La Liga Preview: Are all 20 clubs prepared for 2018/19?
La Liga lost arguably their best ever player this summer, when Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid to sign for Juventus in the Italian Serie A. But that does not mean that football fans should avoid following Spanish football during the upcoming season. Things kick off this Friday.
Could Barcelona steamroll their way to the league title knowing that Real Madrid’s star is now gone? Can Los Merengues survive without Ronaldo? And will Atletico Madrid take advantage of this chance to settle as the country’s second-best team? But let’s not focus on those three teams only. The league has a lot more to offer.
For instance, we have Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia. All three sides strengthen considerably over the summer and could be in the mix for a Champions League berth. We can also look at Betis and Girona, two surprising sides that must confirm what they did last term to avoid getting labelled as a one-year wonder.
Down at the bottom of the table, we could be in for a thrilling relegation battle. Can any of the promoted outfits – Huesca, Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano – avoid the automatic drop-off? Will Leganes struggle with relegation once again? Will any team perform below the expectations?
As you can see, it’s not just Barcelona and Real Madrid anymore. We are in for a thrilling Liga ride. Are you prepared? But most importantly, are all 20 teams ready to start the season?
Manager: Abrelardo Fernandez
Last season: 14th
Remaining needs: Alaves made several interesting moves during the transfer window, such as the addition of John Guidetti on a permanent transfer and the arrival of Patrick Twumasi. However, they could use a bit more depth at centre-back and central midfield, as they lack the game-changing player in both roles.
Season outlook: Abelardo Fernandez enjoyed a stellar debut with Alaves last season and he saved the team from relegation, and the fans' expectation would probably be to compete for a spot in Europe. Alaves lack the talent to do so and they might fall short of that push. though. They could easily escape relegation, but it's hard to imagine them getting above the 10th place.
Manager: Eduardo Berizzo
Last season: 16th
Remaining needs: Athletic Bilbao bolstered their defence in a big way as they added several interesting piece, mostly Yuri Berchiche from PSG and Ander Capa from Eibar. However, they should have added a bit more depth upfront since they lack cover in case either Aritz Aduriz or Iker Muniain miss time with an injury.
Season outlook: Eduardo Berizzo will be in his first season with the club and while he could aim high and promise to fight for a UEFA Europa League spot, the reality is that this is one of the most complicated teams to predict in the entire league, as they finish anywhere from seventh to 12th or 13th. Considering a lot of things would have to go right for them to be in the mix for a European berth, I expect them to finish around 9th or 10th place.
Manager: Diego Simeone
Last season: 2nd
Remaining needs: What else would Atletico Madrid need entering this season? Los Colchoneros have one of the most balanced teams in the league and they strengthen the side accordingly. The arrival of Thomas Lemar certainly bolster their depth in midfield, and Nikola Kalinic will fill the void left by Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres.
Season outlook: Diego Simeone will start another season at the helm of Atletico Madrid and their aim is quite clear: now that Ronaldo left Real Madrid, Los Colchoneros want to settle their place as the second-best team in La Liga. They have enough depth to do so and considering what happened last season, anything less would be considered a major disappointment.
Manager: Ernesto Valverde
Last season: La Liga Champions
Remaining needs: Absolutely nothing. Barcelona bolstered their depth at the back with Clement Lenglet, their midfield with Arthur and Arturo Vidal, and Malcom adds another winger loaded with talent. All of them represent upgrades over the former alternatives, so Barca might be in an even better position they were last season.
Season outlook: Ernesto Valverde will enter his second season with Los Blaugranas and his goal is obvious; to win the Liga for the second season, and claim the UEFA Champions League title after falling short last term. Barca have the deepest team in the league by a wide rmargin, so anything less than winning all of the titles they play for would be a massive letdown.
Manager: Antonio Mohamed
Last season: 13th
Remaining needs: Celta lost depth in midfield with the departures of Daniel Wass and Pedro Pablo Hernandez, and did not replace them accordingly. Other than that, they added some interesting pieces to the squad, Keep an eye on Nestor Araujo, who comes from Santos Laguna (Liga MX).
Season outlook: Antonio Mohamed was amongst the best managers in the Liga MX over the past few years, and now he will have a tough challenge at Celta Vigo. Los Gallegos battled for a UEFA Europa League during most of last season and while they fell short in their quest, it's safe to say we can expect them to be in the mix once again in the 2018-19 term.
Manager: Jose Luis Menidilibar
Last season: 9th
Remaining needs: Eibar entered this transfer period needing to add a reliable attacking threat, and failed to do that. Overall this team seems a bit thin on the attacking end; they added Fabian Orellana on a permanent basis, but lost Ivan Alejo and Takashi Inui,
Season outlook: Mendilibar has been with the team since the 2015 season and enjoyed an impressive run last season when they finished ninth, although they fell short on their quest to earn a surprising Europa League berth. Expect them to repeat that would be a bit too much, though. I would guess Eibar will stay out of the relegation zone once again, but a mid-table finish seems a realistic expectation-.
