La Liga 2015/16 Preview

The two best teams. The two best players. La Liga is back this Friday. Barcelona won the treble last season but can Real Madrid bounce back or will it be another team from the Spanish capital to upset the big boys?

Note: All transfers up to date as of 17 August 2015

 

Athletic Club de Bilbao Manager: Ernesto Valverde. Last season: 7th

In: Gorka Elustondo (Real Sociedad), Javi Eraso (Leganés), Eneko Bóveda (Eibar).

Out: Andoni Iraola (New York City), Gaizka Toquero (Alavés), Unai Albizua, Unai Bustinza and Guillermo (Leganés), Erik Morán (Real Zaragoza), Joe Aurtenetxe (Tenerife).

Transfer grade: B

What’s in store: Athletic struggled at the start of last season with the added demands of Champions League football. Luckily Ernesto Valverde’s men had a much more positive second half of the season and ended up finishing in the Europa League positions. This summer the club has not had to sell any players for big money but they have lost experienced ones such as Iraola and Toquero. Bettering last season’s 7th place finish will be a challenge.

Key player: Artiz Aduriz

The forward remains their most potent attacking threat but the Basque will not be able to keep relying on him for much longer. At 34 years of age he is nearing the end of his career and the team need another player to shoulder the goal scoring burden. To give you an example Aduriz scored 26 goals in almost 50 games last season. The next highest goal scorer for Bilbao was Mikel San José with 8 and he is a defender!

One to watch: Borja Viguera

Perhaps the 28-year-old striker could be a solution for Bilbao’s reliance on Aduriz. Viguera did not have much game time last season and scored only two goals. This season he might be afforded more time on the pitch and will be able to show his goal-scoring prowess that he earned at Alavés where he scored 46 goals in 86 appearances.

Predicted finish: 9th. Predicted Europa League run: Round of 16

 

Atlético de Madrid Manager: Diego Simeone. Last season: 3rd

In: Jackson Martínez (Porto), Stefan Savić (Fiorentina), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Monaco), Luciano Vietto (Villarreal), Filipe Luís (Chelsea), Bernard Mensah (Vitória de Guimarães).

Out: Arda Turan (Barcelona), Mario Mandžukić (Juventus), Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Mario Suárez (Fiorentina), Raúl Jiménez (Benfica), Miranda (Inter), Emiliano Insúa (Stuttgart), Cristian Rodríguez (Independiente), Léo Baptistão (Villarreal), Bernard Mensah (Getafe – loan), Rubén Pérez (Granada), Javier Manquillo (Marseille).

Transfer grade: A+

What’s in store: It always surprises me to see how much money Atlético Madrid spend in the transfer window when they are still heavily in debt. The Colchoneros have spent the most money in La Liga so far and Diego Simeone has done a great job at rebuilding the squad. The Argentine has brought in a number of young players replacing the ones with higher salaries that have now moved on. Atleti will be closer to the top two this season but will lack the extra spark that took them title 2 years ago. On the European front, Simeone’s tactical nous will prevail and they will once again reach the final.

Key player: Antoine Griezmann

The only player Atlético have to make sure stays at the club along with Diego Godín. His hairstyle might be questionable but his ability in front of goal certainly isn’t. He scored as many goals as Neymar (22) last season. Much of this is down to Simeone’s moulding of the player. He is no longer an out-and-out winger, rather he is an accomplished forward. With a lot of competition for places up front, we will see whether the Frenchman keeps his role or gets moved back out onto the wings.

One to watch: Stefan Savić

The new signing from Fiorentina will be hoping to improve on the last time he made a move to a Champions League team (Manchester City, where he only lasted one season). The Montenegrin will replace Miranda at the heart of the defence and will have to strike up a partnership with Godín very quickly.

Predicted finish: 3rd. Predicted Champions League run: Final

 

FC Barcelona   Manager: Luis Enrique. Last season: Champions

In: Arda Turan (Atlético Madrid), Aleix Vidal (Sevilla).

