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Thursday August 17 2017
La Liga 2017-18 Season Preview: Part 1

With another La Liga campaign finally upon us, Colin Millar gives an extensive lowdown on 10 of the sides competing in 2017-18.

Celta Vigo

Coach: Juan Carlos Unzue

Arrivals: Maxi Gomez (Defensor Sporting), Jozabed (Fulham), Stanislav Lobotka (Nordsjælland)

Departures: Giuseppe Rossi (end of loan), Theo Bongonda (Trabzonspor), Carles Planas (Girona) Alvaro Lemos (Lens, loan)

The departure of Coach Eduardo Berizzo to Sevilla was feared to be the end of an era at Balaidos. The highly-rated Argentine had led the Galicians to successive Copa del Rey semi-finals and the last four of the Europa League.

However, Celta start the season with fresh optimism following the appointment of Juan Carlos Unzue – Luis Enrique’s assistant at Barcelona – and an impressive preseason has seen them adopt a free-flowing, possession-based style of play with instant results, including a 4-1 victory over Roma.

There is continuity with the playing squad too; no major players have followed Berizzo out of the club, while highly-rated Uruguayan Maxi Gomez will reinforce the attack and Jozabed – who impressed on loan – joins on a permanent basis.

With no European distractions this season, Celta will be aiming for a top six slot this year – their 13th-placed finish last year was skewed by fielding weakened teams from late March onwards.

Leganes

Coach: Asier Garitano

Arrivals: Raul Garcia (Alaves), Javi Eraso (Athletic Bilbao), Ivan Cuellar (Sporting Gijon), Tito (Granada), Dimitris Siovas (Olympiakos), Ezequiel Munoz (Genoa), Nabil El Zhar (Las Palmas), Mauro dos Santos (Eibar)

Departures: Victor Diaz, Alberto Martin (both Granada), Samu Garcia, Darwin Machis, Iago Herrerin, Pablo Insua, Luciano, Alberto Bueno (end of loans)

Last season was all about survival for Leganes – promoted to Spain’s top flight for the first time in their history, they staved off relegation late on to secure their one and only objective.

It will be a similar story this time round, and keeping highly-rated Coach Asier Garitano was a massive plus for Los Pepineros, who will be hoping to make their Butarque home ground formidable once more.

This season’s squad is much less reliant on loan deals and therefore should bring a greater deal of continuity and stability to a club desperate to consolidate their position in the top flight.

If they finish 17th or above, it will again be regarded as a success for the Madrid-based side, who will renew their rivalry with newly-promoted Getafe this campaign.

Levante

Coach: Juan Muniz

Arrivals: Antonio Luna (Eibar), Alex Alegria (Betis, loan), Oier (Granada), Enis Bardhi (Ujpest), Rober (Deportivo La Coruna, loan), Sasa Lukic (Torino, loan), Cheick Doukoure (Metz), Ivi Lopez (Sevilla Atletico)

Departures: Deyverson (Palmeiras), Victor Camarasa (Betis), Víctor Casadesus (Tenerife)

After suffering a torrid 2015-16 campaign, when they were relegated from Spain’s top flight long before it’s end, the Valencia-based club romped to last season’s Segunda title.

The club were dealt a massive blow in pre-season when Roger Marti – scorer of 23 League goals last season – was ruled out for six months with a serious knee injury, and replacing his goal output could be a big challenge.

They’ve brought in Sevilla Atletico striker Ivi Lopez and Alex Alegria from Betis on loan, as part of the deal that saw Victor Camarasa leave the club. However, the departures of Camarasa and Deyverson – who both excelled at Alaves last season – will be disappointing for fans of Les Granotes.

Landing Antonio Luna – who had interested Sevilla – from Eibar represents a coup, but more incomings may be needed to help the Valencians steer clear of relegation trouble this time round.

Malaga

Coach: Michel Gonzalez

Arrivals: Diego Gonzalez (Sevilla), Paul Baysse (Nice), Cenk Gonen (Galatasaray), Roberto (Espanyol, loan), Adrian (Eibar), Juan Carlos (Braga), Borja Baston (Swansea, loan), Emanuel Cecchini (Banfield)

Departures: Ignacio Camacho (Wolfsburg), Carlos Kameni (Fenerbahce), Sandro Ramirez (Everton), Pablo Fornals (Villarreal), Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Charles (Eibar), Ricardo Horta (Braga), Michael Santos (Sporting Gijon, loan), Weligton, Martin Demichelis (both retired), Duda, Diego Llorente (end of loan)

It has been a summer of discontent for Malaga; not only have they lost seven of their eight friendly outings, but they’ve been hit with a series of high-profile departures.

