As the La Liga season looks to get into full swing, we take a look at the opening weekend match-ups and how the teams could fare as the season goes on.
Malaga v. Athletic Bilbao
Malaga will look to start their season off on the right foot after a disappointing 11th place finish this past season. Having lost their rising star in Isco to the powerhouse that is Real Madrid, Malaga looked lost at times and were unable to replicate their success from years past. New loanee Luis Alberto from Liverpool is joined by marquee signing of Guillermo Ochoa, arguably the best goalkeepers at the World Cup. Expect a strong showing from them this year as they look to reclaim a spot in the Europa League.
Lining up opposite Malaga, Athletic Bilbao look to pick up where they left off as a new season begins. Coming off of a wildly successful 2013-14 campaign, Athletic will try to replicate their winning ways. Having lost one of their main midfielders, Ander Herrera, to Manchester United, it is clear that someone such as Beñat must step up to avoid a gaping hole in the midfield. Athletic did manage to retain the services of young Spaniard Iker Muniain. Called ‘the Spanish Messi’ by the press, he will look to further his status as a young star as he goes into his sixth season with Los Leones.
Prediction: Athletic Bilbao 3-2 Malaga.
Malaga will make a good argument as to why they can reclaim a Europa League but Athletic Bilbao’s all-around talent will prove too much for Los Boquerones to handle. Malaga must look forward for better results while Athletic Bilbao will be happy to walk away with three points.
Granada v. Deportivo La Coruña
Granada will also look to build from last season as a they look to improve from a 15th place finish to something slightly higher. With a plethora of new signings, a mid-table finish will not seem out of reach for the team as Joaquín Caparrós takes the reign for the first time. With a young, pacey winger in Juan Carlos combined with a skilled dribbler such as El Arabi, Granada will be fielding one of their strongest teams yet as staying away from the drop zone looks more and more likely for a team that will want to stay in the first division very badly. There is no reason why a top 12 finish is out of reach for Granada come the 2014-15 La Liga season.
Coming out of the second-division, Deportivo will be looking to begin an extended stay in the first division having been dropped just two years ago. And, after making a quick return back to the top flight, Deportivo look set to stay. Having secured Isaac Cuenca, a young winger from Barcelona, on a permanent transfer, and Jose Rodriguez, a central midfielder from Real Madrid, on loan, it is clear Deportivo do not want to spend anymore time in the second division than they already have. Seeing Deportivo in the Primera Division seems increasingly likely as Victor Fernandez looks to get his career as a manager back on track.
Prediction: Granada 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña
An evenly matched game with ample opportunities for both sides to put the game away that are wasted time and time again. This will not be one of the more exciting match-ups of the season but will be a good test for both teams as they look to avoid the drop.
Sevilla FC v. Valencia
Sevilla definitely had one of the more successful 2013-14 seasons. Finishing on 63 points in a very respectable fifth place, they also managed to claim the Europa League title on penalties v. Benfica in a very tight match. Sevilla completed several comebacks along the way and showed why they are a force to be reckoned with on both the Spanish and European stages. Despite having lost two prominent players who featured frequently across all fronts, Ivan Rakitic who joined Barcelona and Alberto Moreno who recently joined an up-and-coming Liverpool side, Unai Emery has taken steps to avoid dropping points by signing Gerard Deulofeu, a young winger who enjoyed a standout season at Everton, on loan from Barcelona, and Grzegorz Krychowiak, a defensive midfielder from Stade Reims who can run for days. A top 4 finish is highly likely for this years Sevilla team.
Valencia has also lost two of their more prominent players as Juan Bernat left to join the Bavarian beasts that are Bayern Munich and Jeremy Mathieu decided his time at the Mestalla was up and the Nou Camp was calling his name. Valencia however, has quite easily replaced him by signing Shkodran Mustafi, a centre-back who featured in the German side that claimed the World Cup title. Also, with a new coach in Nuno Espirito Santo, expectations for the upcoming season will be high after failing to qualify for the Europa League following the exit of their star man, Roberto Soldado, to Tottenham.
Prediction: Sevilla FC 2-1 Valencia
Sevilla was closer than a 2-0 score line belies to subduing reigning European champions Real Madrid in this past weeks SuperCup. Their ability to mesh as a team is going to be superior to a Valencia team who will need to look forward from this result.
Almeria v. Espanyol
Almeria was very lucky last year to avoid being relegated, missing the drop by just one point. The club will be looking to stay up once more but a string of poor performances could see them move down. Almeria has had 11 players join/re-join their team and will look to move up a few spots. One special signing could be that of Wellington Silva, a forward on the books at Arsenal but on loan at Almeria for the season. With tantalizing pace, Silva could be the player who puts the fans on their feet after an incredible and neat finish. Expect to see plenty of heart when this team takes the field as a second straight season does not seem out of the question for the Rojiblancos.
