2016-17 Season Preview: Malaga

Coach: Juande Ramos

Key signings: Sandro Ramirez, Keko, Diego Llorente, Zdravko Kuzmanovic

Key departures: Duje Cop, Raul Albentosa, Christian Atsu, Roque Santa Cruz

Last season: 8th

This season (predicted finish): 8th

New-look Malaga will be looking to improve on last season’s eighth-place finish and banish any thoughts of flirting with the lower reaches of the table as early as possible. Former Sevilla, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur boss Juande Ramos is the man chosen to replace the departed Javi Gracia, who has joined Rubin Kazan, and he has wasted no time in overhauling the squad he has inherited. Consequently, Malaga have been one of the most proactive clubs in Spain over the summer as Ramos recognised the group needed a more youthful look, with a third of its members aged 30 or over.

On the face of it, the defence did not need much change, having conceded just 35 goals last term and bettered only by the top three in the division, but Ramos is a Coach who likes to build attacks from the back. As a result, central defenders Diego Llorente and Bakary Kone have been brought in from Real Madrid and Lyon respectively, while at the same time the option to purchase on-loan Raul Albentosa – a rock at the back last term – was declined. The departure of reserve goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to Granada, though, has left Carlos Kameni with no immediate rivals for the No 1 jersey, and a backup stopper should arrive before the close of the transfer window.

Ramos prefers his teams to attack with pace and width; to this effect, speedy wingers Keko (Eibar) and Jony (Sporting Gijon) have been signed to supply the ammunition for new additions Michael Santos (River Plate de Montevideo) and Sandro Ramirez (Barcelona) – the latter of which has the potential to be one of the most astute buys of the season – and last year’s top scorer Charles. Sporting director Francesc Arnau is also seeking another striker, although the emergence of Youssef En-Nasyri, who has scored six goals in the warm-up games, means it is not such a priority as the youngster may find himself with a squad number come the end of August.

Even so, much will depend on whether midfield lynchpin Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Camacho remains with Los Blanquiazules. The Spain international has been the subject of interest from both Italy and England over the past few months, and Malaga have reacted to his possible departure by acquiring the experienced Zdravko Kuzmanovic on loan from Basel. Furthermore, the Costa del Sol outfit will want to get off to a better start than last term, when they failed to register a single goal in the opening six games – a La Liga record – and touched bottom of the table in early December, before going on a season-changing run.

An unbeaten preseason, admittedly against some sides of obviously inferior quality, has given Malaga supporters much cause for optimism and the early indications have been good. Some have even suggested there could be a surprise challenge for the Champions League places, although a more realistic aim would appear to be Europa League qualification.