Last season: 11th
Remaining needs: Espanyol's needs were... different than any team in the league. Unlike sides that needed to bolster a specific position or area of the pitch, the Catalan sde simply needs to add more quality to the squad. They lost two of their best players - Gerard Moreno and Aaron Martin - and failed to replace them both.
Season outlook: Rubi has been appointed as the team's new manager and he has a tough task ahead of himself; not only because this will be his first as a LaLiga manager, but also because Espanyol were one of the teams that got considerably weaker over the course of the summer transfer window. They already finished 11th last season, and it wouldn't be strange to see them even lower this time. Expect them to fight to avoid relegation.
Manager: Jose Bordalas
Last season: 8th
Remaining needs: Honestly, I wouldn't say Getafe have any remaining needs. They already were a surprising team last season, and from that squad they only lost Faycal Fajr, but added interesting names on both ends of the pitch. Their defence got significantly stronger, both in terms of quality and depth.
Season outlook: Pepe Bordalas will remain with the Madrid-based squad as he enters his third season leading the way for Los Azulones. Getafe were arguably the most surprising team in the league last season and even though they fell short, their year was a huge success. Expectations are higher now and the goal is to fight for a Europa League berth. I definitively see them finishing above 10th place.
Manager: Eusebio Sacristan
Last season: 10th
Remaining needs: Girona remains with a similar squad from the one that stunned LaLiga last term...and while that might be a good thing, it also means they didn't address their biggest need: their lack of depth up front. The absence of a reliable backup behind Christian Stuani could hurt them in the long run.
Season outlook: Pablo Machin is all but gone at Girona and with him, the team's first-ever season in LaLiga also goes in the rear view. Eusebio Sacrristan will take his place as manager and it remains to be seen how far he will take the Catalan side. Considering they didn't lose any of their regular starters from last season, a mid-table finish seems plausible.
Manager: Leo Franco
Last season: 2nd Segunda Division, Promoted
Remaining needs: Huesca's needs are similar to most teams in La Liga at present, as they too lack a proven goalscorer. The team strengthen accordingly over the transfer period with several experienced elements, but do not have an established striker. Starting the season with Cucho and Samuele Longo might not be enough.
Season outlook: Leo Franco will take over as Rubi departed to Espanyol and quite frankly, it remains to be seen how he will conduct the side in Spain's top-flight. One thing is certain, though: Huesca might be a team that can make things difficult for their opponents, but their lack of quality and top-flight experience is apparent. I expect them to be among the top contenders to be relegated, and wouldn't be surprised if they returned to the Liga123 as soon as next year.
Manager: Mauricio Pellegrino
Last season: 17th
Remaining needs: One word: quality. Leganes were probably the worst team in La Liga this past season, and it's safe to say they did not do much during the transfer period to remove that label from themselves. The addition of experienced players such as Diego Rolan and Juanfran was nice, but it's not enough.
Season outlook: Mauricio Pellegrino was appointed following a disappointing tenure with Southampton, and this will be his third experience in the Spanish Primera Division. Fans shouldn't be overly excited for what Leganes can do this season, though. Their lack of activity on the transfer market and lack of overall quality has them as one of the top relegation candidates heading into the 2018-19 campaign, at least on paper.
Manager: Paco Lopez
Last season: 15th
Remaining needs: Levante's biggest need is quite clear: they need to find a replacement for Jefferson Lerma, who departed and signed for Bournemouth. The departure of Ivi could shrink their depth on the attacking third as well, so Levante must remain active on the market until the end of the transfer window. They are still lacking a few pieces to complete the squad.
Season outlook: Paco Lopez had one task last season: to save Levante from relegation, and that's what he did. He will be tasked with the same outcome once again, although it remains to be seen if he is now able to do so over the course of an entire campaign. As things stand right now, Levante appear to be one of the candidates to finish in the bottom-five of the standings. And relegation could become a threat if things don't go their way.
Last season: Segunda Division Champions
Remaining needs: Experience in defence and proficiency on the attack. Rayo did a good job to strengthen the side with the arrivals of interesting names such as Gael Kakuta, Luis Advincula, Emiliano Velazquez and Jordi Amat. However, newly-promoted sides need to add experienced players and Rayo didn't exactly do that. A backup striker for 36-year-old Javi Guerra would be useful, too.
Season outlook: Michel has spent roughly 18 months with Rayo and already have them back in Spain's top-flight. The biggest question, however, it is whether he will be able to maintain them at this level. Rayo lack quality and experience on both sides of the ball. It wouldn't surprise if they are among the top candidates to get relegated.
Manager: Quique Setien
Last season: 6th
Remaining needs: Betis lost some interesting players this past summer in Fabian Ruiz, German Pezzella and Riza Durmisi, but the arrivals of William Carvalho, Sidnei, Takashi Inui and Sergio Canales should be more than enough to offset those departures. A bit more depth at the back would have been nice, though.
