So, after finishing my La Liga preview, I found that in parts 1 and 2 I forgot some teams. How that happened, I don’t know, but here I am making amends for it with a full on, all the teams preview. Apologies for making you re-read anything. This time I’ve put them in order from 20th to 1, so that you can let the excitement build all the way to the drum roll that will accompany the surprising trophy winner. You’ll never see it coming…
Manager: Luis García Plaza
Star Players: Xisco
2009-10 finish: 3rd (Segunda)
Stadium: Estadi Ciutat de València (25,354)
Years in Top Flight: 6 (most recently 2007-08)
Best League Finish: 10th (63-64)
Copa del Rey: Round of 16 (3 times)
In: Gustavo Munúa (GK, free, Málaga), Asier Del Horno (Def, on loan, Valencia), Javi Venta (Def, free, Villarreal), Xavi Torres (Mid, on loan, Málaga), Sergio González (Mid, free, Deportivo), Miguel Pallardó (Mid, on loan, Getafe), Valdo (Mid, free, Espanyol), Nacho Gonzalez (Mid, on loan, Valencia), Nano (Fwd, free, Betis), Christian Stuani (Fwd, on loan, Reggina), Felipe Caicedo (Fwd, on loan, Manchester City). 11 players, €0.
Out: Manu Herrera (GK, free, Alcorcón), Dani Carril (Def, free, Las Palmas), Angel Sánchez (Def, free, Alcorcón), Samuel Baños (Def, free, Alcorcón), Albert Serra (Def, free, Girona), Pau Cendrós (Def, loan return, Mallorca), Jorge Pina (Mid, free, Albacete), Alvaro del Moral (Fwd, free, Logroñés), Javi Guerra (Fwd, loan return, Mallorca). 9 players, €0.
Levante returns to La Primera after a short stint in the second division; they were last seen in 2007-08 when they earned all of 16 points and scoring 20 goals. That pathetic showing (partly stemming from the lack of money to pay their players) should not hinder this particular team—new manager, 11 new faces since the end of their Segunda run—but the financial troubles that reared up before could. They have spent wisely by not spending at all (€0 on 11 players), at least not on transfers. They picked up del Horno from Valencia—remember him?—and Felipe Caicedo from Manchester City on loans that should work out well. Javi Venta and Xavi Torres (of Barça B fame) are solid enough, though Javi Venta is getting up there at 34 years old, but their lack of really class midfielders will hurt them.
Verdict: Despite making some intelligent signings, Levante just doesn’t have the power to sustain a 38-match challenge in La Liga. Their lack of true attacking power—Xisco Nadal, Rubén Suárez, and Rafa Jorda combine for something like 80 burras a game—could come back to haunt them when they need a goal most. 20th.
Full Name: Málaga Club de Fútbol
Manager: Jesualdo Ferreira
Star Players: Weligton, Duda
2009-10 finish: 17th, 37pts, 7W-16D-15L (42GF, 47GA)
Stadium: Estadio La Rosaleda (28,963)
Years in Top Flight: 30 (10 as Málaga CF, 20 as CD Málaga)
Best League Finish: 8th as Málaga CF (00-01, 08-09) 7th as CD Málaga (71-72, 73-74)
Copa del Rey: Round of 16 (3 times)
In: Rubén Martínez (GK, €1.2m, Cartagena), Rodrigo Galatto (GK, €1.2m, Litex Lovech), Eliseu (Def, €1.5m, Lazio), Javier Malagueño (Def, €950,000, Indios), Kris Stadsgaard (Def, 1.35m, Rosenborg), Quincy Owusu (Mid,on loan, Al Sadd), Sandro Silva (Mid, €2.2m, Botafogo), Salomón Rondón (Fwd, €3.5m, Las Palmas), Sebastián Fernández (Fwd, €3.6m, Banfield). 9 players, €15.5m.
