Since Osasuna narrowly avoided relegation in 2008-09, the club has made steady improvement culminating in last season’s creditable seventh-place finish. Much of that was down to influential loan signing Raul Garcia whose 11 goals and eight assists propelled Los Rojillos into contention for the European places.
The highlight of the campaign was undoubtedly the 3-2 victory over Barcelona that was apt revenge for the 8-0 hammering dished out by the Catalans earlier in the season.
Nevertheless, the manner of similarly one-sided defeats against Real Madrid – 7-1 and 5-1 – and Rayo Vallecano – 6-0 – will remain a concern for Coach Jose Luis Mendilibar. This latter performance convinced the club to snap up Rayo centre-half Alejandro Arribas for 2012-13 and his presence will be crucial in improving a back line that recorded the fourth worst defensive record in La Liga.
In the nimble Sisi and gangly Nano, Mendilibar has acquired two contrasting left-wingers. Neither player fulfilled the early promise that saw both feature regularly for Spain’s youth teams and will be desperate to show their worth in the top half of the table. It is a similar story for Argentine 2005 FIFA World Youth Cup winner Emiliano Armenteros, who joins from Sevilla after some impressive form at Rayo Vallecano.
Up top the absence of last season’s line-leader Ibrahima Balde will be keenly felt, but it is hoped that Joseba Llorente recaptures his free-scoring Villarreal form after a mixed spell at Real Sociedad.
Like many clubs in La Liga, it is a cobbled together collection of signings that has been assembled at minimal cost. With the budget tight – Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium is one of the smallest in the Primera Division – Mendilibar will do well to replicate last season’s top-half finish.
The difference maker – Francisco Punal
The aggressive midfield anchor may now be 36-years-old but he remains a pivotal part of Mendilibar’s game plan. A near ever-present last year, the club captain will need to marshall all his experience to bring together what almost amounts to a new midfield in the season ahead.
Best signing – Joseba Llorente
Journeyman striker Llorente comes to Pamplona on the back of a goalless season with Real Sociedad. Joining on loan, the 32-year-old will be expected to fill the boots of Balde who moves to Kuban Krasnodar for €3.8million.
His time? Alvaro Cejudo
Talented attacking midfielder whose creativity brought him 7 assists last campaign and now, at 28-years-old, has the opportunity to step out of the shadows of the departing Raul Garcia and Javad Nekounam this term.
Coach – Jose Luis Mendilibar
The departure of Osasuna’s best performers has reduced the opportunity for Mendilibar to build on last year’s solid campaign where physical but often effective football was the norm. A season of consolidation is likely for the passionate Coach who will be looking to improve on the occasional tactical naivety that saw Osasuna fall to some confidence-shattering defeats.
The big question…
Where will the goals come from in the absence of last season’s top scorers – Balde and Raul Garcia?
Probable line-up: Fernandez ; Bertran, Flano, ARRIBAS, Lolo; Cejudo, Punal, ARMENTEROS, SISI ; Nino, LLORENTE
IN: Armenteros (m, Sevilla), Arribas (d, Rayo Vallecano), Llorente (a, Real Sociedad), Nano (m, Numancia), Sisi (m, Real Valladolid).
OUT: Balde (a, Kuban Krasnodar), Lekic (a, Genclerbirligi), Nekounam (m, Esteghlal), Oscar Vega (a, Leganes), Ricardo (gk, released), Sergio (d, Sporting).