albeit in mid-table. Betis began preparations for next year by making Paulao’s loan permanent and signing Agra from Olhanense and Ruben Perez, Joel Campbell and Juan Carlos on loan.

Celta Vigo

Coach: Paco Herrera

Stadium: Balaidos

Star man: Borja Oubina

League position last season: 2nd in la Segunda A

Galicia had a double celebration at the end of last season as both Celta and Deportivo returned to the first division. After six consecutive seasons in Europe, between 1998 and 2004, Celta were relegated in 2007 and spent five campaigns in the second tier before finally bouncing back at the end of last term under Paco Herrera. Many of those that helped the club to promotion are to be given a chance to prove themselves against the best with only three players having left Celta and five new players, including Javi Varas, joining.

Deportivo

Coach: Jose Luis Oltra

Stadium: Riazor

Star man: Juan Carlos Valeron

League position last season: 1st in la Segunda A

Depor became a household name around Europe just over a decade ago with their exploits in the Champions League, but financial difficulties and a downturn in fortunes saw the team unable to hold their own in 2010-11 and drop out of the top flight for the first time since 1991. Coach Jose Luis Oltra was charged with reviving the club’s fortunes after their relegation and he did exactly that and will now be asked to keep the team up. The trainer has been backed by the club with nine new sigings, inclduing Nelson Oliveira and Carlos Marchena.

Espanyol

Coach: Mauricio Pochettino

Stadium: Cornella – El Prat

Star man: Joan Verdu

League position last season: 14th

The Blanc i Blau relied heavily on loan players last season and will be hard-pressed to replace the likes of Coutinho, Vladimir Weiss and Romaric this time around. Coach Pochettino does not have much money to play with, but will be aiming for a top ten finish. Four new faces arrived before the campaign began with Colotto in from Depor, Sergio Tejera returning from Mallorca, Wakaso from relegated Villarreal and Catalan Joan Capdevila from Benfica.

Getafe

Coach: Luis Garcia Plaza

Stadium: Coliseum Alfonso Perez

Star man: Jaime Gavilan

League position last season: 11th

After promises of great investment in the club following the takeover by the Royal Emirates Group last summer, Getafe began the season with several players having left. Despite the funds not materlialising, the side once again showed that it can be as much about performing as a team than just throwing money at a project in order to perform in La Liga. An 11th place finish was an achievement after a poor start, but next season they will be asked to kick on to the top ten.

Granada

Coach: Juan Antonio Anquela

Stadium: Los Carmenes

Star man: Adrian Gonzalez

League position last season: 17th

Anything other than going down was always going to be a success for the Andalucian outfit and they did exactly what was asked by remaining in the first division by one place and the Pozzo family would have been delighted. The club’s Italian owners also own Udinese and Watford and they have made it clear that they will move players between all three clubs if required. Daniel Pudil and Ikechi Anya have already gone to Watford from Granada while Allan Nyom and Diego Mainz have made it five players on loan from Udinese at the Spanish club.

Levante

Coach: Juan Ignacio Martinez

Stadium: Ciutat de Valencia

Star man: Sergio Ballesteros

League position last season: 6th

If one club went above and beyond even their own expectations in any major European league last season then it was the Granotes from Valencia. Topping the table for two weeks was one thing, but even when they remained in the top four the majority predicted their imminent fall. A Champions League place may have been out of reach, eventually, but Levante qualifying for the Europa League was a huge achievement in itself. With coach Juan Ignacio Martinez, known as Jim for his initials, Levante will be unlikely to repeat last season’s heroics.

Malaga

Coach: Manuel Pellegrini

Stadium: La Rosaleda

Star man: Jeremy Toulalan

League position last season: 4th

Malaga finished the season celebrating their qualification for the Champions League for the first time, only for the troubles behind the scenes to be revealed as players have gone unpaid and several star names set to be sold. Coach Manuel Pellegrini has stayed on but had not signed any players in the final week before the season begins. Outgoing, however, have been names such as Santi Cazorla, Jose Rondon, Sandro Silva, Apono, Xavi Torres and Joris Mathijsen, while Ruud van Nistelrooy retired.

Mallorca

Coach: Joaquin Caparros

Stadium: Iberostar Stadium

Star man: Javi Marquez

League position last season: 8th

The Balearic outfit continue to defy the odds and punch above their weight in the Spanish top flight and last season was no exception. No-nonsense coach Joaquin Caparros was appointed in October after he left Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax under a cloud. He led Mallorca away from the drop zone and an end of season run saw them move into the top ten and finish in eighth place. The new season is looking promising with Antonio Lopez, Javi Marquez, Javier Arizmendi and Ruben Mino joining.

