Will Barcelona topple Real Madrid? What to watch for ahead of new season

Football followers all over the world will tune in as LaLiga returns to motion (stream matches, highlights on season on ESPN+). Spain’s prime flight kicks off Friday with Osasuna internet hosting Sevilla, whereas Barcelona host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday at Camp Nou. On Sunday, Real Madrid start their title defence towards promoted facet Almeria.

Coaches have swapped dugouts, gamers have departed, others have arrived with a lot fanfare (and plenty of controversy), and followers are already debating whether or not Karim Benzema or Robert Lewandowski will rating extra objectives.

Before the motion will get underway, although, let’s look at some of the largest storylines price following because the 2022-23 season begins to unfold. ESPN contributers Alex Kirkland, Sam Marsden and Sid Lowe have a look at gamers to watch for, and Cesar Hernandez rounds up United States and Mexico gamers in LaLiga.

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Who are the faves? | Who will battle, who will thrive | Big questions | Players to word | USMNT, Mexico stars in LaLiga

Title favourites?

The euphoria generated by Real Madrid’s 14th Champions League win in May hasn’t pale but. That victory over Liverpool, shut on the heels of a thirty fifth LaLiga title wrapped up a month earlier, left Madrid feeling confident and assured about this group’s trajectory. Stability and prudence have been the watchwords this summer season, with no panic shopping for, and a willpower to transfer solely for elite gamers who can genuinely add one thing to the facet.

– Stream LIVE: Real Madrid vs. Almeria, Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Antonio Rudiger — a Champions League-winning central defender at Chelsea — matches into that class, and so does prime midfield prospect Aurelien Tchouameni, who joined from AS Monaco. Otherwise, Madrid belief within the gamers who received all of it final yr — and unflappable coach Carlo Ancelotti — to exit and do it once more.

There’s a perception that veterans like Karim Benzema and Luka Modric can ship for yet another yr; that up-and-coming stars corresponding to Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo have much more room for enchancment; and that generational change is already underway with Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde in midfield. — Kirkland

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Julien Laurens and Don Hutchison debate whether or not Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema or Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski may have the higher season this yr.

Barcelona completed second final season and it was reluctantly accepted as successful after Xavi Hernandez took over as supervisor in November with the group languishing ninth in LaLiga. A second-placed end this time spherical is not going to be so extremely regarded after what might maybe be dubbed one of probably the most exceptional switch home windows of all time.

More on Barcelona’s mess:
– Lowe: How is the membership signing, chasing gamers?
– Marsden: Explaining who can, cannot but register and why
– Barcelona, reimagined: What in the event that they made no signings after 2016?

After dropping Lionel Messi a yr in the past as a result of they may not afford to maintain him, Barca have since offered off 25% of their home tv rights and 25% of in-house manufacturing firm Barca Studios for over €600 million.

That Money, in addition to serving to scale back debt, has fuelled the signings of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen. And president Joan Laporta says they don’t seem to be performed but, both — though a bloated payroll additionally wants lowering first. As a end result, Xavi has been handed a stacked, extremely aggressive squad. The group seems particularly thrilling in assault, with Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang complementing Lewandowski and Raphinha. Finishing 13 factors behind Madrid this season is not going to be acceptable. — Marsden

Last yr’s LaLiga season was characterised by the failure of any of Real Madrid’s rivals to ship a correct title race. Nowhere was that extra evident than at Atletico Madrid, whose bid to defend the 2020-21 crown fell aside in an id disaster as coach Diego Simeone struggled to discover a stability between defence and assault.

This season could possibly be totally different, particularly with the departure of Luis Suarez — Joao Felix is more and more influential at one finish of the pitch, whereas Reinildo Mandava has introduced again some of the previous chunk on the different. Summer Business has been restricted to the free switch signing of Axel Witsel and the belated arrival of a specialist right-back in Nahuel Molina.

Elsewhere across the league, there are issues about Sevilla’s readiness for a prime 4 battle, having misplaced each Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, though sporting director Monchi seems to be readying a late sweep of the switch market. Villarreal are sturdy contenders to observe up final yr’s exceptional Champions League semifinals run by pushing for fourth, whereas Real Betis and Real Sociedad will each count on to problem. — Marsden

Teams to battle …

Gennaro Gattuso’s teaching document in Italy (AC Milan and Napoli) was satisfactory, if not distinctive, however Valencia symbolize a distinct problem altogether.

