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 UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE  

Barcelona draw Milan, Ronaldo to face United

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 EUROPA LEAGUE  

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UEFA Champions League draw

Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb

Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier

Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga

Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund

Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland

Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov

Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic

Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj

Primera division preview

Spain primera suspensions
Dani Alves, Barcelona 19/8
Javi Lopez Rodriguez, Espanyol 18/8
Miku Fedor Flores, Getafe 18/8
Medhi Lacen, Getafe 18/8
Sarabia Garcia, Getafe 18/8
Miguel Torres Gomez, Getafe 18/8
David Cortes Caballero, Granada 20/8
Dani Gonzalez Benitez, Granada 3
Moises Hurtado Perez, Granada 20/8
Guilherme Siqueira, Granada 20/8
Francisco Alarcon Suarez, Malaga 18/8
Javier Paredes Arango, Zaragoza 20/8

La Liga season preview

Athletic BilbaoIn:
Aritz Aduriz (sp)(att) – Valencia; Ismael Lopez (sp)(att) – Lugo;Out:
Aitor Ocio (sp)(def) – retired; Igor Gabilondo (sp)(mid) – AEK Larnaca; Koikili (sp)(def) – Mirandes; Inigo Diaz de Cerio (sp)(att) – Mirandes; Ivan Zubiaurre (sp)(def) – Salamanca;

It has been an eventful summer in Lezama which has threatened to be a disastrous one but so far all the speculation about departing managers/players has not come to fruition and Athletic Bilbao, in their current state look well prepared for the season ahead. The first potential disaster was averted when sassy coach Marcelo Bielsa, who stormed off at the start of pre-season because he was unhappy with the training facilities and had a big argument with club president Josu Urrutia, was persuaded back to the team and renounced his decision to quit the Basque giants at one of the most exciting points in their history of the last few decades. The team ‘El Loco’ Bielsa has at his disposal at present is one of frightening potential. The quality and experience in the likes of Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente, Markel Susaeta, Fernando Amorebieta, Andoni Iraola and Gorka Iraizoz, despite their relatively young age, combined with the exciting technical brilliance of the next generation of stars like Ander Herrera, Iker Muniain and Jon Aurtenetxe gives the Leones a wicked blend of qualities which should see them competing for a place in the Champions League. This team gets better every year and it is about time they started fulfilling their potential, with most speculators convinced that Bielsa is the right man for them to realise the sort of success that beckons. At the moment, however, there is quite a significant caveat to that optimism and it depends on Urrutia’s stubbornness and will to reject dizzying sums of money for his biggest stars. This summer, all the focus is on contract rebel Fernando Llorente and coveted midfielder (who has also proved his adroitness at centre back) Javi Martinez. Lots of Europe’s big clubs are sniffing around these two and it could be a case that if one leaves the other will follow. Llorente’s case is particularly tricky because his contract is up for renewal and he is not happy with the new terms the Basque club is offering; rather than lose him for nothing, it would be Urrutia’s responsibility to get the best deal for the club, which could mean selling to the highest bidder. Until those key players’ futures are tied up, the team is in limbo. If Llorente does leave, Athletic have signed a great replacement in Aritz Aduriz, who was going stale at Valencia but has a proven pedigree in La Liga. Along with Isma Lopez, who comes in from Lugo and has dazzled in pre-season, the forward threat could live on and we could still see improvement from this team. 

Target:
A Champions League top four finish is the main goal but, as ever, this historic club will look to make a big impact in the Copa del Rey and the Europa League as well after the double disappointment of last season’s cup finals.

Atletico MadridIn:
Cebolla Rodriguez (r)(mid) – Porto; Daniel Cata Diaz (r)(def) – Getafe; Emre (sp)(mid) – Fenerbahce; Joel (sp)(gk) – Rayo Vallecano; Diego Costa (sp)(att) – Rayo Vallecano; Raul Garcia (sp)(mid) – Osasuna;Out:
Antonio Lopez (sp)(def) – Real Mallorca; Diego (k)(mid) – Wolfsburg; Pizzi (sp)(att) – Deportivo la Coruna; Luis Perea (sp)(def) – Cruz Azul; Alvaro Dominguez (sp)(def) – Borussia Monchengladbach; Paulo Assuncao (sp)(mid) – Sao Paolo; Fran Merida (sp)(mid) – Hercules; Eduardo Salvio (sp)(att) – Benfica;

If the league had started when Diego Simeone took charge at the beginning of 2012, Atletico Madrid would have finished in a Champions League qualifying position in addition to winning the Europa League under the former Argentina international midfielder. All the signs are that Atletico will grow under El Cholo’s guidance and these are exciting times for the Madrilenos ahead of the 2012-13 campaign. Breaking the Real Madrid/Barcelona duopoly in the Primera Division is not realistic but Atletico should be aiming to usurp Valencia as the third best club in Spain and it appears they have the resources to do so. Enrique Cerezo has strengthened the squad during the summer, releasing some bit part players to sign for other clubs and bringing in a new bunch who could make a big impact. Apart from the very able loan returnees such as Joel, Diego Costa, Jorge Pulido and Raul Garcia, new blood in the form of Emre, Christian Rodriguez and Daniel Cata Diaz should give the Colchoneros a lift. The one big loss so far this summer was the loan return of magical Brazilian playmaker Diego to Wolfsburg. Atletico have been unable to reach a fresh agreement with the German club so the Brazilian international will not be returning to the Manzanares Riviera but all is not lost. During the pre-season two fantastic young players from the academy have been making waves in the first team and it looks as though the most impressive of the two, Oliver Torres, will have a regular place in Simeone’s plans during the coming campaign even if his colleague in the ‘cantera’, Saul, is introduced more cautiously. The teenage sensation has shown great technical ability and maturity in the build up to the 2012-13 season and he could well replace Diego in the squad as the ideas man. Emre’s grit and Cebolla Rodriguez’s skill mean the midfield should be in good hands and as long as they can provide the service to scoring sensation Radomel Falcao, then the goals will come. Adrian Lopez will chip in as well but he is likely to be played wide right again as Simeone sticks with the lone striker system which Falcao prefers.

Target:
Atletico Madrid hope to finish third and they would love to match Sevilla’s feat of winning back to back Europa League titles.

