LALIGA PREVIEW – Big-spending Barcelona and Real Madrid ought to tear up the division

LaLiga kicks off this weekend with Real Madrid the undisputed kings of Europe and Barcelona kings of the transfer market.

The two juggernauts of Spanish football used to roll over the rest of their rivals and dominate the domestic competition.

Is Spain’s Old Firm back? Or can Diego Simeone, going into his eleventh year as Atletico Madrid coach, rival the big two? Unai Emery has worked miracles at Villarreal in the last two season’s delivering a Champions League semi-final and a Europa League, now can his team be a title candidate?

Real Madrid head into the upcoming 2022-23 LaLiga season as the defending champions

And is Isco past his use-by date, or the best signing Sevilla have made since they recruited sporting director Monchi?

Sportsmail answers some of the questions being posed by a new season in Spain.

Barcelona to win the league then?

What, because they bought a lot of players? It’s true that Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde are big catches, players that other major clubs wanted. And Franck Kessie hasn’t created too much excitement but Milan fans will tell you Barca have signed well. They also retained Ousmane Dembele and have Ansu Fati fit again. What’s not to like? They are joint favorites but there are some doubts too.

And the doubts are?

Well for starters can they register everyone? It’s hard to believe Joan Laporta would leave himself open to such a humiliation. He’s a gambler but an intelligent one.

Barca have splashed out in the summer transfer window – but are unable to register their new signings

Franck Kessie has also arrived at the Nou Camp in a busy window for the Catalan giants

Franck Kessie has also arrived at the Nou Camp in a busy window for the Catalan giants

When the window closes everyone should have been registered with LaLiga. But there are still holes in the squad. The failure to sign Cesar Azpilicueta leaves them without a first-class right back for yet another season, and there is still no real replacement for Sergio Busquets.

And even with all the forward additions don’t forget Real Madrid signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Kaka and Xabi Alonso in the same summer in 2008 and won nothing.

Yes, Barca have had an incredible summer but everyone involved in making it happen knows it has to work or the club will be in even more dire straits than it was before all those mortgages were taken out.

Are Real still the favorites then?

There was a certain swagger about them when they beat Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup final in Finland on Tuesday. Playing the same team that won the Champions League final and then bringing on Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo before later adding new signings Aurelien Tchouameni and Antonio Rudiger exuded confidence. The squad depth in all areas bar one is impressive. The only doubt is what happens if Karim Benzema gets injured.

Karim Benema and Co were impressive in a 2-0 win over Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup

Karim Benema and Co were impressive in a 2-0 win over Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup

‘If he catches a cold, we’ll adapt,’ said Carlo Ancelotti. If they fail to do that in the first half of the season they could always buy the star of the World Cup in January – providing the star of the World Cup isn’t Kylian Mbappe of course.

Which player is more likely to resurrect his career this season: Isco or Eden Hazard?

The last coach to get a good tune out of Isco was Julen Lopetegui, but it was over four years ago. He looked brave in his presentation and was moved by the way the 10,000 inside the stadium serenaded him. Sevilla, without Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, might be harder to score against this season but with Isco they should be better to watch and more full of goals.

Hazard has also impressed physically, training well with Madrid on the US tour. He has a problem that Isco does not have however: getting in the team will be tough.

Spanish playmaker Isco will be hoping to revive his career at Sevilla in the new season

Spanish playmaker Isco will be hoping to revive his career at Sevilla in the new season

It is also set to be a big campaign for Eden Hazard, who faces a battle to get in the Real side

It is also set to be a big campaign for Eden Hazard, who faces a battle to get in the Real side

Could Unai deliver a league title at Villarreal?

All those laughing at that question should remember how incredulous it would have seemed at the start of last season to suggest they could come within 90 minutes of the Champions League final. They have so far kept their best players although the window is still very much open on talents like Pau Torres and Yeremy Pino. If everyone stays and Emery prioritizes the league over the Europa Conference League then who knows. If they asset strip before September 1 then clearly there’s no chance.

Simeone didn’t get Ronaldo. Is he over it yet?

It’s true that he was open to the idea. But Atletico Madrid fans were not, and the club didn’t have the money anyway without selling big names first. That means he is stuck with Alvaro Morata, Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Matheus Cunha. It could be worse.

Simeone has also added the defensive quality and positional flexibility of Axel Witsel and Nahuel Molina. It might not be very exciting but they will feel like Simeone players. Expect a team made very much in the image of its coach. If Morata stays and scores then maybe a title challenge is within their grasp.

Unai Emery’s Villarreal could be an outside bet to challenge the big two of Barca and Real

Are there any other candidates?

Real Sociedad have signed the excellent Brais Mendes from Celta Vigo and the exciting Mohamed-Ali Cho. They have also taken Kubo from Madrid. If the hugely talented but last season goal-shy Alexander Isak can link with the new signings then a good season looms.

Betis have brought in defender Luiz Felipe and forward Luiz Henrique but have struggled to register either. Manuel Pellegrini worked miracles last season as they won the Spanish Cup. He will do well to match those feats without the investment to push on.

And the stragglers: who is going down?

Last season’s LaLiga 2 champions Almeria, Ronaldo Nazario’s Valladolid and Girona, part-owned by Manchester City, came up last season. It’s Girona who have been most impressive in the transfer market so far borrowing attacking right back Yan Couto and midfielder Yangel Herrera from City, and midfielder Rodrigo Riquelme from Atletico Madrid. They have also signed 21-year-old left-back Miguel Gutierrez from Real Madrid.

Atlético will be aiming to challenge the dominance of Barca and Real in the new campaign

Don’t rule out Valencia being dragged into the scrap at the bottom. How many summers can you sell your best players and not start to slide? Gennaro Gattuso has not picked an easy first coaching job in Spain.

The verdict

The Spanish old firm are back: Barça and Madrid ought to tear up the division with Simeone’s Atletico and Emery’s Villarreal doing the best job of holding onto their coattails.

It will be the league of the big two, but also the league of some of the biggest personalities in football: Hazard, Isco, Gattuso, Emery, Lewandowski, Vinicius and maybe even Bernardo Silva. The window hasn’t closed yet and for all that Barça are still trying to register players they have not given up hope on selling Frenkie de Jong and bringing in the Manchester City midfielder. From this Saturday, the challenge for them is to make the football as successful as the signings.

Gennaro Gattuso's Valencia could be dragged into a relegation dogfight this season

Gennaro Gattuso’s Valencia could be dragged into a relegation dogfight this season

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