Eight trophies in his first two seasons in charge have not diminished Josep Guardiola's appetite for success as FC Barcelona prepare to begin the defence of their Spanish crown under the threat of a vigorous challenge from José Mourinho's Real Madrid CF.
Barça needed a record 99 points haul to keep Madrid at bay last season and secure a 20th Liga triumph, and Guardiola expects the title race to be just as tight this time around. "Madrid look very strong but then they are always a team to fear no matter who is there," the coach continued. "We've had some new signings too and we still have to see how the squad will finally end up, but
I have a feeling things are going to go well for us this term."
The champions have added FIFA World Cup-winning forward David Villa and Sevilla FC wide man Adriano to their ranks, and were in ominous form last weekend as Lionel Messi struck a hat-trick in a 4-0 second-leg defeat of Sevilla that yielded another trophy in the form of the Spanish Super Cup.
Nevertheless, Guardiola has urged his players to go into Sunday's opening fixture away to Real Racing Club and beyond with their "eyes wide open". "The important thing for us after these years [of success] is to see if we still have the humility to know we must continue to put in exceptionally hard work," said the 39-year-old. "We have to do more than last year. We know we can do better but we've started well."
As they look to secure their first Spanish crown since 2008, Madrid's most significant signing of another busy summer may be Mourinho – the man who guided FC Internazionale Milano to a treble last term which included success in the UEFA Champions League final at his soon-to-be Santiago Bernabéu home.
On the playing front, Ángel di María, Pedro León, Ricardo Carvalho, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil have all followed the Portuguese to the capital ahead of their opening fixture away to RCD Mallorca on Sunday. "I feel that the players are happy and know what direction we want to take," Mourinho said. "
This being Real Madrid, there isn't much time and patience to achieve things, but we'll continue to evolve and will get there."
Valencia CF finished third last season, albeit 25 points behind Madrid, and they will strive to remain a top-three club despite selling Villa and David Silva. As for beaten Super Cup side Sevilla, they finished fourth but go into the new campaign under a cloud having been eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by SC Braga.
Club Atlético de Madrid, meanwhile, will have to wait until Monday's visit of Real Sporting de Gijón to begin their Liga campaign after beating Inter to win the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco. Winners of last season's UEFA Europa League, they have strengthened wisely by recruiting defensive duo Diego Godín and Filipe Luis, while also holding on to coveted strikers Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero.
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