La Liga 2016-17 Season Preview
The Valencian Community
There will be no Valencia derby in La Liga this season for the first time in seven years following Levante’s relegation. That leaves Valencia and Villarreal to tussle it out for top spot in the Valencian Community. Last season it was barely a contest with the Yellow Submarine 8 places and 20 points clear of Los Che, who had a season to forget. This time around they are under pressure to do much better while Villarreal approach the new campaign reeling from the sudden departure of Marcelino, the man who guided them from the Segunda Division to the Champions League in just over three years at the helm.
Last Season: 12th
IN: Nani (€8.5million from Fenerbahce), Alvaro Medran (€1.5million from Real Madrid), Martin Montoya (Free Transfer)
OUT: Andre Gomes, Rodrigo de Paul, Javi Fuego, Antonio Barragan, Sofiane Feghouli
Coach: Pako Ayestarán
Key Player: Shkodran Mustafi
Last season Valencia over-spent and under-achieved in what was a miserable campaign. A lot of money was wasted on players who failed to deliver the goods and the appointment of Gary Neville did little but propel them towards relegation. Pako Ayestarán has successfully steadied the ship but has a big job on his hands following the departures of some key players with very little coming in the other way. It is imperative they hang on to centre-back Shkodran Mustafi if they are to achieve anything of note this term as the German is the only really convincing defender they have and they’ll be far too easy to break down if he goes.
Aim for 2016-17: European Qualification
It is very rare that a season goes by at the Mestalla without European qualification and without any continental distractions this term the onus will be on them to secure a top six finish and return at least to the Europa League. There is still plenty of young talent in the squad but they will need to be far more consistent this season and given the number of departures, the likes of Paco Alcacer and Enzo Perez will really have to step up and have excellent campaigns if they are to be in the frame for Europe.
A lot will depend on what happens over the final two weeks of the transfer window with both Alcacer and Mustafi being linked with moves away. If they can hang on to those two and get the crowd on side with some early home wins, Valencia should be at least on the fringes of the battle for Europa League football. If they cash in on either then another disappointing bottom half season may very well await.
Last Season: 4th
IN: Roberto Soriano (€14million from Sampdoria), Nicola Sansone (€13million from Sassuolo), Alfred N’Diaye (€8million from Real Betis), Cristian Espinoza (€7.2million from Huracan), Denis Cheryshev (€7million from Real Madrid), Alexandre Pato (€3million from Corinthians)
OUT: Eric Bailly, Samu García, Denis Suárez, Tomás Pina, Moi Gomez
Coach: Fran Escribá
Key Player: Bruno
Villarreal’s plans for the new season were thrown into chaos just 10 days before the start of La Liga and only a week before their vital UEFA Champions League play-off 1st Leg against Monaco. The departure of Marcelino, who had done an incredible job at El Madrigal, stunned many and left them frantically searching for a replacement. Their decision to plump for Fran Escribá, who was sacked by relegated Getafe in April, wasn’t the most inspired of choices and he has huge boots to fill.
He inherits a team that has again seen its fair share of comings and goings over the summer but despite the €38million departure of centre-back Eric Bailly to Manchester United, Villarreal have still been net spenders and much of that cash was used to revamp the midfield with Nicola Sansone and Roberto Soriano coming in from Italy while Denis Cheryshev, who was a huge hit on loan here two years ago, returns on a permanent basis.
Aim for 2016-17: Champions League Qualification
The objective would have been to emulate last season’s successful 4th place finish before Marcelino left and most likely still is but it won’t be easy. There are several teams eyeing up that 4th spot and it seems a solid assumption that at least one of them will put a more solid campaign together so Villarreal will probably have to better last season’s points tally of 64 if they are to again secure a place in Europe’s premier club competition.
Without Marcelino and with Champions League football to contend with (presuming they win their play-off which is by no means a certainty) Villarreal may struggle to break into the top four again this term. They look to have done some good business though so should be in the frame for a top six finish but it’s hard to see them repeating their outstanding opening to last term given the upheaval of the last fortnight and once again the pressure will fall on Bruno’s shoulders to be the calming influence on the pitch and help his new teammates bed in.
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