Morbo Minute–Obligatory Preview

Since I’m  susceptible to peer pressure, I figure I would do a season preview, just like everyone else.

The Spanish Super Cup kicked things off for the 2011/12 season and set the stage for a monumental collision between the Big Two, only for the players strike to suck the air out of the room (for round one at least). Clearly the rest of the league is not going to be able to keep up with FCB and Real. However, each of these teams has their own issues, and there are several interesting things going on in the rest of the pack.

FCB

Have to start with the Champions. The possibilities of this season are truly overwhelming. Spanish Super Cup (checked off), the European Super Cup this week, the World Club Cup in December, La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. In the league, they will try to match Cruyff’s Dream Team success of four titles in a row of the early 90’s. Whereas that team benefitted from some luck (and a series of choke jobs), this team has been dominant, clinching the title with matches remaining and in dominant fashion. Last year they played extremely well (going unbeaten for 31 games, with only 4 draws after a round 2 loss to Hercules) but surely they can’t be expected to do that again. As for Europe, can they retain the Champions League? Some would argue that they were a volcanic eruption away from three in a row, but if they meet Real or an inspired United, this title could be in jeopardy.

Their signings, limited as they may be, will be key to their fight on all fronts. Fabregas and Sanchez will bring depth and complexity to the attack. Cesc is supposed to be the natural heir to Barcelona midfield, with Xavi passing the torch to Iniesta, who will in turn pass it to Cesc, with Thiago, the presumed string puller of the future. Sanchez provides some additional flair in the attack, which should allow Afellay to move back to midfield, where he is expected to be more comfortable. The Blaugrana did not strengthen at the back. and I fear that may be an issue come the New Year.

Real Madrid

After watching the Super Cup, the Special One is not far way. The progress they have made, both physically, mentally and tactically, since the 5-0 thrashing last November is remarkable. Real Madrid Football Blog explores the evolution of the team and the squad are now at a point where they can attack FCB and not get shredded, which sets up some mouth-watering fixtures this winter and next spring.

Real Madrid Football Blog also wrote an interesting article on the role that Coentrao will play in this year’s campaign.

Last year’s campaign swung on dropping vital points, with the draw becoming the new loss. Based on their signings and tactical progress, I can those draws becoming wins and the pressure mounting on Barcelona. Plus Jose’s second year is usually the most productive and I see the tide finally swinging back toward the capital.

Valencia

Since the financial meltdown of the club a couple of years ago, every season begins with—Can they hold on? So far they have, finishing 3rd the last two seasons. However this season, Joaquin has exited, with Los Che losing another talented piece. Yet they have brought in Parejo, Canales, Rami (in January) and Piatti. If they can somehow hold on to Juan Mata, who is now supposedly going to Chelsea instead of Arsenal, this team may be able to hold on to place as champions of the rest of the league. La Liga Loca reviews the wheelings and dealings of Valencia to put everything in context.

Villarreal

The Yellow Submarine could be going down. Rossi and Nilmar will have to fire in the goals, and the defense, strengthened by Zapata, will have to be watertight at the back. Heard a stat that Cazorla provided half of Rossi’s goals, so Borja (and Cani) will need to step up to keep things running.  This team will be competitive but the multiple fronts have to be a concern.

Note: they lost 1-0 away in Denmark in their Champions League qualifier.  The Europa League will tax their squad again and could cause them to get knocked out of the top four.

Athletic Bilbao

Los Leones held on to Llorente and added Ander to a young and hungry squad. After the club elections, Bielsea is now in charge, typically producing high energy, quick attacking teams. If he can transmit some of the magic from the Chile World Cup 2010 squad, this could be a dark horse for the top four.  A Different League examines a possible line-up for Bilbao this season.

Atletico Madrid

An offseason of transition is almost over. Up top, Forlan had one foot out the door going into the summer break, yet now he may be the focus of the attack again. Aguero went to Manchester City and Diego Costa is out for six to eight months. In midfield, they have added Arda Turn, who had a fantastic European Championships in 2008. Between the sticks, De Gea is gone, with Sergio Asenjo returning to the squad after a knee injury providing competition to Joel and Courtois.

Malaga

Let’s see what money can buy.

Fixture List

Looking ahead to fixture list, Barcelona and Villarreal have potentially tricky starts, with FCB facing Villarreal and Valencia in two of the first four rounds, and Villarreal playing FCB and Sevilla back to back.

Round 1 (Postponed)
Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao
Malaga v FCB

Round 2
FCB v Villarreal

Round 3
Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao
Valencia v Atlético Madrid
Villarreal v Sevilla FC

Round 5
Valencia v FCB

Farther down the line, Real Madrid is scheduled to host FCB on 12/11, which is in conflict with the World Club Cup. The resolution of this fixture could be key in the race for the title.

Map

Continuing to familiarize myself with the Spanish game, here is a map showing where the 2011/12 Primera Division teams are located.

That’s all I’ve got. I really don’t have the time or energy to research the rest of the league. As I come across stuff (ie Espanyol’s great start to last season, Getafe’s surge up the table at the end of the last campaign, Sevilla’s constant ups and downs), I will make comments and post links.

La Liga Resources

If you have not heard Sid Lowe’s appearance on the Beyond the Pitch podcast, download it now. It’s a great primer for the season.

Also, there are tons of previews out there, with Spanishfootball.info being especially good. Here are some other sites worth checking out:

La Liga Loca : Spanish writer for 442 magazine

Sid Lowe : appears on the Football Weekly podcasts and writes a column on the Guardian website every Monday

Phil Ball : writes a column every Monday at soccernet.com

El Centrocampista : articles on issues driving La Liga

Barcelona Football Blog : name says it all

Real Madrid Football Blog : name says it all

Forza Futbol : articles and podcasts on La Liga

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