Espanyol will also look to stay in the Primera Division having also cut it close last season by staying up via two points. La Periquitos have already strengthened an attack that only mustered 41 goals in the last campaign with the signing of Felipe Caicedo. The front man from Al-Jazira contributed 4 goals in 11 games but has enjoyed successful stints with FC Basel and Manchester City. He will bring another dimension to their frontline and will be lining up alongside another new transfer in Paco Montañés. The wide man was pivotal to last year’s Zaragoza side and will be anxious to ply his trade in the top tier once more.
Prediction: Almeria 0-1 Espanyol
A slow game with few opportunities but Espanyol manage to take theirs while Almeria struggle in front of net. Both teams must look ahead as they will constantly be searching for any means of gaining points.
Eibar v. Real Sociedad
Newly promoted Eibar will want to start off what they hope to be a long run in the top flight in fashion. Having lost a fair amount of their team from last year due to loanees returning to their respective teams, Eibar have already started to rebuild in the hopes of making it more than one year out of the second division. An opening game against a strong opponent such as Real Sociedad is certainly not how they had hoped their season would start off. Gaizka Garitano will be leading this team for the third season and it will be interesting to watch how he adapts his team to the elevated level present in the top flight. While staying up is not out of the question, relegation is a very real possibility.
Sociedad is coming into the match another successful season where they managed to qualify for the Europa League, a competition in which they will be looking to give their fellow Spaniards in Sevilla a run for the title. Having lost three of their best players from last season, Claudio Bravo, the Chilean goalkeeper who enjoyed a great World Cup, Antoine Griezmann, the young Frenchman who featured for the French attack, and Haris Seferovic, a Swiss attacker who helped the Swiss come to within minutes of upsetting Argentina. However, Jagoba Arrasate will know how to continue to produce quality results so expect to see Sociedad in contention for a Europa League spot once again.
Prediction: Eibar 0-3 Real Sociedad
A poor start for Eibar as the talent of Real Sociedad is too much for them to handle. Eibar must not allow themselves to be disappointed as they are coming up against a strong Sociedad squad and must look at mid- to bottom- table teams for points.
Celta Vigo v. Getafe
Celta Vigo certainly surprised a few people as they jumped from barely avoiding relegation in a 17th place position to the top half of the table in a 9th place position. Having lost loanee Rafinha back to Barcelona, Eduardo Berizzo has taken interest in La Masia products and has already snapped up two players from Barcelona’s ‘B’ team: Sergi Gomez and Carles Planas. If history is any indication, the respective centre-back and left-back have very bright futures ahead of them. While it would not be surprising to see Celta Vigo drop a few positions, a one to two position rise is not out of the question. However, one of their biggest assets was a great manager in Luis Enrique who decided to head for Barcelona like many managers before him. Vigo will be a good team to watch as they struggle to stay in the top half of the table.
Getafe dropped from a 10th place finish to a 13th place finish. This is not surprising as the mid-table in La Liga is one of the most volatile in the world. Having already purchased Vicente Guaita, a very good goalkeeper from Valencia who will look certain to bolster a defence that conceded 54 goals in the last season. Three new midfielders will also look to provide significant attacking power to a team where an excess of goals would certainly not be a problem. The bottom half of the table is always close in La Liga as last year, 8th place Valencia finished only 10 points away from relegation while in the Premier League, 8th place Southampton finished 23 points from relegation, a very significant difference. Getafe look highly unlikely to be seeing a drop down to the second division but it certainly is not out of the question.
Prediction: Celta Vigo 1-0 Getafe
Not the start Getafe would have hoped for but this certainly provides both sides with plenty to build upon as the season goes on. Both teams will be battling it out in the middle of the table and this result should provide Celta Vigo with a large amount of hope.
Barcelona v. Elche
Barcelona has certainly had one of the busiest transfer windows thus far. Bringing in the likes of Marc-André ter Stegen, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen just to name a few. It is clear Luis Enrique is set on bringing titles back to the Nou Camp as seeing a fall from power following the departure of Pep Guardiola. Barcelona will certainly be mounting a formidable title chase and it will be interesting to see how Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid cope with the striker that is Luis Suarez. Without a doubt there will be plenty of goals coming from this side as they are now more balanced than they have been in years past. Expect to see a trophy or two this year from La Blaugrana.
