La Liga 2016-17 Season Preview
The Madrid Clubs
The Spanish capital’s two powerhouses are again the only teams likely to push Barcelona close this season at the top of La Liga. A second Champions League final Madrid derby in the space of three years is testament to a golden era for football in Madrid. However the Madrid community’s smaller clubs endured mixed fortunes last season with Rayo Vallecano and Getafe suffering the heartbreak of relegation on the final day. Leganés though won promotion from the Segunda Division and the minnows will become the 61st different club to appear in Spain’s top flight this season although most La Liga predictions suggest they will struggle to stay up.
Last Season: 2nd
IN: Álvaro Morata (€30million from Juventus)
OUT: Jesé, Denis Cheryshev, Álvaro Medrán, Omar Mascarell, Álvaro Arbeloa
Coach: Zinedine Zidane
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Champions League glory once again salvaged Real Madrid’s season last time around and they did well to take Barcelona to the final day in a Primera Division title race they scarcely ever looked liked winning. Zinedine Zidane did a fine job after he was drafted in to replace Rafa Benitez mid-way through this season and it will be intriguing to see how much success he has over the course of a full campaign.
By the standards of Real Madrid this has been an incredibly quiet summer at the Santiago Bernabeu so he will basically have the same players available to him. The only player Los Blancos have bought is Alvaro Morata who rejoins from Juventus but young midfielder Marco Asensio could also forge his way into the Frenchman’s thinking after an excellent season on loan at Espanyol. Jesé is the only notable departure but with a ‘buy-back clause’ in his move to PSG, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he could return to the club at some point in the future.
Aim for 2016-17: 1st
Real Madrid have only won La Liga once in the last 8 years and that simply isn’t good enough for a club of their size and stature. They’ll be aiming to knock Barcelona off their perch this season but that won’t be easy with Atleti likely to be in the frame too. They’ve not won the title since the 2011-12 season under Jose Mourinho but will be hoping their European success will act as a springboard towards greater things at home.
All the talk last season was that Real Madrid were gearing up for a big summer rebuild but a late season surge and that win in Milan looks to have put that off for at least another year. That may prove an error of judgement though with many key players now the wrong side of 30 and the fringe players still flattering to deceive all too often. Cristiano Ronaldo will turn 32 this season and for the first time may need to have his game-time managed to at least a small degree.
Their lack of transfer activity is a bit of a mystery. Paul Pogba would have been the perfect fit for Los Blancos and would have instilled some real energy and dynamism in the midfield to complement the strengths of the likes of Luca Modric and Toni Kroos. However despite some interest, Real Madrid failed to capture the Frenchman. Real Madrid have never shied away from splashing the cash in the past but with basically the same squad again this season, they are again likely to fall just short of their domestic goals.
Last Season: 3rd
IN: Kevin Gameiro (€32million from Sevilla), Nico Gaitán (€25million from Benfica), Sime Vrsaljko (€16million from Sassuolo), Diego Jota (€7.2million from Paços Ferreira), Axel Werner (€800,000 from Rafaela), Fernando Torres (Free Transfer)
OUT: Borja Bastón, Josuha Guilavogui, Jesús Gámez, Silvio, Leo Baptistão
Coach: Diego Simeone
Key Player: Antoine Griezmann
It was a case of so near yet so far for Atlético Madrid last season. Their season was reminiscent of their title winning 2013-14 campaign in many respects with an outstanding defence the base of their success. They humbled Barcelona and Bayern to reach the Champions League final but suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat to Real Madrid and finished 3 points behind Barcelona in La Liga to end the season without any silverware.
However perhaps the most remarkable thing about all that is that they did it without anything like a top class striker. The addition of Kevin Gameiro, who scored 29 goals in all competitions for Sevilla last term, is aimed at rectifying that while the arrival of Nico Gaitán will also aid their attacking options.
Aim for 2016-17: 1st
Atleti are now very much at the point where they have to be considered serious title contenders. Diego Simeone worked wonders during his early years at the club on a tiny budget in comparison to the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona but success has led to that financial gap narrowing and they’ve spent over €80million this summer. They now truly believe they can compete with those clubs and given how close they came to a truly historic season last time around, Atleti will be eyeing up top spot this term.
The general consensus was that the best ‘team’ in Europe last season was Atletico Madrid and they have some very solid foundations from which to build from. The defense which has contributed so much to their success might have another couple of years at the top of their game and this feels like a season when the stars might align and Atleti could upset the ‘big two’ once again.
Gameiro is a good signing and will be an upgrade on Fernando Torres, who has extended his stay at the Vicente Calderon but is only likely to be a bit-part player in truth this season. With the likes of Saúl Ñíguez and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco improving all the time and Antoine Griezmann operating at a world class level, they should score more goals this term and are capable of getting their hands on the Primera Division trophy again.
Last Season: 2nd (Segunda Division)
IN: Diego Rico (€1million from Real Zaragoza), Gabriel (€1million from Juventus), Carl Medjani (Free Transfer), Unai Bustinza (Free Transfer), Adrián Marín (Loan from Villarreal), Miguel Ángel Guerrero (Free Transfer), Rubén Pérez (Loan from Granada), Unai López (Loan from Athletic Bilbao), Darwin Machís (Loan from Granada), Alberto Brignoli (Loan from Juventus)
OUT: Borja Lazaro, Jorge Miramon, Cesar Soriano, Queco Pina, Paco Candela, Luis Ruiz, Rubén Peña
Coach: Asier Garitano
Key Player: Alexander Szymanowski
Leganés will be looking forward to their first ever season in the top flight. Asier Garitano has done a stunning job in guiding them from the Segunda B to the Primera Division in just 3 years at the helm and has managed to hold on to most of his main players this summer with goalscoring winger Alexander Szymanowski one man to look out for while Gabriel, who impressed in the number 10 role last term, has turned his loan move from Juventus into a permanent one. There are still quite a few weaknesses in the team, most notably up front where they lack prolific finisher and it is expected to be a struggle this season for Leganés.
Aim for 2016-17: Survival
Survival is the only aim and it’s not an entirely unrealistic one. All three promoted clubs survived last season and Leganés will feel they will be competitive at least in games against other sides in the bottom half. Their stadium isn’t one of their most atmospheric in Spain though and they lack the following that fellow new-boys Osasuna and Alaves can boast so they may have a hard time turning the Estadio Municipal de Butarque into the fortress it might need to be.
Leganés are one of the smallest clubs to have ever played in La Liga and will join Eibar in being the real minnows in this league this season. The Basques may have proved miracles can happen but it’s hard to see Leganés being able to replicate that success. They are unlikely to be cut adrift at the bottom and will almost certainly humble one or two of the bigger teams but over the course of the season, it’s hard to see them scoring enough goals or keeping enough out to stay in the division.
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