Carlos Kameni and Ignacio Camacho were among the long-serving first-teamers to depart, while star striker Sandro Ramirez and midfield starlet Pablo Fornals followed them out of La Rosaleda.

Signings so far have been modest, with pressure on Borja Baston to quickly find his feet following a loan deal from Swansea City and Paul Baysse, former captain of Nice, to lead an inexperienced backline.

The appointment of Coach Michel in March brought an upturn in results after inconsistencies under Juande Ramos and Marcelo Romero, but early cracks have shown, namely in the Coach’s relationship with club owner Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani.

Real Betis

Coach: Quique Setien

Arrivals: Sergio Leon (Osasuna), Victor Camarasa (Levante), Cristian Tello (Barcelona), Andres Guardado (PSV), Antonio Barragan (Middlesbrough), Jordi Amat (Swansea), Javi Garcia (Zenit), Ryad Boudebouz (Montpellier), Zouhair Feddal (Alaves)

Departures: Cristiano Piccini (Sporting CP), Alex Martinez (Granada), Petros (Sao Paulo), Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid), Ruben Castro (Guizhou Zhicheng, loan), Alvaro Cejudo (Western Sydney Wanderers), Jonas Martin (Strasbourg), Manu Herrera (Osasuna), Alex Alegria (Levante, loan), Jose Carlos (Lorca, loan) Bruno Gonzalez, Dani Pacheco, Francisco Portillo (all Getafe), Ruben Pardo, Ryan Donk (end of loans)

It has been another summer of mass change at Los Verdiblancos, with a new Coach, Vice-President to replace a sporting director, nine new players and the end of Manuel Ruiz de Lopera’s association with the club at boardroom level. The unpopular, former owner’s shares will now be sold to fans.

There is renewed optimism at the Benito Villamarin that this season will bring a masked improvement: Setien is a Coach who likes his teams to play attacking football, recruitment seems impressive and a lot of the club’s deadwood has been moved on.

However, there are several notes of caution – losing star midfielder Dani Ceballos was a massive and, prior to the European Under-21 Championship, unexpected blow. Betis’ all-time top goalscorer, Ruben Castro, has departed too, although he’ll return from China in January.

Expect the Andalusians to be much better equipped than last season, when a succession of Coaches and players tried and failed. But this is a team that may take time to gel and may be short of goals up front – a new striker may yet arrive to complement Sergio Leon and Antonio Sanabria, but a top-half finish does not appear unrealistic.

Real Madrid

Coach: Zinedine Zidane

Arrivals: Theo Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Dani Ceballos (Betis)

Departures: Pepe (Besiktas), James Rodriguez (Bayern, loan), Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), Fabio Coentrao (Sporting CP, loan), Mariano (Lyon), Danilo (Manchester City), Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad), Burgui, Enzo Zidane (both Alaves)

Since being installed as Coach in January 2016, Zinedine Zidane has led Madrid back to the summit of Spanish and European football in emphatic style. Back-to-back Champions League crowns – unprecedented in the modern game – was a triumph not just of talent and ability but also man-management and tactical awareness.

Back in May, they dethroned Barcelona in La Liga, not necessarily due to having the stronger XI but having unquestionably the deepest squad in Spain.

Big-name departures were inevitable this summer, with Pepe’s release followed by the sales of James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata and Danilo. Los Blancos have continued their policy of investing for the future in locally-sourced talent – Ceballos and Theo are among Spanish football’s brightest prospects and will be eased into the side over the coming years.

Gareth Bale’s arrival in 2013 was the last time Madrid bought immediately for the first team, with players such as Isco, Jesus Vallejo, Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic and Marco Asensio – arguably Europe’s most promising talent – bought with time to accustom themselves to the demands of the club before being utilised fully.

Los Merengues start this season as clear favourites, both at home and in Europe, with an ominously-strong squad, led by a natural-born winner.

Real Sociedad

Coach: Eusebio Sacristan

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

Departures: Esteban Granero (Espanyol), Yuri Berchiche (Paris Saint-Germain), Markel Bergara (Getafe, loan), Alain Oyarzun (Zaragoza), Pablo Hervias (Eibar)

La Real’s top-six finish last season was no surprise for regular watches of Spanish football, with Eusebio Sacristan forging a well-drilled yet slick side, built on the club’s youth products.

