It seems an eternity since the ball stopped rolling at the end of La Liga season 2017 /2018 with FC Barcelona crowned as Champions. Admittedly since then we’ve been blessed with a fantastic World Cup tournament hosted by Russia where France were crowned as the victors and European football once again demonstrated its dominance.
Spain’s new La Liga season is scheduled to kick off on Friday 17 August, and it does so with a number of interesting novelties to contemplate, and we’re not just talking about the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo or Andres Iniesta, who will be sadly missed. No, we’re talking about a broad spread of changes all being introduced to increase the appeal of this great game.
It will be a little odd for most to find that La Liga has, for the first time, adopted to modify its historic practice of a symmetrical tournament, in which the second half of La Liga was a mirror image of the first. It used to be the practice that only the first game of the season was subject to an open draw amongst the 20 teams with all of the following subsequent 19 games being determined through a rudimentary criteria and then ‘flipped’ for games 20 to 38
However in recent times this symmetrical process had suffered criticism and indeed modification due to growing interest to ensure that the big games, notably ‘los clasicos’ between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona were played at ‘convenient’ dates or key moments in the season when there was a great deal at stake. Now, as is the case for the Premiership and most other important European leagues, the calendar is ‘asymmetric’ – a straight draw for all 38 games which will no doubt continue to be subject to modifications, if only to ensure that the bigger games are played at times to satisfy the growing demands of the global audience, particularly in Asia.
One of the inconveniences in preparing for this season relates to the proximity to the World Cup tournament, although admittedly Spain were eliminated earlier than anticipated, giving some respite to the clubs affected. Some of the major stars from La Liga made it through to the final (played on 15 July), meaning that the major clubs will not be able to fully count on those players when preparing for the season given the 30 days or so of vacation that they are afforded. Players such as Raphaël Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernández, Antoine Griezmann, Ivan Rakitić, and Luka Modrić will most probably not be fit for the commencement of La Liga.
The Spanish Super Cup, to be played between FC Barcelona and Seville FC on Sunday 12 August incorporates two important novelties. First, it will be played as a single game rather than a home and away tie, and secondly for the first time in its history it won’t be played in Spain. The neutral destination of Tangier, Morocco is the chosen host. This decision has not been free from controversy, particularly amongst the fans of both clubs.
Following protracted differences of opinion between the Spanish Football Federation and La Liga, the Spanish Cup Final (‘Copa del Rey’) will be played on 25 May. This tournament continues to celebrate home and away legs for each of the rounds, which is likely to be modified for next season reducing to just one game at the home of the less-seeded side, unless both teams agree a share of the gate receipts at the larger venue.
Whilst seeing the departure of some great players, other teams have also grown in prominence in La Liga, so that it is no longer just about Real Madrid and Barça. Teams such as Atletico de Madrid have emerged as serious rivals contending for the title, particularly since they have managed to retain Griezmann, their star player, and have also attracted some notable new signings – Lemar, Rodri, Gelson among others. Valencia and Seville are also teams to be watched this season.
For the first time ever the region of Madrid will have 5 representatives in the top flight, and Huesca, joined as a recently promoted team by Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano, will play in La Liga for the first time in their history.
The European Super Cup takes place just prior to the commencement of La Liga on Wednesday 15 August in Tallinn (Estonia) and, for the first time ever, involves two teams from the same city, Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, the Champions League champions and European League champions respectively.
La Liga is scheduled to end on 19 May with the European finals, Europa League and Champions scheduled for 29 May and 1 June respectively.