Oh hey there. Didn’t see you sneak up on me like that. You’re so crazy. Here I am minding my own business and suddenly you pop up, pants me, and make me abandon my family, loved ones, and bathing habits. Way to go, guy. Oh, you’re La Liga, right. Way to go, lady.
Every year La Liga starts and then goes on FIFA break, so this year I planned in both that and my own laziness in the matter and decided not to publish a preview until after the transfer window closed. Thank goodness I did. Also, before we get this started, can we all chuckle quietly to ourselves about this? I mean, sure, I’m lucky to follow a big club that can discard international players on a whim (and for peanuts!) but seriously, I actually laughed when I read that. It’s not Arun Verma’s fault that he’s excited about Birmingham City’s chances–and indeed they look like they made some pretty solid moves–but I’m sorry, that made me chuckle.
Okay, so, then, my approach this year was to go alphabetically rather than by how I thought they would end up. You’ll learn to deal with it by the end. This is only part 1, so I’m going from Almeria down to Getafe. Let’s get it started, shall we? There may be one or two incorrect transfers
Full Name: Unión Deportiva Almería
Manager: Juan Manuel Lillo
Star Players: Kalu Uche, Diego Alves
2009-10 finish: 13th, 42pts, 10W-12D-16L (43GF, 56GA)
Stadium: Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos (22,000)
Years in Top Flight: 4 (2007-11), 2 more (1979-81) as AD Almeria.
Best League Finish: 8th (2007-08)
In: Marcelo Silva (Def, €1.3m, Danubio), Michael Jakobsen (Def, €2m, Aalborg), Carlos García (Def, returned loan, Betis), Diego Valeri (Mid, on loan, Porto), Miguel Luque (Barça B), Leonardo Ulloa (Fwd, €900,000, Castellón), Stanley Okoro (Fwd, Free, Heartland FC). 7 players, €4.2m.
Out: Guilherme (Def, on loan, Valladolid), Chico (Def, €5m, Genoa), Domingo Cisma (Def, Free, Racing), Fernando Soriano (Mid, Free, Osasuna), Alex Quillo (Mid, Free, Recre Huelva), Leonardo Borzani (Mid, Free), Esteban Solari (Fwd, Free, APOEL), Natalio (Fwd, Free, Tenerife), David Rodríguez (Fwd, Free, Celta). 9 players, €5m.
While losing Fernando Soriano, a man who appeared 149 times for them in the league, is a big deal, he is 30 and was never as good as advertised despite scoring just over 16% of their goals last year. That, perhaps, speaks to the lack of overall quality in the side more than to Soriano’s individual quality: they only scored 43 goals during the year. In the end, losing both Cisma and Chico will probably be the biggest losses despite the defensive reinforcement offered by Michael Jakobsen, Marcelo Silva, and Carlos García.
Almería still has a couple of other attacking players worth mentioning–Albert Crusat, Pablo Piatti—who can do damage on the break or whenever given space and Kalu Uche can certainly work some occasional magic. The Nigerian striker was their leading scorer last year with 9 goals, but he needs other to step up and take the burden off of him and him alone. 43 goals in 38 matches is paltry stuff and typically would doom a team to relegation, a location they managed to avoid by 6 points. Expect Diego Alves to have another good year and for his saves count to be high once again as well: last year he had 168 saves (compared to Víctor Váldes’ 93).
Verdict: They’ll stay up, but if Valeri, Ulloa, or Okoro are able to compliment the attack in any meaningful way, Almería will be capable of threatening to make a run to just above mid-table and, depending on their draw, maybe even do something in the Copa del Rey. Juan Manuel Lillo is solid manager, after all (my small discussion of him from early March is here) and is capable of leading sides to, well, mediocrity. 12th.
Full Name: Athletic Club
Manager: Joaquín Caparrós
Star Players: Fernando Llorente, Javi Martínez
2009-10 finish: 8th, 54pts, 15W-9D-14L (50GF, 53GA)
Stadium: San Mamés (39,670)
Years in Top Flight: 83, 1928-2011
Best League Finish: 8 titles (most recently 1983–84)
Copa del Rey: 23 titles (most recently
In: Mikel San José (Def, €3m, Liverpool), Ibai Gómez (Mid, €300,000, Sestao), Igor Martínez (Mid, €200,000, Alavés), Mikel Balenziaga (Def, returned loan, Numancia). 4 players, €3.2m.
