Who will be 2012-13's Adrian, Isco & Muniain? The possible breakout stars of the new Liga season

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

The time has come. La Liga gets underway once again on Saturday and it’s a new chance for all of the teams and players involved – an opportunity to be seized.

Barcelona and Real Madrid look set to fight it out for the title again, but the other 18 clubs will want to prove they can mix it with Spain’s top two, too. And there will be many players eager to make the coming campaign their breakthrough season in the Primera Division.

Here, Goal.com looks at the possible standout stars in La Liga for 2012-13, the players set to take their game to another level and wow the watching world over the next nine months. Take a look – and have your say in the comments section below.

PACO ALCACER | Valencia, Striker, 18

Alcacer was touched by tragedy as he made his Valencia debut a year ago. After scoring in his first major match at Mestalla last summer, the 17-year-old striker left the ground with his parents – only to see his father collapse and die from a heart attack just outside the stadium.

A year on, Alcacer has been linked with a move away from Mestalla on loan, but the Spain Under-19 European champion has said he wants to stay at the club and new coach Mauricio Pellegrini recently revealed the youngster is part of his plans for the coming campaign.

The club, meanwhile, have rejected a string of offers for their prodigious forward and big things will be expected in 2012-13.

BENAT | Betis, Midfielder, 25

Benat Etxeberria was a surprise inclusion in Spain’s provisional list for Euro 2012 and impressed in the friendly matches ahead of the continental competition.

The Basque was ultimately left out as the Barcelona midfielders came back in after the Copa del Rey final, but he did enough to show he can be part of the international set-up in future and he will be a key player for Betis in their second season in the top flight this term.

Benat has been linked with a move to Athletic Bilbao as a possible replacement for Javi Martinez, if the latter leaves this window, but could attract even bigger sides next summer as he approaches his peak.

JOSE CAMPANA | Sevilla, Midfielder, 19

Another talent set to shine in Seville is Jose Campana. The young midfielder captained Spain’s Under-19 side to European Championship success earlier this summer and will now look to make his mark in the Primera Division.

Campana made 15 appearances last season, but is still learning the trade and coach Michel has asked for more from his young talent, who can operate in defence or in midfield but is at his best when spraying balls around the park in a creative capacity.

If he can add maturity to his game, the youngster could take La Liga by storm this season and eventually force his way into the senior Spain side. He has the talent.

GERARD DEULOFEU | Barcelona, Forward, 18

Deulofeu is the first La Masia graduate born after Barcelona’s European Cup success in 1992 to make his debut in the Catalan club’s senior side.

The 18-year-old played a sole match late last year for former coach Pep Guardiola, who admitted the young forward was not ready to step up to the first team. He is now though.

Another key member of Spain’s Under-19 triumph in July, Deulofeu has looked bright in pre-season for Tito Vilanova’s side and scored in the new coach’s first match in charge – a 2-1 win over Hamburg. Now the stage is set and he looks to be Barcelona’s most exciting young talent for some time. Which is saying something.

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN | Real Sociedad, Forward, 21

Still only 21, Griezmann has made a name for himself in La Liga already. However, the French flier is set for a new role at Real Sociedad next term as he adopts the position of playmaker in chief at the San Sebastian side. And the result could be devastating.

Griezmann has attracted interest from all over Europe with his impressive displays in the north of Spain, but will remain part of what looks a very competitive Sociedad side in 2012-13 and his precocious talent looks set to flourish even more at Anoeta this term.

With the Frenchman firing, expect the Basques to be challenging nearer the top of the table than the bottom in the coming campaign.

RAPHAEL VARANE | Real Madrid, Defender, 19

Varane has been compared to former France defender Laurent Blanc and ex-Madrid man Fernando Hierro. Many observers, however, believe he will be better than both.

Manchester United were keen on signing Varane from Lens last summer, but Madrid sent Zinedine Zidane on a charm offensive to the Ligue 1 outfit and the awe-struck defender duly chose the Spanish side.

Expected to play only a minimal part in his debut season, Varane made a creditable 15 appearances for Jose Mourinho’s side and has now become the club’s third-choice centre-back, behind Pepe and Sergio Ramos. But it won’t be long before he’s an automatic starter and when he does get in, he will surely stay in the side for as long as he wants. Following a promising debut, this season looks set to be his breakthrough campaign at the Bernabeu.