Celta VigoIn:
Javi Varas (r)(gk) – Sevilla; Samuel Llorca (r)(def) – Hercules; Gustavo Cabral (r)(def) – Levante;Out:
Fabian Orellana (k)(att) – Granada; Oier (r)(def) – Osasuna; Yoel (r)(gk) – Lugo;

Celta Vigo’s club captain and midfield commander Borja Oubina will lead his team out against Malaga at Balaidos for the 2012-13 La Liga curtain raiser with an extra sense of pride as he is the only member of Paco Herrera’s squad who was playing on the occasion Celta were last relegated from the Primera Division back in May 2007 despite a last day win over Getafe under Hristo Stoichkov. Five seasons in the doldrums of La Segunda followed that disappointment but the Celestes are finally back in the big time after finishing second to their Galician rivals Deportivo la Coruna last term to gain automatic promotion from La Liga Adelante. Paco Herrera is renowned for his meticulous preparations, which made him a key part of Rafa Benitez’s backroom staff at Liverpool, but leading Celta Vigo in the top flight of Spanish football will be by far the biggest challenge of his managerial career so far. Naturally, as one of the promoted clubs, Celta will be among the favourites for relegation at the end of term but they will look to defy that expectation just as relative minnows such as Granada and Levante have done in the past few years. However, pre-season preparations have been subdued as the optimistically anticipated summer signings have not been forthcoming. The foundation of Celta’s success in La Segunda last season was their formidable defence, which was the meanest in the division, but that is the area which has been disrupted most over the summer, with goalkeeper Yoel and centre back Oier leaving Balaidos. Accomplished stopper Javi Varas has been brought in from Sevilla to take the number one jersey and centre backs Gustavo Cabral and Samuel Llorca have been recruited but they will surely need a period of adaptation to become accustomed to playing together. More worryingly perhaps is the loan return of Chilean winger Fabian Orellana, their most technically gifted player, and that anxiety is exacerbated by the fact that he could be playing for one of Celta’s relegation rivals Granada next season. As yet he has not been replaced, but at least the Celestes’ proven forward partnership of young Iago Aspas (who was the second highest scorer in La Segunda last term) and veteran marksman Mario Bermejo has not been dismantled. 

Target:
Celta Vigo will look to strengthen before the transfer window closes but, even so, staying up this year would be a great achievement.

Deportivo La CorunaIn:
Abel Aguilar (sp)(mid) – Hercules; Evaldo (r)(def) – Sporting Lisbon; Salomao (sp)(mid) – Sporting Lisbon; Andres Santos (r)(mid) – Sporting Lisbon; Pizzi (sp)(att) – Atletico; Nelson Oliveira (r)(att) – Benfica; Carlos Marchena (r)(def) – Villarreal; Roderick (sp)(def) – Benfica;Out:
Andres Guardado (k)(mid) – Valencia; Diego Colotto (r)(def) – Espanyol; David Rochela (sp)(def) – Racing Santander; Claudio Morel (sp)(def) – Independiente; Borja Fernandez (sp)(mid) – Getafe;

Deportivo La Coruna recorded a massive tally of 91 points in La Segunda last season to top the second tier of Spanish football and ensure an immediate return to La Liga following their relegation from the Primera Division in 2010-11. The Galician giants were relegated under Miguel Angel Lotina just over a year ago and Depor’s former coach suffered back to back La Liga embarrassments as he also oversaw Villarreal’s descent into the Liga Adelante this season just passed. Deportivo, however, enjoyed much better fortunes under Jose Luis Oltra and, after a sticky start, they stormed to the top of the Second Division at Christmas and led for the remainder of the campaign. The Blanquiazules are one of the giants of Spanish football and they will be welcomed back to La Liga alongside other Galician representatives Celta Vigo and Castile and Leon side Real Valladolid. There was a gaping geographical hole in the top flight when Deportivo went down and the return of the western clubs certainly reestablishes some Iberian balance. Given their fan base and history – it was only 12 years ago that Depor were crowned Spanish league champions under Javier Irureta – the Galicians will expect to consolidate their position in the top tier again and avoid another relegation struggle. In principle they are the best placed of the promoted clubs to succeed coming up as they do as La Segunda champions. Their loveable president Augusto Lendoiro has attempted to balance the books this summer as promotion does not presuppose a cash windfall in Spain. The loss of Mexican international Andres Guardado, who has been sold to Valencia, is a big blow to Los Turkos; indeed, it was his and Riki’s constant struggle with injury in 2010-11 which played a big part in Deportivo’s relegation. How they cope without the skillful winger will be a point of interest but there have been a couple of exciting signings to offset that loss, including the recruitment of young Portuguese international Nelson Oliveira, who joins from Benfica. Nelson came off the bench in every game for Portugal at EURO 2012 and has been used mainly as an impact player as his goal return for Benfica was very poor. However, he will be a big name at the Riazor and will provide Riki with the assistance that Lassad Nouioui, who has been released, offered last term. Also joining Jose Luis Oltra’s squad are Evaldo, Abel Aguilar, Pizzi, Andres Santos and seasoned veteran Carlos Marchena, who all offer valuable experience. Otherwise, the team hasn’t changed that drastically in the last couple of years. The defence will be the main area of adjustment, with Diego Colotto and Claudio Morel both leaving.

Target:
As always with the promoted clubs, Deportivo’s main priority is to stay up but they will expect to avoid a season-long relegation struggle.

EspanyolIn:
Diego Colotto (r)(def) – Deportivo la Coruna; Sergio Tejera (sp)(mid) – Real Mallorca; Mubarak Wakaso (sp)(mid) – Villarreal; Joan Capdevila (r)(def) – Benfica;Out:
Kala Uche (r)(att) – Kasimpasa; Jordi Amat (r)(def) – Rayo Vallecano; Javi Marquez (k)(mid) – Real Mallorca; Vladimir Weiss (r)(mid) – Manchester City; Romaric (sp)(mid) – Real Zaragoza; Philippe Coutinho (sp)(mid) – Inter Milan; Walter Pandiani (sp)(att) – released; Didac Vila (r)(def) – Milan;

Espanyol have so far kept the core of their 2011-12 team together but Mauricio Pochettino has made no secret of the fact that he wants a top class striker to compliment his current group and provide the Pericos with the sort of singular goal-scoring contribution that Jose Callejon, Pablo Osvaldo and Raul Tamudo provided when they were at the forefront of the team in years gone by. The name on everybody’s lips at the moment is Ecuadorian forward Felipe Caicedo, formerly of Levante, who seems keen to return to La Liga after a short spell in the Russian Premier League, but we will have to wait and see what happens with that one. Pochettino’s team was heavily supplemented by loan signings last term and he will have to do without those additions now, which included Kala Uche, Philippe Coutinho, Vladimir Weiss, Romaric and former academy product Didac Vila. With Vila now gone and young Jordi Amat following him out of the door on his way to Rayo Vallecano, Espanyol have needed replacements in the back four and former World Cup winning Perico legend Joan Capdevila has returned to conclude his career at the Cornella El Prat in the left back berth. Diego Colotto has also been recruited from Deportivo, while young midfielders Sergio Tejera and Mubarak Wakaso will beef up the numbers. Last year the Catalan club finished 14th in the league classification after seeing their form dip in the latter stages of the campaign; that is a frequent occurrence in El Prat and one Pochettino will try hard to address in 2012-13. At the moment, their under-21 international forward Alvaro Vazquez is set to lead the line up front but their chances of improving on last season’s efforts could depend on chariman Raimon Condal finding a prolific goal-scorer to support him. Javi Marquez, the former golden boy of the team in midfield, has been sold to Real Mallorca but he hardly figured last season; he was injured for long periods and then, when it became clear he was going to be sold, he was overlooked by Pochettino for the last few months of the campaign. 

