South American fantasy artists add spice to battle of the big two

For all the talk of Real as a club in transitional disarray last season, it is worth remembering that they finished with 80 points, just four behind the champions, Barça, but 15 clear of third-placed Villarreal, who will provide a Champions' League test for Everton. Villarreal, with Diego Forlan prolific, led a chasing pack of five sides, the others being Real Betis, Espanyol, Seville and Valencia. There is little evidence to suggest that the top two will be toppled.

Barça have sparkled in pre-season, not least in Wednesday's 9-0 rout of the Chinese Super League champions, Shenzhan Jianlibao. Their 18-year-old Argentinian playmaker-striker, Lionel Messi, celebrated a senior international call-up with two goals, while Samuel Eto'o also got two. Henrik Larsson, Giovanni van Bronkhorst, Deco, Andres Iniesta and Ludovic Giuly also scored to illustrate Barça's firepower, while Ronaldinho was eye-catchingly influential without finding the net.

For all Barça's attacking options and glamour names, they have been quiet in the transfer market, leaving Real to grab the headlines with the signing of two Brazilian internationals, Julio Baptista and Robinho, either of whom would be a mouthwatering prospect for most sides.

"Baptista is very powerful, has great technique. He can score goals and has the ability to play in several different positions," said Real's director of football, Arrigo Sacchi. "Robinho is incredible, a fantasy player who will bewilder the supporters in the Bernabeu."

The transfer carousel has also brought a pair of Uruguayans, the midfielder Pablo Garcia and the winger Carlos Diogo, to the Bernabeu, while Santiago Solari, Walter Samuel and Luis Figo are gone or going, as might Michael Owen be. David Beckham said yesterday he wants to stay for the rest of his career, while his England team-mate Jonathan Woodgate will be happy just to get his career back on track at last in Real's defence.

Real's coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, has made it clear that he expects his new-look squad to gel quickly, with any dissenters or impatient players urged to leave. "I don't want to see angry faces here," he said. "Everyone should be content because if not we will not be able to construct a winning team."

Barça are the bookmakers' favourites for the title, by a slight margin, but their president, Joan Laporta, is emphatic about their chances. "We have a very powerful squad that does not need anybody," he said, discounting the view that Real's new Brazilians will give them an edge.

"We are the team to beat. We have generated a great sense of expectancy. We are not scared."

Barça and Real both start their league seasons away at promoted clubs, Alaves and Cadiz respectively. Expect flying starts and a thrilling duel at the top.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas