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Can Real keep Barca down again?

sports Updated: Aug 16, 2012 00:39 IST

AFP
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Arch rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona are the obvious candidates to battle it out for La Liga bragging rights, as a host of pretenders attempt to put pressure on the outright favourites when the new campaign kicks off on Saturday.

The two sides finished 39 and 30 points ahead of third-placed Valencia last season and with no challengers having significantly strengthened, the battle at the top is likely to have a familiar look to it.

Champions Real Madrid will begin with almost the same squad that ended Barcelona's run of three consecutive titles last term.

Coach Jose Mourinho fended off early interest in his Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain from big spenders Paris Saint-Germain, while Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Angel Di Maria have all signed extensions to their contracts.

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Mourinho's efforts to strengthen a squad that accumulated 100 points, while losing only two games, appear to be focused solely on the capture of Croatian playmaker Luka Modric from Tottenham.

Negotiations have continued all summer, but Madrid president Florentino Perez is well-known for his patience and the deal may only be struck towards the closure of the transfer window on August 31.

Their Catalan rivals finished nine points adrift last season and the team will have a brand new look as Tito Vilanova replaces Pep Guardiola as coach after four glittering years at the Camp Nou.

The only addition so far to their squad is the return of full-back Jordi Alba from Valencia for a fee of 14 million euros.

The return of David Villa after eight months out with a broken tibia will be like a new signing for a Barca side that relied heavily on Lionel Messi's 50 league goals in his absence.

Stars face trial
Paris: Two of France's biggest international football stars are to face trial for allegedly soliciting an underaged prostitute, in one of the most high-profile sex scandals to hit French sport.

Franck Ribery, who plays for the German club Bayern Munich, and Karim Benzema, a striker at Real Madrid in Spain, have been ordered to stand trial over allegations of paid sexual encounters with Zahia Dehar, who was under the age of 18 at the time. They will appear with six other defendants, some of whom will be prosecuted for "aggravated pimping".