Target:
Espanyol normally challenge for a European place in the first two thirds of the season but mid-table anonymity is probably the best they can realistically expect.

FC BarcelonaIn:
Jordi Alba (r)(def) – Valencia;Out:
Seydou Keita (sp)(mid) – Dalian Aerbin;

It was the end of an era. Pep Guardiola, Barcelona’s legendary midfielder of the 1990s, managed Los Cules during the most successful spell in the club’s history. Barca won 14 major honours in just four seasons under the Catalan boss, including three successive La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies. Now breaks the dawn of a new era under Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova and his first task is to wrestle control back from Barcelona’s great rivals Real Madrid, who usurped Barca as the kings of Spain under controversial manager Jose Mourinho in 2011-12. How the Catalan giants respond to that humiliation could define the success of the club over the next few years. Vilanova will be under an intense spotlight, but there have been no paradigm shifts in the club’s policy to suggest that the blaugrana army will be any weaker under the new management. The players claim nothing has changed and that the Tito Team has very much the same style and approach of the Pep Team; unsurprising when Vilanova has been schooled by Guardiola over the past four years. The team does not look any weaker, either. Even though there has been a slowing down in the transfer market in Spain, brought about inevitably by the deep economic depression the country finds itself in, Barca look stronger if anything having signed Jordi Alba to replace liver tumor victim Eric Abidal at left back and have seen just one senior player, supporting midfielder Seydou Keita, leave the club. Barca expect to be stronger this season thanks to the variety of promising young players who continue to pour out of La Masia. Gerard Deulofeu, Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and Cristian Tello could all figure prominently this year to supplement the senior veterans. Meanwhile, apart from Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez, nobody is in danger of slowing down due to age – those two (especially Xavi) still lead the way when fit. David Villa’s return to full fitness is like having a new 40 million euro signing so Vilanova will have plenty of options and he is still likely to sign a top class centre back before the transfer window closes. A season preview of Los Cules wouldn’t be complete without mention of the fact that they still have the best player of all-time leading the attack and Lionel Messi, who scored a whopping 73 goals in all competitions for Barca last season to smash all previous records, has looked even sharper in pre-season than he did last year. 

Target:
Barcelona will aim to win everything but the main priority will be bringing the league trophy back to Catalunya. Along with Real Madrid, they will also start the season as Champions League favourites and they will look to live up to that billing.

GetafeIn:
Angel Lafita (sp)(mid) – Real Zaragoza; Xavi Torres (r)(mid) – Levante; Abraham Mineiro (sp)(def) – Real Zaragoza;Out:
Ruben Perez (sp)(mid) – Atletico Madrid; Tsepo Masilela (sp)(def) – Maccabi Haifa; Pedro Rios (r)(mid) – Levante; Javier Arizmendi (sp)(att) – Real Mallorca; Francisco Javier Casquero (sp)(mid) – Almeria; Daniel Cata Diaz (k)(def) – Atletico Madrid; Oscar Ustari (sp)(gk) – Boca Juniors; Pedro Mosquera (sp)(mid) – Real Madrid Castilla;

Getafe underachieved in Luis Garcia Plaza’s first season in charge at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez. It was a surreal experience for the former Levante manager. While his eminently talented group in Madrid failed to live up to the expectations of the few fans who regularly turned up to support them in the south of the Spanish capital, his former club took the division by storm despite their underdog billing. Luis Garcia had to swallow that embarrassment but Angel Torres is sticking by the young coach and he will once again lead the Azulones into battle in 2012-13. Surely it will be a more successful year for the team which finished 11th in La Liga last season. On the face of it, that position doesn’t really sound too disastrous but Getafe spent the majority of the campaign in the bottom half and they got nowhere near challenging for a European spot, which is where they should be. Judging by the slow movement in the Spanish transfer market this summer, the Azulones will not see any drastic changes to their line-up in Luis Garcia’s second season in charge. The biggest loss on the playing front is that of ever-present Argentinean centre back Daniel Cata Diaz, who has been sold to Atletico Madrid, while Pedro Rios’ skill on the right wing will be missed at times, although probably only if Pedro Leon suffers another season blighted by injury. The former Valladolid and Real Madrid midfielder is Getafe’s biggest talent and his lack of fitness last year surely had something to do with their under-achievement. If firing on all cylinders, Pedro Leon will give the Madrilenos an extra attacking dynamic and surely provide leading hitman Miku with plenty of assists. Dani Guiza could be gone before the transfer window shuts as he does not figure in Luis Garcia Plaza’s plans and it is likely that the lone striker system will be preferred ahead of the 4-4-2. Xavi Torres and Angel Lafita have been recruited to bolster the midfield and both will at least start as contenders for starting eleven berths. If this team plays to its potential, Getafe should be a permanent fixture in the top half; if they don’t Angel Torres’ patience with the hitherto disappointing Luis Garcia Plaza could quickly run out. 

Target:
The aim is to challenge for Europe but that could depend on some of the bigger clubs under-achieving.

Granada CFIn:
Antonio Floro Flores (r)(att) – Udinese; Gabriel Torje (sp)(mid) – Udinese; Tono (sp)(gk) – Racing Santander; Youssef El Arabi (r)(att) – Al Hilal; Iriney Santos (r)(mid) – Real Betis; Brayan Angulo (sp)(def) – Baleares; Juanma Ortiz (sp)(mid) – Rangers; Fabian Orellana (k)(mid) – Celta Vigo; Darwin Machis (sp)(att) – Mineros de Guayana;Out:
Carlos Martins (k)(mid) – Benfica; Julio Cesar (sp)(gk) – Benfica; Franco Jara (r)(mid) – Benfica; Alex Geijo (sp)(att) – Udinese; Abel Gomez (sp)(mid) – released; Henrique (sp)(att) – Recife; Ikechukwe Uche (r)(att) – Villarreal; Odion Ighalo (sp)(att) – Udinese;

