La Liga Season Preview: Barcelona, Atletico, Real Madrid in three-way title race

La Liga Season Preview: Barcelona, Atletico, Real Madrid in three-way title race

European Soccer

La Liga Season Preview: Barcelona, Atletico, Real Madrid in three-way title race

Spanish football’s top tier kicks off Friday with Girona v. Real Valladolid leading the charge. Despite the first match not being quite as eye-catching as a typical La Liga face-off, this upcoming season will be an entertaining eight months. Big clubs and small clubs alike have endured a number of monumental changes this summer, from Real Madrid losing the iconic Cristiano Ronaldo to Eibar selling four of their usual eleven starting players.

While these transitions could conjure a slow start to 2018 for some clubs, the likes of Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have sufficiently geared up for what could be a great title race. Malcom and Thomas Lemar headline a host of exciting new arrivals in La Liga, while shrewd signings like William Carvalho to Real Betis and Gaël Kakuta to Rayo Vallecano will likely surprise.

Examining the makeup of La Liga, the Spanish first division looks rather top-heavy, as is to be expected. Valencia, Real Betis, and Sevilla had promising transfer windows, while clubs like Real Sociedad and Espanyol have opted to stick with their preexisting squads in hopes that increased cohesion will lead to stronger performances.

Elsewhere, newcomers Real Valladolid, Huesca, and Real Vallecano will all likely struggle to adapt to life in La Liga, with Vallecano perhaps the most ill-fated.

Without further ado, here is SBI’s preview for the 2018/19 La Liga season.

Alavés

Transfers In: John Guidetti, Patrick Twumasi, Eraldo Cinari, Rafa Navarro, Borja Baston, Jony (loan), Ximo Navarro, Adrián Marín, Tomas Pina.

Transfers Out: Alexis, Christian Santos, Aleksandar Katai, Ermedin Demirovic.

Player to Watch: While John Guidetti has not necessarily lived up to the promise he originally showed during his time with Celta de Vigo, there is still reason to believe that the €4m invested in him by Alavés could be a worthwhile expenditure. The Swede has never had the end product of a top tier striker but is more than willing to press and work for his team. Guidetti’s efforts aren’t always quantifiable or evident on a scoresheet, but his work rate, strength, and mentality will be more than welcome for an Alavés side looking to improve upon their 14th place 2017/18 finish.

Outlook: Alavés, despite losing their best goal scorer in Munir El Haddadi, should be safe this coming season. They’ve reinforced a depleted attack with the aforementioned permanent signing of John Guidetti but have also brought in winger Jony and striker Borja Bastón. The signing of Bastón is particularly intriguing, as the Spanish frontman had previously cemented himself as a real dangerman before struggling in moves to Swansea and Malága. If Alavés can strike lucky with one of their new permanently signed attackers, then they should have the essential goalscorer that many teams threatening relegation need to survive.

Athletic Club

Transfers In: Yuri Berchiche, Ander Capa, Cristian Ganea, Dani García.

Transfers Out: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Urtzi Iriondo, Enric Saborit, Xabier Etxeita (loan), Mikel Vesga (loan).

Player to Watch: Iñigo Martinez was brought in last January as a replacement for the departing Aymeric Laporte, and while the 27-year-old Spaniard boasts significant experience and a strong acumen, his 2018/19 performances will have to be much improved for Athletic’s defense to survive. Keeper Kepa has now left San Mamés and the mix of aging and inexperienced defensive infantry Los Leones have to their name will likely struggle without their standout goalie. Martinez will be key to organizing and balancing a backline that has been rocked by the late departure of arguably its most important figure.

Outlook: Los Leones are a difficult one to predict. Coming off of a disappointing 2017/18 campaign in which they finished 16th, their lowest position since 2007, Athletic looked to be set for a season filled with improvement. The Basque club had successfully retained its key players, as the only real departures were Urtzi Iriondo to Belgium and Enric Saborit to Israel, two bit-part players. However, with the lucrative, late sale of Kepa, Athletic have lost an important cog in their consistently solid defense. The additions of Yuri Berchiche and Ander Capa to the defensive flanks will sure things up a bit, but the loss of Kepa will make things much harder for Los Leones.

