La Liga preview – part five

Today’s preview is triple R-rated. RRRoar.

(It is feasible that you had better things to do this week than slog through these previews, but you don’t really have any excuse at the weekend. Parts one, two, three and four are at your disposition.)

Real Betis

Betis are one of Espanyol’s rivals for a European spot and, this summer, took heed of the old adage, “if you can’t beat them, buy them”. That was it, right? Manager Rubi was the first to take the money and run for the Benito Villamarín, before we became enveloped in what could only be described as a transfer saga involving Borja Iglesias. 

Predictably, some Espanyol fans have taken news of the panda’s late migration better than others, but there was realistically only ever going to be one outcome. Betis are one of the best supported teams in the country and the pressure will now be on Borja to gel with his new teammates, many of whom are also new arrivals, and satisfy their lofty ambitions. 

Under former manager Quique Setién Betis were capable of some of LaLiga’s most attractive football, with the scalps of the biggest clubs to prove it, yet they never quite reached the desired level of consistency. It looks as if Rubi will opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation in his quest to convert Real Betis into the team they’ve always thought they should be, with club legend Joaquín, now 38, expected to be largely restricted to a role from the bench.

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

One of the league’s most enthusiastic participants in the big summer window jamboree (there must be something in the air in Seville?), the football world collectively raised its eyebrows when the signing of Nabil Fekir for a paltry 20 million euros was announced in late July. Fekir is a true big-hitter and should raise the whole team’s performance level, and it will be exciting to see how he gets on. Dani Martín (Gijón), Emerson (Barcelona), Juanmi (Real Sociedad) have also signed up.

This splurge was made possible by the sales of Giovanni Lo Celso (Tottenham) and Junior Firpo (Barcelona). The latter will be replaced by either Alfonso Pedraza, on loan from Villarreal, or Álex Moreno, whose signing from Rayo will be announced imminently.

Possible starting XI

Possible Real Betis lineup 19/20
Possible Real Betis lineup 19/20

David Bowie’s starman: Nabil Fekir

Betis have been lukewarm in preseason

Have a look a the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

For all their pretensions of glory, los béticos have only a single league title and two Copa del Reys to their name. The most recent of these came in 2005. As you can see, they were quite pleased about it:

Betis are greeted by their fans after the 2005 Copa del Rey final victory over Osasuna

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 10th

Real Madrid

Los blancos need no introduction so I’m not going to give them one. Zinedine Zidane is back in charge and has fallen out with a good part of the first team squad. And you know what Zizou does when he doesn’t like the cut of your jib.

Mind over Materazzi

Gareth Bale, Isco and co. have not been quite as cheeky as Marco Materazzi, perhaps, but it’s not easy getting out of Zidane’s bad books once he’s marked you down. Preseason was fairly disastrous, and received opinion seems to be that the squad is in need of freshening up. The Neymar stories just won’t go away, and he is the only galáctico potentially within Florentino Pérez’s reach, so you never know.

In summary, they will bomb it in the league, sign Neymar in January (when his holidays and PSG’s patience will have presumably reached their end), and make an inglorious run all the way to Champions League glory, yet again. 

Neymar on the beach
Neymar earning his wage

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers.

Over 300 million euros have been spent, but fans are not convinced that the squad has really been improved. Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Luka Jovic (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Rodrygo (Santos) could potentially foram a new front three, while Éder Militão (Porto) and Ferland Mendy (Lyon) will provide expensive cover in defence.

The sales of Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Theo Hernández (Milan), Marcos Llorente (Atlético) and Raúl de Tomás (Benfica) have recouped some of the outlay, while several players including Dani Ceballos (Arsenal), Martin Ödegaard (Real Sociedad) and Sergio Reguilón (Sevilla) have gone out on loan.

Possible starting XI

Possible Real Madrid starting lineup 19/20
Possible Real Madrid starting lineup 19/20

David Bowie’s starman: Karim Benzema 

Karim Benzema with the Champions League trophy
Benzema’s trophy cabinet is bigger than my house

An inexplicably divisive figure among fans, the notoriously “difficult” Frenchman has been at the Bernabéu for ten years now. He has 222 goals and 124 assists in 465 games for the club, but the numbers don’t even begin to do him justice. If he doesn’t play well, neither do Madrid.

He might aid the blackmailing of a teammate once in a while, but we all have our faults.

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) moment of glory

There are too many to choose from, but the Champions League win in 2014 ended a 12-year wait for another European crown, and was to be the first of an unprecedented four in the space of five years. The fact that the final was against city rivals Atlético, a worthy opponent, and the manner in which they snatched victory away from them, made it all the more specials for madridistas.

Heartbreak for Atlético in Lisbon

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 2nd

Real Sociedad

One of this season’s dark horses, La Real boast an exciting array of youngsters which has contributed to the current atmosphere of optimism at the Anoeta. The final Basque side in our list have stuck with former B-team coach Imanol Alguacil for his first full campaign in charge. He is devoted to a 4-2-3-1 system and he looks to have strength and depth in every position. The side from San Sebastián, or Donostia in Basque, have two rather dusty Spanish league trophies in their cabinet, and while ambitions are more modest these days, a European spot should be well within their capabilities.

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

Somewhat surprisingly, Real Sociedad haven’t had to fight off much interest in their present clutch of bright young things, including holding midfielder Igor Zubeldia and wingers Mikel Oyarzabal and Ander Berrenetxea. Oyarzabal ended up playing up front in Spain’s victorious under-21 side this summer, while, at 17 years old, Barrenetxea has already shown he is not out of his depth at this level.

Portu (Girona), Isak (Borussia Dortmund) and Sagnan (Lens) will add depth, while fans are eager to see how Martin Ödegaard, on loan from Real Madrid, dovetails with their other creative talents.

Possible starting XI

Possible Real Sociedad starting lineup 19/20
Possible Real Sociedad starting lineup 19/20

David Bowie’s starman: Mikel Oyarzabal

Oyarzabal holds the Euro under-21 trophy
Oyarzabal holds the Euro under-21 trophy

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) Moment of glory

Real Sociedad almost did a Leicester in the 2002/03 season. Sitting third in the table, they hosted Vicente del Bosque’s Real Madrid in week 29. A statement performance from a side featuring Darko Kovacevic, Nihat and a young Xabi Alonso propelled them back into the title fight.

Real Sociedad beat Real Madrid in April 2003

La Real were a point ahead of Madrid with two games remaining, but faltered at Balaídos against Celta Vigo in the penultimate round. Zidane, Ronaldo, Raúl and co. eventually topped the standings by two points.

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 6th

Congratulations, you’ve made it. Tomorrow we’ll have a glance at the reamaining contenders.

Don’t forget that La Liga 19/20 gets underway tonight, with a Messi-less Barcelona (Junior Firpo +10?) travelling to Bilbao. Espanyol start their campaign at home to Sevilla on Sunday evening. Here is the full fuxture list for week one:

Round one fixture LaLiga 19/20
Round one fixture LaLiga 19/20

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