Wed, Aug 14, 2013 - Page 18 News List

La Liga gap widens as Barcelona, Real spend as rest sell

AFP, MADRID

Looking at the Spanish sports pages over the typically baking summer months, it would appear the game in Spain was in rude health both on and off the pitch.

In Catalonia, Neymar has dominated attention after his 57 million euro (US$74 million) move from Santos to Barcelona was confirmed in June, while, in the capital, Real Madrid backed up their 69 million euro investment in the young Spanish duo of Isco and Asier Illarramendi with an on-going pursuit of the 100 million euro-rated Gareth Bale in a saga that looks set to run well into the final days of the transfer window.

However, beneath the big two, the game in Spain has continued to reflect the general ailing Spanish economy with even clubs in the Champions League forced to sell their best players.

As a result, the already colossal gap between Real and Barca and the rest continues to increase, as do fears that by continuing to use an unbalanced TV deal that greatly favors the big two, La Liga descends further into a turgid two-horse race.

However, while both Barca and Real have been active in the transfer market, there are concerns that both have so far failed to bring in the type of players they really needed after falling at the semi-final stage of the Champions League last season.

Neymar’s arrival should certainly ease the scoring burden that Lionel Messi has carried almost single-handedly for the past two seasons, but the Catalans still look very threadbare at the back with captain Carles Puyol having undergone two operations during the close season and not due back until at least next month.

Real, meanwhile, have bolstered an already strong midfield, but have not so far replaced Gonzalo Higuain after he joined SSC Napoli last month, leaving only Karim Benzema and youngster Alvaro Morata to fill the lone striker’s position.

There is though already a great deal more calm around Los Blancos following the departure of Jose Mourinho, with the management team of Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane highly respected by the squad and the players themselves coming together as a unit following the public clashes and fallouts that marked the Portuguese’s final season at the Bernabeu.

Such is their dominance that firstly Real and then Barca amassed 100 points in winning the title in the past two seasons and with the gap only set to widen between them and the rest, it is highly likely whoever becomes champions will need to register a century of points once more.

In the battle for Champions League places, Atletico Madrid seem the best set, despite losing Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco.

Atletico have arguably done the best business in terms of value for money as they replaced the 60 million euro Colombian star with David Villa for an initial fee of just 2.1 million euros.

Further down, Valencia, Sevilla, Real Betis Balompie and Real Sociedad are likely to be in the mix for the European places, despite all losing key players in recent months.

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