Out: Armando (GK, Retired), Ander Murilllo (Def, free, Celta de Vigo), Iban Zubuiarre (Def, on loan, Albacete), Joseba Etxeberria (Mid, Retired), Fran Yeste (Mid, free, Al-Wasl), Iñaki Muñoz (Mid, Free), Iñigo Díaz de Cerio (Fwd, on loan, Córdoba) 7 players, €0.
Caparrós is an able manager and a solid youth developer—his time at Sevilla included the signings of both Dani Alves and Adriano—who appears to have put in place the foundations of a solid team. Both Llorente and Martínez were members, though not extremely vital parts, of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad and have solid Liga records. Adding Mikel San José and Ibai Gómez will help not only lower the squad’s median age (only 5 players are under 25), but add depth to a threadbare roster of only 20 first team players. Caparrós will be forced to rely more heavily on youth products such as Iker Muniain, still just 17, and Oscar de Marcos, which should pay dividends in the future.
Verdict: Yeste’s departure is a negative, but will not severely hamper Athletic’s efforts to remain in the top half of the league this season. They won’t be European contenders, but should finish in the middle of the pack yet again and preserve their top-flight status without too much trouble. 9th.
Full Name: Club Atlético de Madrid
Manager: Qique Sánchez Flores
Star Players: Diego Forlan, Sergio Agüero, Simão
2009-10 finish: 9th, 49pts, 13W-10D-15L (58GF, 59GA)
Stadium: Vicente Calderon (54,851)
Years in Top Flight: 71
Best League Finish: 9 titles (most recently 1995–96)
Copa del Rey: 9 titles (most recently 1995-96)
Awesomest Thing I Found Out While Researching This: During 2003-05, Atleti’s shirt was sponsored by Columbia Pictures and they advertised a total of 10 movies, including Spider-Man 2. How I don’t remember this, I don’t know.
In: Filipe Luis (Def, €12m, Deportivo), Diego Godín (Def, 11m, Villarreal), Fran Mérida (Mid, free, Arsenal), Mario Suárez (Mid, €1.8m, Mallorca), Tiago (Mid, on loan, Juventus), Diego Costa (Fwd, €1m, Valladolid) 6 players, €25.8m.
Out: Pablo Ibáñez (Def, free, West Brom), Roberto (GK, €8.5m, Benfica), Mariano Pernía (Def, Released), Eduardo Salvio (Mid, on loan, Benfica), Germán Pacheco (Mid, on loan, Independiente), José Manuel Jurado (Mid, €13m, Schalke 04), Ibrahima (Fwd, on loan, Numancia), Keko (Fwd, on loan, Cartagena). 8 players, €21.5m.
The team that defies logic will, again, defy logic. They won the Europa League last year and finished 9th in La Liga. I’m not even sure how that works at all. It’d be like the Champions League winner not qualifying for the CL the next year. Oh. Well, okay, so there’s a precedent, but it’s still weird. And it makes it very hard to predict where they’ll end up.
Atleti added both Felipe Luis and Diego Godin to their typically porous back line (last year’s 59 goals allowed was worse than all but 6 clubs) for a combined €23m. Mario Suárez and Diego Costa were cheaper additions while with ex-Barça canterano and Arsenal reject Fran Mérida was free. Tiago returned to Juventus only to be shipped back to Atleti for another year-long loan, so he’s a “transfer” only on a technicality.
None of Atleti’s losses should negatively affect them, at least on net. Mariano Pernía’s free agency might just be a boon for them as the 33-year old is no longer a defensive liability while selling unused goalie Robeto for €8.5m to Benfica was a financial coup. Pablo Ibáñez’s presence may be felt, but it’s unlikely with Godín’s inclusion.
Verdict: It’s impossible not to go out on a limb when you’re predicting Atleti’s season, so we’ll just run with it: Atleti is more solid now than last year, has capable backups, and will fail utterly and completely to do anything in the league other than throw a few wrenches in the works from time-to-time. 7th.
