Pitchside Europe

Five questions ahead of the new Liga season

Pitchside Europe

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Europe's top leagues are returning after a summer hiatus and we asked our continental network of experts to give us the inside line on what to expect from each country.

We wanted the five big questions that fans will be asking themselves ahead of the big kick-off.

Next up it is the turn of La Liga, with Barcelona and Real Madrid expected to dominate again despite new faces in the dugout.

1. Will Neymar and Bale overthrow Messi and Ronaldo?

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have indisputably been the best players in La Liga over the last few season but the arrivals of Neymar and Gareth Bale (if he finally leaves Tottenham) could threaten their thrones.

Neymar scored 20 goals last year in Brazil and Gareth Bale was the player of the year in England with 26 goals across all competitions. However, that still leaves both players short of Messi and Ronaldo who scored 46 and 34 goals respectively in La Liga alone last season.

2. A new era in Barcelona

Tito Vilanova had leave the club in the middle of the summer because of his illness, and Gerardo 'Tata' Martino has replaced him. The new coach comes from a different league -Newell's Old Boys in Argentina doesn't have the same stature as Barcelona and his arrival is seen as a tough challenge for him.

FC Barcelona set an amazing total of 100 points last season - only Real Madrid managed to do that once before - so it seems unlikely they can repeat that this season. Senior players will have to assume the main responsibility – the likes of Xavi, Puyol, Messi and Valdés - in order to help Martino to follow the successful path started by Pep Guardiola.

3. Iker Casillas or Diego López?

Carlo Ancelotti will have to decide who will be his starting goalkeeper in his first season at Real Madrid. Iker Casillas sat on the bench during the second half of last season but he felt useful again in Confederations Cup with the Spanish national team. López returned from Sevilla in the winter transfer window and he was irreplaceable for José Mourinho in his last months in Spain.

Ancelotti has chosen both of them in the pre-season matches, but Casillas seems likely to return to the starting XI. He is the captain and one of the most respected players in the country so there could be serious trouble ahead for 'Carletto' if he chooses López instead Iker.

4. Who will score the goals for the other clubs?

Away from the big two, La Liga's main strikers in droves, searching for new challenges abroad. Álvaro Negredo (from Sevilla to Manchester City), Roberto Soldado (from Valencia to Tottenham), Radamel Falcao (from Atlético Madrid to Monaco), Fernando Llorente (from Athletic Bilbao to Juventus) and Iago Aspas (from Celta Vigo to Liverpool) are no longer in Spain and it causes a worrying problems for a number of team.

Sevilla have signed Carlos Bacca and Raul Rusescu, whereas Atlético have gambled on David Villa to be Falcao's replacement. Hélder Postiga got relegated last season with Zaragoza but he could redeem himself in Valencia. Most people think that Spanish football has lost strength, but it's a great opportunity to uncover new international stars.

5. A 'big-three' with Atlético?

La Liga has been dominated firmly by Barcelona and Real Madrid in the last few years, but Atlético Madrid is experiencing somewhat of a 're-birth' under Diego Simeone. The team has won four European trophies since 2010 (two Europa Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups) and managed to defeat Real Madrid in their own stadium last May in the Copa del Rey final.

For the new season, Falcao is gone, but David Villa has come in from Barcelona for the ridiculous low price of just €5.1 million and 'El Guaje' has been one of the most consistent strikers of the last decade.

The first few matches will show us if the 'Colchoneros' will be able to compete with the two giants of the competition.

Agustín Galán

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