Out: Adama Traoré (Aston Villa), Gerard Deulofeu (Everton), Martín Montoya (Inter), Xavi (Al-Sadd), Ibrahim Afellay (Stoke City).

Transfer grade: B+

What’s in store: More of the same will be the expectation from the Barcelona board this season. They might have won everything in 2014-15 but slight cracks are starting to appear. The Blaugrana got thumped 5-1 on aggregate in the Spanish Super Cup and are under a transfer embargo, which means that they won’t be able to play new signings until January. There have also been reports of disagreements between Luis Enrique and the dressing room. Much of this pales into insignificance though when you see their front three of Luís Suárez, Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Key player: Luís Suárez

Key player does not mean key extra-terrestrial, which is why Suárez is here instead of Messi. The Uruguayan added another dimension to Barcelona’s attack without any of the vampire drawbacks that were seen in the Premier League and the World Cup. The understanding between Barça’s front three is phenomenal and that took them the extra step to Champions League glory. Barcelona fans will be eagerly anticipating what damage Suárez can do in a whole season… as long as it doesn’t involve his teeth.

One to watch: Rafinha

It’s hard to be ‘one to watch’ when you play for the best club in the world. However Rafinha, brother to Bayern Munich’s Thiago, showed substantial potential last season. With the departure of Pedro Rodríguez imminent and Luis Enrique having the tendency to rest his squad, Rafinha can show his boss that he deserves to play for this team.

Predicted finish: Champions. Predicted Champions League run: Final

 

Getafe CF   Manager: Fran Escribá. Last season: 15th

In: Balázs Megyeri (Olympiakos), Moi Gómez (Villarreal), Bernard Mensah (Atlético Madrid), Damián Suárez (Elche), Cala (Granada), Santiago Vergini (Sunderland), Víctor Rodríguez (Elche).

Out: Sergio Escudero (Sevilla), Jordi Codina (APOEL Nicosia), Diego Castro (Perth Glory), Jonathan López (PAE Veria), Álvaro Arroyo and 2 other released.

Transfer grade: B-

What’s in store: Getafe start their 11th season in the top flight of Spanish football. New coach Fran Escribá has had virtually no money to spend on new players and has had to rely on free transfers and loans. The manager was however the architect of an Elche team which surprised everyone last season, finishing 12th before being relegated due to unpaid tax debts . Survival is the main objective.

Key player: Pedro León

Part of the long list of Spanish hopefuls that never made the cut at Real Madrid, Pedro León returned to Getafe to rediscover his form that led Los Blancos to spend 10 million euros on him. León has a decent record for the Azulones and at 28 he will be entering the peak of his career.

One to watch: Bernard Mensah

The Ghanian attacking midfielder was signed for 10 million euros by Atlético de Madrid from Vitória de Guimarães but has been shipped out on loan to Getafe to get some La Liga experience. The 20-year-old will further add to Pedro León’s creative input.

Predicted finish: 17th

 

Granada CF   Manager: José Ramón Sandoval. Last season: 17th

In: Rene Krihn (Inter), Adriane Hernández (Eldense), Rubén Pérez (Atlético Madrid), Yrondu Musavu-King (Caen), David Lombán (Elche), Gaspar Iñiguez and Nico López (Udinese), Miguel Lopes (Sporting Lisbon), Andrés Fernández (Porto), Robert Ibáñez (Valencia), Edgar Méndez (Almería).

Out: Jeison Murillo (Inter), Alfredo Ortuño (Las Palmas), Cala (Getafe), Diego Buonanotte (AEK Athens), Mavroudis Bougiadis (Panthrakikos), Josan (Alcorcón), Manuel Iturra (Udinese), Roberto Fernández (Lugo), Borja Gómez (Real Oviedo), Daniel Larsson (Gaziantepspor).

