La Liga 2016-17 Season Preview
Andalusia & the Canary Islands
There have been no promotions or relegations affecting the Southern Spanish clubs so once again Andalusia has four representatives in La Liga for the 2016-17 campaign and all of them have a new coach at the helm so it will be intriguing to see how they get on. Sevilla are still very much the cream of the crop in these parts but Real Betis and Malaga will be optimistic that they can close the gap. Meanwhile the Canary Islands will again be represented by Las Palmas, who are hoping to replicate their successful return to the top flight last term.
Last Season: 7th
IN: Franco Vázquez (€15million from Palermo), Joaquín Correa (€13million from Sampdoria), Ganos (€9.5million from Sao Paulo), Wissam Ben Yedder (€9million from Toulouse), Hiroshi Kiyotake (€6.5million from Hannover), Luciano Vietto (Loan from Atletico Madrid), Gabriel Mercado (€2.2million from River Plate), Matías Kranevitter (Loan from Atletico Madrid), Pablo Sarabia (€1million from Getafe)
OUT: Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kevin Gameiro, Ciro Immobile, Coke, Diogo Figueiras, Ever Banega, José Antonio Reyes
Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Key Player: Franco Vázquez
Sevilla’s 3rd successive Europa League triumph masked what was actually a pretty disappointing league campaign in 2015-16. The team failed to win a single away game and stuttered to a 7th place finish so there is plenty for new boss Jorge Sampaoli to improve on as he replaces the outgoing Unai Emery. With Monchi overseeing transfers, they normally do fantastic business in the transfer market and this has been one of their most active summers. They’ve spent in excess of €60million on new recruits but are still operating on a net transfer profit of around €24million following the big money departures of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kevin Gameiro.
Aim for 2016-17: Champions League Qualification
A return of 14 wins and 14 defeats in the league last season wasn’t good enough for a side of Sevilla’s quality but once again they used the Europa League to make it into the continent’s premier competition. This season they’ll be hoping to make the knock-out stages in the Champions League and certainly improve on 7th in La Liga with a top four finish the aim for former Chile boss Sampaoli and his new-look team.
Sevilla are masters at the art of losing their best players but re-investing wisely and often still strengthening their side. That’s tough to do year in, year out though and with a new coach and much-changed team, they may struggle in the opening months of the new campaign. They were outclassed by Barcelona in the Supercopa and it’s hard to see anyone stepping up and filling the shoes of Kevin Gameiro who netted 29 goals in all competitions last season.
Therefore they may find themselves just short of the top four this season but they will still be one of the stronger teams in the division and ought to improve on their points tally and final position from last year.
Last Season: 8th
IN: Keko (€5million from Eibar), Michael Santos (€4million from River Plate), Bakary Kone (€800,000 from Lyon), Jony (Free Transfer), Sandro Ramirez (Free Transfer), Diego Llorente (Loan from Real Madrid), Zdravko Kuzmanović (Loan from Basel), Mikel Villanueva (€300,000 from Deportivo Lara)
OUT: Fernando Tissone, Ezequiel Rescaldani, Egor Filipenko, Arthur Boka, Fábio Espinho
Coach: Juande Ramos
Key Player: Ignacio Camacho
Malaga have had a very busy summer. It started on a disappointing note with highly rated coach Javi Gracia leaving for Rubin Kazan but they look to have done some really good business in the transfer market and in Juande Ramos they have a safe pair of hands at the helm and someone who knows the club having previously coached Malaga between 2003 and 2004.
They were very good defensively last season but lacking at the other end but they have made attempts to rectify that over the summer months. The solid defence hasn’t really been altered and key midfielder Ignacio Camacho remains but their attacking threat has been boosted by arrivals such as Keko, who impressed on the wing for Eibar last term, Uruguayan forward Michel Santos and Sandro Ramirez, who has a point to prove following his release from Barcelona.
Aim for 2016-17: Europa League qualification
In the early part of last season, Malaga looked like possible relegation candidates but they recovered to a very respectable 8th place. They were still 12 points off the top six though so it’ll be a big ask to break into the European places this season but with an improved squad, that will be the objective.
The battle for the Europa League places should be more competitive this season and Malaga ought to be in the frame along with the likes of Valencia and Real Sociedad who are hoping to bounce back from disappointing campaigns. A lot will depend on how Malaga’s new forwards do as they will need to dramatically improve on their goal tally of 38 last season to have a shot at European qualification. It’s hard to see either Sandro or Michel Santos getting close to 20 goals in what will be their first full seasons playing regularly in La Liga and that may cost Malaga a spot in Europe but they should again finish in the top half.
Last Season: 10th
IN: Antonio Sanabria (€7million from Roma), Aïssa Mandi (€4million from Reims), Felipe Gutiérrez (€3.5million from Twente), Jonas Martin (€3million from Montpellier), Riza Durmisi (€2million from Brondby), Manu Herrera (Free Transfer), Roman Zozulya (Free Transfer), Matias Nahuel (Loan from Villarreal)
OUT: Alfred N’Diaye, Rafael van der Vaart, Jorge Molina, Francisco Molinero, Lorenzo Reyes, Francisco Varela, Vincenzo Renella, Heiko Westermann
Coach: Gustavo Poyet
Key Player: Antonio Sanabria
Real Betis had to be very content with a 10th place finish last season given it was their first one back in the top flight and a significant improvement on their previous effort at this level when they finished a distant last. However it was still far from the perfect campaign. They had the worst goalscoring record in the division with just 34, struggled to win games at their own stadium, sacked Pepe Mel and then opted against turning Juan Merino’s pretty successful caretaker spell into a permanent arrangement.
