The La Liga season kicks off next week and the teams have nearly finished their pre-season preparations. However, a La Liga season without disputes and rebellion is something which we aren’t aware of. Last year, it was the players who rebelled for their unpaid salaries; this year, it is the clubs who are protesting for better percentage of TV rights and strangely, over match timings.
La Liga is probably the only league in the world, where matches have been scheduled to kick off at 23:00 hours local time and it is a decision which has perplexed everyone. While clubs have been vocal about such a horrible timing for matches, the federation seems to be least bothered by it and has issued a statement that the league will go on as per the scheduled timings.
Sometimes, it is tough to understand whether Real Federación Española de Fútbol’s job is to help the league or destroy it. Malaga’s administrative situation is yet another event that has been grabbing the headlines lately and then there is the movement of players across clubs. While Barcelona and Real Madrid will have their own separate season previews, the remaining teams will be covered by TheHardTackle in a two part special. This is the first part of the feature.
Coach: Mauricio Pellegrino, Argentina
Stadium: Mestalla, Valencia
After the departure of the incredible Unai Emery, Valencia will start the campaign under Mauricio Pellegrino – a manager with no prior experience other than as an assistant to Rafael Benitez at Liverpool and Inter Milan, which only a few will classify as being an appreciable one.
Undoubtedly, Pellegrino will have big boots to fill. Under Emery, Valencia sold one of their star players every year but still managed to cling on to the coveted Champions League spot. However, the Los Che failed to win any trophy, which turned the tide against Emery. Pellegrino, like his predecessor, is to be given time but he will also be expected to bring a trophy to Mestalla.
Valencia have already made decent progress in the transfer market. Although they sold Jordi Alba to Barcelona, they have acquired Fernando Gago and Sergio Canales from Real Madrid. Other notable departures have been Mehmet Topal and Aduriz.
Last season finish: 3rd
Prediction: Champions League spot
Player To Watch Out: Fernando Gago
The Argentine, when he started out, was often compared to the incomparable Fernando Redondo. Though he played a huge part in Real Madrid’s double league triumphs in 2007 and 2008, his lengthy injury spell led to limited playing opportunities. He moved to Roma before settling at Valencia and will be expected to showcase his abilities with a good team under less pressure and scrutiny.
Coach: Manuel Pellegrini, Chile
Stadium: La Rosaleda, Málaga
A detailed preview of Malaga and its troubles has been depicted here.
Last season finish: 4th
Prediction: Bottom half
Player To Watch Out: Isco
With Cazorla, Rondón and Apoño already out of the club and Joaquin also rumored to be on his way out, Isco is also reported to move to greener pastures. However, according to latest reports, the midfielder looks to be staying with the Andalucians for the time being. His talent has never been in doubt and now with Cazorla gone, the spotlight will be on Isco to shine.
Coach: Diego Simeone, Argentina
Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón, Madrid
After a host of managers and disputes among the team in recent years, Atletico seem to have settled themselves under Diego Simeone. The Argentine, in his playing days, led Atletico to glory in the 90′s and was a fan favorite and his appointment as coach brought the supporters closer to the club. His approach has been praise worthy and the Europa League triumph was a further testimony to the fact that he is the right man for the job.
Diego was the fulcrum last year, but the midfielder was released as his loan spell expired. The club has moved in for three new signings – Emre Belozoglu, a midfielder, Daniel Diaz, a defender and Christian Rodriguez, a winger.
Atletico Madrid have also ensured the extention of Oliver Torres, a brilliant attacking midfielder after fending off interest from clubs like Chelsea. With reports of Diego Godin moving away, the club is lining up Portugal’s Bruno Alves as his replacement.
Last season finish: 5th
Prediction: Champions’ League spot
Player To Watch Out: Radamel Falcao
The Columbian striker was undoubtedly the star of Atletico’s La Liga campaign last year and his two brilliant goals against Athletic Bilbao in the finals of the Europa League were the difference between both teams. With Diego now gone, the onus will be on Falcao to deliver and ensure that his team make it to the Champions’ League spot.
Coach: Juan Ignacio Martínez, Spain
Stadium: Estadi Ciutat de València, Valencia
When you read the rise of Levante in the first division, it will stun you beyond belief. A club with the budget of almost Cristiano Ronaldo’s salary did some amazing things in addition to winning all our hearts. They even topped the table for a couple of weeks. Absolutely incredible!
Thanks to their impressive form last year, Levante are competing in the Europa League. This may be tough for the club, juggling between three competitions (two domestic included) and it remains to be seen if they are upto that challenge. Juan Ignacio Martinez will need to carry on his excellent work from last season.
While its no secret that Levante’s best players are a bit old compared to the other teams in La Liga, there is no dearth of aspiration and unity in the outfit. Ballesteros will hold the key to keep this squad motivated.
