Football Espana’s La Liga 2020-21 predictions

Football Espana writers Alan Feehely, Jon Driscoll, Feargal Brennan, David Whitworth, Will Faulks, Brendy Boyle, Alex Fitzpatrick and Cillian Shields have their say on how La Liga season will pan out…

The top four (in order):

Alan: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid. This title is truly Madrid’s to lose. Barca are in turmoil and it will be beyond them to mount a credible title challenge, but I still think that the presence of Lionel Messi elevates them above the chasing pack. Sevilla and Atléti will be strong outfits this season, more so than last year, but I’d be surprised if they challenge Madrid in a serious way.

Jon: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla. Real Madrid and Barça don’t have classic teams at the moment but I remain to be convinced that either Atleti or Sevilla will have the staying power to seize the moment.

Feargal: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal.

Barcelona’s season will be difficult due to the ongoing civil war at the club, but their star quality should be enough to keep them second.

Real Madrid’s squad are ageing in certain areas but Barcelona do not look in a position to challenge them.

Death, life taxes and Atletico Madrid finishing third, with Villarreal’s recruitment giving them an edge over Sevilla etc.

David: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla

Will: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona

Brendy: Real Madrid, Barca, Atleti, Villarreal

Alex: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid. Barcelona are in turmoil, or are they? With a club legend at the wheel, Messi staying another season, Fati on the rise and the return of Courtinho, I’m tipping a return to the top for Los Culés.

Cillian: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla. I think Atleti will fall just short of the title. They finished very strongly at the end of last year, in what must be remembered was a transitional year for Simeone’s charges after they lost around half of their starting XI in the summer of 2019. I would expect them to grow stronger again this year, but this will be dependent on whether they can find enough penetration in the forward line, which is what could be their downfall.

Real Madrid will pick up the title again in what won’t be a stellar year at the top of La Liga, perhaps winning it with a points tally in the mid-80s.

All signs point to turbulence at Barça, but while Messi is still there and eager, they can be capable of anything.

Sevilla are in an excellent position now with a talented manager getting a lot out of his team. If they can hang on to some key players in defence and attack, they should be able to grow even stronger this term.

Surprise team(s) of the season:

Alan: Cadiz. I think that Cadiz are playing with unmatched energy and enthusiasm, and that they could be this season’s surprise package. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a top ten finish for the league’s newest Andalusians.

Jon: Do Getafe still count as a surprise? They have kept Bordalas at the club which is crucial and added two energetic forwards. They should be able to improve on their near miss last season in the race for Europe.

Feargal: Cadiz. All eyes will be on Cadiz after their long-awaited top-flight return. Some solid recruitment in the summer has boosted them and Alvaro Cevera’s side could be an outside shout for a European spot.

David: Villarreal: Very good team and with Unai Emery knows the league like the back of his hand. Also Cadiz; if they sort out their consistancy from last year and get the goals from star signing Álvaro Negredo they could possibly beat the drop and with that a huge success.

Will: It would be fantastic to see Real Betis get back on track under Manuel Pellegrini. They’ve got plenty of talent, it just needs to be put together in the right way.

Brendy: Valladolid.

Alex: Real Betis have a new man at the helm to steady the ship and bring some much needed structure and organisation to the side on the pitch. If they can tighten up at the back then there is enough quality in the squad to win games and they will go from relegation worries to Europa League contenders in 20/21.

Cillian: Huesca to perform well and avoid relegation in the top-flight for the first time in their history. They will have the smallest or certainly one of the smallest budgets in the division, but they showed great spirit the last time they were in La Liga a couple of seasons ago and immediately returned to the top-flight. If they can take the lessons learned from their last campaign in the division, with a young, hungry manager in Míchel, they could be a surprise package this campaign.

Player(s) to watch this season:

Alan: Ansu Fati. Hewill get a real chance to shine for Barca this season. Their problems have created a situation where youth will get a chance, and Ansu, alongside Riqui Puig, is the best placed to make the most of it. We’ve all seen his performances for Spain this past week – he’s simply a special talent and will only get better.