Atlético Madrid

Transfers In: Thomas Lemar, Rodri, Nikola Kalinic, Santiago Arias, Jonny Castro, Antonio Adán, Gelson Martins.

Transfers Out: Kévin Gameiro, Diogo Jota, Pierre Kunde, Emiliano Velázquez, Gabi, Fernando Torres, Sime Vrsaljko (loan), Bernard Mensah (loan), Jonny Castro (loan), Luciano Vietto (loan).

Player to Watch: It seems as though Atlético Madrid have already found their heir apparent to Gabi in Rodri. The 22-year-old from Spain’s capital is a composed, patient playmaker who likes to sit deep just like Atlético’s No. 14 before him, and much like Gabi it seems as though his performances will be key to Los Colchoneros this season.

Outlook: Atlético have had arguably the best transfer window in Spain this summer, marked most notably by the smart signings of Gelson Martins (free), Jonny Martin (€7m), and the aforementioned Rodri (€20m). While Barcelona will be a hard horse to catch this season, Los Colchoneros will be the team to challenge them the furthest. The La Liga campaign could be put on the back-burner, however, as Atlético are likely to focus on the Champions League given the final’s venue: their own stadium.

Barcelona

Transfers In: Malcom, Clément Lenglet, Arthur, Arturo Vidal.

Transfers Out: Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Gerard Deulofeu, Aleix Vidal, Marlon, Andrés Iniesta, André Gomes (loan), Paulinho (loan), Douglas (loan)

Player to Watch: Ousmane Dembélé’s time in Barcelona did not get off to the fast start that some were expecting, but premature calls to move on from the young French attacker were quickly quieted following his wonder goal against Sevilla last weekend. Dembélé’s performances might not be quite as consistent as some of his teammate’s, but the 21-year-old oozes talent and will surely establish himself as a reliable attacker for Ernesto Valverde this season.

Outlook: The summer of 2018 was a fruitful one for the Blaugrana, who were able to both move on many bit-part players for hefty fees and sign many of their first team targets. The departure of the legendary Andrés Iniesta will never be forgotten by some, but the promise that fellow central midfielder Arthur has shown thus far and the known quality that Arturo Vidal has will make the transition away from Iniesta as seamless as it could possibly be.  Barca’s heated rivals Real Madrid will likely face a year of transition under new manager Lopetegui, and as such their main rivals for the title will be Atletico Madrid.  Given the form that Valverde’s men were in last season, however, it’s hard to imagine Lionel Messi not lifting the La Liga trophy come the end of the season.

Celta de Vigo

Transfers In: Fran Beltrán, Néstor Araujo, Okay Yokuslu, Mathias Jensen, David Juncà, Sofiane Boufal (loan), Júnior Alonso (loan).

Transfers Out: Borja Iglesias, Jonny Castro, Daniel Wass, Sergi Gómez, John Guidetti, Theo Bongonda, Pablo Hernández, Andreu Fontás, Álvaro Lemos, Juan Hernández (loan).

Player to Watch: In 2017/18 Iago Aspas improved upon what was an already hugely impressive 2016/17 season. The 31-year-old Spaniard contributed to five more La Liga goals (27 in total) than the year before, as his impactful performances dragged Celta’s sloppy defense to a 13th place finish. Aspas is an incredible finisher, and his ability to link-up play and hold up the ball orchestrated an attack already filled with established internationals Pione Sisto and Maxi Gómez. Despite an exquisite 2017/18, perhaps even more will be expected of Iago Aspas, but the attacker will more than likely deliver yet again.

