La Liga preview – part two

Let’s continue our look at the clubs that will be visiting RCDE stadium this year. If you missed part one you can find it here, and a link to FiveThirtyEight soccer predictions here. Otherwise, B is for…

Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde enters the third and final year of his contract hoping to follow in the footsteps of Johann Cruyff and Pep Guardiola and become only the third manager in Barça’s history to win three consecutive league titles. Cruyff’s “dream team” actually won four titles between 90/91 – 93/94, while Guardiola’s masters of tiki taka reigned between 08/09 and 10/11. Both of these coaches are credited with transforming the club’s style of play, and will forever be associated with a particular generation of players. Valverde, on the other hand, is often credited with no more than simply putting eleven players on the pitch and sitting back. Some of the more jealous Madrid-based news outlets further degrade his job by saying he merely selects Messi + 10. 

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

Barça are red-hot favourites to retain their LaLiga crown this year, but fans were baying for blood in May after they surrendered a considerable first leg advantage to be eliminated from the Champions League for the second year running, last season’s debacle at Anfield following on from humiliation in Rome in 2018. This competition has to be the priority if they are to confirm their superiority over Real Madrid.

Valverde has been given one last chance and the squad has been strengthened considerably by the arrivals of Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), Frenkie de Jong (Ajax) and Junior Firpo (Real Betis). Dare I say it but this may be the beginning of the end for some of the stalwarts of the past decade. Messi is now 32, Busquets 31 and Jordi Alba 30. They may be far from finished, but these latest additions will at least provide some much needed competition and therefore motivation. Goalkeeper Neto joined from Valencia with Cillesen going in the opposite direction, and right-back Moussa Wagué has been promoted from the B team so that Sergi Roberto can been deployed in midfield. Driftwood such as Malcom, Paco Alcácer, Andre Gomes and Denis Suárez has been successfully cleared away, and the only area of concern is central defence, where Gerard Piqué has also celebrated his 32nd birthday.

Messi + 10

Possible FC Barcelona line up 19/20
Possible FC Barcelona line up 19/20

David Bowie’s Starman: Junior Firpo

The first Dominican-born player to feature in LaLiga already made a splash at Real Betis last year, and was almost unplayable in Spain’s Euro under-21 victory this summer. A roving left-wing-back with great athleticism, he should be Jordi Alba’s successor once he assimilates the Barça style of play.

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

With ten titles in fifteen years, success has not been in short supply. Still, there’s nothing better than stuffing your eternal rivals on their own patch, and Barcelona have made a habit of it. This example from Guardiola’s first season in charge is probably the pick of the bunch.

Barça run riot at the Bernabéu in 2009

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 1st


Celta de Vigo

Celta Vigo were dreadful last season. The Balaídos trapdoor had been opened beneath coach Juan Carlos Unzué before the season even began, despite a respectable if unspectacular 12th place finish in 17/18. His replacement, Antonio Mohamed, suffered the same fate in November, and then the doors remained closed until March, when Miguel Cardoso also took the plunge. The next contestant was Fran Escribá, who managed to guide them to the prize of 17th place and ensure another spin of the LaLiga wheel this year. 

Actual footage from Balaídos last season

In truth, the three relegated sides of Girona, Huesca and Rayo all played better football than Celta, but they didn’t have Iago Aspas. Despite missing almost three months through injury, the Spain international managed 20 league goals and six assists to make the difference. If he should be out of action at all this time round, Escribá will be treading carefully.

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

Striker Maxi Gómez was sold to Valencia for 14.5m euros, with Santi Mina returning to Celta as part of the deal. There is no doubt that Maxi Gómez is a promising talent, but this looks like a good deal on the face of it. Santi is still only 23 years old and is returning home, but the pressure will be on him to ease the goalscoring burden on Aspas. Aidoo (Genk) and Saénz (Valencia) have been brought in in a bid to address last year’s defensive deficiencies, while Denis Suárez (Barcelona) should add creativity if he stays fit.

Possible starting XI

Possible Celta Vigo line up 19/20
Possible Celta Vigo line up 19/20

David Bowie’s starman: Yep, it’s Iago Aspas.

Iago Aspas celebrates scoring for Celta Vigo

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

Celta Vigo have no trophies to their name, but their finest team was possibly the late-nineties vintage featuring Aleksandr Mostovoi and Valeri Karpin. In March 2000 they faced a strong Juventus side boasting stars like Zambrotta, Davids, Conte, Del Piero and Zidane. With Celta trailing one nil after the away leg, the Edwin van der Sar comedy troupe sprung into action at Balaídos. Goals from Claude Makelele and Benni McCarthy turned the tie on its head in a 4-0 rout. Unfortunately, the Italian commentators in this clip debate whether Makelele was really the scorer of the first goal as he is “one of two players of colour”. If only he had any distinguishing features like a face, hair, a body or A NUMBER ON HIS BACK…

Celta thump Juventus 4-0

They would lose to Lens in the quarters but this is a famous victory among Celta fans.

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 14th

Eibar

Eibar’s fairytale has been going on for so long now that it is in danger of becoming the norm. The team from the small Basque town of under 30,000 inhabitants have never even really looked in danger of going back down to the second decision, aside from a close shave in their first top-flight campaign in 14/15. Under Gaizka Garitano and now Mendilibar, they have gradually become less dependent on loan signings and have attracted an elite squad of their own. Having been promoted on the smallest budget of any second division club, they were subsequently ordered to raise 1.7 milllion euros over the summer in order to take their rightful place in LaLiga (despite the fact they had no debt whatsoever). They sold shares in the club to fans to raise the capital and then began the real challenge of acquitting themselves to compete at the top level. Now, nobody bats an eyelid when their name is floating around the top half of the table. What is next for this model club?

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

Key players Joan Jordán (Sevilla), Rubén Peña (Villarreal) and Marc Cucurella (Getafe) have all left this summer. Eibar made a tidy profit on the first two (Cucurella was a Barcelona loanee), and have used it to raid LaLiga2 for Edu Expósito and Quique (both Deportivo la Coruña) and Pedro Bigas (Las Palmas). Takashi Inui has returned from Betis to a lukewarm response, while Álvaro Tejero has been snapped up from Real Madrid Castilla.

Possible first XI

Possible Eibar starting line up 19/20
Possible Eibar starting line up 19/20

David Bowie’s Starman: Sergi Enrich

Sergi Enrich in action for Eibar
Sergi Enrich in action for Eibar

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

On May 26th 2014 Eibar got the job done at home to Alavés thanks to a goal from Jota. Then, thanks to creative timetabling by LaLiga2, they had to wait 45 minutes to discover whether their promotion was guaranteed. Fans and players alike waited inside the Ipurua until it was confirmed that Las Palmas had lost at home to Recreativo de Huelva and could no longer reel them in at the top of the table. A year earlier Eibar had been competing in the third tier, and now they had won the right to take on Spain’s best in LaLiga.

Eibar celebrate their promotion to LaLiga

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 8th

The odyssey continues tomorrow. Until then!

5 thoughts on “La Liga preview – part two

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