A solitary point separated Granada from the relegation zone at the end of last season but nobody over in the Nuevo de los Carmenes cared a jot about that dangerous proximity to the drop as the Andalusian minnows defied all expectations to stay up after gaining promotion to La Liga in 2010-11 via the play-offs having finished 5th in the Segunda Division. It was a great achievement masterminded by managers Fabri Gonzalez and (after he was shown the door by impatient club president Quique Pina) Abel Resino between them, but Resino was not rewarded with a new contract despite keeping the Rojiblancos Horizontales up. Granada will have a new man in charge for the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign and the appointment of Juan Antonio Anquela is something of a calculated risk by the Andalusian club. Anquela has made his name at Alcorcon thanks to some thrilling cup runs, including a famous victory over Manuel Pellegrini’s Villarreal two seasons ago. But the Linares born coach has no previous top flight experience and will be cutting his teeth in arguably the toughest domestic league in the world. The initial concern with Granada at the start of this campaign – they kick-off against Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas on the 19th of August – is that they have lost a significant fraction of the key players who kept them up last term. In fact, the attacking third of Granada’s team will have an entirely new look altogether following the departures of Ikechuckwe Uche, Odion Ighalo, Alex Geijo, Franco Jara and their best player last season, Portuguese international Carlos Martins. That is the curse of the loan deal which a club with scant financial resources such as El Grana must resort to but it presupposes a significant period of adjustment every year. To be fair to Quique Pina and his board, Granada have replaced the majority of the outgoing players and, although the team will have a novel look, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be technically inferior. Exciting young Chilean Fabian Orellana returns from a very successful loan spell at Celta Vigo last year and he could be a key component if the Andalusians decide to keep him. Up front, Nigerians Ighalo and Uche will be replaced by Italian journeyman Antonio Floro Flores and Moroccan international Youssef El Arabi. Their adjustment to La Liga could be key to Granada’s initial success but both have plenty of goals in them. With Dani Benitez suspended until November after the water bottle incident at the end of last season, Granada have also signed Gabriel Torje on loan from Udinese so he and Orellana are set to start the campaign in the wide midfield areas. Elsewhere, former Racing Santander goalkeeper Tono, former Almeria and Rangers winger Juanma Ortiz and former Real Betis midfielder Iriney Santos will be competing for starting berths in Anquela’s new look Granada. 

Target:
After a summer of significant upheaval, avoiding relegation will be the sole target for new man Anquela.

LevanteIn:
Michel (r)(mid) – Valencia; Pedro Rios (r)(mid) – Getafe; Papakouli Diop (r)(mid) – Racing Santander; Nikos Karabelas (sp)(def) – AEK Athens; Angel (sp)(att) – Elche;Out:
Javi Venta (r)(def) – Villarreal; Asier del Horno (sp)(def) – released; Gustavo Cabral (sp)(def) – Celta Vigo; Ruben Suarez (sp)(att) – Ghizou; Valdo (r)(mid) – Atlante; Xavi Torres (r)(mid) – Getafe; Pedro Botelho (sp)(mid) – Paranaense; Abdel Ghezzal (sp)(att) – Bari;

Levante enjoyed their best ever season in 2011-12, finishing 6th in La Liga and missing out on a Champions League place by the skin of their teeth. Under Juan Ignacio Martinez’s guidance, the Granotes created a highly efficacious dynamic by bringing together a mismatch of ambitious veterans to somehow establish their winning chemistry. Organization and understanding were key, as was Martinez’s simple tactical model in which every individual component knew his role and what was expected of him. As we head into the 2012-13 campaign, the hope over on the blaugrana side of Valencia is that they can recreate that successful formula again but, with an already old squad ageing still, the manager affectionately known as JIM will have his work cut out. In principle it appears that the changes over the summer have been minimal and that is exactly how Martinez will want it. Quico Catalan, the club president, has worked very hard to secure the future of star striker Arouna Kone at the Ciutat de Valencia and, unlike the previous year where the Granotes lost their key forward, Felipe Caicedo, everyone at the club will be delighted to see the Ivorian, who notched 15 league goals last season, pledging his future to Levante. The defence and midfield have seen adjustments within the squad. Javi Venta, Asier del Horno and Gustavo Cabral at the back and Valdo, Xavi Torres and Pedro Botelho in midfield have made way for new signings Nikos Karabelas, Papakouli Diop, Michel, Pedro Rios and Angel, while supporting forwards Ruben Suarez and Abdelkader Ghezzal have also moved on. The spine of the team which runs through Gustavo Munua, imposing captain Sergio Ballesteros, Vicente Iborra, Jose Barkero and Arouna Kone remains intact, however, so Levante should still prove a tough team to beat. Juanlu was a key player before Christmas last year but an ankle break ended his season; if he can regain full fitness he will provide a major boost for JIM’s attacking midfield options. 

Target:
Repeating last season’s heroics is too much to ask but a top ten finish and a good run in the Europa League on their European debut would be good reason for cheer.

MalagaIn:Out:
Santi Cazorla (k)(mid) – Arsenal; Jose Rondon (r)(att) – Rubin Kazan; Joris Mathijsen (r)(def) – Feyenoord; Ruud van Nistelrooy (sp)(att) – retired; Ruben (sp)(gk) – Rayo Vallecano;

Malaga’s summer was supposed to be one of excited preparation ahead of their debut season in the Champions League but it has turned into a summer of turmoil as revelations about outstanding debts to players, technical staff and even other clubs have rocked the Andalusian outfit. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani has abandoned his ambitious plans for turning the Boquerones into a force not only in Spain but in Europe as well and means to extricate himself from the role of owner immediately by selling up. It is the worst nightmare of every club which receives heavy – often foreign but not exclusively – investment and has been the ruin of several important clubs such as Leeds United, Portsmouth and Racing Santander. Given Al-Thani’s wealth, it is certainly a surprise that moneys are owing and it has meant that Malaga has had to cash in on their biggest names during the close-season when they were expecting to strengthen, not weaken, their squad significantly. Last summer’s marquee signing, Santiago Cazorla, has gone for a reduced fee to Arsenal. Main striker Jose Saloman Rondon has been flogged to a Russian oligarch in Rubin Kazan. And with Joris Mathijsen already gone, a whole host of other first team squad members could yet be sold to balance the books. All in all this means that Malaga will be a weaker team than they were last term so their chances of progressing in the Champions League and challenging for a European slot in La Liga again look very slim indeed. After initially leaving, Manuel Pellegrini has stated his willingness to continue at the helm under the new board and ownership but it will be a trying time for the Chilean coach having seen his side take two or three steps backwards in the past few months. There have been no incoming players through the gates at the Rosaleda and, unless the club’s outstanding debts are balanced in the coming weeks, Pellegrini may have to make do with his current crop (or a reduced version thereof) until at least January. On a positive note, this could mean that the young players will come to the fore. Isco was a delight last season and if he remains at the Rosaleda then he will be the leading light in Cazorla’s absence. With Ruud van Nistelrooy now retired and Rondon gone, young Juanmi could also finally get an extended run in the starting eleven and in him we could see the birth of another star. At the same time, it will be responsibility of the old guard of players such as Duda, Weligton and Jesus Gamez to carry the team they have served for many years now. Injury-stricken star Julio Baptista may not be back much before Christmas but he will be a huge boost when he is firing again and no doubt the Malaga fans await his return with baited breath. 

Target:
Malaga will want to win their play-off and make the Champions League group stage. Beyond that it is just a case of making sure this ship doesn’t sink.

