Barça kick off their Liga campaign against Elche at the Camp Nou / PHOTO: FCB ARCHIVE

The preseason preparations are over for the twenty teams in the Spanish top division, and this weekend it really does start getting serious. The Liga BBVA is about to get under way. FC Barcelona, winner of a record six titles since the turn of the century, are naturally among the favourites to win back a title that was claimed by Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid last season.

New manager Luis Enrique will lead his team in its first official fixture on Sunday night (9.00 PM CET) against Elche at the Camp Nou. More than half of the teams will have already played their opening match by then, with it all starting with Malaga at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday at 7.00 PM CET. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, who played in the Spanish Super Cup on Friday night, won’t be playing their Liga fixtures until Monday evening, against Cordoba and Rayo Vallecano respectively.

It’s not just in Spain but all around the world where the excitement is mounting. The already impressive array of international stars in the competition has been further boosted by the arrival of such global superstars as Luis Suárez and Vermaelen (FC Barcelona), James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Mario Mandzukic (Atlético), Iago Aspas (Sevilla) and Rodrigo (Valencia).

Top flight debutant

Three places Barça won’t be going this season are El Sadar, the Benito Villamarín and the José Zorrilla, for Osasuna, after thirteen years at the top level, plus Betis and Valladolid, were all relegated to the Second Division. They’ve been replaced by 2000 champions Deportivo la Coruña, who have bounced straight back up after going down in 2013, plus two less familiar faces in Cordoba and Eibar. The former were a regular feature in the First Division in the sixties, but this will be their first appearance among the elite since 1972. But for Basque club Eibar, it’s a completely new experience. Their first ever league meeting with FC Barcelona will be at the Camp Nou on the weekend of October 18/19 and they’ll be hosting the Catalans at the Estadio Ipurua on March 14/15.

Five new managers

The latest team to announce a change on their bench has been Valencia, with Nuno making his debut in the Liga BBVA. It will also be uncharted territory for Gaizka Garitano of Eibar, Sergio González of Espanyol, Eduardo Berizzo of Celta and former FCB defender Albert Ferrer of Cordoba.

Seven teams are starting the campaign under new management. In addition to Celta, Espanyol and Valencia, other newcomers are Luis Enrique at Barça, José Luis Mendilibar of Levante Joaquín Caparrós of Granada and Javi Gracia of Malaga.

Division 2 also starts

This weekend also sees the first set of games in the Liga Adelante, the second tier of Spanish football. Eusebio Sacristán and his Barça B, who finished third last season, are one of the six teams that will open the weekend’s play. They’re at Osasuna’s El Sadar at 7.00 PM CET on Saturday evening, the same time that the Valladolid v Mallorca and Recreativo v Zaragoza matches will also be kicking off.