2017/18 SBI La Liga Season Preview

2017/18 SBI La Liga Season Preview

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2017/18 SBI La Liga Season Preview

Zinedine Zidane’s first full season in charge at Real Madrid led to a dominant campaign by Los Merengues en route to their first La Liga title in four years and a second consecutive UEFA Champions League trophy to top. With some major shuffling transpiring at rival Barcelona, Real remain the favorites heading into the upcoming season.

To compete with Zidane’s squad atop the league, new Barça manager Ernesto Valverde will have to find ways to compensate for the loss of Neymar, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain on a world-record transfer. The addition of 29-year-old Paulinho for €40 million from Chinese Super League giant Guangzhou Evergrande is only a start.

For Atlético Madrid and Sevilla, who finished third and fourth — respectively — last season, several adjustments await them as well. Atléti will christen a new stadium in Wanda Metropolitano after spending half a century at Vicente Calderón Stadium while Sevilla look to repeat similar success under the leadership of Eduardo Berizzo after Jorge Sampaoli accepted an offer to manage the Argentine national team.

In the lower tier, clubs like Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad all hope to take their next steps toward a potential UCL berth, while others try to stay afloat in the top division with Levante, Getafe and Girona now joining the fold.

Here is a closer look at what’s in store for the 2017-18 La Liga season:

ATHLETIC BILBAO

Player to watch: With the continued maturation of Aymeric Laporte comes with the increased interest from big clubs in the 23-year-old center back. Laporte has been linked to a major transfer for years yet remains at Bilbao. Another big season for the young Frenchman could not only help Bilbao put together a successful campaign, but also set up a big pay day for the club in the future.

Outlook: With former manager Ernesto Valverde leaving for the greener patches at Barcelona, José Ángel (Cuco) Ziganda takes over Bilbao this season looking to guide a squad that has largely kept its core players. Artiz Aduriz showed no signs of slowing down last season at 35 as he tallied 16 goals and the club will look to him again for a top-half finish.

Transfers In: Iago Herrerín (Leganés), Kike Sola (Numancia), Gorka Santamaría (Cádiz), Mikel Vesga (loan return, Sporting Gijón), Ager Aketxe (loan return, Cádiz), Kike Sola (loan return, Numancia), Asier Villalibre (loan return, Numancia)

Transfers Out: Gorka Iraizoz (Girona), Zouhair Feddal (Real Betis), Gorka Elustondo (Atlético Nacional), Óscar Gil, Urtzi Iriondo (loan, Granada), Markel Etxeberria (loan, Numancia), Álex Remiro (loan, Huesca), Javi Eraso (Leganés)

ATLÉTICO MADRID

Player to watch: So long as Antoine Griezmann remains at Atlético, the spotlight will follow the French talisman. Atléti fans held their breath all summer to see whether Griezmann would move on elsewhere. He didn’t. That is not to say another wave of bids won’t come anymore, but in the meantime, Griezmann’s form will have a direct correlation to this club’s success.

Outlook: After 50 years at Vicente Calderón Stadium, Atlético will break in a new venue in Wanda Metropolitano this season with virtually the same squad from last season under Diego Simeone. A FIFA transfer ban has forced Atlético to wait until January to bring in some news faces while talks continue to heat up in regard to a potential return for Chelsea striker Diego Costa, but until those reinforcements arrive, Simeone will try to maintain the consistency he’s had at Atlético with another top-four finish.

Transfers In: Luciano Vietto (Sevilla), Guilherme Siqueira (loan return, Valencia), Vitolo (Sevilla, starting January), Axel Werner (loan return, Boca Juniors), Amath (loan return, Tenerife)

Transfers Out: Theo Hernandez (Real Madrid via Deportivo Alavés), André Moreira (loan, Braga), Alessio Cerci (Verona), Santos Borré (River Plate via Villarreal), Matías Kranevitter (Zenit St. Petersburg via Sevilla), Tiago (retirement)

BARCELONA

Player to watch: With Neymar’s departure, the MSN attack of years past is suddenly missing a vital piece. Luis Suarez is also set to miss the start of the La Liga season and, with concerns rising, pressure will be on Lionel Messi to somehow find a way to step up his game. There’s still time for a big name transfer but, as of right now, Messi will need to step up as a player and a leader to help lead Barca through the start of the season.