Los Che are one of the largest groups in Spain, nevertheless it appears like till the continued confrontation between supporters and proprietor Peter Lim ends, they may battle to be the place they need to be in LaLiga: at the least competing for the Champions League locations.

For years now Valencia have struggled to fill their potential, partly as a result of of that stress between Lim and the followers. Stability has additionally been an issue as they’ve raced by coaches. Each of the previous 4 campaigns has now begun with a new supervisor. Their summer season has been low-key, with Samu Castillejo and Samuel Lino fascinating signings, however there stays uncertainty round two of their greatest gamers. Both Carlos Soler and Jose Luis Gaya are within the ultimate 12 months of their offers, with no quick decision to their futures in sight. — Marsden

If there is a membership that has made a advantage of departures, at all times ready to assimilate loss and reinvent itself, that membership is Sevilla. And but, this time feels totally different: gross sales are occurring as a result of they’ve to somewhat than as a result of they’re deliberate per se, each central defenders (Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos) have departed, and so they have really not been excellent for fairly some time now — have a look at their outcomes because the flip of the yr and so they do not lose typically in any respect however they do not win a lot both.

The signing of Isco and the mortgage of Alex Telles from Manchester United can Help, however there’s already a slight sense of loss and possibly even a bit distrust that may speed up issues if issues do not begin nicely for supervisor Julen Lopetegui. There are stalwarts corresponding to Ivan Rakitic and Youssef En-Nesyri, however no signal of a new striker but. Conceding six at Arsenal in a preseason pleasant was a warning. — Lowe

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New Sevilla signing Isco explains why he determined to be a part of Julen Lopetegui’s facet and insists he’ll give his all for the membership.

… and groups to shock?

Ernesto Valverde is again at San Mames for a 3rd spell in cost of Athletic Club and refreshed after over two years out of the sport following his departure from Barcelona. During his second spell in Bilbao, which lasted 4 years and led to 2017, he led the Basque facet into the Champions League and by no means failed to end exterior the highest seven, qualifying for Europe in each marketing campaign. In the 5 seasons since he left, Athletic have completed sixteenth, eighth, eleventh, tenth and eighth.

Athletic will at all times have their fingers tied due to the very fact they’re dedicated to signing solely Basque gamers, however Valverde is aware of the membership in and out and the way it operates. There is expertise within the squad within the type of Inigo Martinez, Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams, and the membership’s academy at Lezama continues to produce expertise for the primary group. — Marsden

Getafe’s switch window — led by new director of soccer Ramon Planes — has been quietly glorious. Defender Domingos Duarte, midfielders Jaime Seoane and Luis Milla and forwards Portu and Borja Mayoral are all wise additions who will strengthen a group that misplaced a document seven consecutive video games at first of final season.

Quique Sanchez Flores has additionally steadied the ship after earlier coach Michel’s struggles. Sanchez Flores is a seen-it-all, underrated supervisor who is aware of how to construct a strong, efficient group, and can be hoping for a simple midtable end somewhat than a relegation battle. — Kirkland

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Don Hutchison and Julien Laurens talk about Barcelona’s issues with registering their new signings.

Can busy Barcelona cease Real’s repeat?

First of all, let’s assume all of Barcelona’s signings could be registered and there’s a passable consequence to the Frenkie de Jong state of affairs. If so, there could be no excuses for Xavi and Barcelona this season. While it is true Xavi reworked Barca final season after floundering midtable for an element of it, it is also true he was given way more leeway than his predecessor, Ronald Koeman.

Xavi was backed in January with the signings of Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and has been spectacularly backed this summer season. Robert Lewandowski is the standout arrival at €45 million, however large Money has additionally been invested in thrilling Brazil winger Raphinha and vibrant defender Jules Kounde. It’s going to be fascinating to see how all of the new signings do at Camp Nou, but in addition to see how Ousmane Dembele progresses after signing a new contract and the way children Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati proceed to evolve.

Club president Joan Laporta says success is a requirement at Barca and that’s the reason he has sanctioned this summer season’s spending. Now it is up to Xavi to cease Ancelotti’s Madrid, who’ve additionally strengthened with the signings of Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni, retaining the title. The Clasico battles (Oct. 16 in Madrid, March 23 in Barcelona) for the highest of the desk can be full of promise. — Marsden

Will Madrid be fazed by Mbappe snub?

