Of all the things to look forward to as we near the beginning of the European football season, none may be as exciting as the battle we anticipate in La Liga between rival giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Spain plays host to some quite attractive football, and I despise the fact that much is lost on 18 of La Liga’s 20 teams, but this year more than ever, the title chase will be a two-horse race. Unlike past years, however, the battle for the Spanish crown looks to be more competitive than ever.
Reigning champions Barcelona will not be defending just their domestic title, but a League Cup title and the Champions League crown as well. The winners of the Spanish treble last season look stronger than ever heading into the 2009-10 campaign.
Ironically, though, while the Catalonian club seem at the height of their power, it is their domestic rivals who have dominated the attention of the media this summer. Florentino Perez has resumed his role as chairman of Real Madrid, and with a number of eye-opening signings, has prepared his club to dominate European football with a side themed by his 400 million euro spending-spree.
On August 29, the madness is set to begin. Who has the edge? We break it down for you in the following…
Squad: Real Madrid
On paper, it is no doubt that Real are the stronger squad. Do I need remind you who they’ve signed this summer? An attacking trio of Christiano Ronaldo, Kaka, and Karim Benzema is enough to make opposing defenses shit their pants, and a defense of Pepe, Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos, and Alvaro Arbeloa is not too shabby either.
The big question, though, is if these big names will gel on the field. In this respect, Barcelona are not too far behind Real. A well-coached squad that features the likes of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front may actually be enough to rival that of their title-challengers.
Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola defied all expectations last year winning the Spanish treble in his first A-team managerial stint ever. His side plays a quite attractive style of football, if I must say, too. He undoubtedly has the edge over Real coach Manuel Pelegrini, who, win or lose, will most likely be fired.
Trophies: Real Madrid
As the most successful club in Spanish history, Real Madrid have the edge here. Their trophy case features 31 domestic titles, 17 Spanish cups, nine European championships, and two UEFA Cup titles. In lieu of this, FIFA named them the most successful club of the 20th century.
History… is on Barca’s side, though. In this respect, the only statistic you need to know is this: Last time Real attempted Los Galacticos, beginning in 2000, they won two major trophies in seven years.
So who’s better? Take your pick, really.
I still baffle at the Real roster, but I honestly expect their season to be a bit more modest than what the names on their shirts suggest. Ultimately, I question Perez’s recipe for success. His big signings undoubtedly are a great bit of business (Ronaldo’s jersey sales eclipsed his 80 million euro transfer fee in a few days upon his signing) and the football will be a joy to watch, but I reiterate my fourth point in the above comparison. Perez’s last attempt at Los Galacticos did not consistently bring home big trophies. And to reference a more current example, look at Chelsea, who boast England’s biggest names on paper, only to go trophy-less the past three seasons.
In conclusion, I’ll make a couple predictions. But let me first say, in the world of football, the unexpected is more likely to happen (stay tuned for one of my coming articles, which will feature my analysis for the 2009-10 season). Here goes: Barca and Real will split decisions head-to-head, and in the end, Barcelona will win the league by a small margin. In Europe, however, I expect a Madrid side hungry for victory in a final that will take place at the Bernabeu to win the Champions League. Honestly, though, your guess is as good as mine. But most importantly, enjoy the football. It will be a thrilling year in La Liga.