Season outlook: Quique Setien was one of the best managers in LaLiga this past season, and his attacking-minded style carried Betis to what seemed like an unlikely Europa League berth at the beginning of the campaign. Los Verdiblancos have done a good job to strengthen their squad on both ends of the pitch and while fatigue might become an issue - especially early on - I believe they can easily contend for a European spot once again. There is too much quality to not do it.
Manager: Julen Lopetegui
Last season: 3rd
Remaining needs: A star striker to shine in Cristiano Ronaldo's absence. The Portuguese can't be replaced and there is no question his departure leaves a glaring hole upfront for Los Merengues, and it seems they will have to trust in Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema's bounce-back capacities to offset Ronaldo. Other than that, the squad remains pretty much the same as last season.
Season outlook: Julen Lopetegui will have the incredibly hard task to replace Zinedine Zidane, who left the side after winning three consecutive UEFA Champions League titles. The former Spain manager will clearly contend for the title, as Real Madrid are good enough to do it even without Ronaldo, but it seems this season they are a step or two below Barcelona. A Top 4 finish is a must for them, though.
Manager: Asier Garetano
Last season: 12th
Remaining needs: Depth on both sides of the ball. Real Sociedad added Mikel Merino and Theo Hernandez but lost seven players, including playmaker Xabi Prieto, Alvaro Odriozola, Sergio Canales and Markel Bergara. Merino and Theo will bolster the team's defence, but this team could have added a few more pieces. Especially on the attacking end, where Mikel Oyarzabal and Willian Jose will have a huge burden to carry.
Season outlook: Asier Garitano spent the past five years as Leganes' head coach and even though last season did not go as planned, Real Sociedad have trusted him with the project of building a team that could compete for a European spot next season. So far, things are not looking up for them, and seem set to endure another struggling campaign. I would imagine them on a mid-table finish, but on the range of 10th to 13th.
Manager: Sergio Gonzalez
Last season: 5th Segunda Division, Promoted via playoff
Full Transfer Activity
Remaining needs: Real Valladolid needed to add an attacker following the departure of Jaime Mata, who finished with 33 goals in LaLiga123. While they added depth up front, not replacing him properly could make or break their return to LaLiga following a four-year absence.
Season outlook: Sergio Gonzalez joined the team in April 2018 and had a stellar run that finished with the team's promotion to LaLiga. However, that might not enough to save them from relegation and while the drop is far from certain, they look like one of the top candidates to finish in the bottom three of the standings.
Manager: Pablo Machin
Last season: 7th
Remaining needs: I wouldn't say Sevilla need much right now. They lost important players such as Steven N'Zonzi, Clement Lenglet and Joaquin Correa, but managed to replace them appropriately with Ibrahim Amadou, Joris Gnagnon, Aleix Vidal and Roque Mesa. Another winger would not hurt, though, just to increase the depth on the attacking third.
Season outlook: Pablo Machin's impressive season with Girona landed him as Sevilla's new manager and so far, the results have been satisfying: a decent preseason was followed with good results in the UEFA Europa League Qualifiers, and they were one penalty missed away from pushing Barca to extra time in the Spanish Supercup. Expect Sevilla to be one of the surprising teams this season, as they could even sneak into the Top 4 if things go the right way for them.
Last season: 4th
Remaining needs: Bring Back Goncalo Guedes. Because really, what else could Valencia need? They needed to upgrade their attack, and brought both Michy Batshuayi and Kevin Gameiro. They added Denis Cheryshev on loan. Daniel Wass will upgrade their midfield, and Mouctar Diakhaby has star-potential written all over him. They only need Guedes back to complete the equation.
Season outlook: Marcelino had an impressive first season with Valencia last term, as he carried the team all the way towards a Champions League spot after finishing in the bottom part of the standings during the 2016-17 campaign. Expectations are higher this time for Los Che, but at the same time, realistic. Knowing they will be taking part in the Champions League, I see them in the mix for a UCL berth once again. A Top 3 finish would be a huge success.
Manager: Javier Calleja
Last season: 5th
Remaining needs: Find a replacement for Rodri and Samu Castillejo, who left the club to sign with Atletico Madrid and AC Milan, respectively. Their transfer activity was really good - Ramiro Funes Mori and Karl Toko Ekambi should flourish, while Santi Cazorla returned home - but they lack that creativity spark in midfield. Will they be able to find someone to fill that void?
Season outlook: Javier Calleja took control of the team once the 2017-18 season had already started and he turned things around for El Submarino Amarillo, to the point that he carried the side all the way towards a Top 5 finish and a UEFA Europa League spot. It remains to be seen whether they fill finish in the Top 5 once again, but they will definitively be in the mix for a European spot once again. Anything less would be a major disappointment.