2014-15 Season Review: Malaga, Espanyol, Rayo, Real Sociedad

Malaga have undergone a turbulent few years on and off the pitch, but a blend of defensive experience and trust in attacking youth has brought some much needed stability to La Rosaleda. Indeed, for a time Javi Gracia’s side looked like European hopefuls before they faded in La Liga’s second half.

Los Boquerones made 10 pre-season signings but all for a combined cost of a mere €1.8m, while the 2013 exodus of talent was followed by Willy Cabellero, Eliseu and Jesus Gamez in the summer before Roque Santa Cruz and Vitorino Antunes both departed over winter.

Ignacio Camacho was the outstanding performer, the young holding midfielder excelling and earned himself a first international cap in November. Carlos Kameni’s consistency meant World Cup star Guillermo Ochoa played second-fiddle, while Juanmi and Nordin Amrabat provided the goal threat.

Despite sliding from seventh to ninth late on in the season, Malaga improved two places on their 2014 finish despite further prudence and loss of talent in the transfer market. A satisfactory campaign that had promised more but included plenty of highs, particularly February’s 1-0 victory at Camp Nou – Barcelona’s only defeat in their previous 27 domestic outings.

A mid-table finish would have been welcomed with open arms at Espanyol, who had finished only three points above the relegation zone the previous campaign. A steady League showing was complemented by their run to the last four in the Copa del Rey – a 1-1 semi-final draw away to Athletic Bilbao put them as marginal favourites before going down 0-2 in Estadi Cornella-El Prat, which robbed them of a Catalan derby final against Barcelona

The summer appointment of Sergio Gonzalez was seen as a gamble but one that has so far paid off. Popular with both players and fans, he has also found a successful formula which has yielded a significant goal threat. Veteran Sergio Garcia netted 14 League goals, while South American striking partner Felipe Caicedo and Cristian Stuani bagged 21 between them. Lucas Vazquez – loaned from Real Madrid – proved an exciting addition, forming an effective right-sided link-up with right back Anaitz Arbilla.

Once again, Rayo Vallecano punched above their weight and once again, Coach Paco Jemez’s all-or-nothing approach won the hearts of neutrals as the suburban Madrid side produced another campaign of heart-stopping football. Jemez’s brand of high-pressing, high-tempo football guided the division’s poorest club well clear of the relegation dogfight.

The bad news for Rayo is that once again they are expected to lose star players for pittance – 17-goal hitman Alberto Bueno has already signed for Porto on a free. The former Derby striker has produced the form of his career in Vallecas, with a four-goal haul in 14 minutes against Levante the highlight. Others, including Gael Kakuta, Abdoulaye Ba, Emiliano Insua, and Lica, have seen their loan deals expire.

The good news for Los Franjirrojos is that they will keep their biggest star of all, as Jemez has put pen to paper for one more year. The flamboyant, colourful trainer’s carefree attitude to defending and emphasis on either winning or losing, often spectacularly, will light up La Liga for another 12 months at least.

Following fourth and seventh placed finishes, Real Sociedad’s expectations were lowered by the departures of star names Asier Illarramendi, Claudio Bravo and Antoine Griezmann – one each to the big three – over the past few summers. It was an odd campaign in many ways for the Basques, who defeated each of Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barca at their Anoeta home, with a different Coach at the helm for each.

David Moyes began his redemption from his Old Trafford experience in a culture, language and League previously alien to him, but he has managed to steady the ship and improve the fitness of a sluggish team. The San Sebastian side were in the bottom three in November when he took the reins, but were safe long before the season’s end. Wins over Barcelona and Sevilla were highlights but they lacked consistency – 11 draws in 27 League games under the Scot and only two wins in the last 10.

It is hard to judge how much progress has been made until Moyes has a transfer window to work with and a real opportunity to stamp his style on the side. Any success may be dependent on the superb, but often unfit, Carlos Vela.