Though 62 different La Liga teams have won the league since its inception in 1929, Spain’s top-tier domestic title has largely been reduced to a two-horse race – Real Madrid and Barcelona, for the better part of the last two decades.
While last season’s conclusion remained a nervy affair for both the Spanish giants with a forced mid-season break and delayed UEFA Champions League knockout schedule hampering the flow, the star-studded Real Madrid and Barcelona side are still the primary contenders for the 2020-2021 La Liga season. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid have been a pain in the neck for the Spanish giants as well, constantly reminding them that any amount of slack would be severely punished.
La Liga has seen other clubs bolstering their squads, making the 2020-21 season an interesting contest. Here’s a look at the contenders.
It was more tenacity than class that dragged Real Madrid over the finish line last season – something The Whites cannot bank on this time around. Fortunately, Sergio Ramos and Co. have a manager in Zinedine Zidane who specializes in winning La Liga.
In both of his stints as Real Madrid manager Zidane has averaged over two points a match, which reflects fairly in the success he has had in such a short time. The France football legend, who has won La Liga title twice as Real Madrid’s manager and played over 150 games for Los Blancos as a player, knows the Spanish league inside out.
After a short dip in Real Madrid’s form following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018, it was followed by the arrivals of Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois amongst others over two seasons, and Real Madrid now look more structured. Hence, they remain the favourites to defend the domestic title this season.
After Barcelona’s excruciating 2019-20 campaign ended with a humiliating 2-8 defeat to Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich, the Catalans have spent most of their transfer window convincing club legend Lionel Messi that the project is still alive.
Barcelona have roped in Dutchman and former player Ronald Koeman as their manager to smoothen the transition period, which has seen some big names leaving the club and promising young talents coming up at Camp Nou. Having previously managed La Liga side Valencia in 2007-08, Koeman is familiar with the rigours of the Spanish league, although the former Everton and Southampton boss is yet to see success at the club level.
Finishing second best won’t be an option for the Catalans this time after Real Madrid edged past them at the fag end of the domestic season last time. Barcelona already have a star-studded team to challenge for the title and the element of redemption is further expected to fuel their motivation as they prepare to snatch back the mantle from Real Madrid this season.
Since their last La Liga title in 2014, Atletico Madrid have been limited to an also-ran in Real Madrid and Barcelona’s ruthless La Liga duel. However, Atletico Madrid’s repeated appearances at the UEFA Champions League have kept the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium a fancied destination for some of the top players over the years. And Diego Simeone’s men will get down with their socks up knowing fully well that they have always had an outside chance of winning the title.
While Barcelona are a team in transition and Real Madrid yet to find their optimal form in the league since 2018, the Rojo Blancos enjoy the luxury of continuity with Simeone being at the helm for the last eight years.
Apart from winning a title, Simeone has led the club to finish above capital giants Real Madrid on two occasions in the recent past. And with players like Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix leading their attack now, one can feel that another upset might just be around the corner.
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