Barça are definitely the strongest side in La Liga this year. If we analyze their squad we'll see no real weaknesses, they have managed to address all their pressing needs whilst also bolstering what was already the best attacking force in World Football. I've been impressed at how quickly they have managed to secure all their top targets, leaving them with a full pre-season schedule where they could solely focus on team chemistry and regaining form. Barça have upgraded in several positions with real quality...but more importantly they have done so with a plan in mind. G.Milito and Eric Abidal vastly improve their defensive options and are clear upgrades on Marquez and Gio/Sylvinho, whilst Yahya Toure adds much-needed steel and power in their midfield (without compromising the traditional Barça heritage of technical excellence in midfield). The only department that you'd be hard-pressed to find an actual improvement upon, REM, has been joined by probably the only player in the World you could consider an improvement- Thierry Henry. Barça are the best team in the World on paper, but fortunately for the rest of us, football goes beyond just paper and names. For me, Barça's success this season depends on how professional their players prove to be, or their lack of it. Someone, a big name- be it in midfield (Deco, Xavi or Iniesta) or attack (Messi or Henry)- will be on the bench because you can only play with eleven players at a time. If they opt for incorporating the four cracks into the line-up, a midfielder of reputable International class will go to the bench- or they can continue with a three-man midfield and one of the "Fantastic Four" will have to be dropped. Either way...someone important will be benched and their success will depend on how happy Big Frank can keep the squad. If disharmony and mayhem breaks out, they are likely to implode...or we could see something spectacular. Team to beat.
Valencia were ravaged by injuries last year- but they return with a clean bill of health and some new (familiar) faces. They've lost the veteran leadership of Ayala, but recover the same experienced qualities in Ivan Helguera. Alexis Ruano is a defender I rate highly, and seeing as Canizares is not getting any younger they've moved to secure Hildebrand from Stuttgart- so Los Che have considerably improved in defense. Spain's U-20 star Stephen "Sunny" Sunday could make fans forget quickly about Baraja's dodgy knees if given the opportunity...whilst Edu is hoping to finally be able to show his value to this team following two extended periods on the sidelines. We all know about their dangerous set of wingers, and Valencia have looked to complete their attacking options with the signings of Zigic and Mata. For all his goal-scoring exploits, David Villa isn't likely to win you any aerial battles so it will be interesting to see him link up with Zigic's 6"7 frame. Valencia look solid in every department, the key for them is perhaps Quique falling on his head and forgetting that he is, in fact, married to Angulo.
Sevilla have kept the same base that has led them to back-to-back Uefa Cup titles, a Super Cup and a Spanish Cup in the last two years. Juande Ramos is one of the best coaches in Europe at this point in time and it's his unique system that is delivering success to the Andalusian capital. It's true Daniel Alves is likely to leave for Chelsea or Madrid, but in Ramon Rodriguez "Monchi" they have a man who is widely considered as the best sporting director in Spain- so rest assured they have a plan in place to replace the heart beat of their team. Who knows? It could even be our very own Cicinho, who is obviously the most natural replacement for Alves. Del Nido has extended Freddie Kanoute's contract and signed Khalid Boulahrouz to bolster their defense, but Sevilla (unsurprisingly, given their strong base) have hardly been active in the transfer market. IMO- especially if they sign Cicinho- they will challenge for the title again this year. They're too strong and far too a tight-knitted group to fall apart just because of Alves' departure.