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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 13 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Aug 23, 2007

La Liga: Big-spending Real face Atletico pressure

MADRID, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Under pressure after failing to impress in pre-season, Real Madrid kick-off their defence of the league title against reinvigorated city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Having sacked championship-winning coach Fabio Capello and brought in Bernd Schuster and a string of new players, Real have looked ragged and disorganised in recent games.

The club held a crisis meeting following Sunday's crushing 5-3 defeat at home to Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup and almost immediately spent 48 million euros on Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze and Dutch winger Arjen Robben.

The flurry of transfer activity at the club smacks of panic buying, but with 120 million euros ($162.7 million) worth of new players at their disposal they will still be expected to produce the goods in the season opener.

Atletico are upbeat after their new-look side produced some of the best football seen at the Calderon in recent years when they over-ran Serbian side Vojvodina in the UEFA Cup last week.

The pessimism following the departure of Fernando Torres has vanished after a series of promising displays by the new strike pairing of Diego Forlan and Argentine youngster Sergio Aguero.

'With the attacking players we have we could cause uproar at the Bernabeu,' club president Enrique Cerezo told sports daily Marca this week. 'But we have to make a huge effort, fight all the way and hope that things go our way.'

Atletico fans, however, have witnessed enough false dawns.

The 'rojiblancos' have been overawed by Real in recent years and have not beaten their neighbours in the league since October 1999 when they won 3-1 at the Bernabeu.

On Sunday, Barcelona will get a chance to parade their new signings Thierry Henry, Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure and Gabriel Milito at Racing Santander, the only side in the Primera Liga yet to spend any money on new players in the close season.

The question on everyone's lips is which of their 'Fantastic Four' forwards of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, Lionel Messi and Henry will start on the bench. The former Arsenal player appears the favourite.

Amongst the other feature games, in-form Sevilla host Michael Laudrup's Getafe in a repeat of last season's King's Cup final amid the furore surrounding the Tottenham Hotspur offer to coach Juande Ramos and the future of want-away right back Daniel Alves.

Valencia, another favourite for a top four spot, are at home to regional rivals Villarreal, who ended last season on an eight-match winning run.