Outlook: Now a firmly established La Liga regular, Celta will be hoping to improve upon what was a captivating 2017/18 campaign. The club from northwestern Spain scored 59 goals in league play last season, but conceded 60, the fifth highest in La Liga. An attack led by the likes of Iago Aspas, Pione Sisto, and Maxi Gómez will surely entertain, but Celta’s defense is what seems to be their downfall. Iago Aspas will be relied upon heavily considering the departures of Daniel Wass and Jonny Castro, and while the Spaniard is remarkably consistent his attacking prowess does not make up for a defense made even shakier through summer departures.

Eibar

Transfers In: Sergio Álvarez, Fabián Orellana, José Antonio Martínez, Marc Cardona (loan), Pedro Bigas.

Transfers Out: Iván Alejo, Ander Capa, David Juncà, Dani García, Takashi Inui, Christian Rivera, José Antonio Martínez (loan), David Lombán.

Player to Watch: Eibar’s success stemming from its strong, cohesive unit is perhaps most embodied by the fact that no player reached double figures in goals last season. José Luis Mendilibar does an exceptional job of spreading the wealth and getting the best out of every player, with no individual really receiving more plaudits than any other. One player potentially worth distinguishing is attacker Fabián Orellana, who signed on permanently with Los Armeros after a promising 2017/18 season on loan with the club. If Orellana can improve on his three goals and two assists in just 17 appearances, then he will quickly replace the recently departed Iván Alejo.

Outlook: Of all the surprise packages from La Liga in 2017/18, Eibar could be the most disappointing this season. Los Armeros were effectively raided this summer, with four of their usual eleven starting players leaving for greener pastures. One encouraging argument however is that manager José Luis Mendilibar rarely relies on individual talent to get results, preferring to focus more so on a collective effort. If Eibar’s miracle-man can yet again conjure an impressive second-half of the season from Los Armeros then La Liga’s smallest club could very well be destined for another notable mid-table finish.

Espanyol

Transfers In: Borja Iglesias, Sergi Darder, Sergio Sánchez.

Transfers Out: Gerard Moreno, Marc Navarro, Pau López, José Manuel Jurado, Aarón Martin (loan).

Player to Watch: Having sold Gerard Moreno, their only player with over 10 goals last season, Espanyol had a clear need at striker. Borja Iglesias was the man they decided upon, with the Celta striker fresh off of a 22-goal season with Real Zaragoza in the Segunda. Iglesias will have big shoes to fill, and will also be expected to adapt quickly to a league that he’s played just a few minutes in.

Outlook: Espanyol lost real quality at the top and bottom of their team sheet this summer, with striker Gerard Moreno leaving for Villarreal and keeper Pau López leaving for Real Betis. Rubi’s men finished 11th last season but losing their one real goal-scoring threat and replacing him with an unknown quantity in Borja Iglesias does not exactly fill one with confidence.  Expect Espanyol to struggle.  Any finish above their previous 11th would come as a surprise to most.

Getafe

Transfers In: Ignasi Miquel, Nemanja Maksimovic, Iván Alejo, David Soria, Vitorino Antunes, Mauro Arambarri, Leandro Cabrera, Oswaldo Alanis, Markel Bergara, Jaime Mata, Sergi Guardiola (loan).

Transfers Out: Emiliano Buendia, Fayçal Fajr, Vicente Guaita, Dani Pacheco, Filip Manojlovic (loan), Mathieu Flamini.

Player to Watch: Having bid adieu to goalkeepers Vicente Guaita and Alberto Garcia, Getafe have overhauled one of their most important positions. The arrivals of David Soria and Leandro Chichizola bring much needed experience, with the latter being the more likely to step in between the sticks.  Chichizola was Las Palmas’ No. 1 this past season, and though the Argentine has yet to produce a real stand-out season, he should provide a stable, dependable presence for the outstanding defence that Getafe hangs their hat on.