OsasunaIn:
Emiliano Armenteros (r)(mid) – Rayo Vallecano; Alejandro Arribas (r)(def) – Rayo Vallecano; Sisi (r)(mid) – Valladolid; Nano (sp)(mid) – Numancia; Joseba Llorente (r)(att) – Real Sociedad;Out:
Sergio Fernandez (r)(def) – Sporting de Gijon; Raul Garcia (k)(mid) – Atletico Madrid; Jukki Raitala (sp)(def) – Hoffenheim; Eneko Satrustegui (sp)(def) – Numancia; Javad Nekounam (k)(mid) – Esteghal; Dejan Lekic (sp)(att) – released; Javier Calleja (sp)(mid) – released; Roversio (sp)(def) – released; Ricardo (sp)(gk) – released;

Jose Luis Mendilibar guided Osasuna to a 7th place finish in La Liga last season, their highest position since the dizzy heights of that 4th spot back in the 2005-06 campaign under Mexican coach Javier Aguirre. Mendilibar has worked wonders with the squad since he replaced Jose Antonio Camacho in the Reino de Navarra (which will henceforth adopt its former name, El Sadar) hotseat. There is a sense, however, that a summer of fairly dramatic change will lead to a new challenge for the Pamplonan club in 2012-13. Club president Miguel Archanco, in cooperation with his manager, has dusted off the cobwebs and reduced the wage bill by culling the first team squad to give Mendilibar a more manageable number to work with. Among the supporting cast members who have been shown the door are Dejan Lekic, Ricardo Lopez, Javier Calleja, Roversio, Eneko Satrustegui and Jukki Raitala but the Rojillo fans will be more concerned about the loss of key midfielders Raul Garcia and Javad Nekounam. Raul Garcia is a firm fans’ favourite but his loan spell from Atletico Madrid has expired and Enrique Cerezo has closed the doors on more movement in or out of the Vicente Calderon; it is not impossible that another deal could be thrashed out and he would be a key addition. Sergio Fernandez is the other regular player to leave, but both the central defender and the midfield duo of Garcia and Nekounam have been replaced with solid new signings. Emiliano Armenteros and Alejandro Arribas have been recruited from Rayo Vallecano to compete on the wing and at centre back respectively, while former Real Valladolid regular Sisi has also been brought in to boost the midfield. Up front, Joseba Llorente has joined the club from Real Sociedad to provide Juan Nino and Kike Sola with support and, if he can stay fit, he represents an experienced striker who has a proven goal-scoring record at this level; he started well with a goal on his debut in pre-season and will be looking to build on that impressive introduction.

Target:
The Rojillos would be delighted with a top ten finish again as improving on 7th and qualifying for Europe is probably beyond them.

Rayo VallecanoIn:
Nicki Bille (sp)(att) – Villarreal B; Adrian Gonzalez (r)(mid) – Racing Santander; Jose Carlos (sp)(mid) – AEK Athens; Ruben (r)(gk) – Malaga; Jordi Amat (r)(def) – Espanyol; Alejandro Galvez (r)(def) – Sporting de Gijon;Out:
Diego Costa (k)(att) – Atletico Madrid; Joel (r)(gk) – Atletico Madrid; Emiliano Armenteros (r)(mid) – Osasuna; Michel (sp)(mid) – retired; Michu (k)(mid) – Swansea; Jorge Pulido (sp)(def) – Atletico Madrid; Raul Tamudo (sp)(att) – Pachuca; Dani Pacheco (sp)(mid) – Liverpool; Raul Bravo (r)(def) – released; Jose Movilla (r)(mid) – released; Alejandro Arribas (r)(def) – Osasuna;

It was a satisfactory return to La Liga for Rayo Vallecano in 2011-12. Ultimately they didn’t confirm their safety until the very end of the campaign but they did enough to stay in the division and there were some memorable performances from Jose Ramon Sandoval’s side; a commanding performance despite a narrow defeat to city rivals Real Madrid at Vallecas particularly stands out, as does the 6-0 demolition of Osasuna in the capital in April. Despite keeping them up, Sandoval didn’t do enough to convince club president Raul Martin to keep him in charge and, in fact, there was widespread speculation that Martin wanted to oust the novice manager who delivered Rayo Vallecano top flight football after eight years in the wilderness of La Segunda. The man who replaces him for the 2012-13 campaign is the slightly more experienced Paco Jemez, although for him too this will be a first season in the Primera Division. After spells in the second tier with Cordoba, Cartagena and Las Palmas, this is Jemez’s chance to make his mark in the greatest league in the world. First impressions of the summer squad movements suggest that staying up this term could be even harder for the new man than it was for his predecessor. Rayo have lost arguably their three most influential players from last season. Dominant attacking midfielder Michu, who was the only non-forward to make the top ten in the Pichichi race last year, has been sold to Swansea City and at two million pounds that seems like a bad deal for the Madrilenos. Powerful forward Diego Costa’s loan spell from Atletico Madrid expired and he and the second choice striker last season, Raul Tamudo, have left. So, too, has tricky winger Emiliano Armenteros. In addition to those attacking losses, goalkeeper Joel, defenders Raul Bravo and Alejandro Arribas and Jorge Pulido and midfielders Dani Pacheco, Michel and Jose Movilla are no longer with the Rayistas. Thus the team will have a new look under former Spain international defender Paco, who hung up his boots with Rayo just eight years ago having spent most of his career at Real Zaragoza. Ruben will expect to start as the first choice goalkeeper after joining from Malaga and he will be protected by two solid young defenders in Jordi Amat and Alejandro Galvez, formerly of Espanyol and Sporting de Gijon respectively. Adrian Gonzalez has been chosen to partner Javi Fuego in central midfield and we will see more of Lass Bangoura in the absence of Armenteros and Michu. With Diego Costa and Tamudo gone, Nickie Bille and Andre Delibasic will compete for what is likely to be a lone striker formation. That is a lot of novelties and it is yet to be seen how well this team gels. 

Target:
Paco Jemez will be happy just to keep this team up, even though that feat wasn’t enough to secure his predecessor Jose Ramon Sandoval’s continuance.

