Will Barcelona return to league glory? Preview of the Spanish Liga F heading into the 2022-23 season

A new era begins in women’s football in Spain this weekend, but Barcelona remain the team with the target on their backs.

The Primera Division, previously organized by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), is now in the hands of the new Professional Women’s Football League (LPFF) and has become the first women’s competition in the country to achieve professional status. The 16-team league was officially launched at an event in Madrid on Tuesday and named Liga F (F for ‘Femenina’) as the search for a sponsor continues.

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Barca may have to look for motivation to become the first La Liga F winners as they lack challenges domestically. They have won the last three league titles, losing just one game in those three seasons. They were unbeaten in 21 matches when the campaign was halted due to the pandemic in 2019-20, lost just once in 2020-21 and then won all 30 games last season, scoring 159 goals and conceding just 11.

So, will Barcelona win again?

It’s almost impossible to see a scenario where they don’t. Barca didn’t drop a single point last season, finishing 24 points ahead of second-placed Real Sociedad. Never mind asking if they might lose their crown; first they have to lose a game.

There have been some changes over the summer at Barca, however, and they will be without their captain and star player, Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, for most of the season after tearing his ACL before. Euro 2022 while on duty with Spain. . The club’s top scorer Jenni Hermoso has also moved on, joining Mexican side Pachuca on a free transfer, while Dutch winger Lieke Martens, a former FIFA The Best winner, has joined Paris Saint-Germain. .

However, to keep winning, most of the big teams evolve gradually every year and Barca hope that’s true for them this season. England right-back Lucy Bronze joined Manchester City and midfielder Keira Walsh followed for a women’s football record transfer fee of €400,000. Brazilian striker Geyse, co-top scorer in the Primera Division last season, has also signed with Madrid CFF, while Real Sociedad left-back Nuria Rabano has arrived to add depth to the defence.

A group of talented youngsters have also arrived, including Salma Paralluelo, who gave up a career in athletics to focus on football, but the old guard will continue to provide the platform for success. Goalkeeper Sandra Panos has Mapi Leon and Irene Paredes in defense ahead of her, while midfielders Patri Guijarro and Aitana Bonmati look set to step in in Putellas’ absence. Mariona Caldentey, Caroline Graham Hansen and Fridolina Rolfo will also have important roles to play.

The Champions League will be the real challenge for Jonatan Giraldez’s team. Barca twice broke the women’s football attendance record last season as more than 90,000 fans packed the Camp Nou for wins over Real Madrid and Wolfsburg in Europe. They ultimately failed in the final, giving up the crown they won in 2021 at Lyon, leaving them eager to do better this season.

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Julien Laurens reacts to Keira Walsh’s arrival at Barcelona for a world record fee.

Who could challenge them?

Real Madrid will probably be Barca’s biggest challenger. They released Marta Cardona, who joined Atletico Madrid, and Swedish striker Kosovare Asllani, but added Scottish midfielder Caroline Weir, who joined Manchester City on a free transfer.

Madrid finished third last season, behind Sociedad, but that was mainly down to a poor start. They were 10th at the end of November when David Aznar was sacked, quickly moving up the league following the appointment of Alberto Toril. They have already knocked Man City out of the Champions League this season and now face a draw against Rosenborg for a place in the group stage for the second consecutive season.

Meanwhile, Atletico, who themselves won three titles in a row before Barca usurped them in 2020, have also had a busy summer. Signing Spain winger Cardona after his Madrid contract expired is a coup, while Irene Guerrero and Eva Navarro have both joined Levante. Young defender Andrea Medina is also one to watch.

If they click, Atletico might surprise a few, but there is an element of the unknown about Oscar Fernandez’s squad as there have been so many changes. Although they signed well, they also lost Laia Aleixandri to Man City, while the experienced duo of Amanda Sampedro and Silvia Meseguer both moved to Sevilla.

Anyone else to watch?

Sociedad had a remarkable season last time out under promising manager Natalia Arroyo finishing ahead of both big clubs Madrid. Arroyo’s task becomes more difficult now that the bar is set so high.

The Real lost their two full-backs to Barcelona – Rabano and Emma Ramirez, who were only on loan – but the signing of Portuguese midfielder Andreia Jacinto from Sporting Lisbon is an interesting one. A lot may also depend on how they progress in the Champions League, although a two-legged qualifier against Bayern Munich later in September won’t be easy.

Levante and Granadilla Tenerife have also performed well in recent seasons, but Sevilla could be the surprise this time around. With Monchi’s growing involvement – he’s the director of men’s football but also works with the women’s team – they recruited well. As well as Sampedro and Meseguer from Atletico, they have signed Cristina Martin-Prieto, who scored 13 times for Granadilla last season, and also have talented youngster Inma Gabarro. Gabarro was the top scorer in this summer’s U20 World Cup, won by Spain.

When does the season start?

Barca start their title defense on Sunday against newly promoted Levante Las Planas, a small Barcelona side, but the season starts on Saturday with four games and Atletico against Sociedad are the pick of the pack. It takes a while before one of the big teams meets: the first Clasico between Madrid and Barca takes place in early November, with Barca taking on Atletico a few weeks later. December brings the Madrid derby and a visit to Barcelona by Sociedad, last season’s runners-up against the defending champions.

Some issues still to be resolved for the league

The league still has issues to resolve, starting with the status of referees. The match officials, who are provided by the RFEF (Spanish football governing body), have yet to be granted professional status and are even threatening to go on strike if their conditions do not improve. In the meantime, there is still no collective agreement in place between the league and the players.

Barca winger Graham Hansen explained to ESPN earlier this year why this deal will be crucial in improving the competitiveness of the competition. “We have to make sure that [every team] plays on [real] grass,” she said. “There must be certain standards related to stadiums. There must be certain standards related to the contracts granted to players and the duration of their training. All of these little things make a huge difference.

“If you can add that all the matches will be televised, it will be a great product to sell because there are many good players in Spain who are not seen. They are considered bad because Barça wins [big], but it’s not because they’re bad, it’s just because we’re very good. It’s so important that we professionalize ourselves so that everyone gets the recognition they deserve.”

A TV deal has, at least, been agreed, with DAZN paying 35 million euros for the league’s global rights for the next five years. They will broadcast every game, with one game every weekend on free-to-air TV in Spain. Puma will supply the match ball and other sponsors are being sought, including one to take over the league’s naming rights.

However, the other questions on Graham Hansen’s list are still up in the air. League president Beatriz Alvarez confirmed this week that a decree to play on grass is likely to come, although it has yet to be introduced. Negotiations are underway on contract standards and training time, but it is hoped that the collective agreement will be in place sooner rather than later.

One area where there is clarity concerns the status of non-European actors. In the men’s La Liga, clubs are only allowed three players from outside the Union, but that number will rise to nine for women’s teams this season, rising to five next year before settling at three in 2024-25. Barca bronze don’t have to worry, despite reports that she couldn’t be registered due to her non-EU status. She has a Portuguese passport. Walsh’s record signing, however, will occupy a non-EU spot following the UK’s exit from the common market.

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