BELLIGERENCE BECKONS; A LA LIGA PREVIEW 17/18 SEASON

This weekend, the Spanish top flight begins hostilities as to which team will be crowned the next Champions of Spain. The current transfer window which is still on has seen players and managers trade sides from one club to another inland or abroad but nothing beats the staggering $257 million PSG coughed to grasp Neymar from Barcelona’s bosom. Levante, Getafe and debutants Girona (the 62nd team to participate in the Spanish top level league)  joined up from the Segunda Liga after particularly dismal performances from Sporting Gijon, Osasuna and particularly Granada saw them relegated from the La Liga last term.

***Picture Courtesy Sofascore

Alaves and Leganes will on the other hand look to maintain their status as participants in the League but also get one point across that they weren’t a flash in the pan a year ago. As the new season is upon us, we at halftimeng, take a closer look at each team to give an expert opinion at how things might pan out for them this season.
 Celta Vigo

After a 3 year stint with the club Eduardo Berizzo parted company with the Celeste after they failed to renew his contract which came as a surprise to many following a fantastic run in the Europa League where they got to the semi finals; losing to eventual winners Man United although they seem to lose their path in the La Liga in the course of the Europa chase. The Balaidos club has subsequently replaced him with Juan Carlos Unzue, a familiar face, worked under Luis Enrique 4 years ago at the club.
Celta Vigo has done tremendously well at keeping most of their core players – Iago Aspas, John Guidetti – especially Ugandan born Danish winger, Sisto but have done little at recruiting as only Stanislav Lobotka has joined from Nordsjaelland for just 5 million euros which is no surprise really. you can also expect them to continue their free flowing, salacious football.
Manager: Carlos Unzue

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Sisto

Final Position: 7th

Getafe

After a season blip, the Azulones are back in the Primera Division,you could say they are the most experienced of the sides that got promoted having been in the La Liga 12 years consecutively before they got the drop 2 years back which is a huge advantage at keeping them up. 

Jorge Molina, holds the key to their survival this season though after the Spaniard notched an impressive 20 goals in 39 games last season in the Segunda Division. Whether he will be doing it weekly against Sevilla or Atletico like he did the Huescas and Elches is worth waiting to be seen.

Markel Bergara and Faycal Fajr , along with highly rated Atletico loanees Emiliano Velazquez and Amanth are the notable additions to the squad but you feel Getafe is going down again.

Manager: Pepe Bordalas

Preferred Formation: 4 – 5 – 1

Player to look out for: Mehdi Lacen

Final Position: 18th

Espanyol

One of the two Catalonia clubs had a fairly successful season finishing 8th which was incredible combining the fact that a whooping 10 players were bought last summer. Ex Watford manager, Quique Sanchez Flores was able to smelt them into a team and it worked fantastically well without instabilities.

Following the permanent deals for Lopez from Inter and Piatti from Valencia who were on initial loans last season – Brazilian experienced defender,Naldo, also in the mix – its a clear indicator that they are willing to push for at least a Europa league spot – wait till you get a list of those who have been ousted – Antonio Reyes, Felipe Caicedo and Ruben Duarte, at least 2 of these players form the spine of the previous campaign.

Can’t see anything except for an indifferent campaign.

Manager: Quique Sanches Flores

Preferred Formation: 4 – 5 – 1

Player to look out for: Pablo Piatti

Final Position: 9th

Barcelona

Another Catalonia club, but this is in a bit of doldrums. Neymar’s move away from the Camp Nou seems to have wrecked a carnage in the squad even with Lionel Messi in it – ironic isn’t it? This season seems to go off at half cock for Ernesto Valverde who him self – the gaffer – just traded Basque for Barcelona after he joined from Atletico Bilbao.

Unfortunately, his first task is to conjure up a team without MSN as a unit. Instead he will have to toss between Arda Turan, Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer – on paper, these names don’t fill you with confidence especially if Messi gets injured sometime in the season.

