A tale of La Liga giants: Barcelona boosts squad, Madrid looks past Mourinho

Barcelona is set to welcome the 21-year-old Neymar on Monday in its first major signing since the arrival of Cesc Fabregas two summers ago. Madrid, meanwhile, has entered a period of uncertainty after Perez agreed it was time to part ways with Mourinho.

Updated: June 02, 2013 21:46 IST
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Barcelona: Barcelona is already aiming to build on its fourth Spanish league title in five seasons by pairing Lionel Messi with Brazil sensation Neymar, while Real Madrid is looking to president Florentino Perez to move past the tumultuous era of Jose Mourinho.

Barcelona is set to welcome the 21-year-old Neymar on Monday in its first major signing since the arrival of Cesc Fabregas two summers ago.

The move appears to be a clear admission that the squad needed a boost as it tries to re-establish itself as the undisputed top team in Europe next season.

Barcelona's humbling 7-0 overall loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals obscured what has in fact been the Catalan club's best domestic campaign — capped by matching the league record of 100 points with a 4-1 rout of Malaga on Saturday.

"The truth is that we were eliminated from the semifinals of the Champions League, but if we have to reach 100 points and score 115 goals to be happy, well then that's fine," said Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, who in his first season as Barcelona head coach fought through a second bout with cancer to improve on Pep Guardiola's best league effort.

Under Vilanova, Barcelona not only robbed Madrid of its sole claim to the century points milestone set by Mourinho last season. It also established a club record of 115 goals, set the league's best start by earning 55 of the first 57 points, and ended with a club-record 15-point margin over Madrid.

Messi was again the driving force behind Barcelona's march to its 22nd league crown. The Argentina forward scored 46 league goals, and was on pace to reach his own record of 50 from the season until he was sidelined by a right hamstring pull.

Madrid, meanwhile, has entered a period of uncertainty after Perez agreed it was time to part ways with Mourinho following a third season that saw the team relinquish the title without much of a fight. It also bowed out of the Champions League semifinals for a third straight season under Mourinho, and had its first defeat to crosstown rival Atletico Madrid in 14 years in the final of the Copa del Rey.

Mourinho leaves without having accomplished either of the two primary goals set by the club and its fans: bring an end to Barcelona's winning era and clinch an elusive 10th European Cup. He won the Copa del Rey in his first year and the Spanish league in his second, but failed to improve on that in a third campaign marked by the unpopular benching of goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Perez thanked Mourinho for making Madrid "competitive" again and said that the "door was open" to his return, but he was at a loss as to why the Portuguese coach didn't bring home more silverware.

"Mourinho has given us a boost in quality," Perez told ABC newspaper on Sunday. "But the truth is that we missed many chances to win the famous 10th European Cup. I look back at the last three semifinals and I can't find the reason we didn't reach the final."

The 66-year-old Perez will continue as the president of Real Madrid for the next four years after he ran unopposed in club elections that he called after Madrid ended the season without a major trophy.

Fittingly, Mourinho ended his tenure at Madrid on Saturday being jeered by a segment of the fans at the Santiago Bernabeu while his die-hard supporters and Madrid's ultras cheered him on.

"It's over," Mourinho told Spanish television program Punto Pelota on Sunday. "An era is over and a new one begins, both for Real Madrid and for me. I wish Real Madrid the best."

The gap between the two powerhouses and the other 18 teams was maintained this season, the ninth title in a row that Barcelona and Madrid have won between them.

But there was the revival of Atletico, which provided Barcelona its biggest challenge before fading to a third-place finish. The exit of striker Radamel Falcao for Monaco, however, casts doubt over its ability to repeat such a season.

Real Sociedad also celebrated a great season by finishing in fourth place and claiming the last Champions League berth. The Basque side will now have to find a new coach after Philippe Montanier leaves and also try to keep together its core of players who played the most exciting football in Spain this year.

The attractive, attack-first styles of Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano also paid off with both earning Europa League berths.

But the bleak financial situation for many clubs, combined with the extreme disparity in television revenues between Barcelona and Madrid and all the rest, will continue to restrict the league's overall competitiveness.

Valencia is mired in debt and will miss out on Champions League money next season after finishing fifth. Malaga's once rising expectations have been undercut by the selling off of key players, the exit of coach Manuel Pellegrini, and its ban from the Europa League next season for not paying wages and taxes on time.

New league president Javier Tebas said that one of his priorities is to address the economic health of the league, but he too has been sidetracked with investigations into match-fixing of a match between Levante and Deportivo La Coruna.

All combined, the 2013-14 season will most likely be another duel between Messi's Barcelona and a Madrid led by a new coach but still able to count on the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo.

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