La Liga 2009-2010: A Season Preview (Part One)
With the Spanish football season only two and a half weeks away, teams are finishing their last preseason friendlies and making their final changes in preparation for the La Liga season. There are many questions concerning each of the twenty teams in La Liga, and this preview will explore the most important question for each La Liga team. Today, this preview will discuss seven teams, next Wednesday will discuss the next seven teams, and the Wednesday before the start of the season will discuss the final six teams. The preview will be in alphabetical order, so part one of the season preview will include Almería, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Deportivo La Coruña, Espanyol, and Getafe.
Who will accept the scoring burden that Álvaro Negredo shouldered? With thirty-two goals in seventy matches for the past two years for Almería, including nineteen this past season, Negredo displayed the talent that Real Madrid saw in him when he came from Rayo Vallecano. The next highest goal scorer was Kalu Uche with only eight goals; only four players even had more than one goal the entire season. Now that Real Madrid bought back Negredo and Almería accepted a €2.9 million bid from Fulham, Henok Goitom looks to be the man that Almería leans toward for this season.
A €2.2 million transfer from Real Murcia, he spent last season on loan with Real Valladolid with ten goals in twenty-nine appearances. Real Murcia had the option to buy back Goitom but decided to take the transfer fee from Almería. Playing in the Segunda División, Real Murcia only finished fourteenth out of twenty-two teams, and its forty-eight goals in forty-two matches did not signal that a goal-scorer like Goitom would be surplus to their team, so on the surface, Real Murcia’s release of Goitom does not seem to be a ringing endorsement for him. A physical forward, Almería will most likely use him as a target so that players like Pablo Piatti and José Ortiz can run onto his passes.
Is Joaquín Caparrós correct in keeping faith in his current group of players? According to the Spanish newspaper Marca, Caparrós said, “In terms of additions, I don’t expect anything more. We have a competitive workforce and there are guys like (academy graduate) Iker Muniain who are strong and joining the first-team fold. My duty is to get the maximum performance out of the players we have.”
Led by talisman Fernando Llorente and Bilbao legend Joseba Etxeberria, Los Leones finished a disappointing thirteenth, only two points above possible relegation; however, they enjoyed a successful Copa del Rey run, where they made it all the way to the final, only to be outclassed by Barcelona 4-1. Bilbao has a core group of veterans, such as Francisco Yeste, Pablo Orbaiz, and Joseba Etxeberria, bringing in the Basque kids, such as Javi Martínez, Susaeta, and Fernando Amorebieta. The main problem was the defense, who gave up sixty-two goals, third worst in La Liga. While goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz did not have a stellar season by any indication, the Bilbao defense left him out to dry too many times. Bilbao’s concession of thirty-five goals in the second half of games, including thirteen in the final fifteen minutes, cost them a multitude of points as they lost nine games by a one-goal margin and had eight draws. While Joaquín Caparrós’ confidence in his midfield and forwards is warranted, Caparrós might want to look into his academy to replace some of his defense.
Can Sergio Asenjo improve a mediocre defense? Last season, Atlético Madrid’s defense allowed fifty-seven goals, which was only eleventh out of twenty teams. Apart from the signing of veteran Real Betis defender Juanito on a free transfer and the releasing of Giourkas Seitaridis, the back four remains intact for the most part, which leaves the goalkeeping situation where Atlético Madrid made their most significant changes. Grégory Coupet only started six times in the league, and Atlético Madrid released him. Leo Franco, the regular starting goalkeeper, had a pedestrian season and after five years of service, Atlético Madrid released him as well.
Atlético Madrid then signed Sergio Asenjo from Real Valladolid for €5.5 million to be their goalkeeper for many years to come. Asenjo is the starting goalkeeper for the Spanish U-21 national team, having played in all three games of the 2009 UEFA U-21 European Championships, and he is tipped to be the most likely successor to Iker Casillas on the senior national team. Because of these accolades, Asenjo will face the pressure of lifting the struggling Atlético Madrid defense. If he is capable of performing up to the vast talent that he possesses in the face of lofty expectations, Los Colchoneros should finish in a Champions League spot as well as contend in the later stages of the UEFA Champions League.