Transfer grade: C

What’s in store: Granada just about managed to save their skin last season in the last few games with new coach José Ramón Sandoval. In the transfer window it’s been the usual merry-go-round of players coming and going. They have not brought in more goal scoring firepower and will struggle to stay up. Sandoval will also struggle to keep his job given that six different managers have been appointed at the club since the start of 2012.

Key player: Youssef El-Arabi

The Moroccan is Granada’s main goal threat, which is why he has to stay fit at all times. In just under 100 appearances he has scored 28 goals. In a team that is absolutely starved for goals (only 29 in 2014-15), El-Arabi is the one most likely to put the ball in the net.

One to watch: Isaac Success

The Nigerians seem to have a penchant for funny names (Bastia midfielder Sunday Mba and former president Goodluck Jonathan spring to mind). Success is young at only 19 but time is on his but he will have to show that he is worthy of a place on the starting line up or on the bench as there is a lot of competition for places

Predicted finish: 18th

 

 Levante UD   Manager: Lucas Alcaraz. Last season: 14th

In: Deyverson (Belenenses), Ángel Trujillo, Rubén and Verza (Almería), Zouhair Feddal (Parma), Jefferson Lerma (Huila), Nabil Ghilas (Porto).

Out: Iván Ramis (Eibar), David Barral (Al-Dhafra), Loukas Vyntra (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Andreas Ivanschitz (Seattle Sounders), Mohammed Sissoko (Shanghai Shenhua), Kalu Uche and Papakouli Diop (Released).

Transfer grade: B

What’s in store: Another team that was in difficulty before a new manager stepped in. Alcaraz still needs to resolve the defensive issues (67 goals conceded in 2014-15, only Rayo Vallecano and Córdoba conceded more). In the transfer market the Valencians have gone for the buy players from teams that have been relegated tactic (3 from Almería and 1 from Parma). Buying one more striker might be a good idea.

Key player: Juanfran

The 39-year-old is still going strong at Levante and was recently offered a one-year contract extension to stay with the club. With over 350 games played in La Liga he brings real experience to the Granotes and even though he cannot start every game, he is a great leader for the team.

One to watch: Verza

Along with Ángel Trujillo and Rubén, Verza has been coaxed from relegated Almería. The midfielder was an ever-present in the Rojiblancos starting eleven and will take over following Mohamed Sissoko’s departure to Shanghai Shenhua.

Predicted finish: 13th

 

Málaga CF   Manager: Javi Gracia. Last season: 9th

In: Nordim Amrabat (Galatasaray), Adnane Tighaduoini (NAC Breda), Duje Cop (Cagliari), Charles (Celta Vigo), Fábio Espinho (Ludogorets Razgrad), Juan Carlos (Braga), Raúl Albentosa (Derby).

Out: Samuel, Samu Castillejo (Villarreal), Juanmi (Southampton), Francisco Portillo (Betis), Sergio Sánchez (Panathinaikos), Ezequiel Rescaldani (Puebla), Bobley Anderson (Released).

Transfer grade: C

What’s in store: Málaga just missed out on a place in the Europa League last season. Owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani says he wants to keep hold of the club and reduce debts despite interest from a Chinese consortium. This means that the Andalusians will have to keep selling their best players including Samu and Samuel Castillejo. This will make it difficult for Javi Gracia to get the Boquerones fighting for a place in Europe.

Key player: Weligton

The defender along with others (Camacho, Duda etc.) has been through the pain of Málaga’s rags to riches ascension and then back to down again. He only started playing professional football when he was well into his 20s but in 7 years has made almost 200 La Liga appearances for Málaga and will once again be in the starting line-up.

One to watch: Adnane Tighadouni

A decent prospect. Málaga signed him for only 1 million euros from NAC Breda this summer, where he scored an impressive 14 goals in 33 matches. He is fast and has a box of tricks, which will no doubt please the crowd at La Rosaleda.

