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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
Read

La Liga prospects for 2005/06

MADRID, Aug 24 (Reuters)

BARCELONA (1)
Coach: Frank Rijkaard

After ending a barren six-year spell with a convincing victory in last season's title race, Barca decided to make minimal changes to their squad.

Experienced Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel and talented Spanish winger Santi Ezquerro are the only two recruits, both players arriving at the Nou Camp on free transfers.

With Sweden striker Henrik Larsson, midfielders Thiago Motta and Edmilson, and defender Gabri returning from serious knee injuries that kept them out for most of last season, Frank Rijkaard has a far more powerful squad this time round.

Unlike Real Madrid the team will need no time to bed in and pre-season results suggest their rivals will face an uphill task in stopping the Catalans from winning a second successive title.

REAL MADRID (2)
Coach: Vanderlei Luxemburgo

After two off-colour seasons without winning a major trophy Real have undergone a €60million ($73.40 million) makeover that should allow them to challenge for domestic and European honours once again.

Uruguayan duo Pablo Garcia and Carlos Diogo have been brought in to strengthen the side's defensive resources while forwards Robinho and Julio Baptista have given the new-look front line a distinctly Brazilian flavour.

Former World and European Player of the Year Luis Figo, centre-back Walter Samuel and the versatile Santiago Solari have all left for Inter Milan while the future of England striker Michael Owen is still up in the air.

Despite the hype surrounding Robinho's arrival, the talented 21-year-old forward is likely to need time to adapt to European football and Luxemburgo may struggle to keep all his players happy as he rotates his squad.

VILLARREAL (3)
Coach: Manuel Pellegrini

After last season's best-ever third-place finish, Villarreal have made typically astute reinforcements to complement their existing strengths.

Experienced Italian midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi, Dutch international Jan Kromkamp, Ecuador international Antonio Valencia and Argentine goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa add new depth to a top-quality squad.

With the mercurial Juan Roman Riquelme running the show and Golden Shoe winner Diego Forlan hoping to continue his rich vein of form up front, they should be a match for anyone.

REAL BETIS (4)
Coach: Llorenc Serra Ferrer

Betis have boosted their midfield with the addition of classy playmaker Albert Rivera from relegated Levante and the highly-rated Miguel Angel from Malaga, but the Andalucians still lack strength in depth.

Once again Brazilian striker Ricardo Oliveira and Spain winger Joaquin will shoulder most of the burden in attack. Injury or a loss of form for either player could leave Serra Ferrer's side struggling for goals.

ESPANYOL (5)
Coach: Miguel Angel Lotina

Unless they can sign someone to replace Maxi Rodriguez and support the reliable Raul Tamudo up front the Catalans will have no hope of matching last season's impressive fifth-place finish.

The Espanyol midfield, on the other hand, looks strong with Argentine youth international Pablo Zabaleta, Brazilian Eduardo Costa, Albert Riera and former Real Madrid player Juanfran providing support for inspirational playmaker Ivan de la Pena.

SEVILLA (6)
Coach: Juande Ramos

After fears that the loss of leading striker Baptista to Real Madrid would undermine the team's chances of repeating the success of last season, the arrival of Javier Saviola, Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano has more than restored optimism at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

With Brazilians Adriano Correia, Renato and Daniel Alves combining with a talented crop of youngsters including Jesus Navas and Sergio Ramos, the Andalucians are likely to be up there challenging for European places once again.

VALENCIA (7)
Coach: Quique Sanchez Flores

All change at Valencia with former player Sanchez Flores taking over the coaching duties after working a minor miracle in keeping Getafe in the top flight last season.

Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert and Uruguay winger Mario Regueiro have joined as free agents while the club has spent 20 million euros on bringing in Portugal right back Miguel Monteiro from Benfica and Spain striker David Villa from Zaragoza.

On paper they should be challenging for a Champions League place, but a serious knee injury to Brazilian signing Edu has scuppered plans for a new-look midfield and pressure from the notoriously fickle fans could hamper their progress.

DEPORTIVO CORUNA (8)
Coach: Joaquin Caparros

A change of guard at Depor with coach Javier Irureta leaving after seven highly successful seasons and loyal servants Mauro Silva and Fran retiring.

Club president Augusto Cesar Lendoiro has continued his policy of belt-tightening and Canada midfielder Julian de Guzman is the only major recruit, while last season's leading scorer Albert Luque looks to be on his way out.

Depor's ace in the pack is new coach Joaquin Caparros. The Andalucian worked wonders with limited resources at Sevilla and should bring the best out of promising young forwards Ivan Carril and Ruben Castro.

ATHLETIC BILBAO (9)
Coach: Jose Luis Mendilibar

Options are limited for a team that only relies on players from the Basque region although new coach Jose Luis Mendilibar, who took neighbours Eibar so close to promotion last season, has the right credentials for the job.

Attacking left back Asier del Horno has decamped to Chelsea for a club record 12 million euros and talented winger Santi Ezquerro has left for Barcelona on a free.