Out: Gustavo Munúa (GK, free, Levante), Roberto Santamaría (GK, loan return, Las Palmas), Milan Stepanov (Def, loan return, FC Porto), Miguel Angel (Mid, free, Ponferradina), Xavi Torres (Mid, on loan, Levante), Valdo (Mid, loan return, Espanyol), Javi López (Mid, on loan, Ponferradina), Jordi Pablo (Mid, loan, Cartagena), Daniel Toribio (Mid, loan, Ponferradina), Felipe Caicedo (Fwd, loan return, Manchester City), Fernando Forestieri (Fwd, loan return, Genoa), Pere Martí (Fwd, free, Castellón), Victor Obinna (Fwd, loan return, Inter). 13 players, €0.
Taken over in the summer by Qatari Sheik Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, who is obviously just known as Sheik Abdullah, Málaga invested €15.5m in 9 players, none of whom you’ve ever heard of if you’re a casual fan. Salomón Rondón for €3.5m? Seriously? It sounds like over spending in a much more common-sense way. Like, take this mildly large sack of cash for your mildly decent player instead of the take this huge sack of cash for your hugely talented player a la Chelsea or Manchester City. At least it’s an original approach.
Verdict: Analyzed position-by-position, I’m not sure Málaga is better than they were last year when they ended up 17th. They paid €2.2m for Sandro Silva while they had Xavi Torres. Instead, they loaned the latter out. And Sandro Silva is 26 years old. Which I think tells you a lot more than you think. 19th. Boo Weligton.
Full Name: Club Atlético Osasuna
Manager: José Antonio Camacho
Star Players: Javad Nekounam, Walter Pandiani
2009-10 finish: 12th, 43pts, 11W-10D-17L (37GF, 46GA)
Stadium: Estadio Reyno de Navarra (19,500)
Years in Top Flight: 33 (promoted in 00-01)
Best League Finish: 4th (90-91, 05-06)
Copa del Rey: 2nd (04-05)
In: Asier Riesgo (GK, free, Real Sociedad), Lolo (Def, free, Sevilla), Nélson (Def, loan, Betis), Fernando Soriano (Mid, free, Almería), Dejan Lekic (Fwd, €2.6m, Red Star Belgrade), Damià (Fwd, free, Betis), Kike Sola (Fwd, loan return, Levadiakos). 7 players, €2.6m.
Out: Roberto Jiménez (GK, free, Granada), César Azpilicueta (Def, €6m, Olymique Marseilles), Roversio (Def, loan, Betis), Ion Echaide (Def, loan, Huesca), Jokin Esparza (Mid, loan, Huesca), Andrés Fernández (Mid, loan, Huesca), Ludovic Delporte (Mid, free, Nàstic), Jokin Esparza (Mid, loan, Huesca), Andrés Fernández (Mid, loan, Huesca), Ludovic Delporte (Mid, free, Nàstic), Dady (Fwd, free, Bucaspor), Jorge Galán (Fwd, loan, Huesca). 9 players, €6m.
Losing Azpilicueta, a Spain U-21 player, could be huge for Osasuna, who were on the brink of relegation despite ending 12th last year (just 6 points above relegation). Without the width Azpilicueta provides, they might find it hard to earn points. I like Aranda, Nekounam, and Pandiani, but their 37 goals scored last year will simply not cut it.
Verdict: You have to have guns up front to hope to score and earn points, but they didn’t add any firepower and their lack of width could be the thing that keeps them from increasing their goal count. 18th.
Full Name: Real Sociedad de Fútbol
Manager: Martín Lasarte
Star Players: Xabi Prieto, Claudio Bravo
2009-10 finish: 1st (Segunda)
Stadium: Estadio Anoeta (32,076)
Years in Top Flight:
Best League Finish: 1st (80-81, 81-82)
Copa del Rey: 1st (08-09, 86-87)
In: Toño Ramírez (GK, loan return, Tenerife B), Jeffrey Sarpong (Mid, €200,000, Ajax), Sutil (Mid, free, Eibar), Joseba Llorente (Fwd, €2.5m, Villarreal), Raúl Tamudo (Fwd, free, Espanyol), Diego Ifrán (Fwd, €1.5m, Danubio). 6 players, €4.2m.
Out: Asier Riesgo (GK, free, Osasuna), Carlos Bueno (Def, loan return, Peñarol), Sergio Rodríguez (Mid, released), Franck Songo’o (Mid, loan return, Zaragoza), Jonathan Estrada (Mid, loan return, Millonarios), Emilio Nsue (Fwd, loan return, Mallorca). 6 players, €0.
