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.

AVB sees end to Modric saga

For the second successive summer, Spurs have seen their Croatian playmaker dominate the gossip columns.

They were successful in their efforts to keep him at White Hart Lane in 2011, fending off interest from capital rivals Chelsea, but appear to have relented 12 months on.

Real Madrid are edging ever closer to completing a big-money deal, with Modric believed to be undergoing a medical with the Primera Liga giants.

Villas-Boas hopes the matter will be brought to a close in the near future, allowing him to put the funds generated to good use in his search for a suitable replacement.

“No, this is not a distraction,” said the Portuguese tactician.

“We set out a plan for the player and we have stuck to it.

Discussions

“The player is training individually and he doesn’t disrupt our environment.

“I think we will have a conclusion in the next couple of weeks.

“We expect him here to train. He is still a Tottenham player but from what the chairman has told me talks are ongoing, they stalled a little bit two weeks ago, but they have picked up recently.”

Villas-Boas claims to already have transfer targets in mind, with it vital that Spurs move quickly to fill the creative void once Modric’s departure has been confirmed.

“Obviously we have outlined a couple of solutions,” he added.

“We have made initial contact with a couple of clubs but I think before this situation is resolved we can’t do anything because we already have a certain amount of players in that position.”

Modric set for Real switch

It is thought that the transfer could now be completed quickly after the clubs finally agreed a fee following months of uncertainty.

Reports suggest that a compromise has been reached that will see Real pay an initial fee of £23.6million, plus a further £3.9m in add-ons.

Tottenham are believed to have accepted Real’s offer now to give them enough time to sign a replacement before the window slams shut at the end of the month.

If the move goes through it would bring to an end a four-year spell at White Hart Lane for Modric, during which time he has developed into one of the Premier League’s most impressive performers.

Criticised

The Croatia international was linked with a move to Chelsea last summer but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy stood firm to keep him at the club.

However, intense speculation resurfaced ahead of the current transfer window and Modric made no secret of his desire to move on.

New Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas criticised Modric after he did not travel to the United States for their pre-season tour, and the 26-year-old has continued to train apart from the rest of the squad.

Villas-Boas has already strengthened his midfield with the signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson since replacing Harry Redknapp at the Tottenham helm, while Joao Moutinho has been linked with a move to join up with his former Porto manager.

Stimac blasts Levy over Modric

The 26-year-old is the Spanish club’s leading transfer target this summer but they have so far failed to meet Tottenham’s £40million valuation.

Modric refused to go on Spurs’ pre-season tour of America in an attempt to force through the deal and was fined by Tottenham for his actions.

Stimac has named his playmaker in his team for the clash against Switzerland on Wednesday evening and has criticised Levy for not keeping his word with the midfielder.

Promised

“Daniel Levy promised a year ago that if an offer from Madrid arrived he would let him go. And when the offer arrived he changed his opinion,” Stimac told Spanish newspaper AS.

“I think that this guy tries to make himself famous in the world of football, but this isn’t the way to do it.

“When you promise something you always need to fulfil it. It was the same with (Dimitar) Berbatov before he signed for Manchester United. He went there on August 31.”

Modric still has four years remaining on his present deal and Spurs are under no financial pressure to sell.

“He (Modric) has already made his decision and he’s very clear about what he’s going to do,” added Stimac.

“It’s the only thing he wants, to go to Madrid.

“Luka is a very sincere person, very sensitive, but very tough as well. He is very keen to play at Real Madrid and, as well as that, he has the promise of Levy. I only hope that this promise ends up being fulfilled.”

Jose – Call me the Unique One

The Portuguese boss labelled himself the ‘Special One’ during his time in charge of Chelsea between 2004-07, when he won back-to-back Premier League titles with the Blues.

But Mourinho feels he deserves a new status after becoming the first manager in history to win the title across Europe’s top three leagues.

“I’m the only one to have won the three biggest championships in the world,” he said in an interview on Portuguese television channel Sic.

