Jose Mourinho’s arrival as Real Madrid coach could be the move that tips the balance of power in La Liga away from Barcelona and back to the Spanish capital.
The title is usually a straight race between the two traditional rivals, the ever-widening economic gap between them and the rest of the league a matter for on-going concern.
Real pushed out the financial boat to snare Mourinho, after his treble-winning exploits with Inter Milan last season, and have also spent 75 million euros ($94.58 million) on new players.
While Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka were marquee signings in last year’s 250 million euro reinforcement programme, this year’s top acquisition is ‘The Special One’ Mourinho as a replacement for the trophy-less Manuel Pellegrini.
Six new players join him including Argentina’s Angel Di Maria and German duo Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil, the focus being on youngsters hungry to make a mark rather than established names.
Out have gone long-serving stalwarts Raul and Guti, breathing new life into the Bernabeu dressing room. The message is clear ... this is Mourinho’s Madrid.
Last year Real finished three points behind Barca, defeats in the two ‘clasicos’ the main difference between the teams as they both established record points totals.
Mourinho, the master tactician, loves nothing better than to put one over his former club, as his successful Champions League semi-final against Barca showed last season.
As yet he has kept a low profile with the media and he has preached caution.
“Barca are a finished project, they can play with their eyes closed. Real Madrid aren’t there yet,” he told reporters. “Real need to establish a new way of playing football and a different philosophy.”
Barca will not give up their title easily and fired a warning with a 4-0 pummelling of Sevilla on Saturday to win the Spanish Super Cup.
Coach Pep Guardiola rested his big guns for the first leg but Lionel Messi was in red-hot form as he netted a hat-trick in the return match.
Barca’s preparations have been disrupted by a change in president, Sandro Rosell replacing Joan Laporta, concerns over the club’s finances, and they have been clumsy in the transfer market especially with a failed bid to land Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal.
Spain striker David Villa’s signing from Valencia for 40 million euros is money well spent but the exits of Thierry Henry, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Rafael Marquez and Yaya Toure have yet to be fully addressed.
Guardiola has said he will rely on versatility within his squad and the youth system.
That is fine as long as Messi and Xavi can avoid injury because Barca’s squad looks thin.
The battle for the remaining two Champions League places is likely to be contested by Valencia, who finished 25 points adrift of Real in third spot last May, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla. Europa League winners Atletico look to be the strongest of the three.
They have managed to hang on to leading strikers Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero and have reinforced their Achilles heel, the defence, by signing Uruguay’s Diego Godin and Brazilian full back Felipe Luis.
King’s Cup holders Sevilla have also kept the core of their squad but the surprise failure to qualify for the Champions League group stage could spark a fire sale before the end of the transfer window.
Coach Antonio Alvarez has not convinced Sevilla fans, and much like Valencia’s Unai Emery, will be in the spotlight early in the campaign if his team have a poor start.
Emery steered Valencia into the Champions League this season only to have his two leading players Villa and David Silva sold to finance the club’s crippling debts. Their replacements have been brought in on a shoestring budget.
Barca agree transfer fee for Mascherano
London: Barcelona have agreed a transfer fee with Liverpool for Javier Mascherano and the Argentine midfielder is expected in Spain for a medical this weekend, the clubs said on Friday.
The Argentine captain has been linked with Barcelona as well Inter Milan keen on his services.
Liverpool coach Roy Hodgson had hoped the 26-year-old would stay on but had left the player out of their recent matches against Manchester City and Trabzonspor as speculation over a transfer grew.