Real Madrid and Barcelona are set to square off in the UEFA Champions League final on June 3rd. The two sides have met in three of the last four finals, with Real winning each time. In this match-up, it’s hard to choose a winner as both teams have been dominant throughout the season.
The where is lionel messi from is a question that has been asked for years. Many people believe that if Messi left Barcelona, then the team would crumble and lose to Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid.
Is everyone anticipating the start of the new LaLiga season? While there were a few notable departures in the summer transfer window — we hear Lionel Messi left Barcelona for Paris, and his longtime Real Madrid rival Sergio Ramos followed him to Paris — the talent levels are sky-high, and the top clubs look set to battle for the title from the first game to the last.
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Atletico Madrid, the defending champions, have had a very quiet transfer window, while Real Madrid bid goodbye to manager Zinedine Zidane and welcomed back an old friend in Carlo Ancelotti, who may be able to bring out the best in Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale. — and the other of the top clubs (Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Sociedad) seem to be just as hungry to compete for a spot in the Champions League.
But, before we go into a new season of suspense and drama, let’s take a look at where we are now. Before the season, ESPN’s Sid Lowe and Sam Marsden break down all you need to know about all 20 clubs.
ALAVES FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FIN
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Pellistri, Facundo (Man United, loan) MF Manu Garcia is one of the key departures (end of contract)
Expectations/History: They say, “Mendi mola.” “Mendizorroza [their stadium] is awe-inspiring.” It hasn’t happened in the last 18 months, and they’ve been missing it. Alaves is one of those clubs that has a unique bond with its supporters. They’re back now, although in fewer numbers, for the season’s first match — against Real Madrid.
With numerous managerial changes, they came dangerously near to relegation in the quiet. It’s too early to pass judgment, and it won’t be easy, but it seems that this is a team that wants to change its footballing identity. It won’t be the same in one way: captain, local guy, and season ticket holder Manu Garcia has been forced to go. Despite the fact that he has been replaced by, uh, Manu Garcia.
Issues/Challenges: Javi Calleja is a coach whose personality does not fully match that of past managers, and he will need to adjust to play a more patient, technical game. And it’s not like there’s been a massive reorganization of players to do so. Lucas Perez will be cast in what role? What, more crucially, happens to Joselu, who was probably their most vital player in surviving last season but now seems to be out of the starting lineup? Sid Lowe’s quote
Lowe’s forecast: 18th. Marsden’s forecast: 17th.
ATHLETIC BILBAO FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON
DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF Alex Petxa is a Spanish actor (Real Sociedad) FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Gomez, Ibai (end of contract)
Expectations/History: Marcelino took over as coach from Gaizka Garitano in the middle of the season and guided Athletic to Super Cup victory, shocking Barcelona in the final. However, they lost both the delayed 2019-20 final against Real Sociedad and last season’s final against Barca in April, and their cup heroics led to some uneven league results, which they’ll be trying to rectify this time around. In his first full season at San Mames, Marcelino will be expected to lead the team to European contention.
Issues/Challenges: Athletic boasted Spain’s sixth-best defense last season, but they scored the fewest goals in the top half of the league. Alex Berenguer, a winger, led the league in goals with eight, while forward Inaki Williams only had six. The Spain striker has blazing speed, but he doesn’t score often enough. Athletic may surprise many if Marcelino can help Williams become more clinical. Sam Marsden (actor)
11th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 6th place
ATLETICO MADRID WON THE PREMIER LEAGUE LAST SEASON
MF Rodrigo de Paul is one of the most important newcomers (Udinese) FW Alvaro Morata (Juventus, loan), FW Moussa Dembele (Juventus, loan) (Lyon, end of loan)
Expectations/History: Champions, and it doesn’t seem like a one-time occurrence, at least not right now. Atletico has a calmness about them that, along with concerns about Real Madrid and Barcelona, has many wondering whether they can win back-to-back championships for the first time in 70 years.
There may be some changes between now and the conclusion of the transfer window, with Kieran Trippier and Saul among those who could go, but the squad won’t look too different from last season — with the exception of Rodrigo de Paul’s intriguing arrival. There should also be a forward on the way.