Full Name: FC Barcelona
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Star Players: Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta
2009-10 finish: 1st, 99pts, 31W-6D-1L (98GF, 24GA)
Stadium: Camp Nou (98,787)
Years in Top Flight: 83, 1928-2011
Best League Finish: 1st (20 times)
Copa del Rey: 1st (25 times)
In: Adriano (Def, €9.5m, Sevilla), Javier Mascherano (Mid, €22m, Liverpool), David Villa (Fwd, €40m, Valencia). 3 players, €71.5m.
Out: Alberto Botía (Def, free, Sporting), Dmitri Chygrynskiy (Def, €15m Shakhtar Donetsk), Henrique (Def, on loan, Racing), Rafael Márquez (Def, free, NY Red Bulls), Martín Cáceres (Def, on loan, Sevilla), Yaya Touré (Mid, €24m, Manchester City), Víctor Sánchez (Mid, on loan, Getafe), Alexander Hleb (Mid, on loan, Benfica), Keirrison (Fwd, on loan, Santos), Thierry Henry (Fwd, free, NY Red Bulls), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Fwd, on loan, AC Milan). 11 players, €39m.
The Champions are, of course, the subject of this particular blog and as such are subject to much lengthier discussions than any of the other teams. Still, it’s worth noting Adriano and Mascherano shore up potentially weak squad points. The lack of central defenders may come back to haunt the team, but for the moment it looks likely that Eric Abidal will play a major role in making sure there are no letdowns via injury or suspension. Ibra’s departure puts more pressure on Bojan to step forward and on Pedro to continue his brilliant run from last season.
Verdict: Despite any possible squad depth issues, Barça have arguably the best starting 11 in the world and certainly the best squad in La Liga and one without any kind of a learning curve to worry about. Those players considered weak points (it depends on who you ask and what time of day you ask them) would be gladly welcomed on almost any squad on the planet and that alone ensures a high finish. 1st.
Full Name: Real Club Deportivo de La Coruña
Manager: Miguel Ángel Lotina
Star Players: Andrés Guardado, Juan Carlos Valerón
2009-10 finish: 10th, 47pts, 13W-8D-17L (35GF, 49GA)
Stadium: Estadio Municipal de Riazor
Years in Top Flight: 40 (last coming up in 91-92)
Best League Finish: 1st (99-00)
Copa del Rey: 1st (94-95, 01-02)
In: Felipe Ramos (GK, free, Real Madrid Castilla), Stopira (Def, free, Santa Clara), Aythami (Def, loan return, Xerez), Claudio Morel (Def, free, Boca Juniors), Knut Olav Rindarøy (Def, on loan, Molde), Yves Desmarets (Mid, free, Vitória), Míchel (Mid, on loan, Valencia), Saúl (Mid, free, Elche), Urreta (Mid, on loan, Benfica), Rubén Pérez (Mid, on loan, At. Madrid B). 10 players, €0.
Out: Filipe Luis (Def, €12m, Atlético), Álex Bergantiños (Def, on loan, Granada), Sergio (Mid, free, Levante), Iván Pérez (Mid, on loan, Ponferradina), Rodolfo Bodipo (Fwd, on loan, Vaslui), Mista (Fwd, free, Toronto FC), Rubén Castro (Fwd, free, Betis). 7 players, €12m.
Depor had a fairly horrible year on the offensive end last season and they responded to that by shipping out 3 strikers and brining in none. Knut Olav Rindarøy, however, wins the Name of the Moment award. A name like that makes me happy because Norwegian sounds funny to uncultured clods such as myself. Young wingers like Urreta will probably fit in quite well, especially if the idea is to get maximum euros for Guardado later and have a handy replacement; at the very least they’re lowering their median age. They replaced Filipe Luis with Claudio Morel of Boca Juniors, but they’re unlikely to find the 32-year old capable of filling such metaphorically large shoes.
Verdict: Lotina is the master of the boring match, but he’s getting in over his head without a striking ensemble better than Riki, Adrián, and Lassad. Those are literally the only strikers on their books and the whole squad only scored 35 goals last year. Valerón is good, but aging, and Guardado cannot carry the offensive burden on his own, no matter how much Tri fans think of him. 15th.