Real BetisIn:
Salvador Agra (r)(mid) – Olhanense; Ruben Perez (r)(mid) – Atletico; Juan Carlos (sp)(mid) – Real Zaragoza; Joel Campbell (sp)(att) – Arsenal;Out:
Roque Santa Cruz (r)(att) – Manchester City; Iriney Santos (r)(mid) – Granada; Jefferson Montero (r)(mid) – Monarcas Morelia; Inaki Goitia (sp)(gk) – Mirandes; Ezequiel (sp)(def) – Freiburg; Javier Matilla (sp)(mid) – Murcia; Ustaritz (sp)(def) – Athletic Bilbao; Isidoro (sp)(def) – released;

Real Betis were patchy last season on their return to the top flight of Spanish football but they achieved their ultimate goal of staying up and actually concluded the season in the impressive position of 13th in the classification. The Verdiblancos started the season spectacularly, winning all four of their opening fixtures to top the table a month in but their campaign was a genuine rollercoaster of peaks and troughs and, after that initial success, their form was punctuated by long losing streaks and briefer successful spells. Pepe Mel was surprisingly under significant pressure at Christmas but Betis avoided dropping into the bottom three and some better consistency in 2012 – manifested in the form of more numerable draws, which were a scarcity in the first half of the year – eventually saw the Sevillan club finish safely in mid-table. This season they will look to improve on last year’s efforts but they remain a small club in terms of fiscal expenditure and experience in this division at the moment and club president Miguel Guillen won’t be too unhappy if the Beticos simply avoid relegation again in 2012-13. It hasn’t been a close season of overwhelming change, although it has been dampened by the sadness at the passing of the club’s 23-year old midfielder Miki Roque, who succumbed to pelvic cancer in June. With some fantastic young players breaking into the first team squad like Alejandro Pozuelo and Alvaro Vadillo, modest change is probably a good thing. Both teenagers were beset by injury problems last term and we will be hoping to see more of the skillful midfielders this time around. Ruben Castro’s goals were of great importance last year (he finished inside the top ten scorers in the division, which was some feat) and he will again lead the line at the Benito Villamarin having extended his contract with Betis. Keeping hold of Castro and midfield general Benat Etxeberria were the priorities and if they are still on the books come September 1st then the team should be in good hands going forward. Roque Santa Cruz’s loan deal has expired and he has returned to Manchester City but there is a possibility that he will return before the close of the transfer window. Some regulars from last season, such as Jefferson Montero, Isidoro, Iriney Santos and Javier Matilla, have departed, but the ranks have been boosted by the arrival of positive young players like Juan Carlos from Real Zaragoza, Joel Campbell from Arsenal, Ruben Perez from Atletico Madrid and Olhanense’s Portugal under-21 international Salvador Agra, who will be an exciting new addition on the left wing.

Target:
Real Betis will look to close the gap they started to bridge last season with city rivals Sevilla and avoid a lengthy relegation saga.

Real MadridIn:Out:
Hamit Altintop (sp)(mid) – Galatasaray;

Last season Real Madrid accumulated a record 100 points to clinch La Liga and, in doing so, they wrestled the domestic Spanish title off arguably the greatest club team in European football history. It will count among Jose Mourinho’s greatest achievements in football management and, for someone with the Special One’s track record so far, that is some accolade. Mourinho has now won domestic titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, which is a first for a top level coach. It would have been easy for Mourinho to walk away having achieved that feat, but he is determined to remain with the Spanish giants until he has won his third European Cup medal in a third different country. Looking at the players the Portuguese has at his disposal, why would he ever want to leave. Although Barcelona may argue that their first eleven is still untouchable, Madrid president Florentino Perez has assembled possibly the greatest squad of players in the history of club football. Real Madrid have a first team which stuns and dazzles – as they showed recently in a 5-1 demolition of Italian giants AC Milan during their pre-season tour of the US – but they could also field a second eleven which would surely finish third in La Liga were they to compete separately and might just win every other domestic league abroad under different circumstances. In lieu of their strength, Real Madrid’s transfer movement this summer has been unprecedentedly quiet. At the time of writing, they hadn’t actually made any new signings from outside of the club entity; the only addition so far is young forward Alvaro Morata, who has been promoted permanently from Real Madrid Castilla. Only one member of the first team squad from last year, Hamit Altintop, has left the club and it looks as though there will be very few changes in 2012-13. It would be very strange if we reached the end of the transfer window and nobody had come in. The Merengues are known to be chasing a second right back to compete with Alvaro Arbeloa for a starting berth and another midfielder to take some of the pressure off the ever-present Xabi Alonso. Luka Modric of Tottenham Hotspur is thought to be the main target and that could lead to the departure of Nuri Sahin – on a loan deal at least – who was plagued by injuries on his debut season at the Bernabeu last year. Whatever happens, Real Madrid will be the team to beat this season both in Spain and in Europe, as they look to retain their La Liga title and end their obsession with earning a tenth European Cup title. They scored a record number of goals last season and, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain furthest forward and Angel di Maria, Kaka and Mesut Ozil offering support, they will have a good go at breaking that record once again. 

Target:
Winning La Liga is massively important just to keep Barcelona in their place but their burning obsession with winning the Champions League for a tenth time is no secret.

Real MallorcaIn:
Javier Arizmendi (sp)(att) – Getafe; Antonio Lopez (r)(def) – Atletico; Javi Marquez (k)(mid) – Espanyol;Out:
Ivan Ramis (r)(def) – Wigan; Sergio Tejera (sp)(mid) – Espanyol; Marti Crespi (sp)(def) – Chernomorets; Jose Chico (r)(def) – Swansea; Fernando Tissone (r)(mid) – Sampdoria; Chori Castro (r)(mid) – Real Sociedad; Gianni Zuiverloon (sp)(def) – Herenveen; Pau Cendros (sp)(def) – Gent; Pablo Caceres (sp)(def) – Torino;

Javier Marquez will come up against his old club immediately on matchday 1 of the 2012-13 La Liga season as his new side Real Mallorca host Espanyol at the Iberostar Estadi in Palma. Marquez has been the most exciting signing made by the Bermellones so far this summer and he will be looking to get back into the swing of things after a good half of a year out of the game. The cultured central midfielder didn’t figure under Mauricio Pochettino in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign despite recovering from injury as it became clear that the Pericos were going to sell him. There have been further additions in the form of veteran left back Antonio Lopez and winger-come-forward Javier Arizmendi but the incoming transfers have been so far heavily outweighed by the outgoing transfers, as Ivan Ramis, Jose Chico, Pablo Caceres, Pau Cendros, Gianni Zuiverloon and Marti Crespi have been sold to lighten the defence and midfielders Chori Castro, Sergio Tejera and Fernando Tissone have also moved away from the Balearic club. Real Mallorca are used to losing a clutch of key players every summer to balance the books, but this time around, if we ignore the worrying lack of numbers at the moment, Joaquin Caparros can count himself lucky to have kept the likes of Emilio Nsue, Victor Casadesus, Michael Pereira and Alejandro Alfaro. The Andalusian manager certainly wants to avoid the sort of sales above his head that Michael Laudrup experienced last season; most people cite the departure of Jonathan de Guzman as the breaking point in the Danish manager’s relationship with the Mallorca board. There were encouraging signs under Caparros last season as the Bermellones finished a very respectable 8th in the league table and managed to actually win some games away from home, which was a welcome novelty for the islanders. If Real Mallorca can match that success this season it will be quite a remarkable feat. 

Target:
Real Mallorca will be looking to finish inside the top ten again but they will be happy just to avoid the slightest hint of a relegation battle.

