Spanish battle set to resume

Real and Barca will provide another thrilling title race, but can the remaining Primera Division clubs keep up?

    Spanish battle set to resume
    Up for stakes is ‘world football hegemony’, according to Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho [EPA]

    Records promise to tumble again in the 2012-13 Spanish Primera Division season as world powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona resume their duel for supremacy, threatening to cast Spain's other 18 clubs even further adrift.

    Jose Mourinho's Real had to smash league points and goal-scoring tallies to end arch-rivals Barca's three-year hold on the Primera Division last May, driven to exceptional heights by their rivalry with one of the greatest club teams of all time.

    Barca have a change of face at the helm for the new campaign with the untested Tito Vilanova having big shoes to fill as Pep Guardiola's replacement, but after four years as assistant he brings a strong thread of continuity with him.

    "This duel of titans forces the clubs and the players to become better," Mourinho, whose side start out at home to Valencia on Sunday told Portuguese television this week.

    "The two clubs are fighting for world football hegemony."

    Spanish success

    Spanish football is basking in glory after the national team completed an unprecedented treble by winning Euro 2012 in July, having also scooped the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008.

    Real and Barca supplied 11 of the 13 players who featured in Spain's 4-0 rout of Italy in last month's final in Kiev and with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina's Lionel Messi added to the equation, their firepower is increased further.

    As with the club rivalry, the goal-scoring duel between Ronaldo and Messi appears to spur them to ever greater heights, and Argentine World Player of the Year amassed 50 league goals last season, to better Ronaldo's previous record of 40.

    Real are closing on Tottenham Hotspur's Croatian playmaker Luka Modric to strengthen their midfield, otherwise their relatively young squad has remained largely unchanged.

    Barca, who host Real Sociedad on Sunday have added explosive Spain full back Jordi Alba to their ranks for $17m, and are seeking another defensive reinforcement before the end of the month.

    Vilanova will need to nurture ageing stalwarts Carles Puyol (34) and Xavi (32), while hoping David Villa has not lost any of his sharpness after recovering from a broken leg which kept him sidelined for a large part of last season.

    The strength of Real and Barca, the world's two richest clubs by income according to Deloitte's annual survey, and the success of the Spanish international team, contrasts sharply with the parlous state of the rest of the Primera Division.

    Last year, the players went on strike to delay the start of the Primera Division over unpaid wages and this season's competition was almost put back because of a dispute with broadcasters over television rights which is still unresolved.

    TV revenue

    One of the key income streams that allows Real and Barca to continue to pull away from the rest of their rivals is their snaring of around half of the $736.92m pot earned from the league's TV revenues.

    The Primera Division does not have a system of collective bargaining and income-sharing as happens in rival European leagues, and this along with the Eurozone crisis affecting the Spanish economy, and some irresponsible management, has weakened almost all of Real and Barca's rivals.

    A clutch of smaller sides have slipped into administration in recent years, while medium-sized clubs have been forced to tighten the purse strings and very little money has been spent on squad strengthening.

    Valencia, who have finished third but more than 20 points adrift of second place the last three seasons, have sold Alba to Barcelona and start the campaign weaker on paper and with a new coach in Mauricio Pellegrino.

    Malaga, who finished fourth, have celebrated their first ever qualification for the Champions League by selling Spain's Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, with rumours swirling that their Qatari owners are also considering selling their interest in the club.

    Europa League winners Atletico Madrid have lost Brazilian playmaker Diego, who returns to Wolfsburg after a loan spell, though they have hung on to top scorer Radamel Falcao.

    Surprise-package Levante earned a place in the Europa League for next season, but have sold top scorer Arouna Kone, while Europa League and King's Cup finalists Athletic Bilbao appear set to lose Spain internationals Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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