Barcelona are coming to the season as defending champions, Real Madrid are without Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, nine (9) managers will kick off with new teams, lots of young talents will have a point to prove, and of course the El Grand Classico. A new La Liga Santander season kick off in a few days, what should we expect?
Who are the title contenders? Every La liga season, opens with two favourites: Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barcelona are champions, and, will be favourites to repeat as winners. They won last season with a 14-point margin, and they have strengthened; addressing the major problem of depth that plagued them in previous seasons. Real Madrid are also contenders: they embark on a new era with Julen Lopetegui, and the club will also be without their talisman of close to a decade, Cristiano Ronaldo. They didn’t make any Galatico signing this summer, but still they have enough to challenge Barcelona for the title. Another team that can spring up a surprise and win the league is Atlético Madrid. They won the trophy four years ago, and finished second last season. They kept Antoine Griezman and also made some impressive signings, especially Thomas Lemar. And they still have the beast, Diego Costa. Atleti are genuine title contenders but will need the ‘big two’ to have below-par seasons if they are to win it.
Which teams can finish in the top 4? Aside the title contenders, another team who can make the Top 4 is Valencia, finishing fourth place last season was no fluke; Marcelino brought order back to the Mestalla. The team that will also have a go for the top 4 is Sevilla. They have been impressive in Europe, narrowly losing to Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League, and will want to replicate the same form in Spain. After sacking two managers last season, they brought in a new manager, Pablo Machín for this season. Machín had a great season with Girona and is ready to succeed with Sevilla. Villarreal is also in contention to finish at the top.
Teams with new managers. First, Real Madrid. The White Angel’s new manager is the former manager of the Spanish national team, who was controversially sacked 24 hours to Spain’s opening world cup match. Lopetegui will have to make his mark on the club, and following a disappointing domestic campaign last season for Madrid, La Liga would appear a good place for him to start. He knows the players well and they are comfortable with him. It remains to be seen whether he will favour the Spanish players more. Sevilla also have a new manager in Pablo Machín. He did well with Girona, taking a promoted team into the top 10. The height of his season was coaching the Catalan club to defeat Real Madrid, coming from a goal down to win. Girona then signed Eusebio Sacristán. Athletic Bilbao appointed Eduardo Berizzo, Real Sociedad signed Leganés coach, Asier Garitano, then, Leganés got Mauricio Pellegrino. Celta Vigo, Espanyol and newly promoted Huesca also got new managers.
Top summer transfer has to be Arturo Vidal. He is a proven winner with Juventus and Bayern Munich, a great addition to Barcelona. The Catalans also signed young Brazilian winger, Malcom from Bordeaux. Real Madrid’s biggest deal this summer is goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois. He is already hated by fans of Atletico, and will have to live up to the hype. Thomas Lemar was in the headline throughout last summer but this season, Atletico got him, alongside Croatia bad boy, Nikola Kalinic. William Carvalho signed for Real Betis, Valencia got Geoffrey Kondogbia, Michy Batshuayi and Kévin Gameiro. Villareal secured the services of highly rated forward Gerard Moreno and club legend, Santi Cazorla.
Players who have something to prove. Gareth Bale tops this easily. With Cristiano gone, all eyes will be on the Welshman. He will no longer be in the shadow and will want to prove his critics wrong. Next is Ousman Dembele. The young Frenchman’s first season was blighted with injuries. He will want to live up to the price tag. Rodrigo of Valencia. Real Madrid thought he was not worth the value placed on him. Valencia have also signed two (2) other strikers. He will want to prove his worth with a fine season. Theo Hernández could not break into the Real Madrid eleven. A loan spell at Real Sociedad will be a good place to show his talent.
Young talents to look out for. Marco Asensio is not a new name as he has burst into the top scene, but with a Spanish coach that believes in him, this may be his best season yet. Vinícius Júnior has been very impressive with his dribbling skills during the pre-season, with enough playing time, the sky will be his limit. Malcom has a quick feet and a swift left leg. He is not guaranteed a starting place, but with his skills, when he plays, all eyes will be on him.
Newly promoted teams. Huesca were the first team to be promoted to 2018/2019 La Liga after winning 2–0 at Lugo. It is the first time in the club’s history that they will be playing in La Liga. They appointed a new manager, Leo Franco in May, after the contract of their former manager, Rubi, expired. Rayo Vallecano were the second team to earn promotion to La Liga. They qualified one week after Heusca by defeating the same Lugo, 1–0. Rayo returns to top flight after a two-year absence. Real Valladolid were the last team to be promoted after beating Sporting Gijón and Numancia in the play-offs. Valladolid returned to top division after four years.
By Boluwatifeninsola Omoniyi