The once prestigious La Masia hasn’t covered themselves in glory either – the contrast is so glaring  from producing world beaters like Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta to churning mediocre players like Adama Traore, Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu in recent times. Winning something worthy this season is a long shot

Manager: Ernesto Valverde

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Nelson Semedo

Final Position: 3rd

Eibar

Will they improve on their 10th position finish last season or they will try to stay ‘afloat’? The Basque club is one of the very many Spanish clubs whose dearth of funds is no news but they thrive – selling their player of the season Florian Lejeune to Newcastle for 10 million Euros is one of the ways they do.

Caveat for me is the quality of players they have brought in – Malaga reject, Charles in for free while they bought unproven players in Joan Jordan from Espanyol for 1 million and Paulo Oliveira for 3.5 million. Manager, Jose Luis Mendilibar although he is the workhorse and capable tactician but am not sure players on display this season can allot his gameplay.

Manager: Jose Luis Mendilibar

Preferred Formation: 4 – 4 – 2

Player to look out for: Dani Garcia

Final Position: 20th

Alaves

Bar Barcelona, i don’t any club has been hit with so much exodus like the outfit from Victoria Gasteiz. Since the end of last season, players, Marcos Llorente, Victor Camarasa, Deyverson and Theo Hernandez have all moved back to their parent clubs – as if it wasn’t enough, Mauricio Pellegrino left the club high and dry after he moved to the south coast in England to coach Southampton.

The Babazorros have swiftly moved in the acquisition of a younger and less enterprising Luis Zubeldia who has gone on to sign Tomas Pina, Burgui and Duarte also making Milan’s Rodrigo Ely loan deal permanent. It is only normal that you expect Alaves to struggle at the start of the season due to the compulsory changes made but they will be fine come next year.

Manager: Luis Zubeldia

Preferred Formation: 4 – 4 – 2

Player to look out for: Rodrigo Ely

Final Position: 11th

Atletico Madrid

A transfer ban meant Diego Simeone had no new players to welcome to their new stadium until January even though they got Vitolo from Sevilla (loaned to Las Palmas) and somewhere in between will be chuffed his most prized asset Antoine Griezmann gets to stay at least one more year in the club after Man United was almost on the cusp of making a deal. Reports in England still suggest they are not writing off a reunion with ever troublesome Diego Costa from Chelsea too.

Vincente Calderon is no more the home of the Colcheneros after 50 years of making the iconic site a fortress  – Wanda Metropolitan is the new home and Simeone will be looking to make this season a special one regarding the circumstances – it is not far fetched, they have enough to break the duopoly that has had Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate the La Liga for a bit now. The transfer ban is obviously an hindrance but Atletico has enough quality and spine to power through to January until they add more quality.

Manager: Diego Simeone

Preferred Formation: 4 – 4 – 2

Player to look out for: Angel Correa

Final Position: 2nd

Deportivo La Coruna 

Pepe Mel will be leading the Abanca Riazor outfit from the start this season after helping them steady the ship late on last season to finish 16th position after Gaizka Garitano almost nosedived the team into relegation. Now in full charge and a transfer window under his belt – Mel, in his wisdom has not brought in skill but has replaced with players who are not work shy – Fabian Schar from Hoffenheim is a prime example, Loan moves for Adrian Lopez; Zakkari Bakkali from PSV will also give the coach some options.
With all that said, Deportivo haven’t successfully replaced Lucas Perez, they have been rudderless in the front of goal since his departure to North London last summer with him likewise looking for an escape route after Wenger didn’t have a real look in at how good he can perform. A 13 million Euros deal looks to be on the cards for Deportivo but reports are they are looking for a loan move due to financial constraints. Newcastle are also known to be lurking around. If Perez can make it back to the Riazor, be sure that Deportivo will be better for it.
Manager: Pepe Mel

Preferred Formation: 4 – 5 -1

Player to look out for: Zakkari Bakkali

Final Position: 12th

Atletico Bilbao

Since the departure of Ernesto Valverde, in the wake of being appointed the job at the Nou Camp, Bilbao has blooded in Coach Cuco Ziganda from the Bilbao B team – the Lezama youth academy, to take over affairs of the first team. Seems a very reasonable and apt decision from the San Mames board knowing they need to continue with their unique brand of football, most of the players in the first team such as Iker Muniain,Arrizabalaga, Inigo Lekue and Inaki Williams have worked with Ziganda at one point during their development.