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La Liga Betting Special: Why Messi could edge Cristiano Ronaldo once more in battle to be top goalscorer

After they both scored more goals than most other sides in the Spanish top flight last season, it is hardly surprising to find that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the two frontrunners in the market.

The Real Madrid forward is priced just ahead of the Barcelona ace, reflective of the odds in the outright market for the title where the Blancos are marginal favourites.


The Portugal international can be backed at 11/10 (2.10) with Paddy Power to be top goalscorer, while Messi, who claimed the crown last season, is offered at 6/5 (2.20).

Choosing between these two giants of the Spanish game is an extremely difficult task, yet of the two it would seem that Messi offers better value.

Though David Villa is back from a long absence and available at 10/1 (11.00), Messi still remains the fulcrum of Barcelona’s attack and the primary source of their goal output.

The Argentine netted 50 times in the league last season to finish top of the charts, but there was no other Barcelona player in the top 10.

Madrid, meanwhile, had three players in the top five (Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain), demonstrating that the goals scored by the Blancos tend to be shared out more.

Therefore, backing Messi to be top goalscorer again seems to be the logical choice when faced with a decision between him and Ronaldo.

However for those looking further down the market for some value, the price of 16/1 (17.00) on Karim Benzema to be top goal scorer could be an interesting value bet, especially if backed each-way.

The powerful Frenchman has matured and developed into one of Europe’s most menacing strikers and has fitted in perfectly into Real Madrid’s system.

If Ronaldo continues the trait we saw last year of giving more and more assists rather than going for goal continuously, then Benzema could be well placed to reap the rewards, and after 21 league goals last season, the 24-year-old will surely keep getting better and better.

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Phil Kitromilides is a sports broadcaster working on radio and TV in London and Madrid. You can also follow Phil on Twitter.

Tottenham's loss is Real Madrid's gain as Modric move draws closer

COMMENT
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Andre Villas-Boas has long lived in the shadow of Jose Mourinho and the Portuguese pair are very much under the spotlight again this summer – this time over Luka Modric.

As the Croatian midfielder packs his bags to leave London for Madrid, Andre is the loser once again in this particular and constant comparison. Jose, as usual, is the winner.

Mourinho hasn’t had things all his own way in Madrid. Criticised for neglecting the club’s homegrown heroes, for failing to bring in a Spanish core, and even receiving the wrath of the Bernabeu boo boys for his side’s perceived pragmatic play last term, the Portuguese has endured a rough ride at times in the capital. The 49-year-old, however, has stuck to his principles – and reaped the results.

The former Porto, Chelsea and Inter boss knows more than most when it comes to winning. And after a slow start in Spain, he is beginning to prove his worth in La Liga, too. Having claimed the Copa del Rey in his first season, Mourinho’s Madrid dethroned Barcelona in the Primera Division last term with a record 100 points and 121 goals. Ever the perfectionist, though, the Portuguese wants more.

With an already-ample playing squad and a range of oustanding options from the bench, improvement on last season seems a tough task for a man who earlier this week requested he be dubbed ‘The Only One’ due to his unprecedented collection of titles in England, Italy and Spain.

WHO CAN REPLACE LUKA AT WHITE HART LANE?
 ETIENNE CAPOUE

Spurs have scouted the Toulouse midfielder for some time and are one of a host of clubs to have been linked with the 24-year-old, also tracked by Arsenal, Barcelona and Sevilla
 JOAO MOUTINHO

Moutinho looked to be Spurs’ top target earlier this summer, with Villas-Boas tipped to move for his former player, but interest has cooled – perhaps because Porto are demanding £30m
 YANN M’VILA

Heavily linked with Arsenal earlier this summer, the Frenchman now looks more likely to end up on the other side of north London. The Rennes man could cost close to £15m
 SOMEONE FROM HOME

Scott Parker, Sandro, Jake Livermore, Gylfi Sigurdsson and forgotten man Tom Huddlestone, plus Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, may mean Spurs don’t need anyone new at all

Not for Mourinho. When he took over at the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2010, the Portuguese identified central midfield as one of the key areas he needed to strengthen. And he did so with the acquisition of Germany pair Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.

