Members: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético
Real Madrid were 13 points clear of Barcelona last season, but this time it won’t be the same. The Catalans had a very impressive transfer campaign, for which President Joan Laporta sold commercial rights left and right, and as a result they assembled a very top squad, ready to compete for all the trophies.
It is important that the blaugrane managed to strengthen all the lines. Jules Kunde and Andreas Christensen came to the defense, and Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta (the last three from Chelsea) are ready to follow them, Frank Kessier, atypical for Barca, but very powerful, appeared in the support zone, and the attack will be carried out by a super striker Robert Lewandowski and Leeds techie Rafinha.
If there are no excesses, Xavi will have two world-class players for each position. True, an emergency can still happen. At the time of writing, the Blue Garnets are unable to register newcomers due to strict La Liga rules. Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto, who signed new contracts, are in the same position.
The club is still trying to solve these problems, which requires selling players, lowering salaries and so on. If the case drags on, one of the players can simply run away. Christensen and Kessier have already hinted that if they are not registered for the first round (Barca host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday), they will leave the club.
“Real” remained itself. The arrival of Kylian Mbappe could radically change the team, but the Frenchman exchanged his dream for the opportunity to be the main figure in a top club, which, in addition to him, includes Neymar and Lionel Messi. As a result, Florentino Perez also missed the opportunity to acquire Erling Haaland and limited himself to two newcomers – one of the best central defenders of our time, Antonio Rüdiger, came to the center of defense, and the talented Aurélien Tchouameni came to the center of midfield. Madrid are seriously counting on the fact that the resource of this squad has not yet been developed, and given the outstanding last season, they have every right to do so. The main thing is that Carlo Ancelotti is in place.
Formally, Atletico is considered the third contender for gold, but it’s hard to imagine that the mattress toppers could seriously compete with the giants. When they are lame, they give a chance to the team of Diego Simeone, but now they are in perfect order, and the Madrid themselves have been strengthened only by the aging Axel Witsel.
FIGHT FOR A PLACE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Members: Sevilla, Betis, Real Sociedad, Villarreal
If the first three positions are reserved in advance for the giants, then the fight for the fourth ticket to the Champions League is often very hot. The favorites in it will be Sevilla and Villarreal.
Both teams have top coaches – Julen Lopetegui and Unai Emery. Experience speaks in favor of the Andalusians – the oldest squad in the league (28.8 years) and fourth place last season. True, the coaching staff will have to reassemble the center of defense, which Kunde and Diego Carlos left. But Isco came (should add brightness to the attack) and Alex Telles (on loan from Manchester United).
For the “submariners”, the strongest squad in this quartet, which reached the Champions League semi-finals in the spring, which even Barca and Atlético failed to do. Real stars play here – Pau Torres, Arno Danjuma, Gerard Moreno. The loss of the “yellow submarine” was avoided, although there was no reinforcement. We only note the return of 39-year-old Pepe Reina, who played for the team back in 2002-2005.
Real Sociedad also have an excellent selection of players (Miquel Oyarzabal, Mikel Merino, Alexander Isac), and Betis have the experience of Manuel Pellegrini and a strong last season in which the team finished five points in the Champions League zone.
Clubs: Almeria, Valladolid, Girona
Almería fans look to the future with the greatest confidence. Their team improved from year to year and on the third attempt in a dramatic struggle managed to return to the elite, and even won the second. True, having passed along the very edge, only one point separated her from the third line. Moreover, a miracle happened in the final round, when the leading Eibar sensationally lost to the last (!) League team Alcorcon. In terms of the cost of the composition, Almeria is the 14th team in La Liga. She is coached by Ruby, known for his work at Betis and Espanyol.
Valladolid came second with the same number of points (81 each) in the spring, which in general did not surprise anyone – the team that had just taken off from the tower was initially considered the strongest and as a result scored the most (71 goals in 42 matches). It can even be said that the favorite performed below his capabilities. For example, for the entire season, he never rose to the first line and only after the 29th round did he gain a foothold in the top three. The main striking force of the team is 26-year-old Sean Weissman, who scored 20 goals last season. To date, the composition of the team is considered the weakest in the elite.
