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Rivals look to regain dominance

Published: Saturday 28 August 2004, 15.59CET
Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona are aiming to wrest the title from Valencia CF as the new season begins.

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Published: Saturday 28 August 2004, 15.59CET

Rivals look to regain dominance

Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona are aiming to wrest the title from Valencia CF as the new season begins.
The blue touch paper will be lit to herald the start of the new Primera División season this weekend as Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona attempt to wrest the title from Valencia CF.

Defensive fortification
Madrid have brought in two highly-rated centre-backs as they attempt to shore up the defensive line that contributed to their disappointing fourth place finish last term. Walter Samuel joined from AS Roma at the beginning of the summer and was joined by English international Jonathan Woodgate from Newcastle United FC last week. Both are currently injured though and Madrid will probably improvise against RCD Mallorca this weekend with Alvaro Mejia partnering Francisco Pavón in central defence.

Strike power
But the arrivals were eclipsed by the capture of Woodgate's England team-mate Michael Owen for €12m from Liverpool FC. The 24-year-old joins a formidable array of strikers including Ronaldo, Raúl González and Fernando Morientes. This Sunday's opponents Mallorca do not possess such an embarrassment of riches though, so Javier Farinos' absence at the Santiago Benabéu because of a thigh injury will be sorely missed.

Fresh faces
Farinos was brought in as a replacement for Samuel Eto'o who joined Barcelona for €24m. The Cameroonian international could be partnered by another of the club's new players, Henrik Larsson, for Sunday's opening match against Real Racing Club Santander. After playing on opposing sides in last year's UEFA Champions League final, ex-FC Porto man Deco and AS Monaco FC departee Ludovic Giuly could line up together, but Frank Rijkaard could be without Camp Nou favourites Ronaldinho and Carles Puyol as they are both nursing slight injuries, as are new Brazilian defensive duo Edmílson and Sylvinho.

Italian influence
Valencia begin the season under a new coach after Rafael Benítez departured to take the helm at Liverpool. Claudio Ranieri has replaced him and has immediately made his Italian influence known, bringing in four players from Serie A. One of those, Emiliano Moretti, is unavailable as he is on Olympic duty, though Stefano Fiore, Marco Di Vaio and Bernado Corradi could all make their bows in the league opener against Villarreal CF.

UEFA Cup contest
That match has been put back to Monday to accommodate Friday's UEFA Super Cup against Porto, in which Di Vaio scored in a 2-1 Valencia win. Villarreal are an outside bet for a European spot but must compete with the likes of RC Deportivo La Coruña, Sevilla FC and Athletic Club de Bilbao, while Club Atlético de Madrid could impress with new signing Juan Velasco from RC Celta de Vigo.

Primera División baptism
Survival will probably be the priority for Getafe CF who make their debut in Spain's top flight at Real Zaragoza, but José Uribe may face a difficult task if he is to secure a second season there. Fellow newcomers CD Numancia may also struggle but last year's Segunda División champions Levante UD have signed a number of experienced players and could well exceed expectation. Their opening fixture against Real Sociedad de Fútbol could provide some insight.

Last updated: 30/08/04 0.29CET

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