Jon: Getting the best out of existing players will be crucial in a season with so little transfer activity. Can Ousmane Dembélé and Eden Hazard stay fit? If so, they could make the significant impact Barça and Real Madrid were hoping for when they spent big money on them. Philippe Coutinho reminded Barca why they were so desperate to sign him when he added to their humiliation against Bayern – can Koeman find him a role? Atleti will need overdue goals from Diego Costa or (to a lesser extent) Alvaro Morata to make a serious challenge for the title.

Feargal: Martin Odegaard. Odegaard’s premature return to Real Madrid following an outstanding seasons on loan demostrates how highly Zinedine Zidane rates him. He is a line for a key first team role in 2020-21 as Luka Modric is slowly phased out.

David: Martin Odegaard: Living up to his early hype and now much more mature and experienced. Can take advantage of lack of Galactico signings to step up and become a regular fixture in the side.

Ansu Fati: Recently scored for Spain breaking records along the way and he is primed to have a very good season.

Aitor Ruibal: The winger recently signed a new contract with Real Betis due to impressing new boss Manuel Pellegrini. Had a very good pre season and scored a wonderful goal along the way.

Will: It will be very difficult for Martin Odegaard to play as well as he did last season, but if he can establish himself in the first XI in Madrid early on it’s easy to imagine him excelling in a title winning side.

Brendy: Miguel Baeza (Celta), Yangel Herrera (Granada), Shon Weissman (Valladolid).

Alex: Takefusa Kubo will make he step from Mallorca to Villarreal seemlessly. Once he forces his way into the side he will benefit immensely from playing in a side with such attacking prowess in the final third. Ansu Fati will get more minutes and hit the goal streak with Messi acting as provider.

Cillian: Takefusa Kubo, Villarreal – The Japanese youngster did fantastically well in his debut season in La Liga on loan at Mallorca last season, and now he’ll be facing bigger and better challenges in a team that will demand him to step up, balancing European competition with a push for the top four. Villarreal are building a very exciting project this season, perhaps with an eye at cup glory after hiring Unai Emery, and Kubo could be the man to add some spark and magic to the attack.

David Silva, Real Sociedad – What a joy it’s going to be to see Silva back in Spain. La Real’s dynamic style of play last season was dealt a blow with the news that Martin Odegaard was being recalled to Real Madrid, but the former Manchester City midfielder has more than enough talent to replace the young Norwegian.

Marcos Llorente, Atletico Madrid – Although it’s been plenty of months already since we’ve heard about the idea of Llorente playing just behind the forward in Simeone’s team, in reality there haven’t been that many games to see the nominally defensive midfielder show his worth in the position. When he’s been deployed further up the field, he’s shown himself capable of having a big impact on games. A pre-season in learning the new role could be a complete rebirth for the player, and a full campaign in the new position could yield positive results for Atleti.

Best signing of the summer:

Alan: Ivan Rakitic. Back in Sevilla, the city and club of his heart, Rakitic will take his game to another level and prove to all his critics that he’s not too old to cut it, that he’s not a “sack of potatoes”. He’ll be the main man in Sevilla, both on and off the pitch, and will change his game to assume more creative responsibility.

Jon: It has not been an exciting transfer market, understandably with the uncertainty over club finances in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic but David Silva returning to Spain to play proper competitive football with Real Sociedad rather than take easy money elsewhere is great to see.

Feargal: Takefusa Kubo. Kubo was immediately loaned back out following his return from Mallorca to Madrid, joining Unai Emery’s Villarreal. He caught the eye in Mallorca last year, and in a better, and more attack-minded team he should thrive.

David: Takefusa Kubo: Amazing breakthrough season and expect more skills from the Japanese international with Villarreal.

Will: Oscar Rodriguez can continue his ascent and shine at Sevilla. They’ve built a fantastic platform for him to succeed from.

