After reviewing the title contenders and Champions League hopefuls in Spanish La Liga Season Preview part 1, it’s time to turn towards the mid table sides. Some of these teams, namely Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol, will be hoping to enter the race for Europa League places, but others will be more concerned with avoiding the relegation battle. The sides expected to fight for their lives this season will be featured in the final part of our season preview.
Athletic Bilbao finally made a transition from the team fighting for survival to the one battling for European places and los Leones don’t want to stop there. The capture of world-class coach Marcelo Bielsa is a real testament of club’s ambition and there are no doubts that the Chilean will bring lots of good things to San Mames. The club management did a great job in the transfer window, keeping hold to star players Llorente, Javi Martinez and Iraola, while bringing Spain Under-21 star Ander Herrera, so everything suggests this will be a very successful season for the Basques. However, with Europa League campaign likely to cost them some precious points on domestic stage and considering the rise of sides like Malaga and Atletico Madrid, Athletic will face a stiff competition for another Europa League berth.
Last season: 6th
Important arrivals: Ander Herrera (Real Zaragoza).
Important departures: Ion Velez (Girona).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Iraizoz – Iraola, Amorebieta, San Jose, De Marcos – Gurpegui, Javi Martinez – Muniain, Herrera, Susaeta – Llorente.
Prediction: Upper mid table
Pick: Athletic Bilbao to achieve Top 6 finish
Talented manager Mauricio Pochettino managed to lead Espanyol from the brink of relegation to the Champions League place in just over a year, but his side couldn’t hold on to the high league position following an amazing start to the season. Los Periquitos ended up missing out on Europa League place, but even the 8th-place finish has to be considered a great achievement. Espanyol are now set for a much more difficult season as the club chiefs were unable to prevent star players Osvaldo, Callejon and Chica from leaving the club, although they did well to sign Juan Albin and Hector Moreno, while bringing Didac Vila and Vladimir Weiss on loan deals. The new signings will ensure Espanyol remain competitive and are likely to help them avoid the relegation battle, but the team don’t look capable for anything more.
Last season: 8th
Important arrivals: Juan Albin (Getafe), Hector Moreno (AZ Alkmaar), Rui Fonte (Sporting), Marvin Zeegelaar (Ajax), Adrian Luna (Defensor Sporting), Vladimir Weiss (Manchester City, loan), Didac Vila (Milan, loan).
Important departures: Javier Chica (Real Betis), Jose Callejon (Real Madrid), Pablo Osvaldo (Roma).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Cristian – Galan, Moreno, Forlin, Didac Vila – Javi Marquez, Baena – Luis Garcia, Verdu, Albin – Sergio Garcia.
Prediction: Mid table finish
Pick: Espanyol to finish above Getafe
Real Sociedad did great in their first season upon return to the top flight and even though the Basques ended the league campaign just few points above the relegation zone, their La Liga status was never in danger. After bringing one of the most talented coaches in world football, Philippe Montanier, the club management decided to rely on their own youth academy, although the loan signings of Carlos Vela and McDonald Mariga are seen as major coups. The Txuri-urdin somehow managed to keep hold of star players Antoine Griezmann despite heavy interest from Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, so the club have clearly created a very good foundation for the new season. With the squad mostly consisting of home made players, Real Sociedad will continue to play with passion, whereas Vela and Mariga are expected to make a real difference this season. The team from San Sebastian should have no problems staying alive, so mid table finish looks on the cards.
Last season: 15th
Important arrivals: Carlos Vela (Arsenal, loan), McDonald Mariga (Inter, loan).
Important departures: Diego Rivas (Hercules), Mikel Labaka, Raul Tamudo (both Rayo Vallecano).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Bravo – C. Martinez, I. Martinez, Demidov, De la Bella – Mariga, Aranburu, Zurutuza – Xabi Prieto, Vela, Griezmann.
