La Liga 2016-17 Season Preview
The Basque Clubs
There will be a very strong Basque feel to La Liga this season with Alaves and Osasuna coming up to join Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Eibar in the top flight. As a result there are lots of derby days to look forward to and it’ll be good to see Primera Division football back at El Sadar and particularly the Estadio Mendizorrotza, which hasn’t hosted a top flight game in 10 years.
Last Season: 5th
OUT: Erik Morán, Unai Bustinza, Carlos Gurpegi, Ibai Gomez
Coach: Ernesto Valverde
Key Player: Aritz Aduriz
Of all the teams in La Liga, Athletic Club are the one that has changed the least. Following a successful 2015/16 campaign in which they ended their long wait for silverware by beating Barcelona to win the Supercopa de España, Athletic are looking to build on a solid 5th place finish. Their famous ‘Basque only’ policy always limits what they can do in the transfer market but they’ve not lost any key players and have promoted some promising youngsters from Bilbao Athletic, which was the only reserve side to compete in the Segunda Division last term.
Aim for 2016-17: Champions League Qualification
Ernesto Valverde will be hoping to break into the top four this season. It won’t be easy of course with only one place realistically up for grabs and a lot will be dependent on the evergreen Artiz Aduriz repeating the heroics of last season when he bagged 36 goals in all competitions. That may be a big ask for someone who will turn 36 in February but this could be the season when the hugely talented Inaki Williams steps up and shares some of that burden while they ought to be better defensively this time around with Aymeric Laporte, another very promising 22 year old at the heart of their back four.
If Aduriz can get anywhere close to repeating his incredible goal tally of last season than Athletic will be well-equipped to move up a place and clinch that crucial 4th spot and a place in the Champions League. They’ve not had to go through a lengthy pre-season this year so there are at least 8 fewer games on their schedule due to not having to play Europa League qualifiers or the Spanish Super Cup while they only had one player at Euro 2016 so should be fresher than many teams heading into the new campaign.
Given Villarreal have almost inexplicably dismissed Marcelino, Sevilla have lost their manager and several key players while doubts linger on about Valencia, continuity could just be the recipe for success as far as Valverde’s Athletic are concerned and they may sneak into the top four.
Last Season: 9th
IN: Gerónimo Rulli (€7million from Man City), Willian Jose (€6million from Maldonado), Juanmi (€5million from Southampton)
OUT: Jonathas, Alfred Finnbogason
Coach: Eusebio Sacristán
Key Player: Asier Illarramendi
Real Sociedad have been a real enigma for a few years now, frequently upsetting the big boys, who must be filled with dread every time they head to the Anoeta, however putting a consistent season together remains a seemingly impossible challenge for them. They look to have done some good business though over the summer with the permanent capture of keeper Gerónimo Rulli, who had been on loan at the San Sebastian club, a bonus. Willian Jose impressed for Las Palmas last season so his arrival represents a real coup likewise Juanmi and the duo should give Sociedad a greater attacking threat this term. The return of centre-back Diego Reyes to parent club Porto is bad news for them though as the Mexican was one of their best performers last season.
Aim for 2016-17: Europa League Qualification
Real Sociedad have under-achieved over the last couple of years with 12th and 9th place finishes. Their problem has been bad starts to both campaigns but they’ve tended to improve as the seasons have worn on and if they can be at least in the top half come the mid-way point of this season, they will fancy their chances of securing a return to European football.
La Real could just surprise a few people this year. They do have some genuine quality in their ranks particularly in the shape of Asier Illarramendi, who has impressed on his return to the Basque Country following an unconvincing time at Real Madrid. They had a lot of injuries last year and if they can only keep Imanol Agirretxe, who scored 13 goals in 16 league games, fit they should boast a real goal threat given their new arrivals. With problems lingering over some of the other teams you’d expect to be contesting the European places, Sociedad could break into the top six.
Last Season: 14th
IN: Alejandro Gálvez (€1.5million from Werder Bremen), Bebé (€1.5million from Benfica), Florian Lejeune (€1.5million from Man City), Pedro León (Free Transfer), Yoel Rodríguez (Loan from Valencia), Rubén Peña (Free Transfer)
OUT: Keko, Saúl Berjón, Lillo, Xabi Irureta, Jon Ansotegi
Coach: José Luis Mendilibar
Key Player: Gonzalo Escalante
Eibar’s top flight fairytale rolls on into a third year and following a 14th place finish last season, when they were never in serious relegation trouble, they go into this season with more belief that they can beat the drop. Certainly this is the first year that they aren’t red hot relegation favourites and they’ve done some decent business over the summer but the one big doubt against their credentials remains up front. Borja Baston scored 18 of their 49 goals last season on-loan from Atletico Madrid but has moved on to pastures new and they are yet to buy an adequate replacement.
