Revamped Barcelona opens La Liga season vs. Levante
Barcelona, Spain (Sports Network) - A new-look Barcelona team will begin its La Liga title defense on Sunday when the reigning champions welcome Levante to Camp Nou.
The Catalans have undergone a number changes during the offseason, most notably at the managerial position.
Tito Vilanova departed from his place on the touchline to attend to his personal health issues, opening the door for Gerardo Martino to fill the void.
Martino was named Barcelona manager on July 22 on the back of an impressive spell in charge of Newell's Old Boys in his native Argentina. In just one year with Newell's, Martino claimed an Argentine league title and guided the club to the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores.
The 50-year-old has inherited as quality of a Barcelona side as there has been in recent memory. Not only are the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta still bossing La Liga play, but the club pulled off perhaps the biggest coup of the summer by landing Neymar.
The Brazil international completed a high-profile switch to Camp Nou prior to leading his country to Confederations Cup glory, a display that certainly will have Barcelona supporters salivating at the prospect of his link-up potential with Messi.
Neymar is just the most recent Brazilian star to make the switch to Barcelona as he follows in the footsteps of legendary footballers like Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
Still, the 21-year-old remains undaunted by the task at hand and appears eager to get started with his title-winning teammates.
"No one can compare to Ronaldinho," Neymar said regarding to past Barcelona Brazilians. "I remember his plays, his dribbles. I remember him winning every title at the Camp Nou. He made history at Barca, he made history with Brazil, and he's still making history. In my case, I'm just starting to make history."
Standing in the way of Neymar's hopes of a historic La Liga debut season is Real Madrid, which has also enjoyed a managerial change during the summer.
Jose Mourinho, who brought the Merengues just one league title and one Copa del Rey title in his three-year tenure at the Bernabeu, joined Chelsea during the offseason, allowing Carlo Ancelotti to assume the reins of the Galacticos.
Ancelotti, who previously managed European giant AC Milan before joining cash- rich Chelsea and PSG, appears quite eager for the La Liga season to begin after underlining the quality at his disposal.
"This is the best squad I've ever had," the Italian said. "I'm satisfied. We have a young, good and strong team."
Real Madrid is expected to push Barcelona down to the wire, and the nine-time European champions will begin their league campaign on Sunday by hosting a Real Betis side that enjoyed an impressive season last term.
Also on Sunday, Osasuna hosts Granada at El Sadar while Sevilla welcomes a Radamel Falcao-less Atletico Madrid to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
On Saturday, Valencia and Malaga will square off at the Mestalla, Real Sociedad will look to build upon a superb 2012-13 campaign when it hosts Getafe at the Anoeta and Athletic Bilbao heads to the Jose Zorrilla to begin its season against Valladolid.
Monday's action will be highlighted by a pair of newly-promoted sides squaring off at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos as Almeria plays host to Villarreal. Rounding out La Liga's opening slate on Monday, Rayo Vallecano takes on Elche at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas and Celta Vigo faces Espanyol at the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos.