LA LIGA RETURNS: 2016-2017 PREVIEW (THREE THINGS TO EXPECT)

When it rains, it pours, European league football returns and it does so in abundance. Last week saw the kick-off of the Premier League season, starting tonight, the La Liga season kicks off with Malaga hosting Osasuna and Eibar away at La Coruna. The La Liga is arguably regarded as the best league in the world following their dominance in Europe over the last few years with Real Madrid and Sevilla defending champions both in the Champions and Europa league, the league is also home to the best talents in the world featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar and a host of others. Maybe not in the same breath as the Premier league, but good business have been done in the transfer window this season by some teams, last season saw a pulsating run towards its latter stages as Barcelona, Real and Atletico Madrid went head to head, separated marginally before Barcelona carted home the title. This promises to be yet another explosive season and here are three things to watch out for this new season.

1- Another three- horse race to the title?

Luis Enrique, Zinedine Zidane and Diego Simeone all gave us a season unlike any other last time around, though Barcelona ended up as Champions, they got a fight until the final games of the season. Madrid and Atletico also made the Champions league final that year in what was a sheer expression of the strength of the league. During the transfer window, Barcelona have been quite busy reinforcing with the likes of Andre Gomes, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez with rumors rife around a new goalkeeper in Valenica’s Diego Alves or Ajax’s Cillisen to replace the rumoured Manchester City bound Claudio Bravo, this is a real statement of intent from Enrique considering he already has a starting 11 that are world beaters led by the forward trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. He has injected the team with young, promising players with an average age of 22years.
For Atletico, we expect pretty much the same of the same, a compact team, able to win by the slimmest of margins, tenacious when leading, will stick to the same aggressive, non-flamboyant style of play led by their animated manager which has guided them well thus far. Simeone has also done some decent business in this window securing the likes of Kevin Gramiero, Nico Gaitan, former Sassuolo right back Sime Vrsaljko whilst maintaining the bulk of his squad from last season, questions remain if Atletico really has what it takes to dethrone Barcelona or Real but given the way this team has competed in the last three seasons, writing them off will be at your own peril.

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For European champions, Real Madrid, it has been a dodgily quiet window with the only notable incoming being the return of Alvaro Morata from Juventus. Zidane has been fairly criticized for showing some naivety in the window especially as the likes of major rival Barcelona have clearly shown their hands and signaled intent, whilst some have come in defense of the manager claiming that in the past Real have largely spent to show their financial power over Barcelona and not because the players will add to the team. For what is worth, Zidane enjoyed a relatively successful debut season, galvanizing the team after the exit of Rafael Benitez and sparking life into the team’s play. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the expectation that comes along with a second season especially as he will start the campaign with his most lethal weapon in Cristiano Ronaldo missing out through injury and the uncertainties that persist around James Rodriguez.
No doubt one of the three teams will be named Champions yet again as the La liga is not exactly as open as the Premier League to see an outsider sneak in but is there a chance of Barcelona being dethroned?

2- The Valencia drama/ outside contenders

So, I have a really huge Valencia fan on my timeline and this has made me keep tabs on happenings at the club, plus the team appealed to me at some point when they made their runs to the European finals back in the days under Gaiska Mendietta and one of my favorite goalkeeper Canizares, but what exactly is happening at the club? Survived a scare last season that almost saw them dragged into the relegation battle, changed managers like baby did diapers but more worrying is the club owner and their transfers this season, they sold Andre Gomes to Barcelona, Rodrigo, Barragan, Fuego and Feghouli all gone, Diego Alves is rumored to have reached an agreement with Barcelona, Mustafi constantly linked with a move away and recently golden boy Paco Alcacer (though officials insists he is not for sale) has also been strongly linked to Barcelona as club owner Peter Lim seeks to clear off the clubs debts. Major arrivals have come in the form of Luis Nani who enjoyed a successful European competition with Portugal in the final win, Medran from Madrid, Montoya and Suarez. Will this be another season of Valencia struggling or will they somehow emerge from the chaos and fight for European places?

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The outside contenders for the title and other silverware include Europa champions Sevilla who lost their manager Unai Emery to PSG but have strengthened decently and retained a compact team, Villareal finished fourth last time around but have surprisingly also lost its manager, Marcelino but should also be in with a shout as the yellow submarines have recruited the likes of Roberto Soriano, Sansone, Ndiaye, Espinoza, Pato from Corinthians who was on loan at Chelsea last season and Madrid’s Cheryshev to add to their fire power this campaign, also Athletico Bilbao will be one team worth watching out for this season seeing how they fared pretty well in the last campaign with star striker Aritz Aduriz leading their lines.

3- The fairytale called Leganes

One of the newly promoted teams to the top tier of Spanish football is Leganes, a team from Madrid who as recently as 2013/14 were in the third tier of Spanish football, a club founded in 1928 and plays at their home ground of the Estadio Municipal de Butarque which seats just 8,138 spectators will this season welcome the likes of Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Ronaldo, Bale, Griezmann to its grounds and this will be moments to forever remember for its fans.

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The team gained promotion to the top flight after a 1-0 win at Mirandes on the last day of the Segunda league season, the squad largely made up of players on free transfers or loan deals led by manager Asier Garitano have already been penciled by bookmakers as one of those likely to return to the Segunda at the end of the campaign. For them, this is a dream, one to be lived in the best way possible, could as well approach every game with a minnows mindset and cause upsets or go to grounds and lose woefully, but for the locals, this is a fairytale happening right before their eyes and for every week of their la liga campaign, they are going to enjoy this run for as long as it will last.

Who do you think will be crowned champions come end of the season?

Adeyemi Adesanya
Sports Business Consultant and Football Intermediary; Risk Management & Due Diligence Consultant; Freelance Football writer & Pundit on Radio & TV and Man.Utd Fan
http://www.halftimeng.com

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