Ahead of the start of the Spanish league season this weekend, AFP sports looks at the five sides best placed to upset Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance of La Liga this season.
Atletico Madrid (Last season: third)
Atletico’s remarkable title triumph in 2013/14 is the only time Barca and Madrid have been denied the title for the past 11 years, but Diego Simeone’s men look better placed to launch another title challenge than they did to defend their crown 12 months ago after another busy summer at the Vicente Calderon.
The signings of strikers Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto to join forces with Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres in attack provide a frontline as deadly as when Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa were paired together in the early stages of Simeone’s reign.
Simeone also has a core of very promising youngsters to call on as Jose Maria Gimenez, Saul Niguez, Oliver Torres and Angel Correa are all expected to feature heavily.
The loss of Arda Turan to Barcelona will sap the midfield of some creativity, but unlike in previous seasons Los Rojiblancos have been able to withstand big money bids for the likes of Griezmann, Diego Godin and Koke to form a team capable of challenging for honours at home and abroad.
Valencia (Last season: fourth)
Valencia’s big investment last summer to get back into the Champions League has hamstrung their freedom in the transfer market as they have struggled to meet financial fair play regulations.
Moreover, Los Che look set to lose their most important player from last season in Nicolas Otamendi.
The promising young talents of Santi Mina and Zakaria Bakkali add to an already impressive array of attacking talent, but coping with the demands of European football with a small squad means a return to the top four is likely to be the height of Nuno Espirito Santo’s men’s ambition this season.
Sevilla (Last season: fifth)
Another Europa League title, their fourth in 10 years, provided a route back to the Champions League for Sevilla, but also acted as a shop window for some of their stars to snap up bumper contracts on offer around Europe.
As ever, the club’s sporting director Monchi appears to have dealt well with the money received from the sales of Aleix Vidal and Carlos Bacca with eight new signings providing plenty of options for coach Unai Emery.
The capture of Ukranian star Yevhen Konoplyanka on a free transfer from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk could prove to be the deal of the summer.
Villarreal (Last season: sixth)
Villarreal signalled their intent to break into the top four with the double capture of the highly-rated Samu Castillejo and Samuel Garcia from Malaga for 16 million euros and by bringing Roberto Soldado back to La Liga after a disastrous spell with Tottenham Hotspur.
However, with competition at the top of the table so stiff, Marcelino’s men may target winning the Europa League as the most realistic route back into the Champions League.
Athletic Bilbao (Last season: seventh)
The high point of Athletic’s season may have already come before the league campaign even gets underway as they beat Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate to claim their frist trophy in 31 years in the shape of the Spanish Super Cup.
A reliance on 34-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz makes a return to the top four unlikely, but the Basques are always dangerous in Cup competitions and could go far once more in the Copa del Rey and Europa League.
– Agence France-Presse