“Kylian who?” That’s been the message from the Bernabeu ever since Madrid missed out on their long-term prime goal when France star Kylian Mbappe signed a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain. The timing of that abrupt U-turn — every week earlier than the Champions League ultimate — appeared awkward at first however turned out to be a godsend when Madrid’s victory over Liverpool helped reassure followers that not signing Mbappe was, maybe, no large deal. In reality, it has been exceptional how shortly the saga has disappeared within the rearview mirror.

In any case, Mbappe’s arrival would have brought about Ancelotti an pointless headache, doubtless shifting Vinicius Junior from his most well-liked left-wing berth simply as he’d established himself. Nonetheless, Madrid are all-in on Vinicius now. The Brazil winger will do nicely to repeat his 17-goal haul from final season. With no ahead anticipated to arrive, it is going to be down to him and Rodrygo to help Karim Benzema (can Eden Hazard rebound from his accidents?) within the goal-scoring division. — Kirkland

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Eden Hazard speaks about probably becoming a member of MLS and his hopes for this season with Real Madrid.

What concerning the teaching carousel?

Appointing a new coach refreshes expectations, and three LaLiga sides can be hoping a change of face on the touchline will enhance their fortunes this season. It proved true for Cadiz and Mallorca final time period, who dramatically stayed up after appointing Sergio Gonzalez and Javier Aguirre, respectively.

Ambitions can be loftier at Athletic Club, Valencia and Espanyol, although. Ex-Barca boss Ernesto Valverde returns to Athletic with the duty of serving to the Basque facet again into European soccer. That may even be the duty dealing with Gennaro Gattuso at Valencia. The former AC Milan and Napoli coach changed Jose Bordalas this summer season.

Finally, Diego Martinez is an intriguing appointment at Espanyol. He produced miracles to take Granada to the Europa League, and the Barcelona-based facet will need the identical success. Realistically, although, they may battle to break away from the no-man’s land between the relegation battle and the hunt for European locations. — Marsden

Promoted sides provide a problem?

There’s a component of intrigue to the house owners of all three promoted groups. Real Valladolid are owned by Brazil legend Ronaldo, Almeria by Saudi Arabian billionaire Turki Al-Sheikh and Girona’s majority proprietor is the City Football Group. Modern soccer, eh?

Of the three, Real Valladolid have had probably the most low-key summer season, maybe as a result of it has been solely a yr since they had been final within the prime flight. However, Almeria have spent over €15 million, which is a fortune in Spanish soccer for a group exterior the highest 4. Among their key signings is Brazilian defender Kaiky, who is just 18 and was scouted by Barcelona. The actual signal of Almeria’s wealth, although, is that they’ve to date resisted bids for star ahead Umar Sadiq, a Nigeria worldwide with over 40 objectives in his two years on the membership.

Girona, in the meantime, have had a superb summer season on paper. David Lopez provides expertise to a squad that already consists of veteran striker Cristhian Stuani. And the City Football Group has used its community of golf equipment to make some fascinating additions, none extra so than Valentin “Taty” Castellanos, who joins on mortgage after profitable Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot in 2021 and main NYCFC to the MLS Cup title.

Yangel Herrera and Yan Couto have been added from Manchester City and Rodrigo Riquelme from Atletico Madrid. Keep a watch on younger, versatile defender Arnau Martinez, too. — Marsden

So, who wins LaLiga? Who’ll play in Champions League?

“The hunger is the last thing I am worried about,” Carlo Ancelotti mentioned. If Madrid can keep the idea of final yr, and combine Rudiger and Tchouameni, plus final season’s large signing Eduardo Camavinga, it appears like they need to be the strongest facet once more — though the absence of one other striker could be a priority.

Given the best way that they completed final season and the way they’ve signed in the summertime, Barcelona actually ought to compete all the best way to the end this time.

And not being defending champions could be good for Atletico Madrid. Sevilla and Real Betis in all probability will not be nearly as good as they had been. Considering the soundness and assets, fourth place must be there for Villarreal. Look for Real Sociedad to purpose for fifth place and the Europa League berth.

Looking for a revelation: how good would possibly Athletic Club be with the return of Ernesto Valverde as coach? Or what about Getafe, who impressed as soon as Quique Sanchez Flores took over and appear to have signed nicely too. — Lowe

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New Barcelona signing Robert Lewandowski praises Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema however says he is not eager on being in direct competitors with him.

Benzema, Lewandowski. Anyone else in Golden Boot combine?

