La Liga Team-By-Team Season Preview14 min read
Jason Pettigrove gives you his 1-20 league table position predictions in his big preview for the upcoming La Liga 2019/20 season.
Though it’s been a pre-season of upheaval for the Catalans, which shows no signs of abating until the Neymar situation has been sorted one way or the other, they remain the team to beat. Antoine Griezmann only makes them stronger, and in the minutes he’s had so far, the Frenchman has slotted in well. Frenkie De Jong will complement a strong midfield, and any team with Lionel Messi in it will always take some stopping. Expect everyone to be playing catch-up from the first whistle.
2 Atletico Madrid
Talking of upheaval, what a summer it’s been for Atletico Madrid! Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Rodri and Antoine Griezmann – six starters, gone. And yet, with the additions of the incredibly exciting Joao Felix and those players with a point to prove: Marcos Llorente, Mario Hermoso, Kieran Trippier, Felipe and Renan Lodi, Diego Simeone and his board have somehow managed to be approaching the season in great shape. Desperate times evidently call for desperate measures, but the Rojiblancos will still be the toughest of customers on the evidence of their 7-3 demolition of Real Madrid.
3 Real Madrid
Zinedine Zidane has it all to do at the Santiago Bernabeu. A club that’s riven with internal strife at the moment, even the addition of Eden Hazard from Chelsea has quickly turned sour, the Belgian returning from his summer break almost a stone overweight. Gareth Bale’s time appears to be at an end with the Welshman having no relationship to speak of with his coach, but frankly he’d be better off away from a team that have only won eight games from their last 22 including pre-season friendlies. The atmosphere isn’t conducive to the new signings settling in, and Injuries to key players aren’t helping either. The ‘old guard’ are coasting through matches knowing there’s no competition for places, and Zizou doesn’t appear to be able to stop the rot that set in 18 months ago.
Former Real coach, Julen Lopetegui, has overseen a changing of the guard at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with nine new signings coming in at the time of writing. The Andalusians have won all of their pre-season matches under Lopetegui and have been exhibited a much-needed physical streak to go with their expansive brand of football. Liverpool were none too impressed with some of their challenges, but if they want to haul themselves back into the Champions League for 2020/21, then some backbone is required. Losing Pablo Sarabia to PSG for a relative pittance was an awful piece of business from the club, but the additions of Luuk De Jong, Oliver Torres and Joan Jordan among others, have given Sevilla some real strength in depth.
After a poor start to the last campaign, Marcelino came good in the end, steering his team back into the Champions League and to a Copa del Rey final win over favourites, Barcelona. Adding Jasper Cillessen and Maxi Gomez to their squad has strengthened them in two key areas, but owner, Peter Lim’s, meddling could yet have dire consequences. The businessman was allegedly trying to bring in players that Marcelino didn’t want, and sell some he wished to keep. CEO, Mateu Alemany, was on the verge of walking out with Marcelino following suit, although the waters are a little calmer again… for now. With or without them, a team that has Dani Parejo, Goncalo Guedes and Rodrigo in situ are always going to cause the opposition problems.
6 Real Betis
One of the best attacking sides in the division last season, Betis now have former Espanyol coach, Rubi, at the helm, instead of Quique Setien. Why the latter fell on his sword was because of an inability to get his side to defend. Fantastic to watch going forward, often abysmal in defence. Their 52 goals conceded was the worst out of the top 13 teams. Wins at Barcelona and Real Madrid showed their pedigree, and with the addition of Nabil Fekir as an attacking midfielder, they’ll continue to frighten the life out of the big boys. Rubi must ensure a much-tighter back four, however, and it’s one which is unlikely to include Junior Firpo who appears destined for Barcelona at the time of writing.
Javi Calleja’s side greatly underperformed during 2018/19, but they do have the players to mount a Europa League challenge in the forthcoming season. Santi Cazorla might be coming to the end of his career, but the former Arsenal man is in sensational form, particularly when you consider he thought that he’d never play again. When he ticks, Villarreal do too. Pablo Fornals leaving for West Ham was a blow, but the club have retained the majority of their staff and added quality in one or two key areas.
8 Athletic Club
Athletic’s ethos of only using Basque-born players is laudable, but it also leaves them hamstrung to an extent. So much so that there have been no new signings to date this summer. Three of their reserve team players have been promoted to the senior side, but it’s hard to see how Peru Nolaskoain, Asier Villalibre and Gaizka Larrazabal will get more than some cursory minutes here and there. Gaizka Garitano will be relying on Los Leones’ usual suspects to bring them success. Another eighth place finish is realistic.
The surprise of last season, Getafe might even have got themselves Champions League football if results had gone their way in the last couple of weeks of the campaign. Jose Bordalas will be as methodical as ever in the way he sets up his side, and for the most part they’ll be difficult to beat. The signings of youngsters, Marc Cucurella and Jack Harper are sound enough, though they’re taking a bit of a punt on Enric Gallego. Their problems are likely to come as a result of their own success. Europa League travails will hit the squad hard, impacting their league form throughout the first half of the season.