Will Luis Suarez do it again? Issues/Challenges: It seems doubtful, and the other striker’s contribution — perhaps Rafa Mir, who appears to be on his way — might be crucial. Furthermore, Trippier’s departure would have a much greater effect than most people believe. Last season, his hybrid role was crucial in their five-into-four-into-three defensive line. Diego Simeone’s son Giuliano will also be entertaining to watch, as he plays up front while his father patrols the touchline. No worries, buddy. — Mr. Lowe
3rd, according to Lowe. Second, according to Marsden.
BARCELONA 3rd place in the previous season
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and FW Memphis Depay (Lyon) Lionel Messi is one of the most notable departures (Paris Saint-Germain)
Expectations/History: This season, Barca takes a step into the unknown as they enter the post-Lionel Messi era, and it comes much sooner than they expected. The Argentine striker was a major role in the club’s 15-year dominance of Spanish football, but he currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain. Coach Ronald Koeman will still be expected to launch a championship push in his absence, with Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero drafted in to fill the gap left by Messi’s absence. Last season’s Copa del Rey victory was not regarded acceptable by president Joan Laporta, who contemplated terminating the Dutchman’s contract. He kept him on in the end, but made it plain that he needed to perform better this time.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, and others to discuss the most recent news and debate the most important stories. ESPN+ has a live stream available (U.S. only).
Issues/Challenges: While everyone will be talking about how to replace Messi’s production, the greatest work has to be done in defense. Last season, Barca allowed 38 goals, ten more than Madrid and thirteen more than Atletico Madrid, with untimely mistakes costing them points against clubs like Cadiz and Granada. There are plenty quality centre-backs for Koeman to choose from, but it’s unclear who will be his first-choice combination. Going into the season, none of his choices are very strong. Gerard Pique is getting on in years; Oscar Mingueza, Eric Garcia, and Ronald Araujo are still young; Clement Lenglet’s form dropped last season; and the club is still attempting to sell Samuel Umtiti. Marsden’s words
Champions, according to Lowe’s. Champions, according to Marsden.
Barcelona’s assault will be headed by Memphis Depay assuming the club can register their new acquisitions, which would be significantly different without Messi. Getty Images/Peter Salado/Quality Sport Images
VIGO CELTA 8th place in the previous season
DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF FW Javi Galan (Huesca) Cervi, Franco (Benfica) DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF Murillo, Jeison (Sampdoria, end of loan)
Expectations/History: By the end of the season, much of the focus had shifted elsewhere, but Eduardo Coudet did an incredible job at Celta, arriving and bringing them from the bottom of the table to the brink of European football with a dynamic, mobile, fluid, and very attacking approach that was often a lot of fun to watch and should be again. Of course, Iago Aspas is always there. Galan’s emergence as a (attacking) left-back should be a fantastic addition to the team’s overall strategy. They’ll have their moments, but it’s possible that in the more difficult games, they’ll add one additional defensive midfielder.
Problems/Difficulties: What happens if Aspas isn’t available? That is a common question. It may also be played with Renato Tapia in lieu of Aspas: his position at the base of the midfield is crucial in enabling players in front of him to move, attack, and head up the pitch. They will rely largely on him. Also, can they maintain their high-intensity, all-out approach for the whole season, or will they need to evolve? In principle, bringing back fans might help. — Mr. Lowe
7th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 9th place
CADIZ finished 12th last season.
DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF Real Madrid loanee Victor Chust, Cerro Porteno DF Santiago Arzamendia, O’Higgins MF Tomas Alarcon FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Saponjic, Ivan (Atletico Madrid, end of loan)
Expectations/History: Cadiz surpassed all expectations last season in their first season back in the top division since 2005-06. Before the season began, they were among the relegation favorites, but coach Alvaro Cervera guided them to a stunning 12th-place finish, with highlights including a four-point victory over Barcelona and a win away at Real Madrid in October. Their team has a lot of experience. The big name is veteran striker Alvaro Negredo, who scored eight league goals last season, but he’s backed up by a cast of streetwise youngsters. They should be able to remain up once more.
Issues/Challenges: Cadiz will have to overcome “second season syndrome” if they wish to stay in LaLiga for a third consecutive season. When newly promoted teams initially come up, they typically ride a wave of momentum, and Cervera’s side was no exception. They only lost two of their first eight games as they made up for lost time after 15 years out of the Primera Division, only to wilt in the middle of the season before rebounding late in the season. The greatest danger to their existence is complacency. Marsden’s words
14th, according to Lowe’s. Marsden’s prediction is that he will finish 16th.