I remember listening to the 02-03 season on the radio (remember that thing?) and quietly frowning in my dorm room when Celta de Vigo beat Sociedad to put Real Madrid in front. The next week when Madrid beat Athletic to secure their trophy, I could tell something amazing had failed to materialize. Thanks, Madrid, you jerks. Barça did their level best to give Sociedad a chance, but not Madrid, those selfish prigs. This year won’t be like that, though.
Joseba Llorente is their biggest signing and he adds serious firepower to what was otherwise a weak part. Tamudo adds that “veteran leadership” everyone talks about, but also makes me root against the team a little bit. Ifrán could also come in handy now and then, having had a 27 in 52 strike rate at Uruguayan club Danubio. Anything resembling that should keep them in the running to stay up.
Verdict: Sociedad’s additions far outweigh their exits and suggest not just a positive outlook in the transfer market, but also on the field of play and that can go a long way towards survival. 17th.
Full Name: Real Zaragoza
Manager: José Aurelio Gay
Star Players: Carlos Diogo, Ángel Lafita
2009-10 finish: 15th, 41pts, 10W-11D-17L (46GF, 64GA)
Stadium: Estadio de La Romareda
Years in Top Flight: 56
Best League Finish: 2nd (74-75)
Copa del Rey: 1st (6 times)
In: Toni Doblas (GK, free, Huesca), Alex Sánchez (GK, free, Barça Juvenil), Leo Franco (GK, free, Galatasaray), Matteo Contini (Def, €2m, Napoli), Ádám Pintér (Def, free, MTK Budapest), Franck Songo’o (Mid, loan return, Real Sociedad), Nicolás Bertolo (Mid, loan, Palermo), Marco Pérez (Fwd, loan, Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata), Braulio (Fwd, loan return, Recreativo), Florent Sinama Pongolle (Fwd, loan, Sporting Lisbon). 10 players, €2m.
Out: Roberto (GK, loan return, Atleti), Juan Pablo Carrizo (GK, loan return, Lazio), Francisco Pavón (Def, free, AC Arles-Avignon), Goni (Def, loan, RM Castilla), Pablo Amo (Def, free, Panserraikos), Rubén Pulido (Def, released), Peter Luccin (Mid, released), Jermainne Pennant (Mid, loan, Stoke City), Abel Aguilar (Mid, loan return, Udinese), Javier Arizmendi (Fwd, free, Getafe), Eliseu (Fwd, loan return, Lazio), Humberto Suazo (Fwd, loan return, Monterrey), Adrián Colunga (Fwd, loan return, Recreativo), Pablo De Barros (Fwd, loan, Cruzeiro). 14 players, €0.
A large number of changes, but not much difference, really. A €2m investment on a 30-year old defender seems to be misguided at best. The loss of Javi Arizmendi might end up being the biggest problem for them as they’ll struggle all the more to score goals, though, in truth, it was the defensive side of things that kept them from doing anything last year (and thus the investment in Contini). Getting Alex Sánchez from Barça strikes me as a smart move after having watched his U-19 tournament, but we’ll see if he beats out both Doblas and Leo Franco.
Verdict: If you don’t score goals, you’ll struggle. This is as good a time as any to point that out, I suppose. 16th.
Full Name: Real Racing Club de Santander
Manager: Miguel Ángel Portugal
Star Players: Pedro Munitis, Óscar Serrano
2009-10 finish: 16th, 39pts, 9W, 12D, 17L (42GF, 59GA)
Stadium: Estadio El Sardinero (22,271)
Years in Top Flight: 43 (most recently promoted for 02-03)
Best League Finish: 2nd (30-31)
Copa del Rey: Semis (07-08)
In: Domingo Cisma (Def, free, Almería), Francis (Def, free, Xerez), Osmar Barba (Def, youth, Racing B), Henrique (Def, loan, Barcelona), Waldo Ponce (Def, loan, U.Católica), Adrián González (Mid, free, Getafe), Kennedy Bakircioglu (Mid, free, Ajax), Ariel Nahuelpan (Fwd, €1.2m, Corítiba), Alexandros Tziolis (Mid, loan+€100,000, Siena), Markus Rosenberg (Fwd, loan, Werder Bremen). 10 players, €1.3m.