Outlook: The genesis of MSN had Barça fans dreaming of a potentially decade-long domination but the departure of Neymar and a change in manager leaves La Blaugrana future in more doubt than ever. Having Messi and Suarez to lead the attack is still more than enough for most opponents to handle and the core midfield group remains as cohesive as ever, not to mention possible additions of Philippe Coutinho and/or Ousmane Dembele, but the only question that matters is will that be enough to dethrone Real Madrid?

Transfers In: Paulinho (Shanghai Shenhua), Gerard Deulofeu (Everton), Thomas Vermaelen (loan return, Roma), Douglas (loan return, Sporting Gijón), Nélson Semedo (Benfica), Marlon (Fluminense), Munir El Haddadi (loan return, Valencia), Sergi Samper (loan return, Granada)

Transfers Out: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Cristian Tello (Real Betis via Fiorentina), Jérémy Mathieu (Sporting CP), Jordi Masip (Valladolid)

CELTA VIGO

Player to watch: Iago Aspas took another step forward in his career last season with a personal-best 19 league goals, good for fourth most across La Liga and tops among domestic players. At 30, Aspas could still be in the prime of his career and another stellar season could also cement a spot on the national team for the striker.

Outlook: After three seasons guiding Celta, manager Eduardo Berizzo left his post to assume the same position as Sevilla, making way for Spaniard Juan Carlos Unzué. A 13th-place finish last season was a seven-spot drop-off from 2015-16 but Celta still has the pieces to manage a mid-table finish if they can improve upon their 4-4-11 road record last year.

Transfers In: Stanislav Lobotka (FC Nordsjælland), Maxi Gómez (Defensor Sporting), Jozabed (Fulham)

Transfers Out: Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina), Théo Bongonda (loan, Trabzonspor), Lévy Madinda (Asteras Tripolis via Gimnàstic), Álvaro Lemos (loan, Lens)

DEPORTIVO ALAVÉS

Player to watch: After spending six seasons in La Liga with Athletic Bilbao, Ibai Gomez used that experience to help Alavés navigate their first top-division season in more than a decade last year by providing five goals and two assists in league play. The highlight of his campaign came in September when he netted the eventual game-winner in Alavés’ surprise 2-1 win over Barcelona at Camp Nou and Gomez established himself as a creative playmaker on the wing rest of the way. Alavés will deal with many changes this season, but an in-form Gomez could help ease up some of those adjustments.

Outlook: Alavés surprised many by finishing in the top half in the table last season and clinching a berth in the Copa del Rey final, but manager Mauricio Pellegrino’s departure for English side Southampton left the club searching for another way to repeat similar success. New boss Luis Zubeldía has plenty of hurdles to clear if he wants to help this club stay afloat the relegation zone.

Transfers In: Mubarak Wakaso (Panathinaikos), Enzo Zidane (Real Madrid), Oscar Romero (loan, Shanghai Shenhua), Alfonso Pedraza (loan, Villarreal), Tomás Pina (loan, Club Brugge), Burgui (loan, Real Madrid via Sporting Gijón), Rubén Duarte (Espanyol), Rodrigo Ely (loan made permanent, AC Milan), Rubén Sobrino (loan made permanent, Manchester City)

Transfers Out: Theo Hernandez (Real Madrid via Atlético Madrid), Deyverson (Palmeiras), Marcos Llorente (Real Madrid), Raúl García (Leganés), Victor Camarasa (Real Betis)

DEPORTIVO LA CORUÑA

Player to watch: Florin Andone proved to be worth every penny of the €4.7 million Deportivo spent to bring him over from Córdoba last season as he went on to score 12 league goals, including a La Liga Player of the Month honor in December. The Romanian striker is still only just 24 and should be expected to take another leap forward this season.

