The 2023/24 La Liga season gets underway on Friday to kick off what will likely turn into yet another two-way fight for the league title.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have dominated Spanish football in recent years and look set to continue in the same vein this time around.
Atletico Madrid and Valencia are the only clubs to have spoiled the party since the turn of the century, with each claiming top spot on two occasions.
Read on as we preview the upcoming La Liga campaign, starting with a look at which one of the big two will finish on top of the pile.
Barcelona & Real Madrid set to dominate again
Barcelona were relatively untroubled on their way to winning the title last term, ending the campaign a whopping ten points ahead of Madrid.
This season may be a little trickier, with the Catalan giants set to play away from Camp Nou while their iconic stadium is rebuilt.
Veteran duo Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba have exited the club, marking the end of their glittering careers with Barcelona.
Ilkay Gundogan is their standout summer signing, with the midfielder arriving at the club following a trophy-laden spell with Manchester City.
The German international is a different type of player than Busquets and it will be intriguing to see how he is utilised by Barca manager Xavi.
Ousmane Dembele’s impending departure to Paris Saint-Germain leaves Xavi with a hole to fill up front, which may be difficult given the club’s well-documented financial issues.
Regardless of whether Barca sign any more players during the summer transfer window, they should mount a strong defence of the title this term.
However, Madrid are strongly fancied to knock them off their perch having made some useful acquisitions to their talented squad.
Jude Bellingham’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund is the headline move, further strengthening Madrid’s array of options in the middle of the park.
Fran Garcia looks to be a useful acquisition at left-back, and his addition to the ranks will allow Eduardo Camavinga to revert to his favoured midfield role.
An injury to promising playmaker Arda Guler is a setback, but he should prove to be an excellent signing for Los Blancos this season.
The biggest issue for Madrid is replacing striker Karim Benzema, who has exited the club to join the Saudi Pro League gravy train.
The veteran French international was still capable of performing in La Liga, and his decision to leave has left manager Carlo Ancelotti needing to tweak his formation.
Given the plethora of central midfield options at his disposal, he may opt to implement a diamond formation with Bellingham at the attacking tip.
Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo will be Madrid’s front pairing, although an August move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe would change the landscape.
Regardless of whether Madrid secure Mbappe’s services, they are a good bet to topple Barcelona to claim their 36th La Liga title.
Atletico will be the best of the rest again
Atletico were poor during the early part of last season but sprung into life after the 2022 World Cup to finish just one point behind their city rivals in the final standings.
Antoine Griezmann will once again be Atletico’s talisman, and there will be more pressure on his shoulders following the exits of several key players.
Manager Diego Simeone has been shopping in the bargain basement this summer but appears to have secured the services of some shrewd signings.
Defenders Javi Galan, Santiago Mourino, Caglar Soyuncu and Cesar Azpilicueta have arrived at the club and should be useful additions to Simeone’s squad.
If Atletico can get Joao Felix’s salary off their books before the transfer window closes, they may have some room to make more signings.
While they are unlikely to break the big two’s stranglehold on La Liga this season, it would be a major surprise if they do not finish as best of the rest.
Real Sociedad may have something to say about that as they strive to build on last season’s impressive fourth-place finish.
It has been a relatively quiet summer for the club in the transfer market, with right-back Hamari Traore and forward Andre Silva their only noteworthy additions to date.
Midfielder David Silva’s retirement is a blow, leaving La Real needing to find someone who can pull the strings in the attacking areas.
However, the rest of their squad is reasonably strong, and they are fancied to be in contention for a top-four spot this term.
Real Betis finished sixth last season but could climb above Villarreal this time around if everything falls into place.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini is a shrewd operator and has added some genuine quality to his squad without breaking the bank this summer.
Sergio Canales is their most high-profile sale during the transfer window, but his exit should not prevent Betis from challenging for European qualification.
Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla are other teams who will expect to have strong seasons, but none of them appeal as potential top-four contenders.
At the other end of the table, Almeria narrowly avoided relegation last season and will likely be battling against the drop this time around.
Cadiz could also struggle after losing some key players, while all three newly promoted clubs face difficult campaigns.
Granada and Alaves appeal as likely relegation candidates, with the latter more likely to end the season in the bottom three.
Las Palmas will also be battling to keep their heads above water, but playing in front of a partisan home crowd in Gran Canaria could work in their favour.
Star winger Jonathan Viera will be eager to impress on his return to the top flight, and his efforts could help Las Palmas avoid an immediate return to the second tier.
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