Girona also did not perform as well as expected. In any case, she started as one of the five favorites, but after 18 rounds she was only 10th. They managed to break into the leaders due to a strong segment in December-March, after which the team swam again and miraculously kept the sixth line, giving the right to fight in the playoffs (bypassed Oviedo in additional indicators). The decisive matches turned out to be dramatic. In the semi-finals, Girona knocked out poor fellow Eibar (0:1 at home, 2:0 away), and then surpassed Tenerife (0:0 at home, 3:1 away). The savior was 35-year-old Christian Stuani, who scored 22 goals in a season.
Individually in the rookie teams, we note Almeria forward Umar Sadiq (the Nigerian has two goals in six matches for Roma and 38 goals in the last two seasons in the Segunda), its 18-year-old defender Kaiku (he came from Santos in the summer), Girona midfielder Yangel Herrera (on loan from Man City) and striker Tatu Castellanos (on loan from New York) as well as the aforementioned Weissmann. These players at the end of the season are able to go on promotion.
OPENING OF THE YEAR (TEAM)
The Spanish Championship is one of the most logical in Europe. The quality of the composition almost always determines the position of the teams with a fairly low margin of error. If you should expect a breakthrough from someone, then, perhaps, from a team from the suburbs of Madrid, who finished last season in a modest 15th place.
The “City” then traditionally relied on defensive football, but flunked the start – seven defeats in a row and the first victory already in the 12th round. By that time, Michel, who came in the summer (the same one who played for Real for 12 years and coached Sevilla, Olympiacos and Marseille), was replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores. He established a defensive game, as evidenced by the victory over Real Madrid (1: 0), draws with Barcelona, Betis and Real Sociedad (all 0: 0) and the difficult retention of a place in the sun relegation separated by one point).
Nevertheless, the tendency to improve the game was evident. Plus, in the summer, the team strengthened the attack by renting winger Porto from Sociedad and acquiring striker Borja Mayoral from Real Madrid. And with three caps for Portugal, Domingos Duarte will certainly help to strengthen the defense. At the same time, captain Dzhene, midfielders Mauro Arambarri and Nemanja Maksimovic and forward Enesh Ünal, worth 25 million euros, remained in the team.
There is only one significant loss – left-back Matias Oliveira, who spent a very good season, moved to Napoli for 11 million.
DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR (PLAYER)
Dani Vivian (Athletic)
Spain is always full of talented football players, so the choice is extremely difficult. I deliberately brush aside well-known players from top clubs like Gavi. He can give out an inimitably cool season, but since everyone already knows him, this will not be a revelation. For the same reason, he left out Tchuameni or, for example, Jeremy Pino, who has 6 + 4 in the championship and two matches in the Champions League playoffs behind him.
Among the non-names, I would like to draw attention to the 23-year-old Athletic defender. Naturally, he is a Basque, but he got into the team from Bilbao only at the age of 18, so he is mostly a graduate of small regional teams.
Gradually, they began to pull him up to the first team back in 2018, but then he was still raw, so he played for the youth team in the third league, and in the 2020/21 season he went on loan to Mirandes, who played in the segunda, where he spent a full season and even regularly donned the captain’s armband. The experience turned out to be successful, and last season Vivian managed to gain a foothold in the basis of Athletic.
Dani is a rather unusual central defender. His height is a rather modest 84 centimeters, however, he is very dangerous on set pieces in someone else’s penalty area – in the segunda he has 2+1 in 32 matches, and in the example the same 2+1 in 24 games. Last season, Real Sociedad and Mallorca suffered from his quickness (Athletic won both matches).
Due to not the greatest growth, playing on the second floor is considered Vivian’s weak point, but he compensates for this shortcoming with high intelligence – he correctly reads the game and takes the right position. It is no coincidence that he is in the top 10 players of last season in terms of the number of ball clearances from the box (4.5). And for a defender, he has excellent possession of the ball, has a delivered first pass (per game makes 3.8 accurate long passes) and periodically performs standards.
Vivian is a player with a very interesting set of qualities, which, if progress continues, can be very useful for teams with an attacking mentality. The coming season should confirm or refute his prospects to play in a top club.
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