Predicted finish: 11th

 

Rayo Vallecano   Manager: Paco Jémez. Last season: 11th

In: Juan Carlos (Córdoba), Ousseymou Cissé (Dijon), Patrick Ebert (Spartak Moscow), Diego Llorente (Real Madrid Castilla), José Dorado (Villarreal), Luis Fariña and Bebé (Benfica), Chengdong Zhang (Beijing Guoan).

Out: Alberto Bueno (Porto), Jorge Morcillo (Almería), Álex Moreno (Elche), Alejandro Pozuelo (Released).

Transfer grade: B-

What’s in store: Paco Jémez is doing a great job with the Franjirrojos, guiding them consistently to mid-table finishes or better. For 2015-16 they have lost top scorer and runner-up in the Zarra trophy Alberto Bueno who has moved on to Porto. Jémez has brought in experience in the form of Dorado to plug the leakiest defence in the league last season. The Vallecanos should be looking at keeping their place in mid-table once again.

Key player: Miku

Given, he hasn’t scored more than 10 goals in a season since 2011-12 with Getafe and he has spent the last two years out in the Qatari wilderness. Nevertheless with Bueno gone, Miku could be given a serious run in the first-team and he will have to repay manager Jémez back in the form of goals.

One to watch: Patrick Ebert

The German is back in La Liga after a failed experiment at Spartak Moscow. The winger showed at Real Valladolid what an important player he was, helping save them from relegation. He will be willing to prove that he is still good enough for Spanish football.

Predicted finish: 12th

 

Real Betis   Manager: Pepe Mel. Last season: 1st (Promoted)

In: Germán Pezzella (River Plate), Petros (Corinthians), Cristiano Piccini (Fiorentina), Francisco Portillo (Málaga), Foued Kadir (Marseille), Amro Tarek (El Gouna), Rafael van der Vaart and Heiko Westermann (Hamburg), Didier Digard (Nice), Juan Manuel Varfas (Fiorentina).

Out: Chuli (Almería), Cedrick (Colmbus), Nono (Elche), Salvador Agra (Nacional), Jorge Casado (Ponferradino), Héctor Rodas (Córdoba), Dani Pacheco (Alavés).

Transfer grade: A

What’s in store: What’s Spanish for ‘wheeling and dealing’? That’s what Real Betis and new sporting director Eduardo Maciá have been doing this summer transfer window. A mix of experienced players and unknown quantities have joined the Seville team and it will be seen whether Pepe Mel can get them working together efficiently. Moreover his second term has been successful so far with a promotion and the club will hope for a mid-table finish.

Key player: Rubén Castro

For all the arrivals and departures, striker Rubén Castro still remains the main man up front. The striker has a spectacular scoring record for the Verdiblancos and is in fact their top scorer of all time. He averages less than a goal every two games and is lethal in front of the keeper.

One to watch: Rafael van der Vaart

This is of course not the Dutchman’s first taste of La Liga having played for Real Madrid. Nevertheless his career has been in decline since he re-joined Hamburg and this move might be his last chance to prove that he is still a fine player.

Predicted finish: 14th

 

Celta de Vigo   Manager: Eduardo Berizzo. Last season: 8th

In: Iago Aspas (Sevilla), Daniel Wass (Évian), John Guidetti (Manchester City).

Out: Santi Mina and Yoel Rodríguez (Valencia), Charles (Málaga), Joaquín Larrivey (Baniyas), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Sevilla), Samuel Llorca (Real Valladolid), Álex López (Sheffield Wednesday), Borja Oubiña (Retired).

Transfer grade: B+

What’s in store: Argentine Eduardo Berizzo has carried on Luis Enrique’s good work and Celta are now a force to be reckoned with due to their high intensity style of play. The transfer window has been relatively quiet but Celta have replaced any departures adequately. Breaching the top 6 stronghold will be very difficult but it is not completely out of the question as Celta will have no European commitments.

