Real Madrid to win the league, Malaga the surprise package, Nelson Semedo to star and other La Liga predictions

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The new La Liga season starts Friday, August 18, with Leganes hosting Alaves, before El Clasico foes Barcelona and Real Madrid get their respective campaigns underway against Real Betis and Deportivo La Coruna.

Neymar-less Barca are out to reclaim the Spanish crown from Zinedine Zidane’s Real while the likes of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla will look to gatecrash the title race.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at points of interest ahead of the 2017-18 season.

WHO’S GOING TO WIN IT?

Real Madrid. A change of manager rarely has a destabilising effect at Barca but coupled with the shock departure of Neymar for Paris St Germain uncertainty is currently the catchword at the Nou Camp.

Under Ernesto Valverde the Blaugrana ought to lose no tactical nous and even without Neymar they will be ruthless in front of goal, but the momentum is with Zidane’s men at the Bernabeu and, unlike in Barcelona, there is no real capital pressure to prioritise a pursuit of the Champions League trophy.

WHO’LL BE THE SURPRISE PACKAGE?

No one upset the established order in May with Alaves looking good for European football until they faded to ninth.

Former Champions League regulars Malaga, after a few years of uncertainty, look poised to surge up the table from 11th after making a canny appointment in the shape of well-travelled Michel, who delivered an immediate upturn in results when he arrived in the spring.

Beyond that Valencia remain an unpredictable entity with the potential to fly or to flop.

WHO ARE THE SUMMER SIGNINGS TO WATCH?

Unusually for a Spanish summer the focus was less on the players who arrived in LaLiga than on who departed, with class acts Neymar, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez all moving on.

Barca’s activity has been understated – full-back Nelson Semedo is a shrewd capture from Benfica – while Real opted to add in strength in depth by picking up Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos.

Sevilla were the busiest club: Luis Muriel, Simon Kjaer, Nolito, Ever Banega and Jesus Navas were just a few of the names through the door at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan ahead of an expected assault on the top three.

WHO CAME UP AND WHO’S GOING DOWN?

Levante and Getafe are back in the top flight after single-term absences but it might be relative unknowns Girona who fare best.

Pablo Machin’s Catalans have borrowed four players – Pablo Maffeo, Aleix Garcia, Douglas Luiz and Marlos Moreno – from Manchester City and should use them wisely in what will be a tough fight for survival.

Leganes pulled it off last season but have thus far failed to strengthen significantly and might face the drop.

Celta Vigo and Las Palmas should be wary, too.

ANY OTHER BUSINESS?

What? No mention of Cristiano Ronaldo? The Real hitman who has enjoyed another stellar year despite registering his lowest tally of league goals during his Bernabeu career continues to hog the headlines.

The 32-year-old Portuguese – now a four-time Champions League winner – is expecting his fourth child this year but celebrations for both matters have been somewhat spoiled by his court trial for alleged failure to pay taxes in full.

Ronaldo denies any wrongdoing – but will the case come back to bite him during a crucial campaign for the current Ballon d’Or holder?

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Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo hints at Premier League return

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Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo has hinted he would like to return to England after revealing his frustration over an investigation into his tax returns.

The 32-year-old Real Madrid striker, who played for Manchester United between 2003 and 2009, has denied charges of evading tax and hiding details of his income from the Spanish tax authorities.

Prosecutors allege Ronaldo evaded €14.7million (£13.1million) in tax.

The Portuguese claims that, contrary to the argument of the Public Prosecutor, the transfer of his image rights to a company he owned took place in 2004 and not in 2010 just after he joined Real.

Since 2015 the player said his image rights had been granted to an independent third party, registered in Spain, that pays tax for him.

The Public Prosecutor’s charge is limited exclusively to tax on the amounts earned by the player in 2014 for granting his image rights for the years from 2011 to 2020.

Ronaldo, who earlier this week appeared at magistrates court in a Madrid suburb to answer the charges, has reiterated his innocent plea.

He claims life was more straightforward in Manchester.

In quotes carried by Spanish newspaper Cadena Ser, Ronaldo said: “I never had this problem in England, that’s why I’d like to go back.

“I remember when I arrived in England and they told me that that’s how things worked. I went to Manchester as an 18-year-old and they advised me this was the best system I could use, just like the other players did. In Spain they told me I’d have to pay more but that there’d be no problems.

“I’ve always paid what I’ve had to pay.”

Ronaldo has scored more than 400 goals for LaLiga champions Real since arriving in 2009 and he won three Premier League titles and the Champions League with United.

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Real Madrid and Barcelona to wait until 17th round for El Clasico as La Liga fixtures are announced

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Real Madrid’s defence of their LaLiga title will start with a match at Deportivo La Coruna next month.

The champions will take on Pepe Mel’s men at the Riazor on a date to be confirmed between August 18 and 21.

Barcelona, who finished the 2016-17 campaign three points behind Real in second, start at home to Real Betis.

In what is a repeat of last season’s opening Nou Camp fixture, Luis Enrique’s successor Ernesto Valverde will take charge of his first league match as Barca boss.

Spanish giants Real and Barcelona will not face each other until the 17th round of fixtures, at the Bernabeu, with the return Clasico at the Nou Camp representing the stand-out fixture of round 36.

Atletico Madrid, third last year, welcome league newcomers Girona to their new Wanda Metropolitano home.

There are also tough early tests for the other top-flight new boys – with Segunda Division champions Levante travelling to Villarreal while Getafe, who beat Tenerife in the play-off final, are away to another Europa League side, Athletic Bilbao.

Sevilla beat Espanyol 6-4 at the Sanchez Pizjuan on the opening day last season – and the fixture is repeated on day one in 2017-18.

Elsewhere, Valencia host Las Palmas in another repeated curtain-raising fixture, Celta Vigo are at home to Real Sociedad, Malaga face Eibar and Alaves travel to Leganes.

Provided by Press Association

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