Julien Laurens investigates Barcelona’s financial problems ahead of their LaLiga debut versus Real Sociedad.
ELCHE finished 17th last season.
GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, G Kiko Casilla (on loan from Leeds United), Lucas Boye (Torino), and Ivan Marcone (MF) (Boca Juniors) GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, FW Nino (Tottenham, on loan), Paulo Gazzaniga (Tottenham, on loan) (retired)
Expectations/History: Elche’s survival on a dramatic final day of the season last time around was sealed by back-to-back victories in their last two games. They had been written off, but wins away at Cadiz and at home against Athletic Bilbao rescued them from relegation, while Huesca fell instead. Coach Fran Escriba can anticipate more of the same this season in his second stint with the club. Elche has one of the smallest teams in the league, with no new additions yet. Last week, Escriba said, “We need more players.” “The club said that up to ten acquisitions might be made, but we’ve only made five so far. It’s not ideal thus close to the start of the season.”
Issues/Challenges: Last season, Elche struggled away from the Estadio Martnez Valero, winning just three of their 19 away games. Only their home point haul kept them afloat. They may not be as fortunate this season, and Escriba will need to improve their away-from-home record if he wants to prevent any more final-day drama. Marsden’s words
Lowe’s forecast: 19th (relegated) Marsden’s forecast: 20th (relegated)
Last season, ESPANYOL won the Segunda Division (promoted)
DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF Sevilla’s Sergi Gomez, Anderlecht’s Landry Dimata, and Sevilla’s Alvaro Vadillo (Celta Vigo) Important Departures: None
Expectations/History: After being demoted in 2019-20, Barcelona’s second club won the second level and returned to the top flight at the first time of asking. While relegation was painful at the time, it enabled Espanyol to start again. Javi Puado, a young striker who scored 12 league goals last season, has now been handed a chance in the first squad. Along with Espanyol colleague Oscar Gil, he earned a silver medal in the Olympic Games this summer. They are bolstered by a group of players, like attacker Raul de Tomas and midfielder Sergi Darder, who are more than capable of playing in LaLiga.
Issues/Challenges: Vicente Moreno took over last summer and performed a fantastic job in his debut season, guiding the team out of the second tier. He has prior experience in this area, having led Mallorca to the top division in 2019, although he has yet to break LaLiga. He was demoted at the first try with Mallorca, and the goal now is to prevent a recurrence with Espanyol. Marsden’s words
12th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 13th.
GETAFE FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FIN
FW Vitolo (on loan from Atletico Madrid), DF Mitrovic, Stefan (Strasbourg) FW Angel, FW Angel, FW Angel, FW Angel, FW Angel, FW Angel (Mallorca)
Expectations/History: Everything changed in the Coliseum, where Pepe Bordalas, a guy obsessed with the Romans, accomplished incredible feats but also where things broke down and, in retrospect, he may have stayed a season too long. Michel is the new manager, and he is back at the club for the second time. His style is completely different, ranging from harsh to technical.
There will be a change in style and structure, as well as personnel changes, albeit few of the original starters have left. (The exception is Angel, who was often used off the bench.) Carles Alena will be a bigger focal point in the center, and the team will switch to a 4-3-3 formation.
Problems/Challenges: How fast can they change their style? It may be a tall order for some of the old guard. There are still certain restrictions in the team. Michel is not naïve, despite his devotion to a footballing culture in which he wants the ball and wants to create attacks. He’s looking for a change. Is he able to resurrect Vitolo? Whether that’s the case, he may have a very valuable player on his hands, but you can’t help but worry if it’s too late. — Mr. Lowe
15th, according to Lowe’s. Marsden’s forecast: 12th.
GRANADA FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FIN
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, MF Monchu, Carlos Bacca (Villarreal) (Barcelona) FW Roberto Soldado (Levante), MF Yangel Herrera (Man City, end of loan) and DF Nehuen Perez are among the key departures (Atletico Madrid, end of loan)
Expectations/History: There have been few greater tales in Spain in the last three years than Granada’s. They returned to LaLiga in 2019 after a two-year hiatus, placing seventh in their first season back, good enough to qualify for the Europa League last season. They advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating Napoli, but were defeated by Manchester United. Despite being preoccupied by Europe, they managed to finish in the top half for the second year in a row. Coach Diego Martinez, however, the man responsible for their recent success, has chosen not to extend his contract. As a result, the bar for new coach Roberto Moreno has been set very high.