Out: Moratón (Def, free, Salamanca), Juanjo (Def, loan, Watford), , Toni Moral (Mid, free, Cartagena), Jorge Gonçalves (Mid, free, Olhanense), Oriol (Fwd, free, Aris Thessaloniki), Brian Sarmiento (Fwd, loan, Salamanca), Xisco (Fwd, loan return, Newcastle), Mémé Tchité (Fwd, €1.7m, Standard Liège), Sergio Canales (Fwd, €6m, Real Madrid). 10 players, €7.7m.
The tried-and-true method of getting rid of all your good players in favor of worse players seems to be the modus operandi of the day in La Liga. Racing is no exception to this as they shipped out Canales and Tchité, and lost Xisco to a loan return, but only really got Markus Rosenberg in return. If he can score in Spain like he did in the Bundesliga (30 in 90), he should be able to keep Racing out of the relegation zone. Big if, of course.
Verdict: The loan extension of Henrique coupled with the arrival of Domingo Cisma should help shore up some of the defensive bobbles. Pedro Munitis can do the damage up front and earn them the 40 points necessary to survive. 15th.
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 (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 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. 14th.
Full Name: Hércules Club de Fútbol
Manager: Esteban Vigo
Star Players: Javier Portillo, Rodri
2009-10 finish: 2nd (Segunda)
Stadium: Estadio José Rico Pérez (30,000)
Years in Top Flight: 20 (most recently in 96-97)
Best League Finish: 5th (74-75)
Copa del Rey: Round of 16 (3 times)
In: Piet Velthuizen (GK, free, Vitesse), David Cortés (Def, free, Getafe), Cristian Pulhac (Def, loan+€300,000, Dinamo Bucarest), Mohamed Sarr (Def, €300,000, Standard Liege), Matías Fritzler (Mid, on loan, Lanús), Abel Aguilar (Mid, €1.5m, Udinese), Nelson Valdez (Fwd, €3.5m, Borussia Dortmund), David Trezeguet (Fwd, free, Juventus), Royston Drenthe (Fwd, on loan, Real Madrid), Olivier Thomert (Fwd, free, Le Mans). 10 players, €5.6m.
Out: Edu Moya (Def, free, Xerez), Dani Bautista (Def, free, Girona), Andrija Delibašić (Def, free, Rayo Vallecano), Sergio Alejandro (Def, free), Sergio Díaz (Def, free, Nàstic), Gerardo (Mid, free), Rodri (Mid, free, Nàstic), Jorge Alonso (Mid, free, Valladolid), Ionel Dănciulescu (Fwd, free, Dinamo Bucarest). 9 players, €0.
In 2008-09, Esteban Vigo managed Xerez during their run to the Segunda title and promotion to the top flight. Instead of following the club up, he moved to Hércules and ended up guiding that squad to second in the league. Now he gets a shot at the big time and will be doing so in a much better position than Xerez found themselves last year. Their biggest signing, Paraguyan World Cup striker Nelson Valdez, was a solid signing, but he was most assuredly overshadowed by the late free transfer of David Trezeguet from Juventus.
The scandal of the summer involved Hércules and allegations that they had bribed their way to their La Liga spot—allegations that ended up never being investigated by RFEF or anyone else, for that matter. Sid Lowe discusses it in-depth on this Beyond the Pitch podcast back on August 12 that is well worth a listen. This is a decent write-up as well, though I’ve never heard of the website before. There’s little to add to those, but it will be interesting to see where the allegations go and how that affects Hércules as a sporting entity.
Verdict: Hércules is easily the most improved squad in the league after extremely intelligent signings. They have a strike force that’s capable of holding its own against most clubs in Spain and which, if Valdez and Trezeguet can mesh, should be good enough to make up for any defense lapses and keep them up without a huge amount of trouble. Assuming all legal troubles stay away for the season and there are no financial repercussions from signing a big-name player like Trez, the squad should be able to play up to potential. 13th.