“So whether it pleases or not, if one recognises my value or not… people should maybe call me ‘unique’ rather than ‘special’ until someone else wins three championships like me.”

Titles

The Portuguese coach joined Real Madrid in 2010 and won the Primera Liga title in his second season to become one of the few coaches to win titles in four different countries – Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.

He is also the only coach to have won two UEFA Champions League titles with two different clubs, with FC Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010.

The 49-year-old said he felt “an enormous joy at Inter Milan” when they won their titles but says his ambitions are changing with age.

“I’m turning increasingly towards people,” he said. “That’s what motivates me more and more, instead of pursuing individual goals.”

Reds’ waiting game

That’s just one of the transfer stories coming out of Spain right now, as reports persist about the possibility of Nuri Sahin moving to Liverpool and Luka Modric swapping Spurs for Real Madrid.

La Liga expert Guillem Balague is across all of the latest development. Here’s his take on the headline news…

Reds target Tello

“Tello at the moment is an on-going situation. His agent wants to meet Barcelona today or tomorrow and after seeing what Barcelona want to offer – which is basically a ‘B team’ licence but with ‘A team’ wages.

“After that the agent will want to hear if Barcelona are going to play Tello a lot. It looks like he will be in the A Team sometimes, then in the B Team so the agent will talk to Barcelona about the possibility of moving on – either on loan or as a transfer.

“Atletico Madrid want him but the wage paid for him would be through an investment fund; the other team that is close to convincing him to move is Liverpool – not Arsenal, as has been published.

“Liverpool are optimistic that the player can go either on loan or as a transfer but it’s an on-going situation that has to be sorted – that’s what Barcelona want in the next couple of days.”

Sahin swayed by Alonso

“Can you imagine a midfield with Joe Allen, Sahin and Lucas Leiva? It would look really good. But of course they have to convince the player – that’s the situation as it stands now.

“Liverpool will want Sahin to come on loan; Real Madrid are happy to let him go – they tried to move him on loan last January. This summer they wanted him to be part of a transfer for Luka Modric but Sahin said no.

“But an interesting twist has developed in this story because it seems as though Xabi Alonso has convinced Sahin to move to Liverpool and now it will be a matter of negotiating that loan deal

“Again – it’s an on-going situation. Nothing has been sorted yet but Alonso’s work has been very helpful for Liverpool!”

Fernando Llorente’s future

“It’s possible we could see him in the Premier League but the situation is this: the chairman of Athletic Bilbao was talking yesterday in a press conference and saying that basically they don’t want to let him go for less than his buy-out clause, which is £36m Euros. A Spanish club would have to pay VAT on top of that.

“There is only one year left on his contract, which means that if somebody wants to negotiate cleverly they could get him for much less. The fact that Athletic Bilbao doesn’t need to sell immediately means that, as the chairman José Urrutia said yesterday, they won’t reduce that fee.

“We’ll have to see. What’s clear is that there have been clubs in the past who have been interested in him but no club has put in an offer, apart from Juventus – that’s the only one at the moment.”

Modric move meandering

“His position is very, very clear – he wants to go to Real Madrid; he wants to play for Jose Mourinho. Spurs’ position is very clear too – there’s a price for him. When Real Madrid pay it, he can go.

“As we know, Daniel Levy is the most difficult man to negotiate with in football – and it should be that way as he’s defending the interests of Spurs.

“As you can imagine, he has been portrayed in Spain as ‘the dark figure’ of this transfer but he’s doing what he has to do.

“What is very obvious is that Modric will do all he can to move to Real Madrid. He’s convinced that he will go to Real Madrid at some point but there is no date for it yet.

“Real Madrid aren’t expecting anything to happen this week and it could go down to the last few days of the transfer window.”

UEFA release award shortlist

The three nominated players received the most overall points from the first round of voting for the award which will be presented in Monaco on August 30th.

Iniesta and Messi, who both play for Barcelona, will be joined by Real Madrid forward Ronaldo on the short list, with Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo and Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez just missing out.

Bangor City’s Les Davies, who featured on the 32-man long list for the award, was another who did not make it to the final round.

