Spanish Primera Liga: Mourinho gears up for Mallorca
After undergoing another summer of major surgery, Real Madrid begin their quest to wrest the Primera Division title off Barcelona this weekend when they travel to Real Mallorca in the opening round of the new Spanish season.
Just 12 months after spending in the region of €250 million on new players and bringing in Manuel Pellegrini as coach, Madrid have again splashed the cash after going a second successive season without any silverware.
On the playing front, the likes of Mesut Ozil, Ricardo Carvalho, Sami Khedira and Angel Di Maria have been added to an already star-studded squad, which has seen experienced trio Raul, Guti and Christoph Metzelder move on but otherwise been kept largely intact.
The big arrival this summer, however, was undoubtedly that of Jose Mourinho, who became the club's 11th coach in seven years soon after leading Inter Milan to an historic treble of Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia titles last season.
Under Mourinho, Madrid have won four and drawn two of their six pre-season games, but the Portuguese admits there is room for improvement.
"Our pre-season has been very difficult. With a new coach and six signings, we haven't had much time to work if we want play differently," he said following this week's friendly win over Penarol.
"We are satisfied with how we've been doing and we will improve with time. This is a very young squad, but full of quality. The important thing is that we can grow, that we are solid, and to play at a medium-high level while being consistent in our style of play and results."
Mourinho will be up against another new coach this weekend, with Mallorca under the guidance of Michael Laudrup, who took over following the departure of Gregorio Manzano.
Mallorca finished fifth last term - winning 15 of their 19 home matches - but suffered a huge setback in the summer when they were denied entrance into this year's Europa League for financial reasons.
While Madrid have been busy in the transfer market again, two-time reigning champions Barcelona have made just a couple of additions in the form of David Villa - one of eight members of Spain's World Cup-winning squad at Camp Nou - and Sevilla wing-back Adriano.
However, there is still transfer speculation hanging over Pep Guardiola's side ahead of their season-opener at Racing Santander, with striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic a target for AC Milan and the Catalan giants chasing Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano.
With Barca and Madrid both having added further quality to their squads during the summer, it could well be another two-horse race for the league title this season.
Valencia, who finished 25 points behind second-placed Madrid in third spot last season, have lost key duo Villa and David Silva, but their new-look strikeforce of Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado should cause plenty of problems for opposing defences.
A much-changed Los Che meet Malaga, who have a new coach in Jesualdo Ferreira on the bench, on Saturday.
Sevilla were fourth last time out but they go into their opening match at promoted Levante on a low note after this week being knocked out of the Champions League by Braga.
Possibly the biggest threat to the big two in La Liga could come from mercurial Atletico Madrid. Atletico badly underachieved in the league last season, but they proved their potential in cup competitions by winning the Europa League and reaching the final of the Copa del Rey.
The Rojiblancos have also managed to keep hold of star assets Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, as well as making some seemingly impressive ventures into the transfer market with the signings of Filipe Luis, Diego Godin, Tiago and Fran Merida.
Quique Sanchez Flores' men, who face Inter in the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco on Friday, play Sporting Gijon on Monday night.
The remaining fixtures on the opening weekend see promoted due Hercules and Real Sociedad facing testing home games against Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal respectively, while Deportivo La Coruna host Real Zaragoza, Getafe go to Espanyol and Osasuna meet Almeria.