Full Name: Real Sporting de Gijón
Manager: Manuel Preciado
Star Players: Mate Bilić, Miguel de las Cuevas
2009-10 finish: 15th, 40pts, 9W-13D-16L (36GF, 51GA)
Stadium: Estadio El Molinón
Years in Top Flight: 39
Best League Finish: 2nd (78-79)
Copa del Rey: 2nd (80-81, 81-82)
In: Ayoze (Def, free, Tenerife), Jorge (Def, loan return, Nàstic), Alberto Botía (Def, free, Barcelona), Sebastián Eguren (Mid, free, Villarreal), Gastón Sangoy (Fwd, €800,000, Apollon Limassol), Nacho Novo (Fwd, free, Rangers). 6 players, €800,000.
Out: Gerard Autet (Def, released), Kike Mateo (Def, free, Elche), Gerard Autet (Def, free, Xerez), Pedro Santa Cecilia (Mid, released), Diego Camacho (Mid, released), Milan Smiljanić (Mid, loan return, Espanyol), Tati Maldonado (Fwd, free, Cartagena). 7 players, €0.
The team that thought it could stay up and then somehow did. And then did it again. Plucky, aren’t they? They’ve added Gastón Sangoy, who destroyed the Cypriot First Division over the last 3 years with 51 goals in 67 matches. Sporting would certainly love to get anything even close to that, especially if the wonderfully-named Nacho Novo can muster some goals. Manuel Preciado, of course, will use the power of his moustache to destroy lesser opponents.
Verdict: Despite Alberto Botía’s Barça history making him an obviously indispensible part of the Sporting lineup, Sporting is in for a rough ride. Manuel Preciado, of course, will use the power of his moustache to destroy lesser opponents, which will keep them up. 12th.
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), 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). 5 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. 11th.
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. 10th.
Full Name: Real Club Deportivo Mallorca
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Star Players: Dudu Aouate, Pierre Webó
2009-10 finish: 5th, 62pts, 18W-8D-12L (69GF, 44GA)
Stadium: Son Moix (23,142)
Years in Top Flight: 25 (promoted 97-98)
Best League Finish: 3rd (98-99)
Copa del Rey: 1st (02-03)
In: Jonathan De Guzmán (Mid, free, Feyenoord), Sergi Enrich (Fwd, youth team, Mallorca B), Emilio Nsue (Fwd, loan return, Real Sociedad), Pau Cendrós (Fwd, loan return, Levante), Fernando Cavenaghi (Fwd, on loan, Girondins), Edson Ramos (Fwd, free, Bunyodkor), Joao Víctor (Fwd, free, Bunyodkor). 7 players, €0.
Out: Mario Suárez (Mid, €1.8m, Atlético), Julio Álvarez (Mid, free, Tenerife), Varela (Mid, free, Kasimpasa), Borja Valero (Mid, loan return, West Brom), Juanmi Callejón (Mid, free, Córdoba), Bruno China (Mid, released), Javi Guerra (Fwd, free, Valladolid), Aritz Aduriz (Fwd, €4m, Valencia), Felipe Mattioni (Fwd, free, Espanyol), Oscar Trejo (Fwd, on loan, Rayo Vallecano), Alhassane Keita (Fwd, on loan, Valladolid). 11 players, €5.8m.
Mallorca, removed from the Europa League for financial problems, have at least made some cashola from getting rid of, um, all of their forwards not named Pierre Webó. Okay, so they brought in 5 new ones, including Fernando Cavenaghi who I think is pretty solid and could do some damage for Mallorca.
Verdict: They were absurdly terrific at home last year and while there’s no Gregorio Manzano to lead them to similar near perfection this year, it’s hard to see them so substantially worse under Michael Laudrup (especially with the hindsight of drawing against Real Madrid) that they’ll even be troubled with relegation. And, before you point it out in the comments with your judging, yeah, I know it’s not Son Moix anymore, but instead Iberostar Estadi, but come on, it’s Son Moix. Deal. 9th.
