La Liga champions Real Madrid and Copa del Rey winners Barcelona go head to head in the first leg of the Supercopa de Espana at the Nou Camp on Sunday.
Here are three talking points ahead of the match.
Following the shock departure of Brazil forward Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in a new world-record move worth €222million, it will no longer be the ‘MSN’ trio leading the Barcelona line.
The Nou Camp faithful may soon have another hero to line up alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, as the club pursue a replacement, but it will be familiar faces lining up against their arch rivals. For now, though, at least they have Gerard Deulofeu back in the fold, and he may have a big chance to impress.
Losing a key man just days before the new season was probably not what former Athletic Bilbao boss Valverde had in mind when he took over from Luis Enrique. Nevertheless, the former Barcelona forward will be expected not only to deal with it, but also to deliver a side capable of wrestling the La Liga crown back from Madrid.
Starting at the back is always a good way to build, and the summer acquisition of Portugal international Nelson Semedo was certainly a solid choice.
While Valverde may have more to work with in time for Barcelona’s league opener against Real Betis on August 20, any honeymoon period will be short-lived should his team fail to deliver consistent results at home and in Europe.
After riding out criticism when he was parachuted into the Bernabeu hot seat, Zinedine Zidane’s coaching stock has never been higher.
The French World Cup winner has moulded a side who were ruthless last season both in denying Barcelona in La Liga and as star man Cristiano Ronaldo drove Los Blancos towards Champions League glory.
Having only lost five games over the course of that campaign, Zidane’s work ethic will mean he wants to at least match those achievements.
But defending both trophies will prove no easy task, perhaps especially so after the departures of Danilo, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez. There is, of course, still time for Real to land yet another Galactico before the transfer window closes.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Gracenote’s computer-generated Euro Club Index is predicting that Real Madrid will finish as champions again this season, in an even closer title race.
Whereas Madrid won the league by three points last season, the prediction for this season is that Los Blancos will pip bitter rivals Barcelona to the title despite finishing level on points.
Of course, that means that Real Madrid would have to win the head-to-head tiebreaker, given that goal difference is not the first tiebreaker in La Liga.
Otherwise, the two sides would have to play out identical draws in this season’s Clasicos, or win one each by identical scorelines – with Madrid having to have a better goal difference overall, for the Index’s outcome to come true.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that last season, Barcelona had a vastly superior goal difference to Real Madrid’s – +79 to +65, so this model is predicting a huge swing on that account.
Who do you think will win La Liga this season?
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?