Issues/Challenges: Although new coach Moreno has coached at the highest level with Barcelona and Spain, he has yet to establish himself as a head coach. He was regarded as one of Luis Enrique’s aides at Barca and accompanied him to Spain, where he managed for a short while in 2019 when Luis Enrique was away. In 2019, he was named coach of Monaco, however he was fired after just five victories in 13 games. Is he finally ready to take the next step? Marsden’s words
16th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 14th.
Gab Marcotti responds to Atletico Madrid’s bid for Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul, a Copa America champion.
LEVANTE finished 14th last season.
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Enric Franquesa (DF) and Roberto Soldado (Getafe) (Villarreal) FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Rochina, Ruben (end of contract)
Expectations/History: Paco Lopez’s Levante is capable of both the magnificent and the mundane, so you never know what you’ll get. Last season, they won at Madrid and Atletico, but then drew at home against Granada and Athletic. They also went winless in their last eight games, which will be a worry when the season gets underway this weekend. Roberto Soldado has come from Granada, and seeing him attack with captain Jose Luis Morales should be entertaining.
Issues/Challenges: The epidemic has wreaked havoc on Levante’s finances, and the club is racing against the clock to register its three summer acquisitions with LaLiga for the upcoming season. Currently, neither Soldado, Franquesa, nor Roger Brugue (signed from Segunda Division’s CD Mirandes) have been inscribed for the upcoming season. President Quico Catalan is optimistic that all will work out, but time is running out. Marsden’s words
10th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 11th place
MALLORCA Last season, they finished second in the Segunda Division and were promoted.
FW Angel (Getafe), DF Pablo Maffeo (Stuttgart, loan), FW Victor Mollejo (Atletico Madrid, loan), DF Jaume Costa (Atletico Madrid, loan) are among the newcomers (Villarreal) FW Amath Ndiaye, FW Amath Ndiaye, FW Amath Ndiaye, FW Am (Getafe, end of loan)
Expectations/History: The team returns after a year away, having excelled in the second level under the guidance of Luis Garcia, who was eager to return to Spain following a stint in China. He supervised an amazing comeback but understands that survival is a different thing. Charismatic, clear, and experienced, but connected to his players, he oversaw an impressive return but knows that survival is a different issue.
Despite changing divisions for six straight seasons, the team has a certain institutional stability under Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns, who purchased Mallorca in 2016. Andy Kohlberg is the president, while Steve Nash and Graeme Le Saux are on the board of directors.
Issues/Challenges: There have been major arrivals for a team that recognizes that the first division is a different animal, despite the fact that the center of the field seems to remain unchanged. Costa and Maffeo, the full-backs, have played at the highest level. They’ve also had Daniel Sturridge train with them, giving him the opportunity to demonstrate his fitness and form in the hopes of signing him. What will it take to bring it all together? Is the level sufficient to allow you to live without suffering? — Mr. Lowe
Lowe’s forecast: 17th. Prediction by Marsden: 18th (relegated)
OSASUNA Last year’s ranking: 11th
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Garcia, Enrique (Eibar) Important Departures: FW Jony (Lazio, end of loan)
Expectations/History: When Osasuna attempted to sign Chimy Avila, they gave him DVDs of the supporters instead of team DVDs. And it says a lot about this Pamplona-based club. The supporters are devoted and vocal, and it shows in the way they play, with coach Jagoba Arrasate, called “our Klopp” by the sports director, attempting to establish a sense of unity and continuity between the bleachers and the field. Quick, forceful, and straightforward. The epidemic shattered that whole concept, especially because it coincided with the rebuilding of the El Sadar, which was just as steep, just as narrow, but taller and more complete than ever before. They’ve returned. Chimy is as well.
Issues/Challenges: Chimy is returning after a second severe knee injury, which is important for Osasuna. Of course, the question will be whether he can maintain his status as a one-man human wrecking ball. And, more importantly, if they will be able to keep him in the closing days of the transfer window. Despite arriving from outside, he seemed like the essence of Osasuna, and now the supporters who feed it all have returned. Will it, however, feel a bit strange this time? How quickly can they re-establish contact? — Mr. Lowe
13th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 15th.
Gab Marcotti has some concerns about Barcelona’s signing of Sergio Aguero and how he will fit into the squad.