Outlook: Getafe have quickly become one of the best European sides to watch if you’re looking for a well-organized team capable of producing a defensive masterclass. José Bordalás’s squad conceded just 33 goals last season, good enough for third lowest in La Liga. Despite a stoic defense, Getafe’s attack sputtered at times, and top scorer Ángel Rodriguez was the only player to reach double figures in goals. Limited new faces in attack suggest that Getafe may struggle to muster real attacking threats yet again, but their consistently excellent defense will ensure another mid-table finish at the very least.

Girona

Transfers In: Marc Muniesa, Johan Mojica, Patrick Roberts (loan).

Transfers Out: Rubén Alcaraz, Farid Boulaya, Eloi Amagat, Sebas Coris (loan).

Player to Watch: Much like Celta de Vigo, Girona are led by their attack.  Cristhian Stuani is the offense’s focal point, and manager Eusebio Sacristán will be hoping that the 31-year-old shows no signs of regression following his crucial 21 La Liga goals. If Stuani can maintain that level of production, then Girona should be able to further establish themselves as the feisty small La Liga outfit that they have shown signs of becoming.

Outlook: The 2017/18 season was Girona’s first in Spanish football’s top flight. The small club from Catalonia looked anything but out of place, however, as Eusebio Sacristán’s men went on to battle to a startling 10th place finish. This summer has been good to La Liga’s newest surprise package, as they’ve been able to both keep hold of their prized attacking assets while also exercising their loan options on important defenders Marc Muniesa and Johan Mojica. Given the competitiveness of La Liga’s mid-table it would be hard to predict a vastly improved Girona side in 2018/19, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that you shouldn’t bet against these La Liga underdogs.

Huesca

Transfers In: Serdar Gürler, Dani Escriche, Jorge Miramon, Eugeni Valderrama, Luisinho, Samuele Longo, Damián Musto (loan), Pablo Insua (loan), Axel Werner (loan), Ruben Semedo (loan), Xabier Etxeita (loan).

Transfers Out: Álvaro Vadillo, Rulo Prieto, Alexander González, Jair Amador, Carlos David, Eugeni Valderrama (loan), Jonathan Rubio (loan).

Player to Watch: The one big signing Huesca made this summer was Turkish international Serdar Gürler, who joined for €2.5m from Osmanlispor. Gürler is an attacking player deployed most often on the right flank of a front three and should likely slot into that position in manager Leo Franco’s eleven. In a more advanced role for Osmanlispor last season Gürler netted twelve times and added five assists, displaying a real ability to get forward and terrorize Süper Lig defenses. If Huesca are to find survive this season, then Gürler will have to hit the ground running in Spain.

Outlook: In one of the more interesting storylines for this La Liga season, SD Huesca are about to embark on their maiden voyage in Spain’s first division. The small club from Aragon has come close to La Liga before, but last year’s Segunda season was their crowning achievement, finishing second and securing automatic promotion. The offenses that Huesca will soon face up against in La Liga will be entirely different from what they’re used to in the lower levels of Spanish football, and the likes of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Isco very well may provide a bit of a culture shock for the La Liga newcomers. Staying up will be an achievement for these Spanish minnows.

Leganés

Transfers In: José Manuel Arnaiz, Josua Mejías, Facundo García, Rodrigo Tarin, Rubén Pérez, Jonathan Silva (loan), Diego Rolan (loan), Kenneth Omeruo (loan), Juanfran (loan) Mikel Vesga (loan), Guido Carrillo (loan).

Transfers Out: Diego Rico, Miguel Ángel Guerrero, Martín Mantovani, Tito, Fede Vico (loan).

Player to Watch: As disappointing as his last few seasons have been, there might still be hope for Diego Rolan. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that the Uruguayan was lighting up Ligue 1 with Bordeaux, and while Rolan has struggled in Spain, he might find more success in Madrid with Leganés. The 25-year-old has undeniable talent on the ball with great dribbling ability and adequate vision to see a pass. Even if Rolan potentially doesn’t provide the goals that Leganés might be looking for, he can at least contribute to his new club’s attack in other ways.

