WE'RE delighted to have Madrid-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) on WLB. The Spanish football expert has penned a bumper 2019/20 La Liga preview and in this piece, looks towards the race for survival.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | La Liga: Best Of The Rest
The Basque Country usually provides us with great entertainment and this season looks no different, especially at Anoeta where Real Sociedad fans are extremely optimistic given the arrival of the likes of Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid, Cristian Portu from Girona and the highly-rated Swedish attacker Alexander Isak from Borussia Dortmund which will help supplement the superb Mikel Oyarzabal in attack.
Goal backers should add La Real to their list as their potent attack, combined with the major doubts about their defence and midfield solidity, looks to be the ideal cocktail for a number of high-scoring encoutners throughout the season ahead.
When they click, they are fabulous to watch with their pace, movement and fearlessness in attack. Add them to your ‘Watch List’ – that’s if you can actually watch La Liga somewhere…
After a disastrous start last season, Athletic Bilbao steadied the ship and got back to basics with the aggressive, up-and-at-em style which this region has long been famous for. They will be extremely difficult to beat at San Mamés but the Basque giants simply do not score enough goals to be able to mount a serious challenge at European football.
Iñaki Williams is not a reliable goalscorer but Athletic do need more from him given the aging bones of key players Raul Garcia and Aritz Aduriz; he showed in flashes last season what he is capable of but he needs to add consistency to his game, or its going to be another tough season for Gaizka Garitano’s men.
Fifty kilometres over the road, Eibar should once again provide us with goals and entertainment as the club from a town of less than 30,000 inhabitants continue to defy the odds. It will be interesting to see how Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men can bounce back from the departure of three key players from last season: Joan Jordan, Rubén Peña (two players who featured in many pundits Team of the Season) and Marc Cucurella.
The minnows will continue to play their high-tempo, get-the-ball-into-the-box game, while hoping they can score more than they concede. Another dream team for BTTS backers.
Both Celta Vigo and Villarreal suffered major scares last season and will be looking to avoid such a strenuous situation this time around.
The men from Vigo went through three different managers, conceding a whopping 62 league goals along the way, while the Yellow Submarine didn’t fare much better conceding 52.
Villarreal have strengthened their leaky defence through the arrival of experienced Raúl Albiol and the previously mentioned Peña but the arrival of Alberto Moreno should keep things interesting at the back. Last season they depended heavily on Santi Cazorla and its unrealistic to expect another remarkable season from the ‘wee magician’, as Gerry Armstrong would say.
However, Vicente Iborra proved to be an inspired winter signing, instilling a steeliness and physical presence the Villareal team was badly lacking. The Yellow Submarine need Gerard Moreno to find his Espanyol form but should be encouraged by the development of attackers Toko Ekambi and Samu Chukwueze, and it’s reasonable to expect a much better showing at the Estadio de la Cerámica this time around.
In a similar vein, Celta cannot expect to be single-handedly carried by Iago Aspas once again and the signing of Vigo-born Denis Suarez and Santi Mina should provide a squad, which was sleepwalking to the Segunda until an Aspas intervention, with much-needed passion, pride and, of course, quality.
Maxi Gomez will be a huge loss and I’m not convinced Celta have enough goals across the team to avoid yet another nail-biting season. Add this to the fact that they still look extremely vulnerable in defence and leaderless in the middle of the field, and it seems highly likely that Fran Escribá will have another relegation scrap on his hands. At 6/1 (Paddy Power) they're worth a poke for a bottom-three finish.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | La Liga: Relegation
Since La Liga reverted back to a 20-team league in 1999, each season at least one promoted team has avoided relegation and in the last decade we have seen all three promoted teams avoid relegation on four occasions – a word of warning for the likes of Leganes, Valladolid, Levante etc.
New boys Osasuna will be looking to carry on their truly phenomenal home form as they return to the Primera; they ended the season as Segunda champions having won SEVENTEEN consecutive home games at El Sadar, where they went the entire season without defeat in their intimidating fortress.
Granada must have been inspired by Tony Adams’ moves in the final weeks of their last stint in the Primera as they went on to concede the fewest goals in the Segunda (28) in 2018/19 on their way to immediately returning to the top-flight. They have Adrian Ramos, Darwin Machís and veteran Roberto Soldado in attack which suggests that if their defence can produce a similarly excellent season – albeit at a much higher level – Granada have a very strong chance of survival.
Mallorca have essentially had a month less time to prepare for life back in the Primera than Osasuna and Granada and it seems that they will look to complete a number of signings before the transfer window closes. It is therefore difficult to judge how the Balearic islanders will fare and it’s best to wait until their squad settles before passing judgement.
Mallorca are the favourites for the drop but I am always wary of backing against the island teams, especially Mallorca who have a great tradition and strong fanbase, and will be extremely hard to beat in Estadi de Son Moix as they will look to carry on their momentum of back to back promotions.
If history repeats itself, at least one existing Primera team will fall and I’m looking not far from the Spanish capital as prime candidates. They might benefit from a few quality transfers from their friends at the Santiago Bernabeu but Valladolid still look to lack sufficient quality in a number of key areas and could be set for another difficult season.
I fully expect at least two of the promoted teams to mount a serious challenge at survival; rather than the gung-ho, kamikaze football of Rayo Vallecano and Huesca, the likes of Granada and Osasuna will be far more conservative and street-wise which will put far more pressure on the likes of Valladolid.
Pedro Porro is a quality loan signing from Manchester City but goals will be a problem once again at the José Zorrilla and, at the prices, I’m taking Valladolid to run out of luck at 15/8 (Blacktype).
When searching for value in the Relegation market, I’m looking at a team who were in fifth place and one point behind Real Madrid last Christmas.
Despite the impressive signings of Aleix Vidal, Pere Pons and Lucas Perez, I don’t like the current dynamic at Alavés: they completely overachieved in the first half of last season and dropped like a stone in 2019, winning only one of their final 10 league games.
Manager Abelardo departed and has been replaced by Asier Garitano, who was sacked by Real Sociedad on Boxing Day in what was his first high-profile job after bringing Leganés to the Primera. The pressure is on Garitano now because one more failure and he might not get another chance in the top-flight for quite a while.
Alavés really suffered in the wake of Ibai Gomez’s departure to Athletic in January and the loss of Jony, arguably their player of the season, is a huge blow. Individually, Alavés are superior to the promoted teams but the signs do point to a really tough slog ahead at Mendizorrotza and they appeal at 9/4 (BetVictor) for the drop.
What to look out for in La Liga this season?
- Teams to side with: Valencia, Getafe, Villarreal
- Teams to avoid: Celta Vigo, Athletic Bilbao, Real Valladolid, Alavés
- Goals and entertainment: Real Sociedad, Villarreal, Eibar
- Under 2.5 merchants: Leganés, Granada, Real Valladolid
La Liga 2019/20 – Real Valladolid to be relegated (15/8 Blacktype)
La Liga 2019/20 – Alavés to be relegated (9/4 BetVictor)
La Liga 2019/20 – Celta Vigo to be relegated (6/1 Paddy Power)
Brendy Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) is an Irish journalist living and working in Madrid. A season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Majadahonda, he covers all things football in the Spanish capital, from Estadio Butarque to the Wanda Metropolitano.