La Liga makes its exciting return this weekend and many are expecting a much tighter battle for the title this time around. Barcelona dominated last season but with changes at both big Madrid clubs and other rivals Valencia and Sevilla, Barcelona will have a tougher task retaining their league and cup double. Every team wants to play the right way and that’s what make La Liga exciting for all football fans and this will certainly be a league to watch this season.
Barcelona were rampant last season as they strived towards the title in Valverde’s first season at the club however, expectations will be as high as ever with the club desperate not only for league supremacy but European dominance in the Champions League. However, change is afoot following the departure of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s new captain and he will be determined as ever to lead Barca to glory. Valverde has flexed his transfer muscle by signing experienced Arturo Vidal and young talents Malcom, Arthur Clement Lenglet. Valverde has built an exciting, attacking force with a solid defence and the club’s hierarchy will expect the club to win everything this season. However, bitter rivals Real Madrid will have something to say I’m sure. The club is in transition following Zinedine Zidane’s resignation and the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Julen Lopetegui is the man tasked with winning trophies at the Bernabeu. The departure of Ronaldo would be a loss to any team and Lopetegui will be assessing who can replace him. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Isco and new signing Vinicius Junior are expected to be task with firing the goals and be the creative forces in the Real side. The signing of Thibaut Courtois will delight the Real fans after years of wanting a consistent goalkeeper. Real Madrid may be considered a weaker side without Ronaldo, but they will still be a force to be reckoned with so write them off at your own peril. However, the red half of Madrid is full of optimism that this could their year once again. Simeone has done it before and he would love to deliver another title to the Wanda Metropolitano crowd this season. They have kept Greizmann at the club and he will be vital to any success the club has. However, Simeone has added to his squad this summer and has brought in the likes of Thomas Lemar, Rodri, Gelson Martins, Santiago Arias and Nikola Kalinic. All these players will play an important role as Simeone goes on the hunt for his 2nd La Liga title. They could be the ones to watch and look out for this campaign. However, Marcelino and Valencia will have something to say to their big title rivals this season. Marcelino enters his 2nd season in charge after a wonderful first season in charge where he guided Valencia to the top 4 in the league and a return to the Champions League in the new season. However, Marcelino knew he had to add to his squad to give Valencia a fighting chance for winning the league title. He has done just that by bringing quality players like Daniel Wass, Kevin Gameiro, Michy Batshuayi, Mouctar Diakhaby and Cristian Piccini. All the players join the club with determination and belief with Marcelino confident of mounting a sustained title charge this season.
Another side hoping to make a title charge but also get back at Europe’s top table is Sevilla and the Andalusian club are going through transition once again under new boss Pablo Machin who takes over Sevilla after a wonderful spell in charge of Girona and his aims this season will be at least a top 4 finish this season. Machin has lost key players including Steven N’Zonzi, Sergio Rico, Clement Lenglet, Guido Pizarro and Joaquin Correa who have all left the club for new challenges and Machin will be desperate to have adequate replacements who can help Sevilla challenge the top 4. Machin does have new faces in his side including Ibrahim Amadou, Andre Silva, the returning Aleix Vidal and highly rated youngsters Joris Gnagnon and Sergi Gomez. All have points to prove and an opportunity to impress on a European stage. Machin will play an expressive style of football with a solid backline and they will be a difficult side to beat and a top 4 finish is their target this season. However, there are other sides hoping to break the top 4 as well as get back onto the European stage. Villarreal are one of these sides, Javi Calleja has a done a good job at Villarreal and they are becoming Europa League regulars, but they are struggling to break into the top 4 and that continues to be their aim as each new season approaches. Calleja has a good squad on his hands and will believe this could be their year to get a place at Europe’s top table. Calleja has boosted his strike force in the transfer window by adding Gerard Moreno and Karl Ekambi. Both strikers have prolific records and Calleja will be hoping they fire the goals to send Villarreal into the top 4. However, two of La Liga’s biggest sides and biggest rivals both had disappointing seasons and they will have to improve to have a chance at returning to the Europa League at least. The two big Basque clubs in La Liga will be looking to improve. Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad both had poor seasons with bottom half finishes. However, both have new managers in Eduardo Berizzo and Asier Garitano and their aim will be to finish in the top 7 and return to the Europa League. Berizzo had an excellent spell in charge of Celta Vigo but a poor spell in charge of Sevilla and he will be determined to get Bilbao back to where it should be. Similarly, Sociedad’s new boss Asier Garitano joins after a wonderful spell in charge of Madrid minnows Leganes. He will bring his solid defensive style to the club and hope to charge them towards the European places once again. While Ath Bilbao and Real Sociedad are looking for improvement, Real Betis are looking for consistency after a wonderful season last time out. Quique Seiten enjoyed a wonderful first season at the club and guided them to the Europa League and signing players like William Carvalho gives a big statement that Betis are aiming big for the new season. Betis will continue to excite all La Liga fans and neutrals will hope Betis can cause a few surprises in the new season.