Outlook: After a solid start to last season, Depor faltered and ended up winning just one game away from home en route to a 16th-place finish and five points clear of relegation. The club is still attempting to sign back forward Lucas Pérez from Arsenal to help bolster the squad but should that not happen, manager Pepe Mel will have his work cut out for him to keep his club in the top division for a fifth straight season.

Transfers In: Guilherme (Udinese), Fabian Schär (Hoffenheim), Gerard Valentín (Gimnàstic), Zakaria Bakkali (loan, Valencia), Adrián López (loan, FC Porto)

Transfers Out: Germán Lux (River Plate), Joselu (Stoke City), Pablo Ínsua (Schalke 04 via Leganés)

EIBAR

Player to watch: Sergi Enrich and Pedro León provided a lethal one-two punch last season for Eibar as the two combined for 21 of the team’s 56 goals to go with 12 assists. The forward-winger duo can be expected to produce more of the same under the guidance of third-year manager José Luis Mendilibar. 

Outlook: As the only club to have a positive goal differential outside of the top seven clubs last season, Eibar surprised many with a balanced attack and an impressive 10 wins at home. The defense will suffer this season with the loss of Florian Lejeune to Newcastle but the club also spent a lot of money bringing in some pieces to mitigate that.

Transfers In: Paulo Oliveira (Sporting CP), Charles (Málaga), Marko Dmitrović (Alcorcón), Yoel Rodríguez (Valencia), Iván Alejo (Alcorcón), Joan Jordán (Espanyol)

Transfers Out: Florian Lejeune (Newcastle United)

ESPANYOL

Player to watch: Arriving at Espanyol via loan from Valencia, Pablo Piatti asserted himself as a key cog in the Espanyol attack as he contributed 10 assists in league play. He has since made his loan deal permanent and that bodes well for someone like Gerard Moreno, who found back of the net 13 times last season.

Outlook: Quique Sanchez Flores brought in many new faces last season to Espanyol hoping to rejuvenate what has been several lethargic seasons for the club, and in turn managed an eighth-place finish. Not much will be changed to this year’s squad so Flores will hope to clinch an European berth and continue the upward trend for Espanyol.

Transfers In: Naldo (Krasnodar), Diego López (loan made permanent, AC Milan), Pablo Piatti (loan made permanent, Valencia), Mario Hermoso (Real Madrid B), Esteban Granero (Real Sociedad)

Transfers Out: Rubén Duarte (Deportivo Alavés), Felipe Caicedo (Lazio), Joan Jordán (Eibar), Mamadou Sylla (Eupen), José Antonio Reyes

GETAFE

Player to watch: Riding behind Jorge Molina’s 20 goals last season, Getafe won the Segunda Division playoffs to earn a ticket back to La Liga. The 35-year-old striker will have to show more of the same to help his club stay in the top flight this time around.

Outlook: After helping Alavés earn a promotion last season, Jose Bordalas was sacked prior to getting his first shot at managing in La Liga. Bordalas will get his chance this time after spending more than two decades in the lower division and Getafe have provided him plenty of help with several summer signings.

Transfers In: Fayçal Fajr (Deportivo La Coruña), Djené (Sint-Truidense), Markel Bergara (Real Sociedad), Francisco Portillo (Real Betis), Filip Manojlović (Red Star Belgrade), Dani Pacheco (Real Betis), Álvaro Jiménez (Real Madrid B), Chuli (Almería), Bruno (Real Betis), Emiliano Martinez (loan, Arsenal)

Transfers Out: Alejandro Faurlín (Cruz Azul)

GIRONA

Player to watch: Marlos Moreno emerged as a budding star during his time with Atlético Nacional in Colombia before Manchester City signed him away last summer for €4.75 million. The 20-year-old striker spent last season on loan with Deportivo La Coruña and made 19 scoreless appearances but many believe he’s on the verge of breaking out.

