Athletic Bilbao started the season by making history, beating Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup – their first trophy in 30 years. They would end the campaign with a flourish, a 3-1 win at home to Sevilla, which propelled them to fifth place. Praise must go to Coach Ernesto Valverde and his players.
However, the shining star of their efforts was their veteran striker, 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz. At times he was prolific for the Basques, whether in La Liga, the Copa Del Rey or the Europa League. His statistics speak for themselves: 20 goals in 34 League games and 10 goals in 11 matches in the Europa League.
Add the six goals scored in the Super Cup and the Copa Del Rey and that's 36 goals this season. Making Spain’s 25-man provisional squad for Euro 2016 is just reward for becoming the leading Spanish striker this season. How Los Leones hope Aduriz can replicate that devastating form next season.
As for Celta Vigo, sixth place is a notable achievement, even if they faded in 2016 when there had been talk of Os Celestes entering the Champions League places. Nolito and Iago Aspas had been pinpointed as key players back in August and they demonstrated their importance by spearheading the Galicians’ push into the Europa League. Aspas scored 14 goals while Nolito managed 12, and both attackers proved their value not only in scoring but also creating goals too.
Though Celta will face a fight to hold onto Nolito this summer there is reason to be hopeful for the future. Confirmation Coach Eduardo Berizzo has signed a new 12 month deal will help them prepare for the summer as European football beckons on the west coast.
Sevilla’s season was one of contrasts. On one hand they failed to win a single League game away from home. However, their strong home form allowed them to finish seventh, as well as reach the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona. Los Rojiblancos also reached the Europa League Final against Liverpool, offering the chance for the riches of the Champions League, further elevating Unai Emery’s reputation and brightening an inconsistent campaign.
One positive was striker Kevin Gameiro. The sale of Carlos Bacca to Milan meant the 29-year-old had to step up to fill the Colombian’s boots. The Frenchman had previously been known as a super-sub who could score crucial goals when needed. Now, Gameiro leads the line, paying back Emery’s trust in him. 16 goals in La Liga is a respectable figure but it was in the Europa League where he was unstoppable, leading the charge to the final.
Malaga finishing in eighth place embodies the talents of Coach Javi Gracia. Last summer was unkind to Los Boquerones. Several of their top performers were sold: Sergi Darder to Lyon, Nordin Amrabat to Watford and Juanmi to Southampton along with Samuel and Samu Castillejo to Villarreal. Many coaches would struggle after having their creative and attacking players sold for profit – even if €41.5m was generated from those transfers.
But to Gracia’s credit, he put to excellent use the resources he was permitted. 32-year-old striker Charles was bought for just €500,000 yet his 12 League goals helped Malaga avoid getting drawn into a relegation fight. In addition, Gracia made shrewd loan acquisitions, with forward Duje Cop scoring six goals and contributing three assists. Sooner or later bigger clubs will look at Gracia who, at 46, has a bright future.