Outlook: Of all the returning La Liga teams, Leganés are perhaps the most likely to struggle. Los Peperinos finished 17th last season, and despite an extremely busy transfer window, look likely to experience a similarly difficult 2018/19 campaign. Top-scorer Gabriel Pires found the net a laughable five times last season and barring any sudden breakthrough from new men José Manuel Arnaiz or Diego Rolan, Levante look set to have one of La Liga’s worst attacks yet again. Relegation will be hard to avoid for Los Peperinos, who will have to rely on defensive solidity if they want to avoid the drop.

Levante

Transfers In: Nikola Vukcevic , Raphael Dwamena, Moses Simon, Erick Cabaco, Coke, Aitor Fernández, Sanjin Prcic, Rubén Rochina, Rober Pier (loan).

Transfers Out: Jefferson Lerma, Raúl Fernández, Ivi (loan).

Player to Watch: José Luis Morales has started nearly every La Liga match for Levante since 2014, and last season was undoubtedly his best yet. The Spanish midfielder scored 10 goals and provided eight assists last season as an ever-present talisman for his club’s attack. Morales will need to replicate his exquisite 2017/18 form this coming season if Levante want to improve upon their standing in La Liga.

Outlook: Levante’s incredible performance against Barcelona on May 13th that shattered the Blaugrana’s undefeated record was nothing short of spectacular, but also made many forget just how poor the Spanish club had been the rest of the season. Battling in or just outside of the relegation zone nearly all season, Levante ended up finishing 15th with 46 points. Returning nearly every face gives Levante a clear advantage over many other La Liga clubs looking to stave off relegation this season, but a lack of real first team improvement made over the summer doesn’t advance the Spanish club much either.

Rayo Vallecano

Transfers In: Gaël Kakuta, José Pozo, Emiliano Velázquez, Jordi Amat, Alberto García, Tito, Luis Advíncula (loan), Álvaro Medrán (loan).

Transfers Out: Fran Beltrán, Johan Mojica, Baiano, Antonio Amaya, Francisco Cerro, Mario Fernández, Alejandro Domínguez, Manucho, Emiliano Armenteros.

Player to Watch: Gaël Kakuta was absolute dynamite for Ligue 1 side Amiens last season, contributing to 12 league goals as one of the few attackers who could create a spark for his team. Now back with Rayo after three years away from the club, Kakuta will be expected to provide a similar offensive option for manager Michel and Co. With top goalscorer Raúl de Tomás heading back to Real Madrid after the expiration of his loan contract, Kakuta and fellow attacking midfielder Óscar Trejo will lead a Rayo offense that scored 67 goals in the Segunda last season.

Outlook: Rayo are the strongest of the three newcomers this season, and despite losing talented striker Raúl de Tomás their attack should be one of the most threatening outside of La Liga’s top six. Captain Adrián Embarba and Óscar Trejo contributed to a total of 38 goals last season in the Segunda, and the arrival of the well-rounded Kakuta brings added firepower to an already talented Rayo attack.  Should Michel optimally harness the talent available to him in the final third then Los Franjirrojos will stay up this season.

Real Betis

Transfers In: William Carvalho, Sidnei, Antonio Barragán, Joel Robles, Sergio Canales, Takashi Inui, Pau López.

Transfers Out: Fabián Ruiz, Germán Pezzella, Riza Durmisi, Antonio Adán, Dani Giménez, Rafa Navarro, Rubén Castro, Víctor Camarasa (loan).

Player to Watch: Betis have carried their next man up philosphy into this summer, so despite significant departures of key players like Ruiz, Durmisi, and Adán, Betis are expected to pick up right where they left off last season.  One signing who should help with that is William Carvalho, who should turn out to be quite the coup for Quique Setién and Co. Formerly of Sporting CP, Carvalho is a strong defensive midfielder with great tactical prowess and a diverse array of passes.

Outlook: While Los Verdiblancos may struggle to improve upon their incredible 2017/18 season at the end of which they found themselves in sixth, Betis will still be an entertaining Spanish side to watch. Quique Setién has instilled an excellent mentality at the club, and despite the prospect of overrating a deservedly celebrated club, Betis could very well overtake the likes of Villarreal and Valencia to finish within the top five or top four.