Key player: Nolito

Nolito is to Celta what Messi is to Barcelona. This is why it is vital that the Galician club keep him beyond the transfer window. He orchestrates the play from the front and for the last two seasons has been in irresistible form. For example he scored 11 goals and provided 13 assists in La Liga last season and if he can link up well with new signing Iago Aspas then we could see a very dynamic Celta attack.

One to watch: Daniel Wass

Daniel Wass is one of the players I am most looking forward to watching play in La Liga this season. Signed from relegated Évian, he is versatile and consistent in attack and will replace his Danish counterpart Michael Krohn-Dehli. He could be one of the surprise packages of the season.

Predicted finish: 8th

 

Deportivo La Coruña   Manager: Víctor Sánchez. Last season: 16th

In: Lucas Pérez (PAOK), Cani (Villarreal), Fernando Navarro and Alejandro Arribas (Sevilla), Fayçal Fajr and Pedro Mosquera (Elche), Luis Alberto (Liverpool), Celso Borges (AIK), Federico Cartabia (Valencia), Oriol Riera (Wigan).

Out: Hélder Postiga (Atlético de Kolkata), Diego Seoane (Ponferradina), Toché (Real Oviedo), Isaac Cuenca (Bursaspor), Cezary Wilk (Real Zaragoza), Luis Fernández (Huesca), Pablo Insua (Leganés).

Transfer grade: B+

What’s in store: Fan favourite Víctor Sánchez returned just in time to guide Deportivo La Coruña to safety last time out. The Galicians have been hard at work in the transfer window and have brought in many players. The team certainly has experience but once again there will probably be a battle to avoid the drop and given that Deportivo have been relegated twice in the last 5 years, they are one of the favourites.

Key player: Álex Bergantiños

The defensive midfielder has played in almost 150 games for the Blanquiazules and links up play well in the middle of the park. The Spaniard shields the defence, breaks up attacks and will add solidity to the midfield.

One to watch: Fayçal Fajr

The Moroccan did not have a great season with Elche as he struggled to establish himself in the first team. He has moved to La Coruña and could be a very valuable asset if he can replicate the form that he had in Caen.

Predicted finish: 16th

 

RCD Espanyol   Manager: Sergio González.   Last season: 10th

In: Gerard Moreno and Hernán Pérez (Villarreal), Lucas Vázquez and Burgui (Real Madrid Castilla), Francesco Bardi (Inter), Michaël Ciani (Sporting Lisbon).

Out: Kiko Casilla and Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid), Héctor Moreno (PSV), Christian Stuani (Middlesbrough), Sergio García (Al-Rayyan), Sergio Tejera (Gimnàstic), Manuel Lanzarote (Asteras Tripolis), Carlos Clerc (Girona), Diego Colotto and Felipe Mattioni (Released).

Transfer grade: B-

What’s in store: Sergio González has risen up the Espanyol coaching ladder and took a satisfying 10th place finish in his first season as a La Liga manager. Kiko Casilla and Héctor Moreno have been replaced by Francesco Bardi and Michaël Ciani respectively. More worrying is the departure of Sergio García to Al-Rayyan. Taking these factors into account, another top half would be a great success for González.

Key player: Felipe Caicedo

Without Sergio García, the goal-scoring void will most likely have to be filled by the Ecuadorian. Still only 26, it feels as if he has been around forever but he struck 12 times last season in all competitions and looks ready to lead the line.

One to watch: Francesco Bardi

It will be a big task to replace Kiko Casillla, who has headed off to Real Madrid. He has already been sent on loan to three different Italian clubs but will now see whether he can perform in La Liga as he only made 10 appearances for Chievo Verona last season.

Predicted finish: 10th

 

Real Madrid   Manager: Rafa Benítez. Last season: 2nd

In: Mateo Kovačić (Inter), Danilo (Porto), Kiko Casilla and Lucas Vázquez (Espanyol), Jesús Vallejo (Real Zaragoza), Marco Asensio (Real Mallorca).