Real SociedadIn:
Jose Angel (r)(def) – Roma; Gonzalo Castro (r)(mid) – Real Mallorca;Out:
Joseba Llorente (sp)(att) – Osasuna; Tono Ramirez (sp)(gk) – Guadalajara; Mikel Aranburu (sp)(mid) – retired;

Real Sociedad have only made a small splash in the summer transfer market so far during the close season but their signings have been very shrewd and the retention of star striker Claudio Vela, who has signed on a permanent deal following his loan spell from Arsenal, is surely one of the best bits of business any La Liga club will undertake ahead of the new term. After a mixed start to life at Anoeta, Carlitos Vela has really come into his own under Phillipe Montanier’s regime and he was the starring striker as Sociedad finished 12th in the Primera Division in 2011-12 and avoided a relegation scrap. This year they will be looking to push on, feeling that they have genuinely improved the team from last term if only with a couple of tweaks. They have only lost a few supporting members of the squad in the form of veteran midfielder Mikel Aranburu (who has retired), Tono Ramirez and Joseba Llorente, yet they have signed two new players who will surely have leading roles to play. Chori Castro was sometimes in the headlines for the wrong reasons at Real Mallorca but no one can doubt his excellent innate quality and he will be a great addition to an already extremely impressive attacking midfield. Jose Angel, an under-21 international for Spain has also joined to boost the defensive flanks from Roma. Those recruits, plus the perhaps even more impressive bonus of keeping the likes of Vela, Antoine Griezmann, Xabi Prieto and Ruben Pardo, means the Donostians can look optimistically towards the future. Pardo, for one, has been heavily linked with clubs as prestigious as Real Madrid after some highly impressive displays from the teenager. Montanier used him sparingly last season, perhaps so as not to advertise his qualities to the big clubs, but he will surely play an important role in 2012-13. I’m sure the manager would like the transfer window to close immediately and, indeed, if he has the same group available come the 1st of September, the Txuri Urdin faithful will be delighted with their side’s prospects. 

Target:
Given the technical quality of this group, a top ten finish should be the minimum target but it will depend greatly on their consistency, particularly when they are playing away from San Sebastian.

Real ZaragozaIn:
Glenn Loovens (r)(def) – Celtic; Paco Montanes (r)(mid) – Alcorcon; Alvaro Gonzalez (r)(def) – Racing Santander; Javi Alamo (r)(mid) – Recreativo; Lucas Porcar (sp)(mid) – Villarreal B; Romaric (k)(mid) – Espanyol;Out:
Paulo da Silva (sp)(def) – Pachuca; Angel Lafita (r)(mid) – Getafe; Juan Carlos (sp)(mid) – Real Betis; Djumovic (sp)(mid) – Mordovia; Ruben Micael (sp)(mid) – Braga; David Mateos (sp)(def) – Real Madrid Castilla; Luis Garcia (r)(att) – Tigres; Pablo Barrera (sp)(mid) – released;

Real Zaragoza’s financial problems are no secret and the fans’ disaffection for the club’s owner Agapito Iglesias will not have been soothed by a summer clear-out which has left the squad dangerously thin heading into the 2012-13 campaign. The Manos only avoided relegation to La Segunda by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the season. With a couple of months to play, the Aragonese side looked dead and buried and even their hastily appointed manager, Manolo Jimenez, was publicly questioning his decision to captain a sinking ship. However, the results started to come in the final weeks of the season and, in part due to the atrocious form of the three clubs that did eventually go down (Villarreal, Sporting de Gijon and Racing Santander), Zaragoza were awarded a last minute reprieve thanks to four straight wins to conclude the 2011-12 campaign. Even so, the split between the fans and the ownership is still a serious issue and the balancing of the books by clearing out a significant proportion of the playing staff will be criticized if the Manos get off to a bad start in the new season. Agapito Iglesias and his chairman Fernando Molinos will defend their policy of keeping the club solvent and point to the fact that they have retained their most marketable asset in Portuguese international striker and top-scorer last season, Helder Postiga. That certainly is something of a coup seeing as Postiga’s magic touch was absolutely crucial to Zaragoza narrowly staying up last term. The Manos have also made a few interesting, if unspectacular, signings with the likes of Romaric, Glenn Loovens and Alvaro Gonzalez joining the club and they have taken a gamble on some unknown quantities in the Primera Division such as Argentinean midfielder Lucas Wilchez and former second division regulars Lucas Porcar (Villarreal B), Paco Montanes (Alcorcon) and Javi Alamo (Recreativo Huelva). Extending the loan deals (or making them permanent) of Antonio Apono and Franco Zuculini was also important, as they are likely to figure prominently in central midfield. The new signings have been outweighed by the players leaving the Romareda. Luis Garcia, Paulo da Silva, Angel Lafita, Pablo Barrera, David Mateos, Ruben Micael, Djumovic and Juan Carlos have all left and the ability of the new recruits, many of them unproven in the top flight of Spanish football, to adjust to this level, will be crucial to Real Zaragoza’s chances of avoiding relegation next May. 

Target:
Real Zaragoza are simply looking to beat the drop but they would be grateful if it isn’t such a close call this time around.

SevillaIn:
Diego Lopez (r)(gk) – Villarreal; Cicinho (r)(def) – Palmeiras; Brayan Rabello (mid) – Colo Colo; Hedwiges Maduro (sp)(mid) – Valencia; Geoffrey Kondogbia (sp)(def) – Lens;Out:
Fredi Kanoute (r)(att) – Beijing Guoan; Javi Varas (r)(gk) – Celta Vigo;

Sevilla’s outspoken President Jose Maria del Nido is at loggerheads with the LFP and MediaPro over the perceived injustice of the distribution of television funds in La Liga. With Barcelona and Real Madrid receiving over half of the money set aside for the entire division, it is a fair point that Del Nido is making, however boisterously he goes about airing his grievances. The current system prejudices 18 out of 20 teams in La Liga but Sevilla are leading the protests and the effects of the financial squeeze have been seen in the traditionally big-spending Andalusian’s tentative foray into the summer transfer market. The club have made it clear that, given the current economic climate, they would have to listen to offers for any of their players, including the star names such as Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo. So far this summer, however, they haven’t lost any of their key men – with the exception of aging club legend Fredi Kanoute, who has moved to China – and it could be that only some of the more marketable fringe players, such as Ivan Rakitic and Diego Perotti are sold for hard cash before the transfer window closes. The Nervionense have invested mainly at the back, with former Villarreal keeper Diego Lopez looking the best signing so far ahead of defenders Cicinho and Hedwiges Maduro, the latter of whom may not start the season because of a cardiac anomaly which has prevented him from training in pre-season. It has been a trying build-up so far for the Andalusians, who have not performed well in their warm-up games and that hasn’t given them the confidence boost they needed after a disappointing campaign in La Liga last season which saw them miss out on another campaign of European football in 2012-13 after finishing 9th. Michel Gonzalez was brought in to turn things around midway through the last campaign after Marcelino’s poor start and Del Nido promised him a new contract if he got the club into the Champions League. Despite getting nowhere near that objective, the former Real Madrid midfielder remains in charge at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, but he won’t last long if Sevilla continue to struggle outside of the top third of the table. Watch out for tricky young Chilean Brayan Rabello who has been signed from Colo Colo. The 18-year old will start with Sevilla Athletic this term but he has been impressive in pre-season and could soon be given a full debut. 