With a crop of promising youngsters including Javier Casas, Jonan Garcia and Fernando Llorente coming through to join the likes of Fran Yeste, Ismael Urzaiz and Joseba Etxeberria the Lions should be looking for a UEFA Cup place.

MALAGA (10)
Coach: Antonio Tapia

Another rebuilding job for the Andalucians with the entire front line of Marcio Amoroso, Paulo Wanchope and Fernando Baiano leaving in the close season.

Salva Ballesta, who scored 18 goals when at Malaga two seasons ago, returns to form a combative strike partnership with Uruguayan international Richard Morales.

Coach Antonio Tapia did a great job after taking over midway through last season but his side face an uphill struggle especially after the loss of influential midfielder Miguel Angel.

ATLETICO MADRID (11)
Coach: Carlos Bianchi

There is a rare atmosphere of optimism at the Calderon at the start of this season.

With the appointment of former Boca Juniors coach Carlos Bianchi, Atletico look to have a boss with a reputation to match the club's expectations while there has been an unusual logic behind the transfer policy in the close season.

Live-wire Bulgaria winger Martin Petrov, former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman and Argentine duo Maxi Rodriguez and Luciano Galletti have been brought in to boost the midfield and provide much-needed support for Fernando Torres up front.

If the goals do come and the defence remains as water-tight as last season then Atletico could be battling for a Champions League place.

REAL ZARAZOZA (12)
Coach: Victor Munoz

Borussia Dortmund striker Ewerthon and former Barcelona player Sergio Garcia have been brought in following leading scorer David Villa's departure to Valencia.

Goalkeeper Cesar has joined on a free from Real Madrid although the core of last season's squad remains the same. Another mid-table finish beckons.

GETAFE (13)
Coach: Bernd Schuster

Bernd Schuster has a tough job stepping into the shoes of former coach Quique Sanchez Flores who kept the modest Madrilenos up against the odds in their first season in the top flight.

Swiss midfielder Fabio Celestini, Serbian striker Veljko Paunovic and Argentine fullback Anibal Matellan are the leading recruits and survival will be a major achievement.

REAL SOCIEDAD (14)
Coach: Jose Maria Amorrortu

Sociedad no longer have charismatic Valery Karpin after the former Russian international retired at the end of last season although they have managed to hang on to Turkish striker Nihat Kahveci who is back from a serious knee injury.

If Nihat renews his profitable partnership with the tireless Darko Kovacevic then Sociedad should have few problems securing a mid-table finish. If either gets injured they could be in trouble.

OSASUNA (15)
Coach: Javier Aguirre

Strikers John Aloisi and Richard Morales have gone, and Savo Milosevic and the rangy Pierre Webo will now be supported by Argentine forward Bernardo Romeo.

The Navarrans have replaced Pablo Garcia with the similarly abrasive Marcelo Sosa in midfield while former Manchester United goalkeeper Ricardo has also been added to the squad. Overall the Navarrans look short of cover.

RACING SANTANDER (16)
Coach: Manuel Preciado

A difficult season ahead for the Cantabrians who have lost all three of their key attacking players, Mario Regueiro, Yossi Benayoun and Javi Guerrero.

The modest reinforcements are led by Dalmat brothers Stephane and Wilfried, and Espanyol midfielder Oscar Serrano. A relegation struggle could be on the cards.

REAL MALLORCA (17)
Coach: Hector Cuper

After a Houdini-like escape from relegation last season, Cuper has decided to bring in a host of recruits to ensure they stay clear of trouble this time round.

Argentine trio Eduardo Tuzzio, Jonas Gutierrez and Adrian Peralta have arrived on Cuper's personal recommendation and the defence and midfield look strong, but the islanders are seriously short of firepower up front.

CADIZ (Second division champions)
Coach: Victor Esparrago

Last season's second division champions will try to copy Getafe's feat and remain in the top flight without breaking the bank.

Uruguayan winger Fabio Estoyanoff is the most exciting signing, yet Victor Esparrago's side are in for a tough time in their first Primera Liga campaign in 13 years.

CELTA VIGO (runners-up in second division)
Coach: Fernando Vazquez

Of all the promoted sides Celta have expended the most energy and resources on reinforcements and have the look of a team that should be challenging for Europe rather than fighting for survival.

Argentine international defender Diego Placente has been drafted in from Bayer Leverkusen and Brazilian striker Fernando Baiano joins after a fine season at Malaga.

Midfielders Antonio Nunez and Jorge, striker Javi Guerrero and keeper Esteban are other interesting recruits. However, the defence remains suspect.

ALAVES (3rd in second division)
Coach: Chuchi Cos

A return to the top flight for flamboyant club president Dimitry Piterman who sacked new coach Rafael Monfort after less than six weeks in the job and reappointed right-hand man Chuchi Cos, who steered the club to promotion.

The experienced Mauricio Pellegrino has been brought in to marshal the defence after a brief spell at Liverpool and Arnaud Antchouet and John Aloisi lead the attack, although the midfield looks a little lightweight. The Basque side could spring a surprise or two but will do exceptionally well to stay clear of the relegation battle.