La Liga 2017-18: 5 teams to watch out for this season
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 16, 2017 11:03 AM
FC Barcelona's Gerard Pique, second from right, heads the ball during the Spanish Supercup, first leg, soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
By Joseph Wilson, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Five teams to keep an eye on when the Spanish League starts on Friday:
Zinedine Zidane has succeeded where former coaches Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Manuel Pellegrini, Juande Ramos and Rafa Benitez all failed.
The former midfield great has re-established Madrid as the dominant team in both Spain and Europe.
The challenge now is to maintain the drive that his team showed through all 38 rounds of the Spanish league last season, en route to conquering its first Liga title in five years.
Zidane's team rounded off a perfect season by successfully defending its Champions League title, making it three European Cups in four years.
Madrid's starting 11 — led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos — returns intact, and its supporting cast has become younger after the exits of Pepe, James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata, Danilo and Fabio Coentrao.
In their place have arrived defenders Theo Hernandez (19) and Jesus Vallejo (20), as well as promising midfielder Dani Ceballos (21).
It has been a decade since Barcelona started a season clearly needing to play catch up to its fiercest rival.
But first it must figure out a "Plan B" to restructure its team after the stunning exit of Neymar for Paris Saint-Germain on a world record transfer that Barcelona did everything it could to prevent.
With its fans angry at Neymar getting away, team executives have been scrambling to use the 222 million euros ($262 million) it got from PSG when it triggered the release clause in Neymar's contract.
So far it's only post-Neymar reinforcement is Brazil midfielder Paulinho, who arrives from Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande. He will add some muscle to Barcelona's midfield, rather than replace the goals provided by Neymar.
Other signings are Portuguese right back Nelson Semedo and Gerard Deulofeu, a forward who came through Barcelona's academy before playing for several other clubs.
So it will fall to new coach Ernesto Valverde to rally a team that is still led by Lionel Messi and top players Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique.
Diego Simeone has made Atletico Madrid a perennial contender both in Spain and the Champions League for the past four seasons. Atletico won the Liga in 2014 and finished third the past three campaigns, while also reaching two European finals.
Simeone will be hard pressed to repeat the team's recent success after the club was banned from signing new players until 2018 for having broken FIFA regulations regarding youth players.
Through some creative negotiating, Atletico secured the arrival of Spain forward Victor "Vitolo" Machin in January. He will play on loan with Las Palmas until being allowed to register with Atletico next year.
For now, Simeone will continue to rely on French forward Antoine Griezmann, who will stay with the club even though several other European teams showed interest in signing him.
The defense will remain solid with Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Juanfran Torres, as will the midfield led by Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion, Gabi Fernandez and Yannick Carrasco.
New to Atletico will be the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, a brand new venue that replaces the Vicente Calderon. The team is also debuting a new club crest this season.
Sevilla will look a lot different from the team that was in contention for the Spanish league title last season.
Sevilla stayed close to Real Madrid and Barcelona before losing ground in the end and giving up third place to Atletico Madrid.
That team was led by coach Jorge Sampaoli, who left to take over Argentina's national team. He was replaced by Eduardo Berizzo, who coached Celta Vigo last season.
Berizzo has brought in forward Manuel "Nolito" Agudo, who played under him at Celta and was unsuccessful in a stint with Manchester City last season.
Sevilla also reinforced its attack with Colombian forward Luis Muriel, who signed from Sampdoria.
Valencia is looking to turn things around after a couple of seasons in which it flirted with relegation.
The club has struggled under the ownership of Singapore investor Peter Lim, who took over in 2014.
After failing under high-profile coaches Gary Neville and Cesare Prandelli, Valencia will start the new season with former Villarreal manager Marcelino.
There were no major offseason signings, although the club acquired forward Simone Zaza, who had played on loan from Juventus last season.
AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.