Will the switch from Samuel Eto’o to Zlatan Ibrahimovic improve a treble winning team? When a team wins every competition they enter, the tendency is to want to be the same team the next season. For the most part, Barcelona followed this policy, but the transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan to Barcelona in exchange for Samuel Eto’o and €46 million replaces a vital part of a Barcelona offense that scored an astonishing 105 goals in a thirty-eight match season. While Samuel Eto’o scored thirty goals and finished second to Diego Forlán in the Pichichi trophy, he was not originally in Pep Guardiola’s plans for last season. Guardiola said he had a change of heart after watching Eto’o in the preseason, but there were many rumors suggesting that it was not a change of heart but rather a lack of suitors for Eto’o and an inability to find a suitable replacement. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic clamored to have a new challenge and leave Serie A, Barcelona found the replacement for Samuel Eto’o.
The two players are different kinds of forwards. While Eto’o used his speed and poaching skills to become one of the top scorers in La Liga, Ibrahimovic is more of a traditional number 9, where he uses his height as a target man as well as having amazing technical skill. For the blaugrana to repeat as La Liga champions, Zlatan Ibrahimovic must be able to adapt to the Barça way as quickly as possible, as well as provide the assists to his forward counterparts Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi to keep the Barcelona attack as potent as ever.
Deportivo La Coruña
Can Deportivo La Coruña crack the top six and earn a guaranteed place in a European competition? Depor participated in the UEFA Cup last season but only through the UEFA Intertoto Cup, which now no longer exists. Since the 2003-2004 season where they finished third and made it to the semifinals of the Champions League, they have been a consistent top ten team apart from an anomalous thirteenth in 2006-2007 but not good enough to grab a direct spot in either the Champions League or the Europa League. The departure of Joan Verdú due to contractual differences with the team will hurt Depor’s midfield, as he was the main playmaker that set up goals for Riki and Ángel Lafita. For Depor to improve on their eighth place finishes, Adrián will have to continue his development as a striker. He gained valuable experience on loan with Málaga last season, starting nineteen matches with a team that contended for a European spot all season. Riki has to increase the goal output, and expect the young French striker Lassad Nouioui to be a significant part of the Depor attack. These three will be vital for Depor to rise into European competition.
How will Espanyol respond to the death of their captain, Daniel Jarque? Los Perequitos had been flying high since the beginning of April, when relegation was a certainty. They went 8-1-1, including wins over Deportivo La Coruña, Valencia, and Málaga, and they rose from the bottom of the table to finish an incredible tenth. In the close season, Espanyol acquired young Chelsea starlet Ben Sahar and Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura, and they named academy graduate Daniel Jarque as their new captain. They moved in to their new, modern stadium, Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, and they christened the stadium on August 2 with a convincing 3-0 victory over Liverpool. Then on August 8, the unthinkable happens: their newly named captain Daniel Jarque dies of a heart attack while on a preseason tour in Italy.
Before the tragedy befalling Daniel Jarque, Espanyol looked like a team that could contend with the likes of Deportivo La Coruña, Málaga, and Valencia for a top six finish. That season-ending run showed that when Espanyol scores, they are a daunting team to play because of the defense led by Cameroon international Carlos Kameni and the central defense of Jarque and Nicolás Pareja. Is Espanyol still this same team now? No team is the same when they lose a player and, more importantly, a leader, like Dani Jarque, but they will need to move on from this tragedy and prepare even more diligently for a physically and emotionally tough season. If Espanyol plays with a new sense of purpose and is inspired by the memory of Dani Jarque, they will be in contention for a European spot.
Will Getafe be able to rise from a team fighting relegation to the mid-table team of previous seasons? Similar to Athletic Bilbao, Getafe’s main problem was giving up late goals. Getafe gave up fourteen goals in the last fifteen minutes of matches, and Getafe had eleven losses by one goal and twelve draws. Roberto Abbondanzieri started the first half of the season as goalkeeper, but his relatively poor play and his move back to Boca Juniors in January made the goalkeeper job open to Jacobo, who Getafe loaned from Real Valladolid. Jacobo was not much better, and he was only temporary. Oscar Ustari suffered a knee injury while with the Spanish national team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was only able to start five matches. With a healthy Oscar Ustari, he should be a boost to that struggling Getafe defense. Another piece of the puzzle added to the defense is the €2.5 million capture of Mané from Almería. A left back that is equally competent in defense and in the attacking third, he will boost an otherwise leaky defense. Getafe’s prospects do not look promising, but these improvements in defense should help in avoiding relegation but not enough to be safe from the relegation fight.