Out: Sami Khedira (Juventus), Fernando Pacheco (Alavés), Iker Casillas (Porto).

Transfer grade: C+

What’s in store: Real Madrid are in a bit of a limbo at the moment. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked at the end of last season and long standing goalkeeper Iker Casillas has left the club. Rafa Benítez was probably not the fans’ ideal replacement and is a stopgap solution. So far the Merengues have not been as active in the transfer market as usual and the team has not been strengthened enough to challenge Barcelona. They could regress in 2015-16.

Key player: Luka Modrić

Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly Real’s star player, exactly like Messi is for Barcelona. However, it is no coincidence that Los Blancos’s form dipped when Modrić got injured. The Croatian was instrumental in their Champions League victory in 2013-14 and they really missed him at key moments last season, which is why Benítez will hope to recover his full ability for 2015-16.

One to watch: Jesé Rodríguez

2015-16 will be a pivotal season for Jesé’s future at Real Madrid. Last season Ancelotti admitted that he would play the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) at all times if available, which left the Spaniard out in the cold. His luck might change under Benítez, who is known for rotating his squad.

Predicted finish: 2nd. Predicted Champions League run: Quarter Final

 

Real Sociedad   Manager: David Moyes. Last season: 12th

In: Jonathas (Elche), Bruma (Galatasaray), David Concha (Racing Santander), Diego Reyes (Porto).

Out: Alfred Finnbogason (Olympiakos), Daniel Estrada (Alavés), Gorka Elustondo (Bilbao), Diego Ifrán (Peñarol), Marco Sangalli (Mirandés), Jon Gaztañaga (Numancia), Pablo Hervías (Real Oviedo), Eñaut Zubikarai and 2 others released.

Transfer grade: B+

What’s in store: David Moyes has settled nicely in Spain. The Scot led La Real to 12th place and they could progress further this season. The Scot has so far made dos, tres, cuatro signings and gotten rid of deadwood. Moyes also has a great reputation of developing young players at Everton and will be benefitted massively by the cantera (youth academy) of La Real. A Europa League spot would represent real progress for the Basque club.

Key player: Carlos Vela

The Mexican had a disappointing Gold Cup but has been producing very consistent performances for La Real in the last few seasons. Vela usually plays just behind the striker and his attacking movement makes it difficult for defenders to track him.

One to watch: Artiz Elustondo

The young Spaniard has played for the Real Sociedad B team in the last couple of seasons and is now ready to make the step up to the first team. In 2015-16 he will fight with fellow countryman Joseba Zaldúa for the starting right-back spot and will have to prove to Moyes that he is up to the task.

Predicted finish: 7th

 

Real Sporting de Gijón  Manager: Abelardo Fernández. Last season: 2nd (Promoted)

In: Antonio Sanabria (Roma), Omar Mascarell (Real Madrid Castilla).

Out: Álex Serrano (Espanyol B), Santi Jara), Ivan Hernández and 1 other player released.

Transfer grade: C-

What’s in store: Sporting de Gijón got promoted automatically in 2014-15 by virtue of having scored two more goals than Girona FC. Whilst losing only two games all season was impressive, drawing 19 of them wasn’t. The Rojiblancos will have to make sure that they have the cutting edge to beat the teams around them if they want to survive in La Liga. There have not been enough signings and Abelardo Fernández should look to add a couple of more new faces.

Key player: Iván Cuéllar

The goalkeeper was in excellent form last season as the team conceded just 27 goals in 42 games. He will have to be at his best again if Sporting want to survive this season. Cuéllar will also have to marshal his defence to ensure solidity and rigidity.

One to watch: Antonio Sanabria

The former Barcelona prospect has had little playing time in Serie A for Roma and Sassuolo. He returns to Spanish football in the top flight with Sporting de Gijón. The Uruguayan has great speed and acceleration but will have to be given more game time to fulfil his potential.

