Friday, 16 August 2019

Preview: La Liga 2019/20 Season

La Liga makes its long-awaited return this weekend after a summer full of controversy and unhappy clubs with the way the league is being run. Issues with TV deals and commercial rights has put a very dark cloud over one of Europe's most exciting leagues to watch. Despite, the off-field issues, on the pitch, things are looking exciting. Barcelona are seeking a third-straight league title and now have Antoine Greizmann in their ranks. Real Madrid has spent over £300M in a desperate attempt to bring glory back to the Bernabeu. Meanwhile, other contenders Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia have spent big meaning an exciting title race lies ahead this season.

Barcelona are looking for a third-straight league title under Ernesto Valverde. They have continued to dominate La Liga since Valverde's arrival but they are desperate to bring the Champions League back to the Nou Camp. Their Achilles heel in Valverde's two seasons at the club is poor performances in the latter stages of the Champions League throwing first-leg advantages away in both Valverde seasons. Antoine Greizmann has arrived from Atletico Madrid and Barcelona are hoping he is the man that can lead them to Champions League glory. Frankie De Jong and Junior Firpo have also arrived emphasising Barcelona's look towards the future with Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba nearing the end of their illustrious careers. But with Neymar also on the horizon its a sign Barcelona are determined to dominate Europe once again. Barcelona are looking strong ahead off the new season but the Barcelona hierarchy will demand improvement in the Champions League. Meanwhile, Barcelona's El Clasico rivals Real Madrid have had a summer revolution following an abysmal 2018/19 season. 3 managers, poor performances and disappointing results at the Bernabeu all culminated into a season of disaster for Los Blancos. Zinedine Zidane returned for a second spell in charge towards the end of the season and he has spent over £320M on new signings aiming to bring glory back to the club. Young, talented players Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo, Luka Jovic and Eder Militao have arrived at the club along with their big marquee, galactico signing Eden Hazard. Hazard has won everything during his 7 years at Chelsea and leaves full of admiration and respect for the Londoners. He will be determined to prove why Madrid invested over £100M in him. Hazard has sparkled in England and now he will test himself in Spain and amongst Europe's elite on a consistent basis. Zidane wants the La Liga title but he will have to fight Barcelona for that as the two big Spanish clubs scrap it out to be kings of Spain.

It has been a huge summer of transition at Atletico Madrid with several first-teamers and long servants of the club departing the Wanda Metropolitano. Greizmann, Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Rodri and Lucas Hernandez have all departed the club for new challenges. Diego Simeone has been left to re-build his squad but with many of his signings not living up to expectation, there is some trepidation heading into the new season. Experienced duo Felipe and Hector Herrera have arrived from Porto, Marcos Llorente has crossed the Madrid divide, Alvaro Morata is in on a permanent deal while Kieran Trippier has arrived from Tottenham. But Atletico's big summer signing is highly-rated Portuguese attacker Joao Felix. Atletico have given Benfica £113M for the talented teenager and big expectations are on his shoulders this season. Felix has starred at Benfica and now he steps up, determined to impress in Spain. Atletico fans are hoping to spring a surprise on their two big title rivals this season despite being unfancied due to their huge turnover of players. Meanwhile, Marcelino's well-organised, dangerous Valencia team are hoping they can ruffle a few feathers in the new season. Valencia quietly took 4th place and secured another Champions League campaign and they've also quietly gone about their transfer business. Jasper Cillessen, Jason Morales, Eliaquim Mangala and Juame Costa have arrived as has big money signing Maxi Gomez. The young Uruguayan has impressed in his two seasons at Celta Vigo and now gets to showcase his skills at Europe's top table. Valencia are always hovering around that top 4 but could they go one better and challenge for the title? Only time will tell but Valencia will be as competitive as ever under Marcelino.

Some of La Liga's other sides will head into the new season with a new manager with some teams deciding to make a change. Despite an excellent season in which a top-half finish was secured, Abelardo Fernandez left Alaves citing he couldn't commit long-term to the club. His replacement is the former Leganes and Real Sociedad manager Asier Garitano. Garitano impressed in his five years at Leganes stabilising them in La Liga before an unsuccessful stint at Real Sociedad. Garitano is excited as are the fans and another top-half finish would represent a great first season under Garitano. In contrast, a disappointing bottom-half finish with Real Betis spelt the end of Quique Seiten's two years at the Benito Villamarin. His replacement is Rubi who has left Espanyol to take the reigns. It has been a huge summer at the club with Nabil Fekir and Borja Iglesias arriving for big money so expectations are high at Betis this season. Espanyol's 7th place finish last season earned Rubi a move to Betis so Espanyol have replaced him with former caretaker manager and Espanyol B coach David Gallego. Gallego inherits a squad competing in the Europa League qualifiers but have lost key players to bigger clubs so a small re-build is likely at the Catalonian club. The final club to change manager and it seems to be a recurring theme every summer is Sevilla who have installed Julen Lopetegui after Joaquin Caparros moved back upstairs. And with a new manager at Sevilla comes a whole host of player changes. 11 new signings have arrived after returning sporting director Monchi sanctioned the deals while 8 have departed the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan. Lopoetegui arrives after a disappointing stint at Real Madrid at the beginning of last season. He is tasked with getting Sevilla back in the Champions League.

There is plenty of excitement for the promoted clubs who are all returning to La Liga after stint aways. Osasuna, Granada and Mallorca are all back in the big league and determined to stay there as well as make their presence known. Osasuna went up as Champions of the Segunda and they are fully ready to go. Osasuna have added experienced La Liga players so far this summer with Raul Garcia, Marc Cardona, Chimy Avila, Adrian Lopez and Darko Brasanac joining the Basque club. Survival is the target and that would represent an excellent season. Granada have been up and down for several seasons and once again they are back determined to stay in the league this time following their last disastrous La Liga campaign. Roberto Soldado is going to be key for them this season having arrived from Fenebahce on a free transfer. He is going to be their firepower in La Liga this season and if he can recapture the form he showed at Villarreal, Granada should survive comfortably.  After losing the first leg of the play-offs 2-0, I don't think even the most die-hard Mallorca fan thought they would turn the tie around but in football anything is possible and their 3-0 success in the second leg secured their return to the big league. Mallorca have been busy over the summer strengthening their survival bid. Their play-off hero Ante Budimir is also back on a permanent deal so there is plenty of reasons to be excited on the small island off the coast of Spain.

The new season is here and excitement is in the air. La Liga is always entertaining and no doubt fantastic goals, quality football and individual skill and brilliance will be in abundance throughout the summer. Barcelona remain favourites for a third straight league title but could Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or even Valencia stop them? One thing for sure it is going to be a fantastic season and fingers crossed the Spanish FA and La Liga sort out the issues ruining the tremendous football La Liga puts on.

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