By Paul Giblin
MADRID, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Amid the almost traditional annual disputes surrounding the fixture calendar, Spain's Liga Santander kicks off on Friday with FC Barcelona looking to defend their title and make it three out of three under coach Ernesto Valverde.
Despite winning last season's title with ease, Valverde starts the new season under pressure following Barca's 4-0 Champions League defeat to Liverpool and a 2-1 loss to Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey, however, he will be satisfied with the signing of midfielder Frenkie de Jong, left back Junior Firpo and Antoine Griezmann, who should add goals, speed and work-rate following his move from Atletico Madrid.
Barca are still interested in trying to bring Neymar Jr back from Paris Saint Germain, although how Valverde would keep everyone in a squad featuring the Brazilian, Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Griezmann happy is not an easy question to answer.
One thing that is certain however, is that as long as Messi is fit and in form, Barca have to be favorites once again.
Atletico Madrid may have lost Griezmann and other key players such as Rodri Hernandez, Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez, but they have moved quickly to replace them and in Joao Feliz they have a 19-year-old forward who could be a candidate to be the next sensation in world football.
Joao Felix has impressed with his skills and vision in pre-season, while other new arrivals such as Mario Hermoso and Kieran Trippier have slotted into Diego Simeone's style with no problems, while the imminent arrival of Rodrigo Moreno from Valencia also looks to be a good signing.
Atletico thrashed Real Madrid 7-3 in a pre-season game in New York and if that is a declaration of intent for the new campaign, nobody can write them off.
Real Madrid's pre-season is a totally different story, however as Zinedine Zidane's side continues to look for a style of play in a summer which has only seen them win one match (5-3 against Fenerbache).
There have been big name signings in Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo, but so far it hasn't clicked and the club is still in the market for another big signing with Paul Pogba, Christian Eriksen and Neymar all possible arrivals before the end of the summer.
Real Madrid have been unable to move on Gareth Bale and have had the worst pre-season results in Spain, so despite the confidence shown in Zidane up to now, the Frenchman has his work cut out to transform a chaotic summer into a successful season.
Elsewhere Valencia ended last season on a high note, finishing fourth and beating Barca in the Cup final.
Although the team coached by Marcelino Toral has added powerful striker Maxi Gomez to the squad, the loss of Rodrigo Moreno just days before the kick-off is a serious blow to their hopes.
Sevilla have been the summer's big moves, contracting former Spain and Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui and making a host of signings to back him up.
Joan Jordan from Eibar and Fernando Reges from Galatasaray are excellent midfielders, while Oliver Torres returns to Spain from Porto (where he previously worked with Lopetegui), although Sevilla could miss Pablo Sarabia, who has moved to Paris Saint Germain.
Wu Lei's Espanyol did well to finish seventh last season and Matias Vargas looks an interesting acquisition, however, it will be interesting to see how Espanyol cope with the extra demands of European football this season, especially if Borja Iglesias joins Mario Hermoso in leaving over the summer.
Athletic Club Bilbao have not signed anyone, but look well-drilled under Gaizka Garitano with striker Inaki Williams aiming to build on the 13 goals he scored last season and Yeray Alvarez, Unai Nunez and Inigo Martinez offering guarantees in defense.
Real Sociedad have added firepower with the arrival of 'Portu' Alexander Isak and Martin Odergaard, but Mikel Oyarzabal will probably be their main man once again as they look to qualify for Europe.
Alaves have made wholesale changes and new coach Asier Garitano has a tough task repeating the success of Abelardo Fernandez in the dugout, while the high number of arrivals and departures at Leganes means Mauricio Pellegrino will once again have to build a new-look side.
Eibar have lost players such as Joan Jordan and Ruben Pena, but coach Jose Luis Mendilibar is a safe pair of hands in charge, while Joan Francesc 'Rubi' has the task of taking Betis into Europe after his excellent work with Espanyol last season.
Villarreal can expect a better season after the struggles of 2018-19, while Iago Aspas will again be vital at Celta Vigo.
Valladolid and Levante are likely to be among the relegation candidates along with promoted sides, Osasuna, Mallorca and Granada, although Osasuna look to have signed well with Facundo Roncaglia and Chimy Avila joining from Celta and Huesca.