Predicted finish: 19th

 

Sevilla CF    Manager: Unai Emery. Last season: 5th

In: Steven N’Zonzi (Stoke City), Gaël Kakuta (Chelsea), Mariano (Bordeaux), Adil Rami (AC Milan), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund), Sergio Escudero (Getafe), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Celta Vigo), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Dnipro).

Out: Carlos Bacca (AC Milan), Aleix Vidal (Barcelona), Fernando Navarro and Alejandro Arribas (Deportivo La Coruña), Cicinho (Bahia), Mariano Barbosa (Villarreal), Bryan Rabello (Santos Laguna), Stéphane M’bia (Trabzonspor), Piotr Trochowski (Augsburg), Diogo Figuerias (Genoa), Manu del Moral and 2 other players released.

Transfer grade: B

What’s in store: Unai Emery’s stock continues to rise. Sevilla became the first team to retain the Europa League since they did it themselves in 2005-06 and 2006-07. As usual the Andalusians have had to sell the best players to service their financial needs but have added experience from many of Europe’s major leagues. The race for the last Champions League spot will be very close between Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal but I think Emery’s side will just miss out.

Key player: Éver Banega

Discarded by Valencia for being injury prone, the Argentine midfielder really hit his stride in the second half of last season firing Sevilla to the Europa League. His creativity and ability to spot a pass is key as it allows for the darting runs from wingers Vitolo and Konoplyanka.

One to watch: Ciro Immobile

Sevilla seem to have this knack of breathing new life into players. Immobile had a difficult debut season with Dortmund and never really settled in. He may adapt to life in Spain more easily and carry on Sevilla’s great history of goal scoring strikers (Kanouté, Luís Fabiano, Negredo, Bacca).

Predicted finish: 5th. Predicted Champions League run: Round of 16

 

SD Eibar   Manager: José Mendilibar. Last season: 18th

In: Simone Verdi (AC Milan), Gonzalo Escalante (Catania), Mauro dos Santos (Almería), Adrián González (Elche), Antonio Luna (Aston Villa), Thaylor (Celta Vigo B), Alfredo Ortuño (Granada), Sergi Enrich (Numancia), Sergio García (Leioa), Keko (Albacete), Asier Riesgo (Osasuna), Iván Ramis (Levante).

Out: Eneko Bóveda (Bilbao), Ander France (Gernika), Jon Irazusta (Real Unión), Borja and Javi Lata (Atlético de Kolkata), Ángel Rodríguez (Real Zaragoza), Txema Añibarro (Retired), Derek Boateng and 4 other players released.

Transfer grade: C

What’s in store: The Eibar fairy-tale continues. Having finished 18th last season, they were reinstated after Elche were found guilty of breaching financial rules. However, surviving for another season seems almost impossible. The Armeros have only recruited players on free transfers and loans and have lost young coach Gaizka Garitano to Real Valldolid.

Key player: Mikel Arruabarrena

The 32-year-old striker has been with the club since 2009. Last season he scored 9 goals and manager José Mendilibar will be looking for at least a ten-goal haul from the Spaniard if the team want to survive in La Liga.

One to watch: Keko

Keko didn’t make the grade at Catania. He was released when they got relegated and snapped up Albacete. Last season he delivered six goals in 33 appearances and now makes the jump to La Liga where he will have to use his speed to cause defenders problems.

Predicted finish: 20th

 

UD Las Palmas Manager: Paco Herrera. Last season: 4th (Promoted)

In: Sergio Araujo (Boca Juniors), Alfredo Ortuño (Granada), Jonathan Viera (Standard Liège), Antonin Alcaraz (Everton), Pedro Bigas (Real Mallorca), Javier Garrido (Norwich City), Javi Varas (Real Valladolid)

Out: Casto (Almería), Marcelo Silva and Guzmán Casaseca (Real Valldolid), Benja (Llagostera).

