2010-11 La Liga Season Preview (Part 1)

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

Almería

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.

Athletic Bilbao

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.

Atleti

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.

Barcelona

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.

Depor

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.

Espanyol

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.

Getafe

Full Name: Getafe Club de Fútbol
Manager: Míchel
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.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

115 Comments

  1. September 3, 2010

    90 minutes is just too long for this game. the game is won at 45… and torture starts right after half time…

  2. blitzen
    September 3, 2010

    I love how they keep talking about Theelba playing for Manthethser Thity. 🙂

  3. jordi™
    September 3, 2010

    When busi gets to wxpress him self its “!”

    And lol Pique on the counterattack

  4. blitzen
    September 3, 2010

    That was a generous pass from Pedro, he could have taken a shot himself.

  5. September 3, 2010

    lol’ed at Pique faking a winger around corner flag. XD

    • jordi™
      September 3, 2010

      lol that made my day.Pique has no limits :S

    • Diego S.
      September 3, 2010

      He dribbled too much .. He could’ve passed him with ease

  6. blitzen
    September 3, 2010

    Would a goal in a friendly count for Villa, or does it have to be a qualifier?

    • Diego S.
      September 3, 2010

      Yes, It would count

  7. jordi™
    September 3, 2010

    Villa post!I desperately want him to surpass raul :/

  8. Kari
    September 3, 2010

    No. way.

  9. Jnice
    September 3, 2010

    Hehe.

  10. Diego S.
    September 3, 2010

    Pedro! still hasn’t scored for Spain !

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      I don’t think it will take him much longer, he is on fire right now.

    • jordi™
      September 3, 2010

      well He got one against poland.

    • Diego S.
      September 3, 2010

      Yeah .. When He lobbed the Goalkeeber before the WC .. I forgot about that

  11. Kari
    September 3, 2010

    Well, looking at the plus side to all of this, if that Silva to Villa to goal actually come off, I think I would have spontaneously combusted in my seat.

    Guess he breaks the record in Argentina…

  12. Euler
    September 3, 2010

    Spain is relentless defensively. They’re up 0-4 in extra time and the are still working very hard to put on a suffocating high press in Lichtenstein’s own third on the off times they lose the ball.

    The term Rinus Michels used to use for the high press in total football was “the hunt.” And that’s how Spain defends. Like Barca they “hunt” in packs of ten men all acting together.

    They are simply a great defensive squad.

    And very unselfish. 4 goal lead and David Silva receives a chip that leaves him open on goal. Rather than shooting it he centers it to Villa who has a slightly better shot but hits the wood work. At times Spain is too unselfish (Iniesta unless it’s in the final moment…) and depend too much on Villa for goals. But it’s a very team oriented sentiment.

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      Well I think they all just really wanted him to break the record.

  13. September 3, 2010

    it was meant to be. let’s just allow Raul’s legacy to be maintained for one more match.

  14. Diego S.
    September 3, 2010

    Pique is even more versatile than Adriano .. He can play CB,RB,DM,RW,CF 😀

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      Let’s try him in goal!

  15. Kari
    September 3, 2010

    Surprise, surprise.

    Apparently, the Spanish FA has rectified Villa’s goal count so that he has 43 goals instead of 44. In other words, still one less that Raul. I think it was the first goal against Poland that they didn’t count or something.

    Humph.

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      Whaaaaatttt?

    • Kxevin
      September 3, 2010

      Well, he is playing for the enemy now ….

      Les Bleus got Hlebbed. 0-1 to Belarus, Hleb with the assist on the goal in the 86th minute.

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      THAT. Made me choke on my beer! 🙂

    • Euler
      September 3, 2010

      Condolences. Tough transition time for them given all of the suspensions that still linger. Blanc’s in a bit of a squeeze.

      Very tough, especially to get hlebbed…

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      Is that going to appear in the next edition of the OED? To Hleb, to be Hlebbed, to Hleb onesself…

    • Diego S.
      September 3, 2010

      Wikipedia lists him at 44 goals.

      “On September 3,2010, in a Euro 2012 qualifying match against Liechtenstein,Villa scored a goal to become tied with Raul as Spain’s all-time top goal scorer in the 4-0 win”

    • blitzen
      September 3, 2010

      Boy, those wikinerds are fast!

  16. jordi™
    September 3, 2010

    Elsewhere. France were hlebbed by belarus in paris

  17. GREECE BARCA
    September 3, 2010

    the assist was by hleb.s brother!not the original!

  18. Ryan
    September 3, 2010

    I know I’m late with the commentary, but it’s almost unfair when all the Spanish players are playing like that. Did anyone else think about Barca’s lack of long distance shooters when Villa scored the second goal? Maybe he can give Keita a few pointers, hehe.

    Here’s hoping they come back safe from any injuries after the Argentina friendly. I won’t complain either if He Who Shall Not Be Named takes Xavi’s spot after 45 minutes, or heck, the whole game!

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