Their transfer activity at least suggests they are intent on improving their style of play with exciting youngster Antonio Sanabria, who impressed for Sporting Gijon last season, their biggest addition. He should provide much needed support for the ever reliable but ageing Ruben Castro up front but their improvements at one end of the pitch may have come at a cost. With key defensive midfielder Alfred N’Diaye and centre-back Heiko Westermann leaving the club, Betis are likely to be a bit easier for opposing sides to break down this term.
Aim for 2016-17: Top half finish
A target of Europa League qualification may be being whispered quietly around the stands of the Estadio Benito Villamarín but a more realistic aim would be a season of consolidation and another top half finish. A 10th place finish last year perhaps flattered Betis somewhat as they were only 6 points above the relegation places, which they flirted with briefly during a tough spell in the middle of the campaign. They should be clear of that again this year and new coach Gus Poyet will have done good job if he can guide them into the top ten.
Betis ought to at least be a more entertaining side to watch this season and should score more goals with Sanabria in the side but they are likely to finish in roughly the same place. They still look a bit short on quality in some areas of the pitch compared to the likes of Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao who are likely to be pushing for the top six but they do have enough about them to comfortably beat the drop.
Last Season: 16th
IN: José Angulo (€4million from Independiente), Tito (Free Transfer), Matthieu Saunier (Free Transfer), Jon Toral (Loan from Arsenal), Guillermo Ochoa (Loan from Malaga), Jeremie Boga (Loan from Chelsea), Victorien Angban (Loan from Chelsea), Ezequiel Ponce (Loan from Roma), Gabriel Silva (Loan from Udinese), Gaston Silva (Loan from Torino)
OUT: Isaac Success, Ruben Rochina, Jhon Córdoba, Edgar Méndez, Jean-Sylvain Babin, Youssef El Arabi, Ricardo Costa, Yrondu Musavu-King
Coach: Paco Jémez
Key Player: Guillermo Ochoa
Granada beat the drop by the skin of their teeth last season and benefited from playing a weakened Sevilla side that had their eyes on a couple of cup finals in their penultimate game. Their response has been to cash in on a number of their better players including Isaac Success, Ruben Rochina and Youssef El Arabi who scored the goals that kept them up. To put things in perspective of the 46 goals Granada scored in La Liga last season only 5 of them were netted by players who will still be at Nuevo Los Cármenes this term.
They’ve brought in close to €40million but the €4million they spent on José Angulo is the only transfer fee they have paid this summer and as such they are strongly expected to struggle. Perhaps the best acquisition is that of former Rayo Vallecano coach Paco Jémez, who performed miracles at the Madrid club for several years before their relegation last term and is no stranger to building a team virtually from scratch, which is what he will basically have to do here.
Aim for 2016-17: Survival
Granada are perennial strugglers and have finished between 15th and 17th in each of the last five seasons, regularly performing dramatic late escapes. There is nothing to suggest they will do any better this term and survival would again be a fantastic achievement.
Granada are written off every year but they always somehow seem to find a way out of trouble so they won’t be unduly put off by people tipping them for the drop again. With Jemez at the helm, they should be a good watch but their squad is extremely young and it’s a big ask for a host of loan signings to step in and fill the boots of players who made big contributions to their survival last season but have since left. Guillermo Ochoa is likely to be a very busy man in the Granada goal and he may need to perform miracles if they are to extend their top flight stay into a 7th year.
Last Season: 11th
IN: Mauricio Lemos (€2million from Rubin Kazan), Mateo Garcia (€400,000 from Instituto AC Cordoba), Hélder Lopes (Free Transfer), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Free Transfer), Marko Livaja (Free Transfer), Míchel (Free Transfer)
OUT: Jesús Valentín, Carlos Gutiérrez, Christian Fernández, Javier Garrido, Juan Carlos Valeron
Coach: Quique Setién
Key Player: Jonathan Viera
Las Palmas made their return to La Liga last term after 13 years away and performed much better than anyone could have expected securing an 11th place finish under Quique Setién who replaced Paco Herrera just a couple of months into the campaign.
It has been a fairly quiet summer on Gran Canaria so the first choice Las Palmas team hasn’t changed radically but the end of Willian Jose’s loan spell certainly comes as a blow although there have at least been no other major departures. The capture of Kevin-Prince Boateng on a free transfer is an intriguing one and if Setien can get the best out of him, Las Palmas will have a really strong looking midfield that will give almost every team in this league a run for its money.
Aim for 2016-17: Mid-Table Finish
Las Palmas perhaps over-achieved slightly in finishing 11th last season and it would certainly be a huge ask to try and better that this term. They are still in the process of once again trying to establish themselves as a top flight club so another safe mid-table finish would have to be regarded as a success.
With a settled team and a coach that knows how to get the best out of them, there is no reason why Las Palmas should be falling back into the relegation scrap. They are strong at home with few sides relishing the lengthy flight to Gran Canaria and have even started winning the odd away game. They should be one of the stronger teams in the bottom half again and a mid-table finish is certainly not beyond them.
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