Prediction: Mid table finish
Mallorca had a good start to last season, but the poor run of form in the final stage of the league campaign saw them slip into the danger zone and they ended up escaping the drop by a single point. Michael Laudrup’s side are looking to avoid a similar destiny this term and it looks as though that is a realistic goal. Following the arrivals of Hemed, Zuiverloon, Caceres, Chico and Alfaro, the team showed a lot of potential in pre-season, while the opening win over Espanyol proves that Mallorca remain a force to be reckoned with at home. Despite the heavy transfer talk regarding star players Jonathan de Guzman, it looks as though he will be staying at the club for another year and that could be just the boost Mallorca need to make this a successful season. Los Bermellones could enter the relegation fight at some stage, but they should stay clear of the danger zone for most of the time.
Last season: 17th
Important arrivals: Tomer Hemed (Maccabi Haifa), Catalyud (Hercules), Gianni Zuiverloon (West Brom), Pablo Caceres (Tigre), Chico (Genoa, loan), Alfaro (Sevilla).
Important departures: Pierre Webo (Istanbul BB), Ruben (Osasuna), Oscar Trejo (Sporting Gijon).
Probable starting line-up (4-5-1): Dudu – Zuiverloon, Chico, Ramis, Caceres – Nsue, De Guzman, Marti, Tejera, Castro – Hemed.
Prediction: Lower mid table
The club from the outskirts of Madrid have established themselves as genuine mid table side and they are determined to remain on the uptrend. The club owners haven’t really kept their promise this summer as key players Boateng, Manu, Albin and Parejo all left, although they did manage to bring proper replacements. Getafe signed no less than 14 players, some of which are already considered first team regulars, and taking all this into account, the team look pretty much at the same level as last season, although there are no doubts that new players will need some time to gel. The expected poor start of the league campaign should prevent Getafe from mounting a serious top 10 challenge, but I don’t think that Luis Garcia’s side will be fighting for survival either.
Last season: 16th
Important arrivals: Lopo, Juan Rodriguez (Deportivo La Coruna), Moya (Valencia, loan), Diego Castro (Sporting Gijon), Mehdi Lacen (Racing Santander), Pablo Sarabia (Real Madrid), Michel (Birmingham), Juan Valera (Atletico Madrid), Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa), Daniel Guiza (Fenerbahce).
Important departures: Derek Boateng (Dnipro), Manu (Sevilla), Juan Albin (Espanyol), Dani Parejo (Valencia), Ibrahim Kas (Bursaspor).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Moya – Torres, Cata Diaz, Lopo, Mane – Casquero, Lacen – Pedro Rios, Sarabia, Diego Castro – Fedor.
Prediction: Lower mid table finish
Real Zaragoza managed to survive the first season upon return to La Liga, even though the club had big problems at the start of the league campaign. As the time went by, los Manos kept raising their form and finished the championship in 13th place. Despite being in big debt, the club managed to sign quite a few new players, either on loan deals or with the help of third-party ownership and Javier Aguirre again has a decent squad at his disposal. While Efrain Juarez, Fernando Meira and keeper Roberto brought with them a wealth of experience, Barrera, Zuculini, Oriol and Juan Carlos added much needed fresh blood to the side, so if Javier Aguirre manages to create a homogenous unit out of these players, Zaragoza fans will have a lot to cheer about. The 6:0 defeat to Real Madrid in their opening game was definitely embarrassing, but I am positive that los Manos will fare much better against bottom table sides.
Last season: 13th
Important arrivals: Abraham, Eduardo Oriol (both Barcelona), Raul Goni, Mateos, Juan Carlos (all Real Madrid), Efrain Juarez (Celtic, loan), Roberto Jimenez (Benfica), Fernando Meira (Zenit), Franco Zuculini (Hoffenheim, loan), Ruben (Atletico Madrid, loan), Pablo Barrera (West Ham, loan).
Important departures: Edmilson (Ceara), Gabi (Atletico Madrid), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao), Jiri Jarosik (Sparta Praha), Said Boutahar (Al Wakrah).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Roberto – Juarez, Meira, Da Silva, Paredes – Ponzio, Zuculini – Barrera, Lafita, Abraham – Uche.
Prediction: Mid table finish