It will be difficult to stick out your neck and say Bilbao will have a fine season or not. its pretty hard to tell – Cuco Ziganda is relatively untested in the big stage, in fact the last time he was a  first team coach in the league, he went six games in without winning any of his first six games in charge which got him sacked at the time. He would pray for better luck this term.

Manager: Jose Angel ‘CUCO’ Ziganda

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Inaki Williams

Final Position: 12th

Girona.

Persistence and hardwork finally paid off for the Blanquivermell (White and Reds) and above all sticking with Pablo Machin who has overseen 4 top – four finishes in their last 5 Segunda campaigns but finally gained promotion by picking the automatic second place spot. The team is exclusively known to be very tight at the back but possess explosive counter attacking prowess to destroy any opposition. The dark cloud hovering over them is the departure of evolving star Samuele Longo back to his parent club, Inter. 

Smiles could be back again because Manchester City (Owners have stake in Girona) could well loan Phil Foden and even recently, Nigerian International, Kayode Olanrewaju has been rumored to be on the verge of signing with the Citizens only to be loaned to Girona. In other news, Girona, have themselves signed Christian Stuani from the recently relegated Middlesbrough from the Riverside. Carles Planas and Gorka Iraizoz are the other notable additions.

Manager: Pablo Machin

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Eloi Amagat

Final Position: 19th

Sevilla 

Eduardo Berizzo only took a cross country trip from Vigo to Seville, swapping the Celeste for the serial Europa League winners in the Rojiblancos. Sevilla had a relatively fine 17/18 season under tattooed drenched Jorge Sampaoli. They had good sense of controlling games but they couldn’t just finish off teams most of the time, something Berizzo will be looking to correct. The whites and reds have had a really busy transfer window bringing in players such as Nolito and Jesus Navas from Manchester City, Ever Banega from Inter, Luis Muriel from Sampdoria,Simon Kjaer from Fenerbahce while players like Cristofolo,Juan Munoz and Yevhen Konoplyanka can give an added extra quality to the side.

With the current squad, its safe to say they are a lot of accouterments going into the new season. A champions league spot would be the target.

Manager:Eduardo Berizzo

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Luis Muriel

Final Position: 4th

 Las Palmas

Departure of Roque Mesa to Swansea for 11 million pounds looks like fantastic business, but they have struggled to find a capable replacement for the 5ft 7in central ,midfielder. Manolo Martinez, rather throwing his weight behind trying to get more wingers than getting players that can feed them. Vitolo, on loan from Atletico will definitely give sprinkles of the goods, Mauricio Lemos is still arguably one of the best defenders around and Jonathan Viera is still there to keep things tick but they look powder-puff in the aspect of competing for a spot in Europe but they will definitely be around for a while – for the third straight season.

Manager: Manolo Martinez

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Jonathan Viera

Final Position: 10th

Levante

Juan Muniz hasn’t left any stones unturned bringing in a whooping 11 players including Camarasa and Deyverson which some quarters think its a steal. Antonio Luna, Oier Olazabal and Alex Alegria are some of the players who has gotten the Primera Liga experience to push them forward. The biggest of the transfer was the acquisition of Emmanuel Boateng from Moreirense, Portugal – Ghanaian scored 9 goals in 55 appearances before his move to Spain; it doesn’t look inspiring, the stats, the 21 year old Accra born striker has potentials to propel the Les Granotes to survival.

