Barca ready to defend La Liga, European crowns

Barcelona has dominated Spain and Europe recently, winning five La Liga championships in the last seven years and three Champions League titles in the last six seasons.

Of course Real Madrid remains on Barca's heels, but these two squads sit alone as the elites in Spain, and entering the 2011-12 season there remains no doubt which of the two sits on top.

Barca continued its recent dominance of Madrid in the Spanish SuperCup, a two- game, preseason series between the duo that ended with Real boss Jose Mourinho gouging the eye of a Barca assistant Tito Vilanova.

Although La Liga opens one week later than scheduled following a strike, Barca still has all the huge pieces that have led to its rise in Spain and Europe in Lionel Messi and Xavi.

Coach Pep Guardiola added Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez to a club without a hole, making an already great club the unquestioned favorite again this season both domestically and in Europe.

Guardiola admitted "you can't expect to be at your peak at this stage because there's a lot of competition ahead," but with Messi in top form as always, and the 5-4 aggregate SuperCup win secured, it's scary to think that's true.

There's little doubt Real will threaten Barca's three-year domestic title run, as well as its pursuit of a fourth European title in the last seven years, but Mourinho has his work cut out for him.

Even with Cristiano Ronaldo on board, as well as numerous other stars, Madrid signed Fabio Coentrao and Nuri Sahin, among others, to add the final pieces to a team that can compete for the Champions League title.

Real finished second in La Liga last season, was eliminated in the semifinals of the Champions League by Barcelona, but did defeat its rival in the Copa del Rey final.

Defender Sergio Ramos said this week "you can't live off the past in football. We have a long season ahead of us and that's what we're thinking about."

Real Madrid also opens Sunday at Real Zaragoza, while Barcelona starts Monday at home against Villarreal.

Although Valencia and Villarreal are the traditional challengers to Barca and Real, both clubs will struggle to close the gap on the high-spending clubs. As their budgets remains tight, another big spender has entered the picture.

Malaga could emerge as a European challenger, as new owner Sheikh al Thani has poured money into the club. Malaga signed Julio Baptista and Mart���n Demichelis last season, and didn't stop this summer.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Monreal, Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquin, Isco, Joris Mathijsen and Santi Cazorla arrived, as Malaga starts its Manchester-City like ascent to the join the elite clubs in Spain.

Malaga avoided opening against Barcelona due to the strike, and will travel to Sevilla instead on Sunday.

On Saturday, Sporting Gijon hosts Real Sociedad, Valencia hosts Racing and two promoted clubs, Granada and Real Betis, play.

Also Sunday, Atletico Madrid hosts Osasuna, Getafe hosts Levante, Mallorca hosts Espanyol, and Athletic Bilbao hosts promoted Rayo Vallecano.