Target:
After another disappointing year Sevilla must get back into Europe and a Champions League-triggering 4th placed finish is the main target.

ValenciaIn:
Joao Pereira (r)(def) – Sporting Lisbon; Andres Guardado (r)(mid) – Deportivo la Coruna; Jonathan Viera (sp)(mid) – Las Palmas; Fernando Gago (r)(mid) – Real Madrid;Out:
Jordi Alba (r)(def) – Barcelona; Aritz Aduriz (sp)(att) – Athletic Bilbao; Bruno Saltor (sp)(def) – Brighton; Hedwiges Maduro (sp)(mid) – Sevilla; Mehmet Topal (sp)(mid) – Fenerbahce; Angel Dealbert (sp)(def) – Kuban; Luis Miguel (r)(def) – released;

Valencia start the season with arguably their toughest match of the campaign away to current champions Real Madrid and it is an interesting pair up between the two historically speaking. At the start of this century, Real Madrid and Valencia faced off on the first matchday in both the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons and, on both occasions, the winner of that match went on to claim the title, Real Madrid in 2001 and Valencia in 2002. It is unlikely that, even if Los Che were to claim a surprise scalp at the Santiago Bernabeu, they would then go on to claim their first La Liga trophy in 11 years. The gap between Barcelona and Real Madrid and the rest of the Primera Division is massive and still apparently growing. Valencia have finished third in the last two seasons and their aim must be to achieve that goal again and to try and reduce the gap to the big two in the meantime. Despite guiding Los Che to third spot in consecutive campaigns, Unai Emery was released by Manuel Llorente in the summer and has moved to the Russian Premier League, leaving Mauricio Pellegrino to fill the vacant manager seat in the dugout at Mestalla. It will be an experimental season for Valencia to an extent because of the new appointment, but not too so much has changed over the summer to suggest that the east coast giants will be in for an overhaul. Some important squad members have been culled, Luis Miguel, Bruno Saltor, Mehmet Topal, Hedwiges Maduro and Aritz Aduriz among them, but the biggest loss to the first team is that which saw Jordi Alba transfer to Barcelona. However, with Alba playing high on the left quite often, the signing of Andres Guardado from Deportivo La Coruna looks like a good replacement and the other new signings, Fernando Gago, Joao Pereira and Jonathan Viera, will be competing for starting berths so the manager will feel like the team is in better shape perhaps heading into 2012-13. Although he will still be a key player, Valencia will hope to rely less on Roberto Soldado’s goals for success. Jonas Goncalves will chip in and we could see more of academy starlet Paco Alcacer as well. Mauricio Pellegrino was a member of Rafa Benitez’s team which won the titles back in 2002 and 2004 so he knows the price of success at Mestalla. 

Target:
A third place finish again is a priority, as is an extended run in the Champions League.

ValladolidIn:
Antonio Rukavina (r)(def) – 1860 Munich; Lluis Sastre (sp)(mid) – Huesca; Patrick Ebert (r)(mid) – Hertha Berlin;Out:
Sisi (r)(mid) – Osasuna; Nauzet Aleman (sp)(att) – Las Palmas; Mehdi Nafti (r)(mid) – Murcia; Jofre (sp)(mid) – Girona;

After two seasons in the Liga Adelante, Real Valladolid return to the Primera Division for the 2012-13 season having been promoted via the play-offs. Valladolid came through victorious in a thrilling two-legged clash with Alcorcon in May and it was a worthy prize for the Pucela, who have been a revelation under Serbian manager Miroslav Djukic. They may be the last of the three promoted clubs in terms of classification, but Djukic managed to combine promotion success with attractive football, which is what all purists within the beautiful game aspire to do. Repeating that winning formula in La Liga against some of the best clubs in the world will be a much more complicated discipline. Miroslav Djukic may have to adjust his game plan if he hopes to avoid an immediate return to the second division. Valladolid have been quiet during the summer transfer window so far. Sisi’s departure to Osasuna and the recruitment of Antonio Rukavina and Patrick Ebert from the Bundesliga mean that the Pucela could be showcasing a completely novel right flank, with the energetic Ebert playing in front of right back Rukavina on the right wing. Otherwise, the team will not experience a radical overhaul. Leading the line will be last season’s top goal scorer Javi Guerra and once again he will have skillful playmaker Oscar pulling the strings behind him in attacking midfield. Mehdi Nafti and Jofre have both been sold so Victor Perez could have a new partner in the form of Alvaro Rubio alongside him in central midfield. Despite the minimal changes, it is likely to be a difficult adjustment for Djukic’s team in the top tier in Spain and getting off to a good start could be key. Let’s hope that the Blanquiviolets, at the very least, continue to entertain the crowd at the Nuevo Jose Zorilla with ambitious attacking football. 

Target:
Real Valladolid will be delighted if they can replicate Granada’s feat of staying up the season after being promoted via the play-offs.

betting infos

Turkish Cup

Both clubs in bad form. Besiktas 4th and too far for title so they must turn over to cup (also relegate from Europe). Today without Uysal, Kavlak, Ernst, Hugo Almeida but still strong line up against 2nd league club

KNVB Cup  1/2 final,  AZ Alkmaar – Heracles Almelo

For Az is doubtful Roy Beerens (att 23/2)
Martens (mf 9/4) and Benschop (att 21/5) and Moisander (df 23/1 )are back

Probable Starting 11
Esteban Alvarado, Marcellis, Viergever, Moisander, Poulsen, Maher, Martens, Elm, Gudmundsson, Altidore, Holman

Heracles out: Pasveer (first gk 26/0), Horst (df 2/0), Vejinovic (mf 17/2)

Probably line up
Telgenkamp, Breukers, van der Linden, Rienstra, Looms, Overtoom, Duarte, Quansah, Douglas, Armenteros, Everton

Taca da Liga 1/2 finals, Gil Vicente FC – SC Braga

Gil Vicente out: Daniel Faria(r)(def), Sandro Cunha(sp)(def), Pedro Moreira(sp)(mid), Roberto Felix(sp)(att)

Probable Starting 11
Facchini, Sciola, Halisson, Carolino, Caicara, Cunha, Manuel, Peixoto, Galo, Hugo Vieira, Oliveira

Braga out: Baiano Wanderson (df 7/0), Leandro Salino(sp)(mid), Paulo Vinicius (df 11/2), Ewerton Santos (df 16/1), Ruben Amorim (mf 5/0), Luis Alberto (mf 1/0), Alan Silva (att 18/3)

..but, that are long term injuries. they are in unbeliveble form 17-1-1

Probable Starting 11
Quim, Lopes, Douglao, Coelho, Echiejile, Custodio, Viana, Cesar, Mossoro, Barbosa, Lima