Sky Sports News HQ's David Garrido looks ahead to the opening weekend of the new league season in Spain.
If you didn’t see the climax to La Liga last season, where were you? For once, the two giants were felled and plucky Atletico Madrid were crowned Spanish champions at the Nou Camp in a thrilling finish.
We’ll have to go some to match that drama, but all three title contenders have made intriguing moves in the transfer market to further their cause.
Most pundits have Real Madrid as the favourites, and rightly so. James Rodriguez obviously shone brilliantly during the World Cup, and he undoubtedly has the talent to succeed at the Bernabeu, but Toni Kroos is a standout signing, and now a World Cup winner of course.
However, with ever more 'galacticos' in the squad, there’s precious little room at Carlo Ancelotti’s inn, which means someone has to make way.
Sami Khedira might yet stay, but Angel di Maria will be a significant loss – he is one of the most consistent and perhaps under-rated performers Real have had in recent seasons.
Atletico have lost three key men from last season to Chelsea – cashing in on Diego Costa and Filipe Luis while Thibaut Courtois returns to his parent club, but they’ve replaced them smartly.
Antoine Griezmann knows Spanish football, while Mario Mandzukic brings a huge amount of experience. The crucial thing is that the bulk of the squad remains intact, and coach Diego Simeone has to continue to inspire them.
Victory in Friday's Super Copa second leg might just suggest they are still in the mix and are no one-season wonders.
It should be a home banker first up for Barcelona, as they welcome Elche. But even so, Lionel Messi and Neymar will hope to get out of the blocks quickly after their difficult, trophyless campaigns last time around.
Luis Suarez won’t be appearing until October at the earliest, but at least they’ll be able to keep him fit and relatively match-sharp in the meantime.
Those are the stars, but the steel has been added too by new coach Luis Enrique. Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu won’t shirk a challenge, and it’s what Barca badly need with Carles Puyol retiring. Ivan Rakitic was superb at Sevilla – let’s see how he fares in front of arguably the most demanding set of fans in Spanish football.
Speaking of Sevilla, Alberto Moreno also departed for decent money, but the Europa League winners could be helped out by some savvy loans from Catalonia.
Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu will continue their apprenticeship at the Sanchez Pizjuan, and the Andalucians are a good shout for fourth place, especially if Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro carry on scoring for fun.
Also in the fight for the final Champions League place are Athletic Bilbao. Like Atletico, unity is the Basques’ biggest strength, and despite losing Ander Herrera to Manchester United, it means holding midfielder Ander Iturraspe can now start to exert his influence even more. Going forward Iker Muniain remains their “star of the future” – but it’s time for him to seize the present.
Athletic go to Malaga, while Sevilla host Valencia in the opening round of fixtures and fans of Los Che will be desperate for a bit of financial stability with Peter Lim taking over, as it has been a total and utter shambles.
Germany international Shkodran Mustafi and Rodrigo de Paul are interesting signings, though, and some of the so-called troublemakers have departed for good.
Just up the coast, Villarreal will be keen to show that last season wasn’t an over-achievement, and it will be interesting to see how Jonathan dos Santos gets on at El Madrigal, joining his brother Giovani – and they still have the likes of Cani and Bruno for creative input. Villarreal take on Levante on Sunday.
Real Sociedad should also be there or thereabouts in the top eight, and they’ll also be relatively pleased to have kept hold of Carlos Vela, even if Griezmann and Claudio Bravo have headed on to pastures new. It’s a relatively easy start for them and a short trip, to newboys Eibar.
With a stadium capacity of just over 5,000, Eibar are the true minnows in La Liga. They were in the Segunda B only two seasons ago, but now they’ve finally made it to the big time, after sorting out how they are structured financially with the help of the fans.
That sort of community spirit will be invaluable in their fight for survival, likewise the loan signings of Derek Boateng from Rayo Vallecano and Manu del Moral from Sevilla.
Deportivo La Coruna have been Spain’s “yo-yo” club, not helped by huge money problems of their own, but should they keep their house in order, they might just make it stick this time.
Many of the Galicians’ squad has been there before, and one particular loanee could be a real star in the making too: watch out for Jose Rodriguez who has joined from Real Madrid.
Almeria only just stayed up on the final day with a draw against Athletic Bilbao – don’t expect them to be so lucky this time around, despite the additions of Tomer Hemed and Thievy Bifouma who might give them a bit more bite up front.
They face Espanyol first up, while fellow Andalucians Cordoba are back in La Liga after 43 seasons away, courtesy of a truly dramatic play-off final win over Las Palmas.
Cordoba have managed to keep Xisco, seemingly revived after his less-than-impressive stint at Newcastle, and also brought in plenty of loanees with La Liga experience, including Valencia’s impressive academy graduate Fede Cartabia. Iñigo Lopez also signed from PAOK, adding some vital solidity at the back.
And they’ll need that on Monday. Cordoba’s first game is against Real Madrid, away from home. Good luck with that.
Watch the kick off to the La Liga campaign with Malaga v Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla v Valencia live on Sky Sports 5 from 6pm this Saturday.