Their achievement has been more than impressive last season but with aging players and a hectic schedule, Levante may just fail to repeat their previous year heroics. But, its Levante. Who knows if they will pull another miracle!
Last season finish: 5th
Prediction: Top half
Player To Watch Out: Arouna Kone
The striker was in primary form for Levante last season. He scored 17 goals, including the winner against Real Madrid. According to his contract, he would have returned to Sevilla, if he scored 18 goals. Call it fate or plan, Kone failed to play in the last couple of weeks and hence ensuring his stay at Estadi Ciutat de València.
Coach: José Luis Mendilibar, Spain
Stadium: El Sadar, Pamplona
While Levante were the surprise package last year and gained visibility because of their position on top of the league for a couple of weeks, Osasuna, were doing almost the same thing away from the lime-light. With a squad assembled at a cost of €4m, Osasuna were just one point below the Europa League qualification spot and ended the season seventh in the League.
At the end of last-to-last season, when they finished 9th, 15 players departed while 13 arrived and the club paid for none of them. This year, they have already let off eight players and have made four new signings, the latest being Emiliano Armenteros from Sevilla. Raul Garcia’s return to Atletico may make things complex at the club as he was the highest assist maker and goal scorer last season.
Mendilibar is a foul mouthed, earthy coach who fires up his players with abuses and is the perfect man to inspire the outfit. He employs a game with fast transitions, preferring as few touches to the ball as possible but makes his team press high up the pitch. His approach has worked as well, as he managed to take this team to a respectable position in the league and there will be similar expectations from him this season. Of course, the primary expectation, as it is every year for Osasuna, will be to avoid relegation.
Last season finish: 7th
Prediction: Top half
Player To Watch Out: Alejandro Arribas
Arribas was instrumental in ensuring Rayo Vallecano’s promotion to the top flight and also played a crucial role in Rayo’s excellent campaign last season. Osasuna signed him up to shore up their central defense and he will be a key man in this year’s campaign.
Coach: Míchel, Spain
Stadium: Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Seville
Sevilla have been one of the most active clubs in the transfer window. While Michel has offloaded several of his players, he has also brought interesting ones to the Andalusian club. Although the club will certainly miss their talismanic striker, Frederic Kanoute, there are quite a few talented players to look out for in the squad.
Michel has already been hit with the news of his new signing, Hedwiges Maduro, diagnosed with congenital heart condition after he was signed on a Bosman transfer from Valencia. Sevilla has also signed Geoggrey Kondogbia, an exciting French DM from the club Lens and Cicinho, a right back from Brazil. Another new arrival is Diego Lopez from Villarreal for €3.5M, while Alberto Botia from Sporting Gijon is also an excellent addition to the squad.
While the arrivals look promising, Sevilla has also balanced their books by offloading Kone to Levante for free, Julian Escude to Besiktas and Cáceres to Juventus for €8m. While Caceres was a good player, the money generated by his transfer can be used to pump into the club.
Last season finish: 9th
Prediction: Top half
Player To Watch Out: Ivan Rakitić
The Croatian midfielder had a fantastic Euro 2012 alongside Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar. He has a cool head on his shoulders and more importantly, can create chances for Negredo, their primary striker. He can hold onto the ball as well as pass the ball effectively while his dead ball skills are an added advantage.
Coach: Marcelo Bielsa, Chile
Stadium: Estadio San Mames, Bilbao
Marcelo Bielsa’s men were easily the most loved team among the neutrals last season thanks to their exploits in the Europa League and the Copa del Rey. After a fantastic campaign, the team would have been disappointed not to finish with at least a single trophy.
The pre-season was dominated with the talks of a rift between coach Bielsa and the management after the eccentric Chilean complained about the slow progress in the revamp of the training ground. Now, both the parties seem to have put their differences aside and are looking ahead to an exciting season.
The summer has also been rife with speculation regarding Fernando Llorente. The lanky forward’s contract runs out in June ’13 but is reported to be delaying his contract extension. He was also subjected to boos from the San Mames faithful in their Europa League tie against Slaven Belupo from Croatia.
Fernando Amorebieta, Javi Martinez and Susaeta are also among the players who have been subjected to interests from various clubs but none of them seem to be moving from the club this season. If Bilbao can retain their team from last year which looks like they will, the fans will again be treated to another thrilling season.
Last year finish:
Prediction: Europa League spot
Player To Watch Out: Javi Martinez
The central midfielder, who can be deployed as a central defender as well, has been the source of immense interest from Bayern Munich and Barcelona. His ball playing abilities and excellent reading of the game make him a prized asset for Bilbao. He is also one of La Liga’s players to watch out for.