x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Top pair live in a Liga of their own

Finally, after much hyperbole, Real Madrid unleashed their massive summer signings and were relieved to overcome Deportivo La Coruna at the Bernabeu.

The self-styled greatest league in the world got underway this weekend. Finally, after much hyperbole, Real Madrid unleashed their massive summer signings and were relieved to overcome Deportivo La Coruna at the Bernabeu. Barcelona's success in the Uefa Super Cup on Friday meant their league start was delayed until last night. The resources of the two giants who have won 21 of the last 25 Spanish league titles so dwarf those of the other clubs that it's implausible to see a title challenge coming from elsewhere.

Unlike the English Premier League, where television deals are agreed collectively in the hope of increasingly competition, clubs in Spain negotiate for themselves. Barca and Real get around ?100 million (Dh525m) a year for their domestic television rights, ?40m more than England's leading club Manchester United. More interesting comparisons can be found among the lesser clubs. Sevilla, who finished third in Spain last season, earn around ?30m a year from domestic television money. That's less than Burnley will bank this season. Atletico Madrid, the most popular club outside the big two, get ?42m a season. A team at the bottom of the league in Spain can expect to earn just ?5 million - ?25 million less than in England.

There's an element of predictability about both leagues, but there are still enough upsets to oil the wheels of competition. Relegated Numancia beat Barcelona last season, just as Burnley have already defeated Manchester United this term. Generous tax breaks, the success of the Spanish national team, the strength of the Euro, Barca's treble and Real's signings have all increased the allure of the Primera Liga.

The arrivals at Real dominated the summer news to such an extent that even Barcelona's unprecedented treble was marginalised. "You turn on the telly and everyone's talking about Madrid," said the understandably aggrieved Barca defender Gerard Pique. The Madrid-led press have never been slow to get carried away. They were convinced that the Primera Liga was the best in the world before a ball was kicked. This is despite Spanish clubs having a lower Uefa coefficient than their English peers and three of the four Champions League semi-finalists last season coming from England, just as they did a year earlier. In contrast, Real Madrid have failed to win a single Champions League knockout tie in five years of competition.

Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson predicts that English clubs will again dominate the Champions League, but former United player Paul Ince differs: "I agree that the English clubs will be a dominant force, but they won't be the dominant force. "United have lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Spain and Carlos Tevez while Liverpool clearly miss Xabi Alonso. Barcelona remain the yardstick by which every other club in the competition will be judged."

Barca boast everything which Real desire, but there is only space for one of them to realise the vast expectations. Below the leading two, the first weekend of the Primera Liga witnessed some intriguing results. Unfancied Malaga beat Atletico Madrid, who are set to lose defender Johnny Heitinga to Everton in a ?5m deal, 3-0. The other surprise was Getafe hammering Racing 4-1 away. In the probable battle for third, Valencia beat ten men Sevilla 2-0 at the Mestalla, with Juan Mata and Pablo scoring after Freddie Kanoute had been dismissed before half-time.

Andy Mitten lives in Barcelona, writing about La Liga for more than a decade for FourFour Two and The Independent @Email:amitten@thenational.ae