Brendy: Apart from Villarreal signing Valencia’s midfield, Shon Weismann (Valladolid).

Alex: The best signings in a fallow year will actually be players returning to their parent clubs after season’s out on loan. Martin Odegaard for Real Madrid and Philip Courtinho for Barcelona will have an impact on the destination of the LaLiga title.

Cillian: Dani Parejo, Villarreal from Valencia. I still cannot quite believe that any team was able to sign a player of Dani Parejo’s quality for free, or perhaps for a pittance in a double-deal with central midfield partner Francis Coquelin. Valencia wanted him off the wage bill and indeed out of the club for other reasons, but I can’t help but feel teams like Real Madrid, Atleti, or Barcelona could have offered €10 million and he could have done well. Regardless, I am happy to see him joining a very interesting and ambitious project at Villarreal alongside a hugely talented squad.

Which team(s) will underachieve:

Alan: Valencia. Their off-field problems have been documented at length. Selling Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo to a direct rival in Villarreal, and for pittance no less, is mind-boggling behaviour. They may not even secure a top-half finish.

Jon: Real Betis. Of course this question is relative but there is such volcanic potential at Betis that every season we have high hopes of something special happening. I am not sure that a tired-looking 66-year-old Manuel Pellegrini can unlock the magic.

Feargal: Getafe. Jose Bordalas’ side were squeezed out of a European spot in the final week of the restarted 2019-20 season. This could the season their thin squad are stretched too much, with the potential for a few more key exits before the transfer window closes.

David: Valencia as they have lots of problems there behind the scenes.

Will: Valencia is a boring answer, but I really think there is no telling how bad things could get. No reason they cannot get dragged into a relegation battle, at least early in the season. Expect three or more managers there before the end of the season!

Brendy: Osasuna and Alaves.

Alex: The Basque giants, Real Sociedad and Athletic Club Bilbao, look set to not hit the heights some might expect. Real Sociedad have had their best played pulled back to Real Madrid and finished the season weakly after the coronavirus restart, only sneaking Europe on the final day. With the Europa league to contend with too they may struggle. Athletic Club hit the skids and didn’t even make the Europa League. Their Basque only policy has limited their signing ability and they will struggle to get the goals to win games.

Getafe are another side who missed out. Bordelas seemed to be coming to the end of his cycle but has remained, perhaps it will turn out to be a foolish decision. An ageing squad and a high intensity press do not mix well.

Cillian: Off-field worries will likely seep into the performances of Barcelona. That combined with a new manager that hardly arrives with a glistening track record, (so-far) insufficient refreshing of the squad, and an unhappy captain that very publicly said he wants to leave. Valencia, too, look like they’re in for a tough year, and will underachieve compared to what a club of their stature should be aiming at, rather than what they look set to do this term.

Which teams will be relegated:

Alan: Alaves, Huesca, Elche. La Liga is a competitive competition and looking at the league and each club in it, Alaves, Huesca and Elche appear the weakest. Considering the quality of their squads, they are the three that will be in and around the relegation spots come the end of the season.

Jon: There are some underachieving teams in La Liga but no obviously bad ones so the three promoted clubs – Huesca, Cadiz and particularly Elche – will need a fair wind to survive.

Feargal: Celta Vigo, Huesca, Elche. Celta needed some final day luck to survive in 2019-20, but their slide looks to continue. Hueaca and Elche both look short on top-flight quality and experience.

David: Alaves, Huesca, Elche

Will: Elche, Valladolid, Huesca

Brendy: Elche, Huesca, Osasuna

Alex: Elche – too much to do in too little time and a new manager too. Not got enough going forward to take enough victories but may grind some draws here and there

Huesca – a plucky under dog but without the resources to compete
Alaves – Pablo Machin has his work cut out in turning round a side who had a woeful end to the last season and almost sunk out of La Liga all together. Machin is under pressure as another failure in La Liga might spell the end of his top level managerial career

Cillian: Celta Vigo, Alaves, Elche