Full Name: Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol de Barcelona
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Star Players: Carlos Kameni, Iván de la Peña
2009-10 finish: 11th, 44pts, 11W-11D-16L (29GF, 46GA)
Stadium: Estadi Cornellà-El Prat (40,500)
Years in Top Flight: 75
Best League Finish: 3rd (32-33, 66-67, and 86-87)
Copa del Rey: 1st (28-29, 39-40, 99-00, 05-06)
In: Ernesto Galán (Def, loan return, Girona), Felipe Mattioni (Def, free, Mallorca), Jesús Dátolo (Mid, on loan, Napoli), Javi López (Mid, free, Espanyol B), Aldo Duscher (Mid, free, Sevilla), Sergio García (Fwd, €5m, Real Betis), Osvaldo (Fwd, €5m, Bologna). 6 players, €10m.
Out: Javi Ruiz (GK, free), Kiko Casilla (GK, on loan, Cartagena), Fernando Marqués (Fwd, free, Parma), Iván Pillud (Def, loan return, Racing Club), Facundo Roncaglia (Def, loan return, Boca), Angel Martínez (Mid, loan, Girona), Nicolás Pareja (Def, €10m Spartak Moscow), Milan Smiljanic (Mid, loan, Partizan), Valdo (Mid, free, Levante), Moisés Hurtado (Mid €1.1m, Olympiakos), Ben Sahar (Fwd, loan, Hapoel), Raul Tamudo (Fwd, free, Real Sociedad), Grégory Béranger (Fwd, free, Tenerife). 12 players, €11.1m.
Espanyol was never in danger of being too defensive—the sale of Nico Pareja strikes me as a prudent move in that regard—but like Depor, there were massive questions on the offensive end. 29 goals scored in a 38-match season is a horrendous return, so something had to be done. Adding Sergio Garcia in place of the departing Tamudo (who won’t be missed by my blaugrana self), Béranger (who scored all of once in 21 appearances last season), and Ben Sahar (who one-upped Béranger by scoring just once in 23 appearances) strikes me as another prudent move.
Verdict: These prudent moves are backed by even more prudent moves, including the loan signings of Jesús Dátolo and Osvaldo (the latter for a second season). All of this suggests that periquitos should be more positive than Depor fans that a change is coming to their goal-scoring habits. Prudence, however, is not synonymous with quality. 10th.
Full Name: Getafe Club de Fútbol
Star Players: Dani Parejo
2009-10 finish: 6th, 58pts, 17W-7D-14L (58GF, 48GA)
Stadium: Estadio Coliseum Alfonso Pérez (14,400)
Years in Top Flight: 7 (2004-11)
Best League Finish: 6th (2009-10)
Copa del Rey: 2nd (06-07, 07-08)
In: Marcano (Def, on loan, Villarreal), Pablo Pintos (Def, Free, Lazio), Franck Signorino (Def, released), Borja (Mid, free, Valladolid), Víctor Sánchez (Mid, on loan, Barcelona), Mosquera (Mid, free, Real Madrid Castilla), Javier Arizmendi (Fwd, free, Zaragoza), Adrián Colunga (Fwd, €2.5m, Recreativo). 7 players, €2.5m.
Out: Fabio Celestini (Def, free, Laussanne), David Belenguer (Def, free, Betis), David Cortés (Def, free, Hércules), Joffre Guerrón (Mid, €1m, At.Paranaense), Miguel Pallardó (Mid, on loan, Levante), Adrián González (Mid, free, Racing), Pedro León (Mid, €10m, Real Madrid), Roberto Soldado (Fwd, €10m, Valencia), Kepa (Fwd, free, Recreativo). 9 players, €21m.
The season after a highest-ever finish can show a lot about a club’s ambitions. 6th place and a spot in the Europa League put Getafe in rarified air they’d never encountered before and the management’s response was to offload talent in favor of cash on hand. I am, of course, ignorant of the club’s financial situation, but both of their €10m moves strike the casual observer as maximizing profit in the short term. This is not necessarily a negative thing if they can replace those pieces with more young talent—getting rid of Celestini (33 years old) and Belenguer (37 years old) is a good step in that direction—but players like Arizmendi and Borja aren’t necessarily the right replacements.
Verdict: Getafe are significantly weaker than they were last year given the losses of Pedro León and Roberto Soldado. Their replacements, Mosquera and Colunga respectively, are not up to the standards of those two and so the goal-scoring will suffer. 13th.
Much more tomorrow, folks.