Aim for 2016-17: Survival
With average gates of around 5,000 and a population of just 27,000, Eibar will always be the minnows as long as they stay in the Primera Division and survival will always be their primary objective. Mid-table would be an outstanding achievement this year but again just staying in the league would be a real accomplishment given their limited resources.
Without Baston, Eibar could flirt a bit more dangerously with relegation this season. Their last two campaigns have featured bright starts and declines after Christmas and it’s important they begin brightly again and don’t rest on their laurels just because they stayed up relatively comfortably last term. If they can bring in a forward capable of at least hitting double figures then they should have just enough to stay afloat.
Last Season: 1st (Segunda Division)
IN: Daniel Torres (€3.2million from Independiente Medellin), Deyverson (Loan from Levante), Alexis (€400,000 from Besiktas), Edgar Mendez (Free Transfer), Víctor Camarasa (Loan from Levante), Christian Santos (Free Transfer), Ibai Gomez (Free Transfer), Nenad Krsticic (Free Transfer), Zouhair Feddal (Free Transfer), Aleksandar Pantic (Loan from Villarreal)
OUT: Javier Carpio, Daniel Estrada, Aritz Borda, Facundo Guichón, Sergio Mora, Hernán Bernardello, Iñaki Sáenz, David Torres, Sergio Pelegrín
Coach: Mauricio Pellegrino
Key Player: Daniel Torres
José Bordalás guided Alavés to the Segunda Division title last season to end a difficult decade away from the top flight for the Basque club which has seen them drop into the third tier and battle against severe financial problems. However Bordalás had barely had time to celebrate the success when he was promptly shown the door and replaced with former Valencia boss Mauricio Pellegrino.
There have been plenty of changes in terms of playing personnel too with a large chunk of the defence that effectively guided them to promotion leaving. Not one Alaves player made it to 10 goals last season so it’s no surprise that re-enforcements have been brought in up front and they’ll be hoping Christian Santos, who netted 16 goals in the Eredivisie last season can form an effective partnership with Deyverson, who scored 9 times in La Liga for relegated Levante.
Aim for 2016-17: Survival
There have been so many changes, it’s hard to know what to expect from Alaves but like all newly promoted clubs their primary objective will be that of survival and a finish of 17th or higher would constitute a success although they’ll be hoping to emulate Las Palmas last term and secure their survival with a few games to spare.
It may take some time for them to find their stride with almost an entirely new team but once they do, Alavés should have enough quality to beat the drop. They have a larger budget than quite a few of the teams at the bottom and their capture of Colombian international midfielder Daniel Torres is a signal of their intent and a transfer that few bottom half teams would have been capable of pulling off. They’ll be backed by passionate home support at the Mendizorrotza and if they can turn that into something of a fortress they should be pushing towards mid-table.
Last Season: 6th (Segunda Division)
IN: Fran Merida (€500,000 from Huesca), Goran Causic (Free Transfer), Juan Rafael Fuentes (Free Transfer), Oriol Riera (Loan from Deportivo La Coruna)
OUT: Mikel Merino, Manuel Sanchez, Maikel Mesa
Coach: Enrique Martín
Key Player: Roberto Torres
Osasuna are no strangers to La Liga having played there for 14 continuous years between 2000 and 2014 but they return a very different side to the one that dropped out of the top flight two years ago. They nearly suffered what would’ve been disastrous back-to-back relegations finishing 18th in the Segunda Division in 2014/15 but creeped into the play-offs by the skin of their teeth last season and saw off to Girona to secure a return to La Liga.
Club legend Enrique Martín has very much steadied the ship over the past 12 months but the Pamplona club certainly come into the new campaign as one of the favourites for the drop. In comparison to Alaves they’ve had a very quiet summer with little transfer activity so their team hasn’t changed a great deal although the loss of talented young midfielder Mikel Merino to Borussia Dortmund is an obvious blow and they’ll need Roberto Torres to have another excellent season to help a youthful side adapt to the demands of top flight football.
Aim for 2016-17: Survival
Approaching a top flight campaign with basically the same team that finished 6th in the Segunda Division the previous season is a risky move and one that suggests their only aim this year will be to stay in the division.
It’s hard to see Osasuna not being involved in the relegation dog-fight to some extent. Of their new signings only former Arsenal midfielder Fran Merida is likely to break into the starting line-up from the off. Fortunately for Osasuna, there appear to be several other clubs that head into the campaign in a degree of turmoil so their continuity-based approach may just be enough to keep them up but it’s likely to be close.
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