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), Sergio García (Fwd, €1.8, Betis), Osvaldo (Fwd, on loan, Bologna). 6 players, €1.8m.
Out: Javi Ruiz (GK, free), 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. 8th.
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. 7th.
Full Name: Villarreal Club de Fútbol
Manager: Juan Carlos Garrido
Star Players: Carlos Marchena, Nilmar
2009-10 finish: 7th, 56pts, 16W-8D-14L (57GF, 51GA)
Stadium: Estadio El Madrigal (25,000)
Years in Top Flight: 12
Best League Finish: 2nd (07-08)
In: Joan Oriol (Def, youth, Villarreal B), Català (Def, youth, Villarreal B), Musacchio (Def, youth, Villarreal B), Mario Gaspar (Def, youth, Villarreal B), Carlos Marchena (Def, €2.5m, Valencia), Borja Valero (Mid, loan, West Brom), Javier Matilla (Mid, youth, Villarreal B), Marco Ruben (Fwd, youth, Villarreal B), Jefferson Montero (Fwd, youth, Villarreal B), Jozy Altidore (Fwd, loan return, Hull). 10 players, €2.5m.
Out: Javi Venta (Def, free, Levante), Iván Marcano (Def, loan, Getafe), Diego Godín (Def, €11m, Atleti), Robert Pires (Mid, released), Ariel Ibagaza (Mid, free, Olympiakos), Sebastián Eguren (Mid, free, Sporting Gijón), Joseba Llorente (Fwd, €2.5m, Real Sociedad). 7 players, €13.5m.
You don’t lose talented defenders, midfielders, and forwards and not try to replace them, but kudos to Villarreal for trying to do so using their youth ranks. Their purchase of Marchena is foolish, but he won’t be the difference maker for them. The American in me wants to see Altidore do well, but it will instead be up to Giuseppe Rossi instead and that’s okay too.
Verdict: It will feel like a drop off from last year, but the team will win ugly and use their youth products to do so. And I, for one, will cheer them in doing so. 6th.
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.
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. 5th.
Full Name: Valencia Club de Fútbol
Manager: Unai Emery
Star Players: Juan Mata, Joaquín
2009-10 finish: 3rd, 71pts, 21W-8D-9L (59GF, 40GA)
Stadium: Estadio Mestalla (55,000)
Years in Top Flight: 75
Best League Finish: 1st (6 times)
Copa del Rey: 1st (7 times)
In: Vicente Guaita (GK, loan return, Recreativo), Marius Stankevičius (Def, loan, Sampdoria), Ricardo Costa (Def, free, Lille), Sofiane Feghouli (Def, free, Grenoble), Mehmet Topal (Mid, €5m, Galatasaray), Tino Costa (Mid, €6.5m, Montpellier), Roberto Soldado (Fwd, €10m, Getafe), Aritz Aduriz (Fwd, €4m, Mallorca). 8 players, €25.5m.
Out: Renan (GK, loan+€300,000, Internacional), Asier del Horno (Def, loan, Levante), Carlos Marchena (Def, €2.5m, Villarreal), Alexis (Def, €5m Sevilla), Nacho Gonzalez (Mid, loan, Levante), Hugo Viana (Mid, free, Sporting Braga), Ruben Baraja (Mid, released), Míchel (Mid, loan, Deportivo), David Silva (Mid, €30m, Manchester City), David Villa (Fwd, €40m, Barcelona), Nikola Zigic (Fwd, €7m, Birmingham), Aarón Ñíguez (Fwd, loan, Recreativo). 12 players, €84.8m.
It may look like a mass exodus, but the cynic in me laughs at the fact that someone paid €2.5m for Marchena, €5m for Alexis, and took del Horno on loan, thus solving Valencia’s defensive woes. Obviously the loss of the Davids will hurt them on the offensive end, but Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado should be able to adequately punish the lesser sides and earn enough points to stay high up in the table while also providing a measure of financial stability.
Verdict: A measure of financial stability should help Valencia do wonders next year, but they’l still surprise people this year with some sporting success. 4th.