Manager: Juan Muniz

Preferred Formation: 4 – 5 – 1

Player to look out for: Deyverson

Final Position: 13th

Real Madrid

I don’t think any La Liga season will be as straightforward in terms of the winner than this season.  Real Madrid just seem to have an embarrassing amount of talent in their squad it’s frightening – what has importantly worked for the Los Merengues is that President Florentino Perez seems to have pressed the right buttons in the dressing room – no grumbles or dissatisfaction from the players or coaches, the fans have also taken to the right mix of youth and class that Zinedine Zidane has managed to imbibe.

While arch rivals Barcelona, have a threadbare bench, Real Madrid can be cocky enough to call Marco Asensio, Kovacic, Nacho, Casilla as able supplements. They have added Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos to the squad to brace them ahead of the season and major departure include James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata and Danilo. They seem to be a mile ahead of the rest in the La Liga this season, it is hard to choose anyone else for the gong.

Manager: Zinedine Zidane

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Marco Asensio

Final Position: 1st

Villarreal

The Yellow Submarine haven’t built on the impressive 4th position they finished in 2 years ago, they have only managed to regressed a little only to finish 5th last season, losing the spot to Sevilla. 52 year old Fran Escriba, looks to have made a statement of intent signing Carlos Bacca on loan from Italian giants AC Milan, Ruben Semedo from Sporting and Pablo Formals from Malaga, after losing Soldado, Jonathan Dos Santos and Mateo Musacchio to Fenerbahce, LA Galaxy and AC Milan respectively.

The players they have bought seems to cancel out the departures on paper and somewhat looks like it’s going to be a repeat of the previous campaign.

Manager: Fran Escriba

Preferred Formation: 4 – 2 – 3 – 1

Player to look out for: Cedric Bakambu

Final Position: 5 th

Leganes

The club from the town with largely cucumber farmers are attempting to stay in the holy grail competition in the country – second time of asking. Have to say they had a fairly good 16/17 season being their first time in the top flight, finishing 17th – 4 points off the drop. This season won’t come any easier. Stadio Butarque should experience another huff and puff this season but they should survive.

Manager: Asier Garitano

Preferred Formation: 4 – 5 – 1

Player to look out for: Raul Garcia

Final Position: 17th

Valencia

An absolutely woeful 16/17 season – finishing 12th on the log, probably the worst Valencia team since the likes of Gaiska Mendieta. Mista, Joaquin et al. Marcelino will have to make do with Orellana, Simeone Zaza this term and they could be a significant improvement if every player contributes their quota effectively.

Manager: Marcelino

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Dani Parejo

Final Position: 6th

Real Betis.

Quique Setien is the third coach the Beticos have hired in two years, thet seem not to be satisfied with one thing or the other, each manager brings to the fray (Pepe Mel and Gus Poyet) and that has had Betis a little bit on the inconsistent side in the league but it will see them through again.; they will keep their status intact.

Manager: Quique Setien

Preferred Formation: 4 – 4 – 2

Player to look out for: Joaquin

Final Position: 14th

Malaga

Boquerones had a tumultuous time trying to get a real cadence and balance about how to get things going last term – Three different managers coached Malaga only last season (Ramos, Romero and Michel) the latter being the current manager now, things haven’t been rosy since Pellegrini was the coach and there was money to spend. Michel who has had previous experience coaching Getafe should have enough in his Arsenal to keep them safe.

Manager: Michel

Preferred Formation: 4 – 4 – 2

Player to look out for: Juankar

Final Position: 15th

Real Soceidad

San Sebastian clubside was the most improved team last term finishing surprisingly in 6th ahead of Bilbao, Celta Vigo and Valencia

 

Importantly they have managed to keep their most important player and captain Xabi Prieto, adding Adnan Januzaj, an exciting prospect from Manchester United, which gives them a little zing but you suspect the gruesomely exhausting Europa League games could take a lot of focus and legs from their La Liga campaign especially if they go far in the competition.

Manager: Eusebio Sacristan

Preferred Formation: 4 – 3 – 3

Player to look out for: Adnan Januzaj

Final Position: 16th

 **Pictures Courtesy Sport Aktuality

Leave a Reply