Real Madrid

Transfers In: Vinícius Júnior, Thibaut Courtois, Álvaro Odriozola, Andriy Lunin, Omar Mascarell, Lucas Torró.

Transfers Out: Cristiano Ronaldo, Omar Mascarell, Lucas Torró, Philipp Lienhart, Mateo Kovacic (loan), Achraf Hakimi (loan), Theo Hernández (loan).

Player to Watch: There are, per usual, a number of eye-catching players on Real Madrid’s roster. Perhaps the most interesting figure to watch this season for Los Blancos will be the alleged wantaway Luka Modrić. The Croatian playmaker has had the keys to the Ferrari for a number of years now, and with his eyes on the exit door we’ll see if any potential distraction will stall a Real Madrid side ready to move on in its post-Cristiano world.

Outlook: The task ahead of new manager Julen Lopetegui is colossal, and Zinedine Zidane’s immense successes during his time in charge of Los Blancos has not mitigated any pressure soon to fall squarely on Lopetegui’s shoulders. In a time of subtle transition, the former Spain manager will be asked to steer Real to success while not skipping a beat despite a Cristiano Ronaldo shaped hole in his squad. Look for Isco to step up and impress following on again, off again periods under Zidane. Lopetegui and Isco have worked together at various Spanish youth levels as well as with the Spanish senior team, and have developed quite a rapport over the years.

Real Sociedad

Transfers In: Mikel Merino, Theo Hernández (loan).

Transfers Out: Álvaro Odriozola, Srdjan Babic, Markel Bergara, Sergio Canales, Xabi Prieto.

Player to Watch: Having a sibling that also plays football at a high level can create a lot of challenges, and Theo Hernández is no stranger to that. The younger Hernández brother just got off from a summer during which he watched his older brother play an integral role for a pragmatic France side that deservedly lifted the World Cup. While Theo has not been playing first team football for quite as long as his brother Lucas, witnessing his successes must light a fire under him.  Now on loan away from Real Madrid, Theo has a great opportunity to prove himself and return to Madrid with an added season of valuable La Liga experience.

Outlook: Anything less than an improvement on last season for Sociedad would be a disappointment. Despite scoring the third most goals in La Liga, La Real finished in a mediocre 12th place last season. With Mikel Merino and Theo Hernández through the doors and added time for manager Asier Garitano Aguirrezábal, Sociedad will hopefully start to reap the rewards of the long-term project they’ve been working on for years now.

Real Valladolid

Transfers In: Rubén Alcaraz, José Antonio Caro, Fede San Emeterio, Ivi (loan), Keko (loan), Daniele Verde (loan).

Transfers Out: Deivid, Isaac Becerra, Jaime Mata, Iban Salvador, José Antonio Caro (loan), Fede San Emeterio (loan).

Player to Watch: Daniele Verde was one of just a few signings Real Valladolid were able to secure this summer. The young Italian is an adaptable, quick attacker capable of playing in numerous positions across the frontline. Verde also brings with him top level experience, having just come off of a loan spell with Hellas Verona during which he played in 30 Serie A matches.  Hungry, dynamic players like Verde are exactly what Valladolid need if they are to find success in La Liga this season.

Outlook: If Real Valladolid find themselves in La Liga this time next season then manager Sergio González has pulled off some sort of miracle.  Valladolid finished fifth in the Segunda last season, gaining promotion instead through the promotion playoffs. Scoring 70 league goals helped propel Valladolid to La Liga, but their disastrous defense (third-worst in the Segunda last season) is set for nightmares. Considering Sergio González’s backline was troubled by the likes of Cádiz, Cultural Leonesa, and Córdoba, it’s hard to imagine how it’ll fare against Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atlético Madrid.

