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Quality Sport Images/Getty ImagesLa Liga kicks off on Friday night, with Athletic Bilbao opening up proceedings at home to champions Barcelona. Here is how we think the season is going to go down.The B/R Football Ranks team also predicted the Liga season. Listen below and subscribe to the podcast here. Winners: Barcelona Barcelona are looking to do something they’ve already done twice in their history—win three league titles in a row. It’s something only their mythical coaches Johan Cruyff (1991-1993; he added a fourth in 1994) and Pep Guardiola (2009-2011) have managed. Ernesto Valverde will try to emulate their achievements and also help record the club’s ninth title win in 12 seasons.The pressure to maintain the hunger and drive in his squad, who have to labour under the ghosts of recent embarrassing UEFA Champions failure in Rome’s Olympic Stadium and Liverpool’s Anfield, will be ferocious. Crucially the club has reinforced sensibly, buying world-class players for the first time in five years with the additions of Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann.JEFF KOWALSKY/Getty ImagesThey’ve also shored up a major weakness last season by bringing in left-back Junior Firpo. The ex-Real Betis player will provide cover for Jordi Alba, whose lapses against Liverpool at Anfield in May were critical.Captain Leo Messi rightly drew attention to the merit of recently winning so many league titles in his stirring pre-season Gamper Trophy speech at the Camp Nou. His demanding professionalism should see them add another title to his CV, bringing him within one of the La Liga record, which is the 12 winners’ medals won by Real Madrid’s Paco Gento more than half a century ago.Champions League Positions: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia2. Atletico MadridThere is a huge buzz around the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium—which should be a sellout for Atletico Madrid’s difficult season opener against Getafe on Sunday night—about the prospects of its team after major and exciting squad surgery.The changes were enforced by external circumstances—clubs paid buyout clauses for Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Rodri (Manchester City) and Griezmann (Barcelona)—and internal policy, such as not offering more than one-year contract extensions to players over 30 years of age, which saw the likes of Diego Godin, Felipe Luis and Juanfran depart.JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/Getty ImagesIt has meant head coach Diego Simeone has had to replace the team’s spine. All the signs are that the job has gone well. Simeone, who is starting his ninth campaign in charge, has brought in one of La Liga’s gems in 24-year-old Mario Hermoso from Espanyol to bolster his defence, as well as Felipe, Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi.He’s added Marcos Llorente and the tigerish Hector Herrera to midfield and Joao Felix, the club’s most expensive signing in history, to the attack.The team’s pre-season games were impressive, notably the 7-3 humiliation of Real Madrid in New Jersey, a defeat still reverberating around Spain.However, doubts remain. Can Diego Costa avoid injury? Can Alvaro Morata, who turns 27 years old in October, finally deliver a full season to warrant his potential? Will Simeone revert to defence-minded type in November if results go against him early in the season, as has happened several times before?There are just a
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These constituents are glamorous!