Fri, Aug 24, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Real Madred, Barcelona prepare for La Liga battle

AFP, MADRID

Real Madrid and Barcelona have been busy buying up talent from abroad this summer spending more than 130 million euros (US$176 million) between them as they prepare to do battle for the Spanish championship.

Fabio Capello was a hero at Real after he guided them to a largely unexpected title success last season but his style of soccer was deemed unsatisfactory and German Bernd Schuster, who played for both Real and Barcelona, is the man entrusted with the task of thwarting Barcelona this season.

Barcelona start as favorites after pulling off the transfer coup of the summer with the 24 million euro capture of French international striker Thierry Henry from Arsenal but Real are confident of another title success.

"Barcelona have signed some top quality players such as Henry and we have respect for them but we do not fear them," Real Madrid defender Fabio Cannavaro told daily Marca. "We have quality too and I believe we can win the championship again."

Madrid provided Schuster with a 69 million euro transfer kitty to revamp the squad he inherited from Capello and he has shopped abroad adding a real Dutch flavor to the Real team.

The promising Roysten Drenthe and Dutch international Wesley Sneijder have arrived for a combined 39 million euros to join compatriot Ruud van Nistelrooy -- the league's top-scorer last season -- at the Santiago Bernabeu.

However Real's new-look team has looked unconvincing in pre-season and a 5-3 home defeat to Sevilla in the Super Cup final last Sunday has the alarm bells ringing ahead of tomorrow's mouth-watering league opener against local rivals Atletico Madrid.

"We do not like conceding five goals at home and losing but we have to keep going because there is a huge game on Saturday," Schuster said. "We won't need motivation for this game."

Atletico, who drew 1-1 with Real in both league fixtures last season, sold their golden boy Fernando Torres to Liverpool in the summer but have paid 21 million euros for Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan and 20 million euros for Portuguese winger Simao to aid their push for a Champions League spot.

Barcelona have an easier start to the season with a trip to Racing Santander on Sunday when they could parade their array of expensive stars.

The disappointment at finishing last season empty-handed persuaded the Barcelona board to loosen the purse strings for manager Frank Rijkaard who enhanced an already prolific attack with Henry who is desperate to win the Champions League -- the only trophy missing from his impressive trophy cabinet.

"It means a lot to play in this team with some of the best players in the world," Henry said. "Everyone knows the name Barcelona and I hope to help the club continue being successful -- starting this season."

Rijkaard continued spending with 41 million euros needed to capture defenders Gabriel Milito, Eric Abidal and midfielder Yaya Toure.

Sevilla and Valencia may not have the millions to compete with Real and Barcelona but they will hope to provide stiff competition on the pitch as they did last season.

Last season Sevilla were in the title race until their lack of experience told as they finished third but they capped a fine campaign by retaining the UEFA Cup and winning the Copa Del Rey.

"To top last year we would have to win everything," admitted coach Juande Ramos. "The Champions League is attractive for us this season but we will try to do well in all competitions again."

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