VALLECANO RAYO Last season, they finished sixth in the Segunda Division and were promoted via the playoffs.
MF, MF, MF, MF, MF, MF, MF Pathe Ciss (Fuenlabrada), DF Randy Nteka (Fuenlabrada) Garcia, Fran (Real Madrid Castilla) DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF DF Advincula, Luis (Boca Juniors)
Expectations/History: After coming from Mirandes, talented young coach Andoni Iraola guided Rayo Vallecano back into LaLiga in his first season. In Spain, the former Athletic Bilbao and New York City full-back is highly regarded, and if he can keep Rayo in contention, his reputation will soar. The Madrid-based club has been a bit of a yo-yo squad in recent seasons, having been promoted to the first division three times and demoted twice since 2010.
Issues/Challenges: Iraola’s promotion may have come too soon. In the closing stages of the season, they snuck back into the playoffs before defeating Leganes and Girona to reclaim their spot in LaLiga. The team, on the other hand, seems to be lacking in quality, with the only significant additions coming from Fuenlabrada, a little Madrid club. Will they be able to overcome the odds? Marsden’s words
20th, according to Lowe’s (relegated) Marsden’s forecast: 19th (relegated)
REAL BETIS FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL
DF Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), DF Juan Miranda (Bordeaux) (Barcelona) DF Emerson Royal (Barcelona), DF Aissa Mandi (Barcelona), DF Emerson Royal (Barcelona), DF Emerson Royal (Barcelona), DF Emerson Royal (Barcelon (Villarreal)
Expectations/History: As Manuel Pellegrini’s team secured a Europa League place in the second half of last season, it nearly went unnoticed how excellent Real Betis were in the second half. Seville’s team has only lost two of their past 22 league games after losing 11 of their first 16. In the second part of the season, they were only beaten by Barca and Sevilla. They’re entertaining to watch when they’re at their best, with players like Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir, while striker Borja Iglesias has rediscovered his shooting boots after the holidays. He scored 10 goals in his last 15 games of the season.
Issues/Challenges: This season, Betis has the additional thrill of European play, but it also comes with increased pressure. Every Thursday and Sunday, the games will come thick and fast, and Pellegrini will have to make excellent use of his squad to balance the Europa League and LaLiga. There is depth available, and Villarreal demonstrated that last season, but many teams have found it difficult to balance the two tournaments. Marsden’s words
Prediction by Lowe: 8th place Prediction by Marsden: 8th place
REAL MADRID FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, DF David Alaba (Bayern Munich), MF Gareth Bale (Tottenham, on loan), MF David Alaba (Bayern Munich). Martin Odegaard is a Danish designer (Arsenal, end of loan) Zinedine Zidane (Manager), DF are among the key departures. Sergio Ramos (PSG when contract expires), DF Varane, Raphael (Manchester United)
Expectations/History: Zidane, Sergio Ramos, and Varane have all left the club. Luka Modric can no longer play every game, Cristiano Ronaldo has already gone, and Marcelo seems unlikely to play a significant role. However, Carlo Ancelotti has returned, and several of the players remain, namely Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema.
“Only the managers change,” Ancelotti quipped during his presentation. He knows he can’t make any more changes: money is tight, and acquisitions will be limited as they save for Kylian Mbappe, who is expected to arrive next summer. He understands that his duty is to make the most of what he has. And he’s just delighted to be here.
Issues/Challenges: There is still talent in the squad, as well as a younger generation that might be brought in decisively — Vinicius, Rodrygo, Federico Valverde — but it’s unclear how big of a part they will play. Martin Odegaard, Gareth Bale, and Dani Ceballos are among the loanees who have returned. Could they now play a part without Zidane? Bale, in particular, is intriguing: can he be resurrected for the cause, assisting them in overcoming their goal deficit from last season? On the surface, the center-back pairing of Eder Militao and Alaba seems to be a good one, but how do you rebuild a defense after the departure of the two guys who have kept it together for so long? — Mr. Lowe
2nd, according to Lowe’s. 3rd, according to Marsden.
REAL SOCIEDAD FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL
GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, GK, G FW Mat Ryan (Brighton) Jose Willian (Wolves, end of loan) None of the major departures are noteworthy.