Most of this summer has revolved around the Basques’ attempts to hold onto their stars, and so far, full-back Yuri Berchiche (PSG) is the only major exit, while Carlos Vela will join newly-formed Los Angeles FC in January.

Neither has Barcelona’s interest in commanding central defender Inigo Martinez has yet materialised in a transfer, nor did La Real lose goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli to Napoli.

The additions of Diego Llorente – who impressed on loan at Malaga last season – and Adnan Januzaj will add depth, but Eusebio’s side will be hoping for no more major activity and possibly bring in one or two more to cope with the demands of European football in addition to their domestic campaign.

Sevilla

Coach: Eduardo Berizzo

Arrivals: Ever Banega (Inter), Guido Pizarro (Tigres), Sebastian Corchia (Lille), Nolito, Jesus Navas (both Manchester City), Simon Kjaer (Fenerbahce), Luis Muriel (Sampdoria)

Departures: Mariano (Galatasaray), Adil Rami (Marseille), Vitolo (Atletico Madrid), Vicente Iborra (Leicester), Sebastian Cristoforo (Fiorentina), Yehven Konoplyanka (Schalke), Matias Kranevitter, Samir Nasri, Luciano Vietto, Matias Kranevitter (end of loans), Benoit Tremoulinas

Sevilla have undergone another summer of departures, but while this is not unusual, the exits of sporting director Monchi and Coach Jorge Sampaoli were harder to offset than any players.

Oscar Arias is now in charge of transfers and his first addition was boss Eduardo Berizzo from Celta Vigo, whose style of play is often compared to his predecessor.

Unlike previous summers, most of the players that have left the Sanchez Pizjuan have been ones sanctioned with the club’s blessing, Vitolo’s controversial move to Atletico Madrid being the only big blow to the playing staff.

The Andalusians have again recruited heavily – the returns of Ever Banega and Jesus Navas bring much more than just sentiment, while Nolito and Luis Muriel should significantly strengthen the club’s forward line.

Sebastian Corchia and Simon Kjaer replace Mariano and Adil Rami respectively as Sevilla once more aiming for a top-four finish.

Valencia

Coach: Marcelino

Arrivals: Neto, Simone Zaza (both Juventus), Nemanja Maksimovic (Astana)

Departures: Yoel Rodriguez (Eibar), Mathew Ryan (Brighton), Diego Alves (Flamengo), Enzo Perez (River Plate), Alvaro Negredo (Besiktas), Pablo Piatti (Espanyol), Aderlan Santos (Sao Paulo), Zakaria Bakkali (Deportivo, loan), Mario Suarez, Munir El Haddadi, Eliaquim Mangala, Guilherme Siqueira (end of loans)

It has been a strange summer for Valencia, which underlined the club’s tightening of their purse strings following years of heavy spending. Many first-team players have already left, with more expected to shrink their mammoth wage bill.

So far, Juventus goalkeeper Neto and Serbian midfielder Nemanja Maksimovic are the only significant additions, as well as a permanent deal for Simone Zaza, although more are expected to top up what is a thin squad.

Last season was disastrous for Los Che, who eventually finished 12th, having flirted with a relegation scrap for most of the campaign and going through three permanent Coaches.

Marcelino is well-regarded and brought European football to Villarreal, but the pressure and expectation at Valencia are on a different level and a stable infrastructure behind the scenes is not in place.

It’s tough to see a top-half finish at Mestalla as another season of reduced expectations awaits.

Villarreal

Coach: Fran Escriba

Arrivals: Enes Unal (Manchester City), Ruben Semedo (Sporting CP), Andres Fernandez (Porto), Pablo Fornals (Malaga), Carlos Bacca (Milan, loan)

Departures: Mateo Mussachio (Milan), Roberto Soldado (Fenerbahce), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Rafael Santos Borre, Jose Angel (end of loans)

The Yellow Submarine excelled last time out under Fran Escriba, appointed on the eve of the campaign to replace the dismissed Marcelino.

The former Getafe boss guided Villarreal to fifth in an impressive campaign, with only Atletico Madrid having conceded fewer goals.

An impressive summer has seen former Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca arrive on an initial, season-long loan to join an impressive attacking roster, which boasts Cedric Bakambu, Roberto Soriano and Enes Unal – signed from Manchester City.

Highly-rated Portuguese central defender Ruben Semedo arrives from Sporting CP to replace Mateo Musacchio, but a long-term injury to goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo is a major concern.

Nonetheless, Villarreal are a team to watch this season and possess a squad once more capable of challenging for a Champions League place.

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