There’s nothing like a head-to-head Golden Boot race between two of the largest names in world soccer to get individuals’s consideration. That’s been absent since Cristiano Ronaldo after which Lionel Messi left LaLiga, however the arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Bayern means it is again with a vengeance.

Last season, Karim Benzema walked it — his 27 objectives had been 9 greater than second-placed Iago Aspas’ 18, with Vinicius Junior and Raul de Tomas every having 17 — however this yr can be a distinct story altogether. Lewandowski received the European Golden Shoe in each 2021 and 2022, and if anybody can outgun Ballon d’Or favorite Benzema, it is he.

Otherwise, count on Celta Vigo icon Aspas to retain his crown because the top-scoring Spaniard. De Tomas’ prospects rely upon whether or not he is nonetheless at Espanyol come the top of the switch window, and three gamers who disillusioned in phrases of numbers final season — Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno (9), Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak (6) and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann (3) — ought to all enhance their tallies considerably. — Kirkland

‘Taty’ to maintain Girona up?

Girona’s signing of Valentin “Taty” Castellanos from Major League Soccer champions New York City FC would have been extra out of left discipline if each golf equipment weren’t owned by the City Football Group. However, regardless of that reality, the Argentine ahead’s mortgage transfer to Catalonia nonetheless has the potential to be one of probably the most thrilling offers in Spain this summer season.

Castellanos, 23, who received the MLS Golden Boot final yr and was main this season’s race earlier than leaving, already has Girona followers excited after preseason objectives towards Andorra and Napoli. If you’ve got objectives in your facet, you’ve got a superb likelihood of staying in LaLiga, and with Castellanos and veteran Cristhian Stuani, Girona ought to have them in abundance. — Marsden

Morales key to Villarreal’s prime 4 hopes?

The participant referred to as “El Comandante” constructed a status as one of LaLiga’s most fun-to-watch gamers at Levante. Jose Luis Morales’ greatest efforts — and 13 objectives — could not maintain them up final season, and his tears of frustration on the pitch when relegation was finally confirmed had been arduous to watch.

The 35-year-old’s preliminary insistence on staying at Levante in Segunda was admirable, however he should not be judged too harshly for the change of coronary heart that noticed him be a part of Villarreal. Morales deserves a late-career crack at European soccer, taking part in alongside footballers of the same calibre. His high quality would possibly Help Villarreal break into the highest 4. — Kirkland

U.S., Mexico gamers in Spain

The two conventional powerhouses from the CONCACAF area will every have a handful of representatives in LaLiga for the 2022-23 season.

Starting with the United States, 24-year-old midfielder Luca de la Torre is the most recent USMNT participant in LaLiga, making the transfer over to Celta Vigo this summer season. Fullback Sergino Dest can be coming into his third season with Barcelona, and midfielder Yunus Musah ought to function extra for Valencia. All three seem to be USMNT roster locks for the upcoming World Cup.

Another title to regulate is Espanyol’s 17-year-old midfielder Luca Koleosho. Last season, Koleosho grew to become the youngest American-born participant to debut in Spain’s prime flight. Also eligible for Canada, Koleosho hasn’t decided simply but relating to his nationwide group future.

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The Futbol Americas group talk about the USMNT’s Luca de la Torre transferring to Celta Vigo with the World Cup on the horizon.

As for Mexico, Sevilla’s Jesus “Tecatito” Corona is probably the most noteworthy title from the El Tri contingent. The 29-year-old winger has appeared promising within the preseason with a pair of objectives throughout July friendlies. Mexico captain and veteran Andres Guardado can be coming into his sixth yr with Real Betis, serving to the group win the Copa del Rey final season.

Over at Real Sociedad, fullback Jonathan Gomez will purpose to break into the primary group after incomes constant minutes for Real Sociedad B final season. Gomez has represented each the United States and Mexico on the youth and senior degree, however final featured for El Tri throughout a pleasant in April. He has but to commit to both facet.

Both Corona and Guardado are shoo-ins for Mexico’s World Cup roster. Gomez is unlikely to be included due to his nationwide group standing being up within the air, however loads might change if he establishes himself with Real Sociedad’s first group.

Also of word for Mexico are three newcomers in Spain’s second division. Real Oviedo have introduced in Daniel Aceves and Arsenal academy product Marcelo Flores, whereas Gijon have added Liga MX Rookie of the Year Jordan Carrillo from Santo Laguna.

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