Sevilla

Transfers In: Ibrahim Amadou, Joris Gnagnon, Aleix Vidal, Tomas Vaclik, Roque Mesa, Sergi Gómez, André Silva (loan).

Transfers Out:: Clément Lenglet, Steven Nzonzi, Joaquín Correa, Guido Pizarro, David Soria, Juan Muñoz, Sergio Rico (loan).

Player to Watch: Stade Rennais product Joris Gnagnon signed with Sevilla earlier this summer for €15m, joining the likes of Karl Toko Ekambi and Mouctar Diakhaby in a Ligue 1 takeover of sorts. Gnagnon is a physically imposing, intelligent central defender capable of playing both short and long balls and orchestrating a defense. The departing Clément Lenglet has his differences from Gnagnon, but the fact that Sevilla’s new defender joined for €20m less than the fee that they received for Lenglet proves again that Sevilla are one of the shrewdest operators on the transfer market.

Outlook: 2017/18 was a slight hiccup for an otherwise typically consistent Sevilla.  Los Rojiblancos finished in a disappointing 7th, behind Real Betis and Villarreal, two sides that rarely crack the top five in Spain. New manager Pablo Machin will have had a full summer to try to implement his own ideas, but with the losses of Clément Lenglet, Steven Nzonzi, and Joaquín Correa, Machin will be under pressure to make sure that his replacements can fill the void.

Valencia

Transfers In: Geoffrey Kondogbia, Kévin Gameiro, Mouctar Diakhaby, Cristiano Piccini, Daniel Wass, Uros Racic, Michy Batshuayi (loan), Denis Cheryshev (loan).

Transfers Out: Joâo Cancelo, Martin Montoya, Nemanja Maksimovic, Fabián Orellana, Zakaria Bakkali, Nacho Vidal, Nani, Álvaro Medrán (loan).

Player to Watch: Michy Batshuayi’s career may have stagnated during his time in London with Chelsea, but his recent loan move to Dortmund once again proved the quality he has when given a real chance in the first team. Simone Zaza and Rodrigo already occupy the striker position for Los Che, but if Marcelino gives the social media-savvy Batshuayi an opportunity to impress then the jovial Belgian could displace those in front of him in the striker pecking order.

Outlook: After a strong 2017/18 season capped by finishing just three points behind Real Madrid and six behind Atlético Madrid, Valencia have spent lavishly in order to improve. Big sums spent on Geoffrey Kondogbia and Mouctar Diakhaby paired with astute signings like Daniel Wass have rounded out an already well-balanced squad. While Valencia might struggle to overtake either of the Madrid giants or Barcelona over the span of a season, they could impress in domestic or European cup competitions.

Villarreal

Transfers In: Gerard Moreno, Karl Toko Ekambi, Roger Martínez, Santiago Cáseres, Ramiro Funes Mori, Miguel Layún, Santi Cazorla.

Transfers Out: Rodri, Roger Martinez, Antonio Rukavina, Adrián Marín, Rúben Semedo (loan), Alfred N’Diaye (loan), Denis Cheryshev (loan), Pau Torres (loan).

Player to Watch: New signing Karl Toko Ekambi is one to watch in Spain this season, having burst onto the scene in France just last year. The Cameroonian international is a well-rounded striker capable of playing in numerous offensive schemes thanks to his dribbling and passing ability. A complete forward in more ways than one, Toko Ekambi scored or assisted a grand total of 23 goals in Ligue 1 last season, and will surely be one of the bargains of the summer having signed with Villarreal for just €18m.

Outlook: In a slightly bizarre transfer window, Villarreal ended up investing over €50m on three different strikers. With an overhauled attack, the Yellow Submarine look to be more dynamic and explosive than ever under Javier Calleja. The departure of the talented Rodri leaves a big hole in defensive midfield, one that new man Santiago Cáseras from Vélez will try to fill.  Villarreal will likely improve on their 57 goal tally from last season, but their play may be slightly disjointed without Rodri, who excelled at creating from deep and linking defense to midfield.

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