Transfer grade: B+

What’s in store: The Canary Islands will once again be represented in La Liga after Las Palmas sealed promotion with a winner from Sergio Araujo five minutes from time in the second leg of their promotion playoff against Real Zaragoza. Unlike Sporting de Gijón, Las Palmas have strengthened well over the summer and should be equipped to survive in the top flight.

Key player: Sergio Araujo

Despite interest from other clubs, Las Palmas have managed to sign Sergio Araujo outright from Boca Juniors after a very successful loan spell last season where he scored 25 goals in 43 appearances. In 2015-16 he will come up against much better defenders and will have to make good use of his boundless energy.

One to watch: Juan Carlos Valerón

Francesco Totti eat your heart out! Juan Carlos Valerón signed a one-year contract extension in the summer, which means that he will grace the pitches of La Liga again. At 40 he won’t last the full 90 minutes but he might just be enough to make the difference in a tight game against a relegation rival.

Predicted finish: 15th

 

Valencia CF    Manager: Nuno Espírito Santo. Last season: 4th

In: Santi Mina and Yoel Rodríguez (Celta Vigo), Mathew Ryan (Vlub Brugge), Zakaria Bakkali (PSV).

Out: Andrés Guardado (PSV), Víctor Ruiz (Villarreal), Robert Ibáñez (Granada), Federico Cartabia (Deportivo La Coruña), Vinicuis (Cruzeiro).

Transfer grade: B+

What’s in store: Valencia have actually spent the second most amount of money in La Liga in this transfer window because of all the loan deals that they had to make permanent. Qualification to the Champions League means that Peter Lim’s business model is going to plan and Los Che will be there or thereabouts under growing manager Nuno Espírito Santo.

Key player: Diego Alves

Los Che have some great outfield players (Feghouli, Negredo, Alcácer) but they are lucky to have such an excellent goalkeeper in Diego Alves. The Brazilian came second in last season’s Zamora Trophy conceding 29 goals in 37 games. He is known for his great reactions and will be a valuable in the Champions League as well. In addition, new signing Mathew Ryan will keep him on his toes.

One to watch: Paco Alcácer

14 goals in the last two seasons in all competitions, perhaps 2015-16 could be when Alcácer finally nets 20 or more goals. His understanding and link-up play is great and Nuno Espírito Santo has the tactical flexibility of being able to play him with Negredo in a 4-4-2 system.

Predicted finish: 4th. Predicted Champions League run: Group stage

 

Villarreal CF  Manager: Marcelino García. Last season: 6th

In: Roberto Soldado (Tottenham), Samuel and Samu Castillejo (Málaga), Víctor Ruiz (Valencia), Léo Baptistão (Atlético Madrid), Mariano Barbosa (Sevilla), Alphonse Aréola (PSG).

Out: Luciano Vietto (Atlético Madrid), Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Moi Gómez (Getafe), José Dorado (Rayo Vallecano), Cani (Deportivo La Coruña), Gerard Moreno and Hernán Pérez (Espanyol), juan Carlos (Albacete).

Transfer grade: B

What’s in store: A very deserving 6th place finish for Villarreal last season under Marcelino Toral. They have lost young striker Luciano Vietto to Atlético Madrid but have replaced him with Roberto Soldado along with a couple of other youngsters from Málaga. A push for the Champions League spots would be a dream but mirroring last season would be business as usual and I expect them to go far in the Europa League.

Key player: Sergio Asenjo

Sergio Asenjo was one of only three goalkeepers last season to concede less than one goal per game. Together with Argentine centre-back Nicolás Otamendi, the Spanish goalkeeper forms a remarkably strong defensive spine that will once again be tested in 2015-16.

One to watch: Roberto Soldado

Roberto Soldado is back in La Liga. Goldado scored goals by the bucket for Valencia before failing badly at Tottenham. At 30 years of age this will represent his best chance of re-establishing himself as a great striker and perhaps get a shot at playing for the Spanish national team.

Predicted finish: 6th. Predicted Europa League run: Semi Final

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