Outlook: Girona have made it close to promotion several times in the past five seasons but fell short in each try before they secured an automatic berth with a second-place finish last season in Segunda Division. Now adopted by Manchester City as a feeder club, Girona will be benefited by many loanee players this season in La Liga while manager Pablo Machin attempts to find some scoring with the departure of his top scorer last season in Samuele Longo.

Transfers In: Cristhian Stuani (Middlesbrough), Marlos Moreno (loan, Manchester City), Marc Muniesa (loan, Stoke City), Gorka Iraizoz (Athletic Bilbao), Bernardo Espinosa

Transfers Out: Samuele Longo (Inter Milan)

LAS PALMAS

Player to watch: Back with his first senior club, Vitolo will have half a season to help Las Palmas to do some damage until he joins Atlético Madrid once their transfer ban is lifted. In his first go-around, the Spanish international tallied 26 goals in 87 matches between 2010-2013 before leaving for Sevilla, where he made a name for himself.

Outlook: Las Palmas jumped to a flying start last season with nine goals in their first two matches before eventually falling to their expected pace. The club ended up finishing 14th and replaced manager Quique Setién with Manolo Márquez.

Transfers In: Vitolo (Atlético Madrid), Leandro Chichizola (Spezia), Ximo Navarro (Almería)

Transfers Out: Kevin Prince-Boateng, Roque Mesa (Swansea City), Javi Varas (Granada)

LEGANÉS

Player to watch: A core player on the backline for Leganés since 2014, Martín Mantovani will have to lead a new-look defense to repeat the success they had last year when they yielded a relatively acceptable 55 goals.

Outlook: La Liga first-timers last season, Leganés struggled to stay above the relegation zone all year before clearing it by four points in 17th place. To repeat the feat will be a challenge for fifth-year manager Asier Garitano, who lost center back Pablo Ínsua and forward Luciano following the end of their loan spells.

Transfers In: Dimitris Siovas (Olympiacos), Tito (Granada), Raúl García (Deportivo Alavés), Iván Cuéllar (Sporting Gijón), Mauro dos Santos (Eibar), Javi Eraso (Athletic Bilbao)

Transfers Out: Pablo Ínsua (Schalke 04), Víctor Díaz (Granada), Alberto Martín (Granada), Luciano (Corinthians)

LEVANTE

Player to watch: Back with his parent club last season, Roger Marti went on to tally a team-high 22 goals, showing his maturation as a striker after three loan stints. At 26, Marti will look to take another step forward with some reinforcements this season in his return to La Liga competition.

Outlook: Relegated for the first time since 2009-10, Levante clearly didn’t plan on making their stay in Segunda Division long as they won the league by 14 points to return to La Liga. Second-year manager Juan Muñiz did not lose any major pieces from last year’s squad so he’ll look to his additions to help Levante stay afloat the relegation zone this time around.

Transfers In: Cheick Doukoure (Metz), Alex Alegria (loan, Real Betis), Enis Bardhi (Újpest), Ivi (Sevilla B), Oier (Granda), Antonio Luna (Eibar)

Transfers Out: Naxto Insa (Johor Daurl Ta’zim), Rubén García (Sporting Gijón), Javi Espinosa (Granada)

MÁLAGA

Player to watch: Left back/left wing Juankar led Málaga last season with four assists but many of his targets have moved on elsewhere following a major roster overhaul this summer. The 27-year-old has tremendous pace and shows flashes of creativity, it’ll be up to him to rely on those skills again to help Málaga find some goals.

Outlook: An 11th-place finish would’ve provided stability for many clubs, but manager Míchel had to make more moves than he would’ve liked during the transfer window due to several major departures, including Sandro, who tallied 14 goals last season. How Míchel handles these transitions will be indicative to whether Málaga can manage a mid-table finish again.