Osasuna

Coach: Jose Luis Mendilibar

Stadium: El Sadar

Star man: Alvaro Cejudo

League position last season: 7th

Osasuna are another club that have exceeded all expectations season after season in a Spanish top flight that constantly sees clubs struggling for any kind of financial equality and last term a seventh-place finish maintained their incredible run. Coach Jose Luis Mendilibar settled his squad last summer and the side were rarely out of the top ten and could be back in Europe if they build on last term. A number of understated names, such as Emilianno Armenteros from Sevilla and Alejandro Arribas from Rayo, have arrived already.

Rayo Vallecano

Coach: Paco Jemez

Stadium: Campo de Futbol de Vallecas

Star man:

League position last season: 15th

Being a Rayo fan would certainly bring a variation in the level of football you would see as the club dipped from the top flight in 2003 to the third tier and back up again in 2011 to the highest level. A return to a lower level appeared highly unlikely last season after Rayo again bounced back to la Primera as coach Paco Jemez turned his side into a tough team to beat and led them 15th in the table. They are likely to be favourites again to go down as 11 new faces have been signed and 11 have left the club.

Real Madrid

Coach: Jose Mourinho

Stadium: El Santiago Bernabeu

Star man: Cristino Ronaldo

League position last season: 1st

Jose Mourinho has spent the summer basking in the glory of finally knocking Barca off their perch and he will now aim to add Madrid’s tenth European Cup and retain the league championship to continue his stunning record in Europe’s major leagues. Only one big signing was expected during the summer, with Luka Modric being continuously linked, but while that has not yet materialised Hamit Altintop, Sergio Canales, Fernando Gago and Royston Drenthe have left the club permanently.

Real Sociedad

Coach: Philippe Montanier

Stadium: Anoeta

Star man: Carlos Vela

League position last season: 12th

The San Sebastian-based outfit survived a second season in the top flight, having been promoted back in May 2010, despite being tipped to go back down. New coach Philippe Montanier took over the reins last summer and after flirting with the drop mid-season did well to lead the team to a mid-table position. Carlos Vela has made his move permanent from Arsenal, while Chori Castro has signed from Mallorca and Jose Angel has arrived from Roma.

Sevilla

Coach: Michel

Stadium: Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan

Star man: Jesus Navas

League position last season: 9th

Sevilla began the season looking likely to maintain a challenge to finish in the top four, but yet again their campaign ended with a downturn in form after Christmas and they finished in mid-table and without any European football to look forward to. Frederic Kanoute’s exit is another step away from the glory days of Juande Ramos and Monche, but Diego Loez, Maduro, Rabllo, Javi Hervas, Kondogbia and Cicinho have arrived to bolster next season’s challenge.

Valencia

Coach: Mauricio Pellegrino

Stadium: Mestalla

Star man: Roberto Soldado

League position last season: 3rd

The pressure will certainly be on new coach Mauricio Pellegrino after his predecessor Unai Emery was not deemed to be good enough despite leading the club to third in the table. The new man at the helm has already begun moulding the squad to his liking as Joao Pereira has arrived from Sporting Lisbon, Andres Guardado has signed from Depor and Fernando Gago came in from Real Madrid. Jordi Alba has left, but Valencia are required to continue selling each summer to manage their huge debt.

Real Valladolid

Coach: Miroslav Dukic

Stadium: Jose Zorilla

Star man: Javier Baraja

League position last season: 3rd in la Segunda A

Real Valladolid spent two consecutive seasons struggling to stay up after being promoted in 2007 before returning to the second tier in 2010. Now they are back and will hope to stay put and perform even better under the stewardship of coach Miroslav Dukic, who has been hailed after overseeing promotion. The trainer has put his contacts to good use to bring five new faces, with Antonio Rukavina, Lluis Sastre, Juan Neia, Patrick Ebert and Omar Ramos while only Sisi has left to join a first division club.

Real Zaragoza

Coach: Manolo Jimenez

Stadium: La Romareda

Star man: Helder Postiga

League position last season: 16th

Real Zaragoza were the miracle-performers on the last day of last season as they won at Getafe to step out of the bottom three and retain their top flight status, at Villarreal’s expense after having been in the drop zone since week 13 of the campaign. With the club, reportedly, having financial problems, the on field performances reflected that strife until that dramatic victory. In a bid to prevent a repeat performance, Zaragoza have entered the market in a big way with 13 new players joining and nine leaving.

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