Expectations/History: Real Sociedad is located in San Sebastian, perhaps Spain’s most picturesque city; they are the only club with a second-division B squad; and they were Copa del Rey champions last season (actually, the season before), although for just two weeks. A beautiful squad to watch as well: fluid, technical, and a lot of fun, with a lot of youth system grads. Their manager, who is both a fan and a coach, is also from the area. They have a distinct identity and will be easily identifiable from last season, though injuries and the Olympics may make them less so in the early going. And they have a very exciting striker in Alexander Isak.
Issues/Challenges: It’s a cliché to worry about the consistency of a young squad, so let’s not. Not least because this side has shown that faults aren’t the end of the story. They aren’t very tough, but they are competitive and fast, and they have a lot of character. If there’s any question, it’s about their capacity to finish off teams. — Mr. Lowe
5th, according to Lowe’s. 7th, according to Marsden.
SEVILLA FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL
FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, FW, Erik Lamela is a professional ice hockey player (Tottenham) Bryan Gil (Tottenham), FW Bryan Gil (Tottenham), DF Bryan Gil (Tottenham), FW Bryan Gil (Tottenham), FW Bryan Sergi Gomez is a Mexican actor (Espanyol)
Expectations/History: Against all odds, Julen Lopetegui maintained Sevilla in the championship chase until the final weeks of the previous season. They lost in the end, but placing fourth, only two points behind Barcelona, was better than anybody had anticipated and ensured their spot in the Champions League once again. Sevilla’s player turnover is notoriously high — their director of football, Monchi, is a constant presence in every transfer window — but they’ve had a relatively calm summer by their standards, which may help them in a wide-open championship fight.
Issues/Challenges: Sevilla is in a difficult situation where they stand to lose more than they gain. Everyone expects them to place fourth, so anything less would be a disappointment. But will they be able to keep up with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona this season? Last season showed that the distance is narrowing, but expecting Lopetegui’s team to crack the top three is still unreasonable. Marsden’s words
4th, according to Lowe’s. Prediction by Marsden: 4th place
VALENCIA finished 13th last season.
Key Departures: FW Key Arrivals: None Kevin Gameiro is a Brazilian footballer (Strasbourg)
Expectations/History: Valencia was destroyed at the start of last season, selling six players and firing the coach who had guided them to a Champions League berth and a Copa del Rey victory. Javi Gracia, the manager, couldn’t contain the feeling of catastrophe that had taken over. In reality, he soon decided he wanted to go, and they wanted to fire him; it was only the expense of the payment that kept it from occurring until late in the season, when Valencia’s first-division survival was in jeopardy.
Those departures, at the very least, foreshadowed a larger problem, and there haven’t been any more this summer. Jose Bordalas, a former foe, has been brought in as the new manager to provide a harder, more aggressive style that is allegedly better in line with the current reality.
Issues/Challenges: Bordalas and his team’s physical style, as well as the sometimes angry response to him, fueled the development of a new and often really vicious Spanish football rivalry, Getafe vs. Valencia. Signing him might have been seen as provocative by supporters who are already publicly opposed to the club’s ownership. The issue then becomes how he will win them over (and how long it will take), and what he will do to get things back on track. The goal is to play in Europe, but is that realistic? — Mr. Lowe
9th, according to Lowe’s. Marsden’s forecast: 10th place.
VILLARREAL FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL SEASON FINAL
DF Aissa Mandi (Real Betis), DF Jaume Costa (Mallorca), FW Carlos Bacca are among the key arrivals (Granada)
Expectations/History: Villarreal won their first title by defeating Manchester United in the most dramatic Europa League final in history, which included a 22-penalty shootout. When Fernando Roig took control, a small, indebted, and mostly unimportant club was turned into a fixture in Europe, and that success was long deserved. A second trophy shouldn’t be too difficult to come by. The addition of Mandi improves their center-back position, but it remains to be seen if someone will replace Pau Torres, a youth squad product and the sole player from the 50,000-person town where they are located.
Issues/Challenges: Villarreal should be able to continue up where they left off, and there are few genuine questions about the personnel or the style they will play, but it has been a difficult preseason, with injuries and COVID-19 forcing some training to be put on hold and games to be postponed. They should be able to overcome it soon enough, since Gerard Moreno’s contract was renewed, the team has talent and depth, and coach Unai Emery is in a great position after finally delivering that first title — after a first season marred by concerns. — Mr. Lowe
6th, according to Lowe’s. Marsden’s forecast: 5th place.
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