Thu, Aug 16, 2012 - Page 20 News List

Real Madrid aim to fend off Barcelona in La Liga


However, Barcelona’s old guard of Carles Puyol (34) and Xavi Hernandez (32) are slowing and there are doubts over Abidal’s ability to return.

“I want to keep on as always,” Xavi said. “Physically, I am fine and I will play as much as I can.”

Madrid and Barcelona have split the past eight league titles — runner-up Barcelona finishing 30 points ahead of third-place Valencia in the last campaign — and this season should be no different given the ongoing financial problems of many of their challengers.

Spain’s recession is adding to the pressure on many of its troubled soccer clubs. Malaga’s Qatari owner Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani poured more than 200 million euros (US$245 million) into the Costa del Sol side over the past two seasons, and the investment appeared to pay off with the team making their first Champions League appearance after finishing fourth last spring.

However, the club have been mired in a financial and institutional crisis since then, and any thoughts of raising the bar and making a run at Madrid and Barcelona is out of the question after the club’s sale of playmaker Santi Cazorla and striker Jose Rondon.

For the third year in a row, a Valencia side weighed down with debts and two soccer stadiums — one it cannot sell and another it cannot find the money to finish building — were forced to cash in on their best player in selling Alba to Barcelona.

Also, Deportivo La Coruna, champion in 2000, return to the topflight after one season in the second division along with Celta and Valladolid.

While various clubs face a season of diminished expectations, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are poised to move up the standings after respective fifth and 10th-place finishes.

Atletico’s Diego Simeone and Bilbao’s Marcelo Bielsa are returning for a second season after impressive coaching starts. Now, both managers will be expected to have even better campaigns as the clubs shoot for a long-awaited top-four finish and Champions League berth.

Mourinho said that despite Madrid and Barcelona’s dominance, the Spanish league is still the strongest in Europe.

“A beautiful league, because the teams are very technical, and that’s the reason I’m in Spain,” Mourinho said. “I want to be where the best league is.”

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