Two of last seasons promoted sides enjoyed an excellent season. Getafe and Girona had wonderful seasons finishing in the top half of the table and both will hope they can finish their once again and potentially push on. Jose Bordalas has done a sensational job at Getafe guiding them to promotion and securing them a top half finish. Getafe will be delighted Bordalas is still in charge as I’m sure with the jobs available in La Liga, he could easily walk into one of them. However, Getafe push on with Bordalas and a total of 14 new signings although a number of those are the loans from last season including Mauro Arambarri and Markel Bergara. Both impressed last season and will play important roles this season as Bordalas hopes to push Getafe towards the top 7. In contrast, it was a magnificent season for Girona in more ways than one. In their first ever La Liga season, the club won plenty of admirers for their style of play under Machin and secured a new partnership with Manchester City. The club is going from strength to strength despite the departure of Machin to Sevilla. New boss Eusebio Sacristan will be hoping to build on Machin’s legacy and continue his good work. He comes to Girona with a prove track record after his good spell in charge of Real Sociedad despite their poor season last time out. Girona have quality and hard workers like Alex Granell and he is an icon of Girona having been they’re throughout the club’s rise from the lower leagues. Consistency would represent a brilliant season for the club, but they are ambitious and will want to charge for Europe in the future. One side hoping change is a good thing is Celta Vigo after a flat season under previous boss Juan Carlos Unzue. Celta finished in the bottom half way below the club’s expectations which is top 7. Celta have a new manager in Antonio Muhamed who has never managed in Europe but does have a good record in his native Argentina however, he has lost several key players such as Daniel Wass, Pablo Hernandez, Sergi Gomez and Jonny Otto. Celta are hoping for improvement a make a sustained charge for the top 7 and with consistent goal scorers like Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez in their ranks, Celta can finish in the top 7 and secure a place in the Europa League.
Now we come to the smaller sides in La Liga hoping to remain in the league and these include Alaves, Espanyol, Eibar, Levante and Leganes. All 5 of these sides are in the shadows of their bigger neighbours and all will be delighted to keep their places in La Liga. Abelardo Fernandez completed a sensational rescue mission at Alaves and ignited a charge to mid table and a finish here once again would represent a good season. The likes of John Guidetti, Fernando Pacheco and Victor Laguardia will be crucial once again as the club aim to steer clear from the relegation battle. Similarly, Espanyol also are hoping to avoid the relegation battle after narrowly escaping last season. Quique Sanchez Flores paid the price and new boss Rubi comes with a feel-good factor after guiding Huesca to promotion. Espanyol were disappointing for large parts of last season and Rubi must improve the whole ethos of the club after seasons of negativity. The loss of Gerard Moreno will hurt but Rubi will have faith in £9M signing Borja Iglesias and survival will be the minimum expectation this season. In contrast to Espanyol, it has been a wonderful 4 years for Eibar and the job done by Jose Luis Mendilibar is nothing short of magnificent. The club operate on one of the tiniest La Liga budgets ever and the more they overachieve in the league, the more money the club gets to compete in the league. However, the loss of Ander Capa and Dani Garcia will hit the club hard after their loyal service to the club but, the club will continue and move forward as survival remains their prime target. Consistency is the aim and Mendilibar will have faith in the players at his disposal. Similarly, it has been a wonderful couple of years for Madrid minnows Leganes and consistency will be their aim once again however, the club enters the new season without Asier Garitano after his choice to leave the club at the end of his contract. He did a sensational job and new boss Mauricio Pellegrino has big shoes to fill. A disappointing spell at Southampton will not have damaged his reputation in Spain after a wonderful year in charge of Alaves. Pellegrino has a completely new squad at his disposal with a total of 14 new signings so far and with more expected, the club is aiming for a fresh start and they hope survival will follow. Levante are also hoping to sustain their place in the league. A solid first season back saw Paco Lopez steady the ship and steer the club to safety and this will be his mission once again. Goals were a major issue for the club last season and this issue will have to be addressed this summer if they are going to survive. However, the hold the record for being the only Spanish side to beat Barcelona last season after that dramatic 5-4 victory. Survival is the aim and the pressure will be on to retain their status.
Finally, we come to the three promoted sides Huesca, Rayo Vallecano and Real Valladolid. Huesca are gearing up for their first ever La Liga season after promotion last season under Rubi. But with him gone, the club gears up for the new season under new boss Leo Franco. Franco’s task is to keep them in the league and they are going to have to turn their home games into as many victories as possible to give them the best chance of survival and certainly this applies to the other two sides. Rayo Vallecano are back after 2 years away and are more determined than ever to extend their La Liga stay beyond one season. Club legend Michel has done an excellent job and his aim is survival and he will have to get the best out of his side which has 7 new faces so far including the well-travelled Gael Kakuta who will be hoping Spain is the perfect home for him. The positive for Vallecano this season is they have 4 derby opponents in Real, Atletico, Getafe and Leganes meaning La Liga is bursting out the capital and they would love to finish above rivals Getafe and Leganes this season and that gives them further incentive going into new season. Finally, we come to Real Valladolid, who achieve promotion through the play-offs and will be delighted to be back in La Liga. They will hope to defy the odds and secure another season in La Liga. Sergio Gonzalez will need to add new players to the squad to increase their chances of survival but it could be a long season for Valladolid.