La Liga preview – part one

With less than a week to go until the new league season gets underway, and La Liga and the RFEF (Spanish footbal federation) finally having reached an agreement over the fixture list late last week, it is high time we took a look at the 19 adversaries Espanyol will be facing this year.

To give you an idea of the relative strength of each team, we will use the FiveThirtyEight club soccer predictions for the forthcoming season. These predictions are generated by combining a power ranking based on statistical analyses, and the monetary value of each team according to Transfermarkt. You can consult the full methodology here.

While the probabilities generated in this manner always leave a huge variety of possible outcomes, the average results from last season’s simulations correctly forecast the champion (FC Barcelona), the three other Champions League qualifiers (Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia), and two out of three of the relegated clubs (Huesca and Rayo Vallecano).

Without futher ado, let’s begin with the letter… A.


Alavés

One of four Basque teams in la Liga for the fourth season in a row, Deportivo Alavés would be more than happy with a repeat of last season’s performance, when they finished 11th. That came after an exciting campaign in which they were still in 5th position after 29 games. Considering their best ever top flight league placing was 6th in the 99/00 season, these were heady days indeed. In the end, they finished three points behind Espanyol, but parted ways with manager Abelardo after disagreements over transfer policy and, reportedly, the size of the former Barcelona man’s salary. His replacement at Mendizorroza is Asier Garitano, who was sacked as coach of Real Sociedad on Boxing day last year.

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

The main target for Alavés is to hold on to goalkeeper Pacheco and centreback pairing of Laguardia and Maripán beyond September 2nd. Without any of these three, they wouldn’t look nearly as solid.

Strikers with forgettable spells in England Lucas Pérez (West Ham) and Joselu (Newcastle) have been brought in to attempt to add some extra firepower. Pere Pons has jumped ship from relegated Girona.

Possible starting XI

Possible Alavés starting line up.
Possible Alavés starting line up

David Bowie’s Starman: Guillermo Maripán

Footballer Guillermo Maripán in action for Alavés.
Guillermo Maripán in action for Alavés

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

Fans of a certain age (my age) will remember the incredible 2001 UEFA Cup final against Liverpool. Geli, Cosmin Contra, Jordi Cruyff, Javi Moreno and co. narrowly lost out after extra time to Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool side. It is definitely worth another look:

The unforgettable 2001 UEFA Cup final between Alavés and Liverpool

This glorious implosion is the closest Alavés have ever come to winning some silverware, having also come up short in the 2017 Copa del Rey final against Barça. Some of the luminaries from the 1999-2001 dream team have aged better than others:

Former footballer Javi Moreno eating lunch.
Javi Moreno is out for lunch

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 16th


Athletic Bilbao

The most Basque side of all, and the most successful one too, with eight Spanish league titles and a remarkable 24 Copas to their name. Bilbao are famous for their policy of only signing up players born in, or with close ties to, the Basque country (including the Basque region of France) or Navarra. They are aslo the only ever-present in Spain’s top division apart from the big two.

The final day of last season saw Athletic needing a point away to Sevilla to ensure European qualification. Trailing 1-0 in the 92nd minute, Iñigo Martínez saw his shot come back off the bar, before Sevilla raced upfield to secure 5th place for themselves and spark wild celebrations in RCDE stadium as Espanyol realised 7th place was theirs. Gaizka Garitano will hope to go one better in his second season in charge at San Mamés.

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

For a club with limited options in the transfer market, stability is the name of the game. Athletic’s biggest move this summer has been tying Iñaki Williams down to a new NINE YEAR contract, announced this morning. The release clause is apparently 135 million euros, which is only 1.55 Harry Maguires.

Possible starting XI

David Bowie’s Starman: Iñaki Williams

Iñaki Williams celebrates scoring for Athletic Bilbao
Iñaki Williams celebrates scoring for Athletic Bilbao

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

When Athletic Bilbao enjoyed a run to the UEFA Cup final under Marcelo Bielsa in 2011/12, the round of 16 saw them drawn against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, reigning champions of England. The odds were stacked against them but an energetic side featuring Ander Herrera and Fernando Llorente played United off the park in both legs, winning 5-3 on aggregate. The campaign was to end in disappointment with a 3-0 defeat to Simeone’s Atlético in the final, but this victory will live long in the memory.

Athletic Bilbao win at Old Trafford in the first leg

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 9th


Atlético de Madrid

Under Diego Pablo Simeone, los colchoneros (literally: the mattress makers) are enjoying the most extended period of achievement in their history. Cholo, as he is known, has moulded the hitherto erratic Atleti into a solid unit with a distinctive, tenacious style of play, and is the object of a level of fanaticism rarely enjoyed by managers. Still only 49 years old, he has now been at the helm for eight years, during which time the club have won a Liga, two Europa League titles and a Copa del Rey.  The former Atletico player has also overseen the transition as the club moved from their old Vicente Calderón home to the brand new Metropolitano last year. Strangely, despite all this success, they have also developed a bit of a reputation as nearly men: in the same period they have finished second in the league twice, and lost two Champions League finals to city rivals Real Madrid. In fact, they were eliminated by los merengues in four successive European campaigns from 2014 to 2017. Last season they came second and will be hoping to at least run Barça closer this time round.

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

This has been a summer of reckoning for Atletico. French World Cup winners Griezmann and Lucas Hernández have left for Barça and Bayern respectively, Rodri joined Pep Guardiola’s City, while the long-serving defensive line has been dissolved: Godín, Filipe Luís and Juanfran have all brought the curtain down on their time in the Spanish capital. 

Much of the money has been immediately reinvested in a new backline in the shape of Mario Hermoso (Espanyol), Trippier (Spurs), Felipe (Porto) and Lodi (Atlético Paranaense). Marcos Llorente (Real Madrid) and Héctor Herrera (Porto) will provide competition in midfield, but the future seems to rest largely on the young shoulders of João Félix, signed for a club record 126 million euros from Benfica. The signs in preseason are strictly positive:

Possible starting XI

Possible Atlético Madrid starting line up.
Possible Atlético Madrid starting line up

David Bowie’s Starman: João Félix

João Félix celebrates for Atlético
João Félix celebrates for Atlético

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

Barça at the Camp Nou is not the final fixture you would choose when you are looking to seal your first league title in eight years, especially when a victory for the blaugrana would hand them the trophy. This was the daunting prospect that faced Atleti on May 17th 2014. The outlook was bleak when Diego Costa and Arda Turan went off injured early on, and then Alexis blasted Barça into the lead after the half-hour mark. However, captain Diego Godín rose to head Atlético level four minutes into the second half, and the rest of the match was played out in relative comfort. Simeone had scored to clinch the title eight years earlier and now he had led them to another title as coach.

Atleti win the title at the Camp Nou

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 3rd

Tomorrow we’ll be back with part two of our La Liga season preview. See you then.

3 thoughts on “La Liga preview – part one

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