Full Name: Sevilla Fútbol Club
Manager: Antonio Álvarez
Star Players: Luis Fabiano, Jesus Navas
2009-10 finish: 4th, 63pts, 19W-6D-13L (65GF, 48GA)
Stadium: Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán (45,500)
Years in Top Flight: 67
Best League Finish: 1st (45-46)
Copa del Rey: 1st (5 times)
In: Mouhamadou Dabo (Def, free, Saint Ettienne), Alexis (Def, €5m, Valencia), Martín Cáceres (Def, loan, Barcelona), Tiberio Guarente (Mid, €5.5m, Atalanta), Alejandro Alfaro (Fwd, loan return, Tenerife), Arouna Koné (Fwd, loan return, Hannover 96), Luca Cigarini (Fwd, loan+€350,000, Nápoles). 7 players, €10.85m.
Out: Marius Stankevičius (Def, loan return, Sampdoria), Marc Valiente (Def, free, Valladolid), José Ángel Crespo (Def, free, Pádova), David Prieto (Def, free, Tenerife), Sébastien Squillaci (Def, €6.5m, Arsenal), Lolo (Def, free, Osasuna), Adriano (Def, €9.5m, FC Barcelona), Aldo Duscher (Mid, free, Espanyol), Emiliano Armenteros (Mid, on loan, Rayo Vallecano), Tom De Mul (Fwd, loan, Standard Liège), Javier Chevantón (Fwd, free, Lecce). 11 players, €16m.
As evidenced by their Supercopa first leg, Sevilla can hang with anyone in the league; as evidenced by their loss to SC Braga in Champions League qualifiers, they can play down to anyone as well. Their quality additions (Dabo, Cigarini) are outweighed by their losses (Adriano, Squillaci), especially since I rate Alexis so poorly that I think of Valencia as laughing all the way to the bank with their €5m.
Verdict: Sevilla has serious firepower up front. I mean, I’m talking M202 FLASH type devastation, but the problem is, like with any bazooka type deal, while you’re going to mop up Glock-wielding mofos, you’ve got no defense when a Predator drone named Lionel Messi comes calling. 3rd.
Full Name: Real Madrid Club de Fútbol
Manager: José Mourinho
Star Players: Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo
2009-10 finish: 2nd, 96pts, 31W-3D-4L (102GF, 35GA)
Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Years in Top Flight: 83, 1928-2011
Best League Finish: 1st (31 times)
Copa del Rey: 1st (17 times)
In: Ricardo Carvalho (Def, €8m, Chelsea), Pedro León (Mid, €10m, Getafe), Sami Khedira (Mid, €10m, Stuttgart), Mesut Özil (Mid, €15m, Werder Bremen), Sergio Canales (Fwd, €6m, Racing), Ángel Di María (Fwd, €25m, Benfica). 6 players, €74m.
Out: Christoph Metzelder (Def, free, Schalke 04), Guti (Mid, free, Besiktas), Rafael Van der Vaart (Mid, €11m, Tottenham), Raúl (Fwd, free, Schalke 04), Royston Drenthe (Fwd, loan, Hércules). 5 players, €11m.
In this topsy-turvy world, Madrid looks frugal compared to Barça despite spending more—both of the teams spent more than 16 of the other 19 La Liga teams combined—but the big-money purchase of Di María could still land them in the “bust” category if my own predictions of the Argentine’s mediocrity pan out alongside the absurd €8m purchase of Carvalho. Mourinho has talents he’s used to, though, and can obviously work wonders with players like Thiago Motta, so why not more talented players? The question will be whether or not the press and fans in the capital will allow for any bumps in the road.
Verdict: The team is grossly talented, but they’re up against a season-long grind that could put more than a few of them in the grumpy cart, especially if Mourinho doesn’t handle their egos quite the right way. They’ll score buckets of goals in the end, but small defensive lapses will mean they fail at the wrong moments. 2nd.
Full Name: Futbo Club 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. 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.
In case you couldn’t figure out the order, here’s the finalized preview list:
2. Real Madrid
5. Atletico Madrid
7. Athletic Bilbao
12. Sporting Gijon
15. Racing Santander
16. Real Zaragoza
17. Real Sociedad
So there you have it. La Liga 2010-11 as it will appear in May. Bank on it.