10 Real Sociedad
Things could get very interesting at the Anoeta Stadium this season. Martin Odegaard comes on loan from Real Madrid, trying his hardest to prove to Los Blancos he’s worth a shot with them after signing almost four years ago, and then consistently being shipped out on loan. Another youngster, Alexander Isak, who has excited everyone in pre-season, joins from Dortmund, whilst the more experienced Portu, Girona’s former marksmen, is a superb target man. Imanol Alguacil will want to improve on a record from 2018/19 which was roughly score and concede one per game on average.
Recently appointed David Gallego will have a tough act to follow in Rubi, but he does have the advantage of having been involved at the club since 2013, and having coached the first team for a period in 2018. Not much has changed player wise, though Mario Hermoso’s defection to Atletico Madrid could be very keenly felt.
12 Celta Vigo
The loss of Maxi Gomez will hit Celta hard, and it puts even more pressure on the shoulders of talisman, Iago Aspas. There were times last season when it appeared it was Aspas against the world, as 20 goals in 26 league appearances would attest. Denis Suarez has finally returned home. Still only 25, he’s attempted to hone his craft at Man City, Barcelona, Sevilla, Villarreal and Arsenal. None of the moves really worked for him, but being back where he took his first tentative footballing steps may be of benefit for both player and club. They’ll certainly improve on a poor campaign last time out, thanks to their experienced coach, Fran Escriba, however, a top 12 placing is the best they can expect.
Eibar have been a success story ever since they were first promoted to La Liga a few short years ago. That they’ve stayed in the division year on year is an achievement in itself given their means, but not only have they deserved their place, they’ve played some wonderful football along the way, particularly under Jose Luis Mendilibar. As always, the Basques will be tidy in possession and compact, and won’t be a pushover for any side. Injuries may become a thorny issue given their lack of depth.
Like Eibar, the ‘cucumber growers’ are relatively new additions to the top flight, and have more than held their own. They will have been disappointed with their 13th-placed finish last season, but at present, consolidation is the watchword they should live by. Stay in the division by hook or by crook and build where possible. Gain a foothold. The area where they must improve is in front of goal. Despite Martin Braithwaite coming up with some important strikes last season, just 37 scored was the joint second worst. Mauricio Pellgrino must allow his creative players to express themselves, and be a little less rigid formationally in some games.
WIth Abelardo having departed, Asier Garitano has the unenviable task of keeping Alaves punching above their weight again. Lucas Perez has joined from West Ham, alongside another Premier League capture, Joselu. Pere Pons is a decent defensive midfield signing from Girona and Aleix Vidal, on loan from Sevilla, can do a job. However, Garitano is known as a defensively-minded coach, completely the opposite to the former incumbent. Not only will that not sit well with the locals, but it will invite opposing sides onto them, and, frankly, they won’t be able to withstand the incessant raiding on goal.
Borja Mayoral’s second loan spell at Levante might appear to be good news on the face of it, particularly as the Real Madrid-owned striker was on the verge of joining Real Sociedad for €15m, however, just three goals in his 29 appearances for Los Granotes (the frogs) last season indicates they might’ve been better looking elsewhere. Coach, Paco Lopez, has won many admirers for the style of football his team play, but their problem has been, and will remain, consistency.
Osasuna’s El Sadar ground has long been the graveyard for some of La Liga’s top teams, none of whom will fancy heading there this season. Ezequiel ‘Chimy’ Avila was one of Huesca’s standout players in 2018/19, and his capture for less than €3m is a fine piece of business by Jagoba Arrasate. The experience of Adrian Lopez and Darko Brasanac should help to ensure that, whilst this will be a difficult re-entry into the top flight, the team from Pamplona will have enough about them to keep their heads above water.
18 Real Valladolid
Ronaldo Nazario’s first foray into club ownership perhaps hasn’t gone as well as he expected, with Valladolid only staying up last season by the skin of their teeth. To that end, some decent reinforcements were required, however, his biggest purchase this summer has been Eibar’s Pablo Hervias. Four loan signings, including two from his former club, Real Madrid, isn’t going to cut it at this level, and maybe the Segunda Division is their rightful home.
19 Real Mallorca
Rafa Nadal was watching on when Mallorca spectacularly earned their place back in the Spanish top flight. With eight new signings brought in since that great win over Deportivo La Coruna, one might expect good things from Vicente Moreno’s side. As with some of their opponents in the forthcoming campaign, they aren’t of sufficient enough quality to be able to sustain a challenge in the division. Their reacquaintance with La Liga will therefore be fleeting.
It’s great to see Granada back in La Liga too, and in Diego Martinez they have one of the youngest coaches at 38. Like Huesca last season, they’ll be a team that everyone can warm to, but, once again, they just don’t have enough all-round quality for the division. Having a 34-year-old Roberto Soldado as your main striker says it all, not to mention that La Liga have told them they’re unable to sign any more players because they’re operating at their maximum budget already.