By Suhas BhatFollow @@suhasrbhat
On paper, it's one of the most glamorous jobs in world football. Manage Lionel Messi, work with the seven Spanish internationals from the squad that won Euro 2012 and champion the cause of tiki-taka football that has enraptured fans across the globe.
But there are two sides to every coin and the 42-year-old has the unenviable task of being the second act to one of the greatest four-year spells by any coach in European football. Pep Guardiola, his former boss, won 13 trophies and lifted the Blaugrana to heights previously unattained and the comparisons will come thick and fast as the season progresses.
Yet it's a manager currently plying his trade in Madrid that will probably leave the Barca coach holding his face (and not just because of his unruly fingers) in the new season. Jose Mourinho ensured that Real stormed their way to their 32nd La Liga title with 100 points scored and a tally of 121 goals and will be everyone's favourites for the new La Liga season.
And while Vilanova understands the Barca blueprint and has a worldclass squad at his disposal, Real look set to build on their success.
The arch-rivals make their moves
Barcelona signed Jordi Alba and solidified a flank which looked suspect with the employment of Carles Puyol at left-back last term. This will allow Puyol to revert to the centre of defence and reduce the burden for playmaker Andres Iniesta who often found support wanting whenever he cut inside from the left.
The Catalans will also welcome back David Villa and Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez who endured injuries in the past campaign, easing the pressure on 50-goal hero Messi. Similarly, they have secured a back-up for Sergio Busquets by signing Alex Song from Arsenal and the Cameroonian midfielder provides steel as well as the vision to an already-worldclass midfield.
On the other hand, Real have been relatively quiet in the transfer front with only reports of a bid for Tottenham's Luka Modric filtering through.
But it seems to be a case of not wanting to upset a winning formula. The Real squad is at the peak of its abilities and there appear to be capable back-ups for every position. Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil were simply awe-inspiring last season and Sergio Ramos matured as a centre-back; his partnership with Pepe making the Real goal, manned by talismanic captain Iker Casillas, the safest in the league. New contracts have been handed to Alvaro Arbeloa and Di Maria to further reinforce the notion that Mourinho is looking to build on his side's solid foundations.
A maturing Ronaldo against the incomparable Messi
The battle between the two best players in the world will take centre stage on a weekly basis once more and while Messi is the more complete player, Ronaldo curbed his selfishness and showed he was willing to put the team before personal records.
The Portugal star did exceptionally well as a target man against Spain in the European Championships, replaying the role he carried out against Barcelona in the title-deciding La Liga match in April. He collected the ball, skipped past challenges and dribbled with panache, allowing his side the time to transition from defence to attack.
Ronaldo shines so spectacularly because he has a coach who perfectly understands how best to deploy him. Time and again, the ex-Manchester United man followed up poor first half showings with brilliant performances in the second half last season.
But then Messi eclipsed Gerd Muller's 39-year record of the most goals scored in a single season and will again have a say in the final reckoning. It really is too close to call on which player will win the Pichichi.
Real hungering for the Decima
The Madrid-based side have yet another goal that will also absorb much of their focus in the coming season - winning the Champions League for a record tenth time.
They missed out on the final after underestimating Bayern Munich's determination to reach the final on home soil much in the same manner as how Barcelona failed to adapt their possession game to deal with a negative yet determined Chelsea in their semi-final. For the current edition, they have the quality to ensure that they will be thereabouts at least till the quarter-final stage.
Spain will look to these two sides to once again make a bid to win Europe's premier prize by reaching Wembley next May.
Valencia leading the charge for the rest
Much like in previous seasons, it will only be Los Che who can hope to come close to upsetting the hierarchy but with 30 points separating them from second-placed Barcelona in the preceding campaign, it's hard to see them doing so in the new season.
New signing Fernando Gago is a capable defensive midfielder and Alba could be ably replaced by Mexican Andres Guardado. Portuguese right-back Joao Pereira is also a massive improvement over the likes of Antonio Barragan and former defender Bruno although the side still lacks sufficient cover for star striker Roberto Soldado.
Malaga, who recently sold Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, appear to be imploding and Ruud van Nistelrooy's retirement as well as topscorer Salomon Rondon's recent sale leaves them without a forward to score the goals needed to build upon last season's impressive fourth-placed finish.
Suhas will pick the best XI from each round of La Liga fixtures, starting from Aug 21. You can follow him on twitter at @suhasrbhat.