Both have impressed, although Ozil plays further forward and Khedira is more of a holding midfielder and cannot be expected to create from deep like team-mate Xabi Alonso.

With that in mind, Mourinho made Nuri Sahin his first summer signing last year, hopeful the talented Turk would complement both Khedira and Alonso, either together or separately.

But just 12 months on, the former Dortmund darling is heading for a hasty exit, having barely featured in 2011-12. Again, Mourinho has been criticised for his management of the midfielder, but whatever he has seen in training and in games, clearly he has not been impressed.

So the 49-year-old set his sights on Modric this summer and, following a lengthy saga, the deal finally appears imminent. Madrid fans will now hope Luka was worth the wait.

He should be.

On the face of it, £30 million seems an incredible investment for a player who rarely scores and does not directly assist many goals, either, but Modric makes Tottenham tick. He is the heartbeart of the north London side, the orchestrator of Spurs’ purposeful attacking play. And he will be sorely missed at White Hart Lane.

Mourinho will hope the Croat can transfer that form over to Spain, where he will likely be a frequent starter in either a two or three-man midfield. That depends on the rival; in La Liga, Mourinho may decide he can get away with Luka and Alonso in a 4-2-3-1, but expect Khedira to start too against stronger sides like Barcelona and in the Champions League.

Modric has already played at the Bernabeu in Europe’s premier club competition, but saw his dreams denied dramatically as Tottenham were reduced to 10 men early on in the sides’ 2010-11 quarter-final following the dismissal of Peter Crouch and subsquently succumbed 4-0.

Back then, he was one of the shining beacons in a Tottenham team punching above their weight. Now, he arrives in Madrid as perhaps the last piece in the puzzle as Mourinho’s men seek a coveted continental crown. Expectations will be high.

Villas-Boas had been eager to snap up Modric for his Chelsea side last summer, but was left frustrated as Tottenham vowed to keep the Croat. This time, though, he is on his way and the Portuguese is now set to miss out on coaching the 26-year-old for a second time.

How Spurs now fare without Modric may depend on how they replace him, although Sandro and Scott Parker could operate together in a two-man defensive shield, behind Gareth Bale, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aaron Lennon, while Wednesday’s England debutant Jake Livermore and the returning Tom Huddlestone will also be in contention.

Without Modric, Villas-Boas wasn’t able to make it work at Chelsea, but he will need to fare better at White Hart Lane.

Losing one of the world’s best midfielders is an inauspicious start for the younger Portuguese, however. For his former mentor and colleague, meanwhile, Modric’s move may yet define this project. Tottenham’s loss is very much Madrid’s gain. Only time will tell just how much.

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I can score as many goals as Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo, claims Falcao

Atletico Madrid star Radamel Falcao is brimming with confidence ahead of the new season, and is keen to challenge Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the title of top goalscorer in La Liga.

The Colombia international netted 24 league goals in his debut campaign at the Vicente Calderon, and he is desperate to do even better this campaign.

“It’s up to me to improve on what I did last time around and that’s my aim,” Falcao was quoted as saying on the official Liga website.

“Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal tallies aren’t out of my reach. But what I most want is to have a good season for the fans.

“I’m really looking forward to this new season. As for me, I’m better acclimatised to the Spanish league.

“We’re really looking forward to improving on what we achieved last year, both individually and collectively.

“The team is more settled now and we know each other better.”

Atletico Madrid open the 2012-13 campaign with an away game against Levante.

Marcelo resumes Real Madrid training

Real Madrid have welcomed Marcelo back into their squad, after the defender returned from representing Brazil at the Olympic Games in London.

The 24-year-old missed the first few weeks of the Blancos‘s pre-season due to his obligations with the Selecao, but is now available again, having touched down in the Spanish capital.

Marcelo’s Brazil were beaten 2-1 by Mexico in the final of the Olympics on Saturday.

Madrid resumed regular training action on Wednesday after three days of rest following their pre-season tour of the USA, where they played friendlies against Celtic, AC Milan, Santos Laguna and LA Galaxy.

Coach Jose Mourinho is currently preparing his squad for Sunday’s Liga opener against Valencia. The match at the Santiago Bernabeu is scheduled to kick off at 19:00UTC.