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La Liga Season Preview

Barcelona begin the defence of their La Liga title at home to Levante on Sunday with new coach Gerardo Martino at the helm and £48.6m Brazilian striker Neymar added to their attacking ranks.

Argentine Martino replaces Tito Vilanova, who stepped down as Barcelona manager to continue his treatment for cancer, and takes charge of a side who equalled the league record points haul of 100 to win the title last season, their fourth in five years.

“He is a leader, capable, well-prepared and experienced,” midfielder Xavi told newspaper Sport. “He has very clear ideas and is very precise in what he wants.

World player of the year Messi is an injury doubt for the campaign opener after picking up a thigh strain during pre-season but Barcelona fans can look forward to watching Neymar’s La Liga debut, following his move from Santos.

Real Madrid’s pre-season has been dominated by speculation surrounding the future of Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, with the Welshman keen on speaking to the Spanish side.

But new manager Carlo Ancelotti, who replaced Portuguese Jose Mourinho, is confident his side are ready for the new season ahead of Sunday’s visit of Real Betis, as they look to regain the title they last won in 2012.

Ancelotti has signed three midfielders, young Brazilian Casemiro from Sao Paolo, Spanish Under-21 internationals Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad, Isco from Malaga. and right back Dani Carvajal from Bayer Leverkusen.

Elsewhere, last season’s third-placed finishers Atletico Madrid start at Sevilla.