The original list was drawn up by one selected journalist from each UEFA member country voting for five players.

Croatia boss expects Luka move

The unsettled playmaker has been the subject of intense transfer speculation, but as of yet no club have met Spurs’ asking price they are demanding for his signature.

Modric refused to travel to the United States for Spurs’ tour and has not been picked by new boss Andre Villas-Boas for any of the club’s other pre-season games since.

That has not gone down well with national head coach Igor Stimac, who plans to give the 26-year-old his first game of the summer on Wednesday when Croatia face Switzerland in Split.

“I don’t like the situation that he is in at all, he has not played any matches at all this summer,” Stimac was quoted as saying on AS.com.

The former West Ham defender said he is confident the player will leave White Hart before the end of the month, however, adding: “He will end up signing for Madrid before the market shuts.”

Tottenham already appear to be planning for life without Modric.

The Londoners signed Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim earlier this summer, and it is understood they have launched a bid to sign hard-working Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila.

Although the capture of M’Vila would undoubtedly improve the strength of the Spurs squad, Villas-Boas’ main concern is in the striker department.

Offer

Jermain Defoe and rookie Harry Kane are the only strikers on Tottenham’s books as efforts to sign Emmanuel Adebayor and Leandro Damiao have so far failed.

Spurs have also made an offer for Gaston Ramirez, according to the Bologna forward’s agent.

“The only solid offer is the one from Tottenham, who offered €16 million [£12.6m],” Betancourt told Calciomercato.

“But the deal didn’t go through because Spurs offered too low a wage to the player and if the wage difference is minimal he would stay at Bologna.

“Tottenham could raise their offer if they sell Modric and in that case the deal could be done, otherwise Ramirez will stay another year at Bologna. We also talked with Liverpool but nothing more.

“Inter Milan are interested in the player, but cannot afford to offer cash as the teams in the Premier League.”

Dembele on Real radar

The Belgium international has been strongly linked with a move away from Craven Cottage this summer, with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham believed to be monitoring his situation.

Now Real Madrid have made contact with Dembele’s representatives, with a view to making a move for the 25-year-old as they are yet to agree a deal with Tottenham for long-term target Modric.

And Dembele, who is currently on international duty with Belgium, has admitted that he knows Real have made contact.

Interest

“My manager has already talked with Real,” he told Het Nieuwsblad.

“There have been contacts between my agent and Real Madrid. They have wanted information and that was it.

“I cannot say much else about it – everything is calm, but I cannot say where I will be playing.”

Dembele, who arrived in England as a striker, has moved more and more into a midfield role where it is believed Real see him playing.

And he admits that is where he sees himself, adding: “I feel more of a midfielder than striker. It is even my favourite position.”

Sky Sports understands that Dembele could be leaving Craven Cottage this month, and Real’s interest could alert his English suitors.

We also understand that the fact Dembele has a release clause of less than £20million is an appealing factor.

Jose – Call me ‘Only One’

The tactician became the only coach to win the top three leagues in European football when he lifted the Spanish title with Real Madrid last season.

This followed two title wins in Italy with Inter Milan and a brace of titles in England with Chelsea, while he also lifted the title twice with Porto in his native Portugal.

The 49-year-old was nicknamed the ‘Special One’ by the English press after referring to himself as just that, during a news conference following his arrival at Chelsea from Porto in 2004.

But now he believes he deserves a new label.

Only one

“Like me or not, I am the only one who won the world’s three most important leagues. So, maybe instead of the ‘Special One’, people should start calling me the ‘Only One’,” Mourinho said in an interview with Portuguese television channel SIC.

In the interview televised on Monday, he admitted that, as his career has progressed, he has become less focused on his individual goals.

“Things have been going well for me, thank God. I am focused on others much more these days. The pleasure of winning (the UEFA Champions League) with Inter Milan was seeing a club which had not won for 50 years winning again.

“That is what entices me more and more, instead of pursuing individual goals.”

Real Madrid kick off their 2012-13 campaign against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup on August 23.