Elche managed a respectable 16th place finish and will look to further improve on that. With multiple new loan signings, it is clear anything other than staying in La Liga will be viewed as failure. However, there chances of staying have increased immensely with signing of Przemyslaw Tyton from PSV Eindhoven on loan. The Polish keeper did well at the Euro’s but did not feature in the World Cup as Poland failed to qualify. He will certainly give them a greater peace of mind when coming up against the high-scoring offences typical of the Spanish League. It would be more a surprise if they moved down than if they stayed up, expect some fine displays coming from this Elche side.
Prediction: Barcelona 5-0 Elche
Barcelona’s attack and midfield are far too much for Elche to deal with and Tyton can only do so much. Expect lots of quick counters from Barcelona and very good build up play as well. Elche must not be disheartened as they face a team with some of the best players in the world.
Levante v. Villarreal
Levante lost arguably their most valuable player to Real Madrid recently as Keylor Navas made the switch to the Bernabeu. However, Levante was able to get Jesús Fernández, a young keeper from Madrid who they hope will be able to replace Navas. Levante will be hoping to break further into the top half of the table but finishing in the bottom half is still not out of the question. Navas made over 120 saves this past season and was to Levante what someone like Messi or Ronaldo or Suarez was to Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Liverpool respectively. It will be interesting to see how Levante fare without someone who earned them many points last season.
Villarreal managed to qualify for the Europa League and have already started to build a team ready to stake their claim once again. Having managed to sign Denis Cheryshev on loan from Real Madrid, it is clear Villarreal plan on enjoying an extended stay in the Europa League and maybe even challenge for the title. Also, the signing of Jonathan dos Santos from Barcelona shows that the Yellow Submarine mean business come this season. Expect to see both a tight race for the fourth Champions League spot and to see Villarreal competing closely for it.
Prediction: Levante 0-2 Villarreal
Villarreal get their season going the way they would have hoped while Levante will need to shrug it off and look forward to the next game. While they will certainly miss Keylor, how they manage to cop without him may dictate how they do this season.
Real Madrid v. Cordoba
As they do so often, Real Madrid has been buying players, however unnecessarily. The latest additions to an already great team include Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, and Keylor Navas. While Navas may seem like a necessity given the diminishing talent of Iker Casillas and the departure of Diego Lopez, Kroos and Rodriguez were not bought because they filled a role not already filled at the club. However, don’t expect to see this big names on the bench, starting roles are already being carved out for the stars and a second straight Champions League title does not seem out of reach. Expect to see Madrid mounting attacks on all front as they look to claim the treble this year.
Another newly promoted team is that of Cordoba, having made their way up to La Liga via the promotional playoffs. They will not be looking forward to an immediate drop back down so be prepared to see plenty of defenders behind the ball if Cordoba has the lead. Knowing they will need a strong attack in order to stay up, Cordoba has already secured Borja Garcia, a forward from Real Madrid Castilla, to whom they will be looking towards for goals. While relegation is more likely, do not be surprised should Cordoba maintain a place in the Primera Division.
Prediction: Real Madrid 5-1 Cordoba
One defensive slip up allows Cordoba some amount of consolation but Real Madrid run rampant throughout the majority of the match, showing once again why they have been crowned kings of Europe. Real will look to get back to their winning ways following a disappointing Super Cup loss to city neighbors Atletico Madrid.
Rayo Vallecano v. Atletico Madrid
Having already signed the most players either on loan or on a permanent transfer thus far in the transfer window, it is clear Rayo Vallecano want to occupy a position in the top half of the table, a goal that will not seem out of reach given that had they won 6 more points, they would have been there. Having managed to pry Lao Baptistão away from Atletico Madrid on loan, Paco Jemez will have his eyes set firmly on the top half of the table and maybe even a Europa League spot. Rayo Vallecano came to be known for throwing men forward and even managed more possession of the ball than Barcelona when the two sides met early last season. With a very attractive style of play, expect to see Rayo Vallecano giving some of the top teams a run when they clash this season.
Atletico Madrid shocked many when they made it to the finals of the Champions League and won La Liga. Coming up against big spending rivals like Real Madrid and Barcelona, los rojiblancos made due with inferior funding and Diego Simeone found a way to get his team to the top. As is expected of a club coming off the title, they have already lost several key players from last year such as Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, and David Villa. Simeone however has deftly replaced them with Jan Oblak from Benfica, Mario Mandzukic from Bayern, Jesus Games from Malaga, and Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad. Expect another great campaign from this Atletico team as they look to reclaim their title and try to win their first Champions League title ever.
Prediction: Rayo Vallecano 0-4 Atlético Madrid
A respectable showing from a strong Vallecano side but Simeone’s men are too much for them to handle as they reigning champions run away winners. Coming off a great Super Cup win, Atleti will look to La Liga in search of making it two straight years.