Saturday, August 26, 2006

Even though the stars are blind

I must stop making promises I can't keep. Yessur. Before I return to the much delayed season preview parts two through four, it's Barça newsround time again. Firstly, last night's defeat to Sevilla, a 3-0 whooping in the European Super Copa in Monaco. Barcelona were dire last night and Sevilla fully deserved their victory. After beating both Espanyol and Bayern Munich 4-0 in the past week, perhaps they were both over-confident and over-tired. Whatever, it's the slap in the face they needed before Monday night's opener against Celta Vigo. The other news on Friday was the Champions League draw. FCB are in group A, along with old friends Chelsea, German runners-up Werder Bremen and Bulgarian side Levski Sofia. The complete draw is here.

Finally and to no one's surprise, Joan Laporta is once again Barcelona president. None of the other candidates were able to secure the one thousand odd signatures in order to run, so Laporta was confirmed for another four years without an election.

Van Bommel to Bayern

Some breaking news of a Saturday afternoon. Dutch hatchet man Mark Van Bommel is set to leave the Camp Nou for Bayern Munich. The deal is to be completed early next week. Whether this will see Owen Hargreaves make a move to Manchester United remains to be seen. I very much doubt that Barça will move to replace him being as Motta, Iniesta, Edmilson and Marquez can fill his position.

Later than advertised

I've gone for Barça, Real and Valencia for one, two and three (though with Valencia's signing of Joaquin, which at the moment of writing is still unconfirmed, they could push the blaugrana really close). Now let's get to things further down the table; the race for fourth place, UEFA Cup spots, mid-table mediocrity and the relegation candidates.

Itsa4

After their massive over achivement last season, it's difficult to see Osasuna hitting the dizzy heights of fourth place again. Though they have added to their squad they've lost their coach Javier Aguirre to Athletico Madrid and ala Sociedad a few years ago I think after their day in the sun they'll fall back to mid-table. Aguirre on the other hand should take Athletico, buoyed by the signings of Costinha, Sergio Aguero, Pernia and Jurado out of the mire they've been languishing in and into the Champions League for the first time in since they won the league in 95/96. There are three teams that could spoil the party at the Calderon and they are the current UEFA Cup holders Sevilla, Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal and a revitalised Real Saragossa. Sevilla are a very strong side, well organised, tough as old boots with a tight defence. They've managed to hold onto their best player, Daniel Alves, a target for Liverpool this summer and despite losing Javier Saviola (currently emptying the bins and mopping floors back at the Camp Nou), they still pose a potent goal threat (see last night for evidence of this) Midfielder Enzo Maresca has matured into a complete player rather than the bit part actor he was at Juve and alongside Renato and new signing Poulsen, they're very strong in the centre of the park.

Of the other challangers for the coveted Champions League spot, it's Villarreal, the little team that could, who look the more likely to step up, though Saragossa, with Pablo Aimar pulling the stings will certainly give it a go. Saragossa were one of the most entertaining sides to watch last time around, particularly in the Copa Del Rey, where they blew past both Real Madrid and Barcelona only to lose to Espanyol. Though they've lost Cani to Villarreal, it's much the same bunch as before with the addition of Aimar, Pique, D'Alessandro and Diogo.

Like a fool who tips Inter to win lo scudetto, I'm going to go for Athletico for fourth place, just ahead of Sevilla. They will probably finish eight...

And as for the rest of you

There are another twelve teams in La Liga and I am certainly not going to run through all of them, so here's the highlights. Super Depor are looking distinctly average these days and aside from a load of rejects from Barça B and Real Madrid Castilla, their only signing of note is Getafe striker Riki. Expect them to struggle again this year. Betis, should they lose Joaquin will be in real trouble. Olivera, their best striker looks likely to walk too. Blah, blah, blah... I think Nastic, Mallorca, Huelva and Sociedad are likely to be down in the relegation hole. Espanyol probably won't be far away either unless Luis Garcia and Tamudo start firing again. Everyone else should be safe. Ian Harte's Levante will hopefully enjoy a better spell than last time when after an impressive start they fell to pieces in the second half of the season and were relegated.

Worth watching

Of the players who've arrived in La Liga (staying away from the obvious) I reckon the following ought do very well:

Ze Castro (Athletico Madrid)
Abbondanzieri (Getafe)
Tommasi (Levante)
Sobis (Real Betis)
Chevanton (Sevilla)

And that's your lot. La Liga kicks off tonight with Valencia hosting Betis. The game is at nine and is live on Sky Sports Xtra.

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