After another summer of departures, which saw the likes of Alberto Moreno, Federico Fazio and – most significantly – Ivan Rakitic leave the club, Sevilla did their best to minimise the damage with permanent deals for Nicolas Pareja and Stephane Mbia, the loan acquisition of Barcelona hotshot Denis Suarez and the arrival of the relatively-untested Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak.
Unai Emery’s troops would quickly gel as a run of seven wins in their first nine matches fired them to as high as second place in La Liga, before a mini-slump of three games, including their heaviest defeat of the season – the 5-1 reverse to a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona – dumped them out of the top four, with another fifth-place finish seemingly the best they could hope for.
Nonetheless, another blip in January, a season-ending injury for No 1 goalkeeper Beto and Copa del Rey disappointment aside, Sevilla pushed Valencia all the way in the race for Champions League qualification, eventually missing out by a single point. Better yet, the disappointment was short-lived as they reached Europe’s elite club competition thanks to another Europa League title.
Villarreal, meanwhile, started the season in respectable fashion, losing to just Barcelona and Real Madrid, until a 3-1 loss to League rivals Sevilla in late October signalled a run of four games without a win. Fortunately, summer arrivals Denis Cheryshev and Luciano Vietto quickly clicked into gear and helped to fire the Yellow Submarine towards an 18-game unbeaten streak – a club record.
Their run came to an end on February 1, when they were defeated 3-2 by Barca in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, and despite a temporary return to form in their next six, Marcelino’s team would endure a miserable run between March and May. Remarkably, they had held sixth place since Week 13, only secured by the virtue of the fact that the rest of the chasing pack were equally as inconsistent.
However, it would be harsh to comment on Villarreal’s bad sequence of results without acknowledging that they were without captain Bruno Soriano for most of the second round and lost both Sergio Asenjo and Mateo Musacchio to serious injuries. In addition, the likes of Giovani dos Santos and top goal scorer Vietto suffered various setbacks over the course of the campaign.
In seventh, Athletic Bilbao’s season could be classified as a case of Jekyll and Hyde. Having languished as low as 18th in Week 7, with the side arguably suffering as a result of reaching the Champions League group stage via a playoff victory over Napoli in August, the Basques slowly climbed out of relegation trouble and then lost just four more times after January 21.
Athletic’s efforts were significantly bolstered by Aritz Aduriz’s 18 goals, 13 of which came in the last three months of the season, despite the striker’s advancing years. Their campaign isn’t over just, however, as they can end a 31-year wait for a major trophy on May 30, when they compete in the Copa del Rey final against League champions Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Last but not least, Celta Vigo proved there was life after Luis Enrique as his successor Eduardo Berizzo guided them to eighth – their best placing in La Liga since 2005-06. Yet, it could have been even better for the Galicians as they lost just one of their first 10 matches, among them a 1-0 victory at Barca, and clung onto sixth for five of the opening 10 weeks.
Celta then embarked on a shocking run of eight defeats in their next 10 and fell to 12th ahead of the 30th round, but a strong end to the season, aided by Santi Mina and Nolito’s regular stream of goals, the former netting four in a 6-1 demolition of Rayo Vallecano, allowed them to stay in with a shout of European qualification until the aftermath of their penultimate 1-1 draw with Valencia.