Friday 02 October 2020, 07:33

Barcelona favourites as Real Madrid make Liga debut

  • Spain’s women’s Liga begins on Saturday, with Barcelona favourites

  • Real Madrid all set to make their debut in the competition

  • Last season was cut short because of the pandemic

Elite women’s football is back in Spain, with the Primera Division de la Liga de Futbol Femenino making its return this weekend, the last major league in Europe to do so.

Reigning champions Barcelona will be defending the title they won in a 2019/20 season brought to an early conclusion by the pandemic and in which no teams were relegated.

Las Azulgrana have kept the core of their squad together and are favourites to retain their grown, though Atletico Madrid, their main rivals in the last few years, will surely have something to say about that. One of this season’s main attractions is the eagerly anticipated top-flight debut of Real Madrid, who begin life in the Liga in style, with a clásico against Barça.

Offering a complete guide to the season ahead, previews the fight for the title and takes a look at the players, teams and coaches to watch out for.

La Liga: Did you know?

  • 18 teams: the maximum number of teams in the league before this season was 16. Last season’s bottom two, Valencia and Espanyol, stayed up after the competition was cut short, while Santa Teresa and Eibar were both promoted to the top flight.

  • 34 matchdays: the league kicks off on 3 October and concludes on 27 June 2021.

  • Three European places: for the very first time the top three will all qualify for next season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League.

  • Two women in the dugouts: the Liga’s only female coaches are Maria Pry, who remains in charge at Levante after their third place last season, and Natalia Arroyo, who takes over at Real Sociedad.

The title candidates

Atleti had won three titles in a row prior to last season, but saw their reign ended by a dominant Barça side that are a step ahead of the pack. Barcelona won 19 and drew two of the 21 matches they played before the league’s early conclusion, scoring 86 goals and conceding just six.

Las Azulgrana will start out as favourites, thanks to a squad that features the spine of the Spain team – including last season’s top scorer, Jenni Hermoso, and best goalkeeper, Sandra Panos - and international stars of the calibre of Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen.

Atleti have not been standing still, however. Having strengthened their line-up in every department, they now boast seasoned internationals such as Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and Italy defender Alia Guagni and a clutch of exciting youngsters, among them French striker Emelyne Laurent. On the downside, Las Colchoneras have injuries to contend with as they begin the season, while Virginia Torrecilla is also out of action as she continues her recovery from surgery on a brain tumour.

The Atletico Madrid team pose for a team photo wearing a t-shirt to show support for Virginia Torrecilla

A long-awaited arrival

After a year in transition, playing under the name of CD Tacon, this will be Real Madrid’s first Liga campaign. The ambitious Blancos have held on to their key players, among them the Swedish duo Kosovare Asllani and Sofia Jakobsson, and brought in a host of new faces.

Spain international Marta Corredera and Ivana Andres and Mexico’s Kenti Robles form part of a revamped defence, while youngsters Tere Abelleira and Maite Oroz will direct operations in the centre of midfield.

Real could not have a more high-profile opening, taking on mighty Barcelona on Sunday, an all-new clásico that should give a good indication as to the prospects of the women in white.

Real Madrid new signings pose

Surprise packages?

Newly promoted Deportivo de La Coruna took the league by storm last season to finish fourth, and there are a few sides looking to make a similar impact this season, with Depor hoping to punch above their weight again.

Modest Madrid CFF have been top-flight regulars for a few seasons now and have what it takes to spring a surprise. Their chief assets include the skilful duo of Geyse Ferreira and Estela Fernandez and the experienced and hard-running Priscila Borja.

Following the arrival of French international Sandie Toletti and Argentina’s Aldi Cometti, Levante look well equipped to build on last season’s top-three finish.

Players to watch

Asisat Oshoala: Though her partners in Barcelona’s three-pronged attack, Hermoso and Hansen, usually attract most of the attention, it is hard to find a player in the whole Liga who can match the Nigerian for pace and finishing prowess. Could this be her year?

Claudia Pina: A FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cup winner with Spain, the young striker now needs time on the pitch to showcase her undoubted talent. With opportunities few and far between at Barça, Pina has joined Sevilla on loan, determined to make her mark.

Marta Cardona: The 25-year-old’s fine form earned her a Spain call-up and then a move to Real Madrid. Quick and skilful with the ball, Cardona is ready for the challenge. With Jakobsson lining up alongside her on the wing, the Merengue attack has a potent look about it.