Transfers In: Emanuel Cecchini (Banfield), Cenk Gönen (Galatasaray), Andrés Prieto (Espanyol B), Adrián González (Eibar), Paul Baysse (Nice), Borja Bastón (loan, Swansea City), Roberto (loan, Espanyol)

Transfers Out: Sandro (Everton), Ignacio Camacho (VfL Wolfsburg), Pablo Fornals (Villarreal), Charles (Eibar), Carlos Kameni (Fenerbahçe), Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad)

REAL BETIS

Player to watch: Andres Guardado is a familiar face to anyone that follows the Mexican national team due to his skill and leadership in the midfield. After a summer move from PSV Eindhoven to Real Betis, Guardado returns to La Liga after previously being a mainstay at Valencia and Deportivo.

Outlook: The sale of Dani Ceballos to Real Madrid netted Real Betis a pay day of €17 million and other transfers like Cristiano Piccini and Petros gave the club even more money to make some big moves this summer. Setién will have pieces like Victor Camarasa and Guardado to make up his core midfield while newcomers Cristian Tello and Sergio León can be counted on to provide some goals.

Transfers In: Victor Camarasa (Levante), Cristian Tello (Barcelona) Sergio León (Osasuna), Andrés Guardado (PSV Eindhoven), Zouhair Feddal (Deportivo Alavés), Jordi Amat (Swansea City), Antonio Barragán (Middlesbrough)

Transfers Out: Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid), Cristiano Piccini (Sporting CP), Petros (São Paulo), Francisco Portillo (Getafe), Jonas Martin (Strasbourg), Dani Pacheco (Getafe), Rubén Castro (loan, Guizhou Zhicheng), Bruno González (Getafe), Álex Alegría (loan, Levante)

REAL MADRID

Player to watch: On star-laden squads like Real Madrid, many players are worthy of the spotlight, but this season appears to be one for Marco Asensio to shine in. With Alvaro Morata now at Chelsea, the young attacker will step into a bigger role this season in Zinedine Zidane’s offense. He has already had a stellar preseason with a couple of wonder strikes in the Spanish Super Cup. Fans can expect more of the same from him rest of the way.

Outlook: The title is Real Madrid’s to lose, but if more unexpected episodes like Cristiano Ronaldo’s five-match suspensions or injuries pile on, that could open the door for Barcelona or even Atlético to make things interesting again. And while another La Liga championship may be on the horizon for Zidane’s men, that won’t quench their thirst for success as they have their eyes set on a third consecutive UCL championship more than anything else.

Transfers In: Theo Hernandez (Atlético Madrid via Deportivo Alavés), Dani Ceballos (Real Betis), Borja Mayoral (loan return, VfL Wolfsburg), Marcos Llorente (loan return, Deportivo Alavés), Jesús Vallejo (loan return, Eintracht Frankfurt)

Transfers Out: James Rodriguez (loan, Bayern Munich), Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), Pepe (Beşiktaş), Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad), Mariano (Lyon), Enzo Zidane (Deportivo Alavés), Danilo (Manchester City), Burgui (Deportivo Alavés), Fábio Coentrão (loan Sporting CP)

REAL SOCIEDAD

Player to watch: Willian José made a cracking Real Sociedad debut last season with 12 goals in 28 league matches. The Brazilian striker signed a five-year deal with the club and appears to have a found a system that suits him best under third-year manager Eusebio Sacristán.

Outlook: Sociedad are back in European competition this season thanks to a sixth-place finish last year but they will have to cope with the loss of Yuri Berchiche, who left for Paris Saint-Germain for €16 million. The club countered that by spending €14.5 million to sign both Diego Llorente to shore up the backline and Adnan Januzaj to provide a spark to the offense. How Sacristán manages the playing time of his players across both La Liga and Europa League competition will be critical to Sociedad’s success this season.

