La Liga two-horse race, but others have plenty to offer

Madrid, Aug 12 (IANS) The uneven distribution of TV money means that the battle for La Liga title is once again likely to be a two horse race between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. But that doesn't mean the other 18 clubs should be ignored.

Barcelona and Madrid are paid over 50 percent of all the TV money distributed in La Liga, at least four times more than any other side, leaving other clubs with a mountain to climb if they want to compete, reports Xinhua.

Even Spain coach Vicente del Bosque lamented the imbalance this Sunday as his side prepared to fly for a pre-season friendly in Ecuador, saying he wished some sides could get closer to the big two.

A side can win a one-off game as Atletico Madrid showed last year in the final of the Copa del Rey but over a season, the economic punch of the big two is almost impossible to compete against on a week-by-week basis.

Atletico did well last season finishing just nine points behind in third place but 24 behind Barcelona while recent seasons have seen the big two at least 20 points ahead of third.

While Barcelona and Madrid have again spent big this summer, the economic realities mean many sides have lost key players. Atletico sold key striker Radamel Falcao while Valencia have lost Roberto Soldado, Nelson Valdez and Tino Costa and Real Sociedad saw midfielder Asier Illaramendi join Real Madrid.

Atletico have signed well if David Villa can get into best physical shape after a difficult 18 months with Barcelona, he could turn out to be the bargain of the summer, while Leo Baptistao showed last season with Rayo Vallecano that he has pace, skill and the ability to score.

Experienced Martin Demichelis gives more options to a defence that was the meanest last season, which means Atletico should still be up there challenging for a top four place.

The demands of playing in Europe and the loss of Illarramendi could damage Real Sociedad's options. It also remains to be seen how coach Jagoba Arrasate does after the departure of Philippe Montanier.

Valencia lack firepower although new coach Miroslav Djukic got Valladolid playing good last season. They have strengthened their midfield with Oriol Romeu and Javi Fuego.

Betis have kept coach Pepe Mel but have seen wholesale changes. Apart from Joan Verdu, the jury is still out on whether the new arrivals are as good as players such as Canas and Benat Etxebarria.

Rayo saw their squad dismembered over the summer and it will be hard to replace players like Leo Baptistao, Piti, Javi Fuego and Chori Dominguez. It could be a difficult season in Vallecas unless things click quickly.

Sevilla have been forced to sell Spain internationals Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo but appear to have signed wisely with Kevin Gameiro. Unai Emery will be happy to have spent a pre-season working with his squad.

Other sides that look strong are Athletic Club Bilbao and new coach Ernesto Valverde should get the best out of a midfield containing Ander Herrera, Benat and Ander Iturraspe while Iker Muniain and Andoni Iriola will hope to recover form.

Malaga are another side whose squad has seen big changes after Manuel Pellegrini joined Manchester City. Berndt Schuster has the difficult task of moulding a new side without Isco, Demichelis, Baptista and Javier Saviola and is more likely to find himself in mid-table than battling for Europe.

Villarreal should have few problems surviving and have signed wisely while Almeria could struggle after deciding not to renew coach Javi Gracia and hand control to Francisco Javier Rodriguez.

Elsewhere it is hard to say who will struggle. Osasuna have battled to safety in recent seasons and look no stronger. Levante need to overcome the loss of their veteran defence and hope that coach Joaquin Caparros can form a tough-to-beat side. Former Levante coach Juan Ignacio Martinez may find it tough to impose his pragmatic style on a Villarreal team that played more open football under Djukic.

Granada and Espanyol should be safe with Granada signing well, be it at low cost to bring in former Deportivo striker Riki and Rayo's Pito while coach Javier Aguirre will be the secret weapon as Espanyol look for a season of mid-table tranquility.

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