Transfers In: Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Diego Llorente (Real Madrid)

Transfers Out: Yuri Berchiche (Paris Saint-Germain), Esteban Granero (Espanyol)

SEVILLA

Player to watch: Colombian international Luis Muriel set a career best with 11 league goals last season to go with five assists for Sampdoria, prompting Sevilla to smash its club record and sign the 26-year-old forward for €20 million this summer. Muriel will be looked to lead a revamped Sevilla attack that features the return of Éver Banega, as well as the additions of Nolito and Jesús Navas from Manchester City.

Outlook: After two stellar seasons guiding Sevilla, Jorge Sampaoli opted to return to the national team level by agreeing to lead Argentina. Former Celta Vigo boss Eduardo Berizzo stepped in as his replacement, looking to fill in a big shoe as Sampaoli has since elevated expectations for the club in both league and European play.

Transfers In: Luis Muriel (Sampdoria), Simon Kjœr (Fenerbahçe), Nolito (Manchester City), JesúsNavas (Manchester City), Éver Banega (Inter Milan), Guido Pizarro (Tigres UANL), Sébastien Corchia (Lille)

Transfers Out: Vitolo (Atlético Madrid, Las Palmas), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Schalke 04), Vicente Iborra (Leicester City), Adil Rami (Marseille), Mariano (Galatasaray), Sebastián Cristóforo (Fiorentina), Samir Nasri (loan return, Manchester City), Stevan Jovetic (loan return, Inter Milan), Benoit Trémoulinas, Luciano Vietto (loan return, Atlético Madrid)

VALENCIA

Player to watch: Journeyman Nani’s latest stop came to Valencia last season and he managed to piece together a five-goal season in his first La Liga spell. The Portuguese international is still only 30 so there’s plenty left in his playing boots, but whether he can recapture the form he had during his Manchester United days remain to be seen.

Outlook: A disastrous start to last season under Pako Ayestarán had Valencia fans worried about what club’s future in the bigger picture, but after he was fired following four consecutive losses, Voro stepped in as interim manager yet again and somehow guided Valencia to a 12th-place finish. Marcelino now takes over the permanent role with many of the club’s core players from last year heading elsewhere so he’ll have to find ways to implement his system quickly with a squad that needs jelling as well.

Transfers In: Simone Zaza (Juventus), Neto (Juventus), Fabián Orellana (Celta Vigo), Nemanja Maksimović (Astana)

Transfers Out: Enzo Pérez (River Plate), Aderlan Santos (São Paulo), Diego Alves (Flamengo), Munir El Haddadi (loan return, Barcelona), Mario Suárez (loan return, Watford), Guilherme Siqueira (loan return, Atlético Madrid), Eliaquim Mangala (loan return, Manchester City), Mathew Ryan (Brighton & Hove Albion), Yoel Rodríguez (Eibar), Zakaria Bakkali (Deportivo La Coruña)

VILLARREAL

Player to watch: After a down year at AC Milan, Colombian international Carlos Bacca was sent to Villarreal on a one-year loan for €2.5 million, with an option to purchase. The 30-year-old striker has had success in La Liga, having scored 34 league goals over two seasons with Sevilla from 2011-13, so if he can regain that form, Villarreal should have no problem extending their European competition streak for next season.

Outlook: Villarreal yielded the second-fewest goals last season with 33 thanks largely to Mateo Musacchio leading the backline. The Argentine has since moved onto AC Milan for a transfer fee of €18 million, but manager Fran Escribá also spent a lot of money bringing in guys like Rúben Semedo to plug the hole and Carlos Bacca, Pablo Fornals and Enes Ünal to bolder the attack. Villarreal have managed to finish in the top six in each of their four seasons since returning to La Liga in 2013-14 and there should be little doubt they could repeat that feat again.

Transfers In: Carlos Bacca (loan, AC Milan), Pablo Fornals (Málaga), Rúben Semedo (Sporting CP), Enes Ünal (Manchester City), Andrés Fernández (FC Porto), Alfred N’Diaye (loan return, Hull City)

Transfers Out: Mateo Musacchio (AC Milan), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Santos Borré (loan return, Atlético Madrid), Adrián Lopez (loan return, FC Porto)

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