5 Teams Set to Compete for Top La Liga places Behind Barca & Real
A new era is due to begin in Bilbao: San Mamés Stadium , their historical home known as La Catedral, will be replaced by San Mamés Barria while Ernesto Valverde will be at helm after Marcelo Bielsa’s departure.
Last Athletic Bilbao’s season was disappointing as they finished only twelfth. However, the task Valverde would face is not easy. He has to rebuild the squad, mixing new faces with youngsters as the team lost in two years their best men, Javi Martinez, Fernando Amorebieta and Fernando Llorente.
In the 2012-13’s campaign they were the forth worst defence and even in scoring they did not excel. In the current pre-season, after two goalless matches with Friburgo and Hoffeneihm, it seemed that at least defence had improved, although the recent heavy defeat against Real Zaragoza pointed out again that issue is far to be solved.
Defensive problems could be reduced by adopting a prudent approach and giving new playmaker Beñat the time to settle down and balance the team. However, the lack of attacking power is harder to tackle. Llorente left such a big void to fill and neither Aritz Arduriz nor the new buy Enrique Sola at moment seem to be the right answers. The latter, signed from Osasuna, netted 9 times last campaign, but at age of 27 he boasts just 21 goals in five La Liga’s season.
It could be interesting how Valverde will hand the situation, how young talents as Iker Munian, Ibai Gomez, Mikel San José and Jon Artenetxe will fare without Bielsa and who will be the new breed to bring into the squad. Unpredictable is the very adjective that might describe Atheltic Bilbao’s upcoming season.
Pre-season friendly games: Bermeo (6-1); Braunschweig (4-0), Hoffenheim (0-0), Friburgo (0-0), Real Zaragoza (1-4)
Before starting the pre-season, Diego Simeone was very worried about the lack of transfer activity of his club. Having just lost Radamel Falcao, the Argentinean coach was wondering how he would have fared without any signings. Since then, Atletico Madrid have brought in new players as David Villa, Leo Baptistao, Martin Demichelis all joined Los Cholchoneros along with the Uruguay Under-20 central back José Maria Gimenez, who was already signed last Spring.
At 31 Villa might be not at his peak, but the ambition to get into the squad for the next World Cup in Brazil could bring him to another prolific season while the promising Brazilian Leo Baptistao represents a good back-up for the former Barcelona striker. Demichelis was also a smart appointment because of his long experience in European tournamentes with Bayern Munich and Malaga. He will fortify the defence offering even a goal threat due to his aerial ability.
However, few issues remain as Atletico loaned the second keeper, Asenjo (to Villareal), as well as his replacement, Roberto (to Olympiakos). That leaves Simeone with only senior goalkeeper available, the Belgian Thibaut Curtois, who needs as quick as possible a partner.
However, despite of some snags, Atletico are still the third force in La Liga after Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Pre-season games: Numancia (4-2), Estudiantes (0-1),Sporting Cristal (1-0)
When Real Sociedad snatched a last-minute Champions League’s qualification, everybody knew that their boss, French coach Philippe Montanier, would have left the Basque club, having already signed with Rennes.
Shortly after the end of the season, the Txuri-Urdin appointed Jagoba Arrasate as his successor, giving Montanier’s former assistant the chance to manage the first team, having Barcelona coach Tata Martino – then still at Newell’s Old Boys - rejected their offer.
If the 35-year-old Arrasate is an half way between a gamble and a logical consequence of the club’s policy - he had been coaching in Real Sociedad’s youth academy since 2010 –there are few concerns about how far can go Real Sociedad and if they will be able to repeat the fabulous last season.
While Real Madrid triggered Ilarramendi’s clause taking the holding midfielder away from San Sebastian, the entire squad remained, like in a no-written pact between the players and the club. But limited investment could mean little improvement and the team might be not strong enough to compete in two expensive tournaments.
On the other hand, the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Iñigo Martinez and Rubén Pardo - whose performances have already attracted several clubs - would use this maiden season in Europe as a springboard for their careers.
Pre-season friendly games: Mondragon (12-0), Toulouse (1-1), Real Union (7-1), Sporting Lisbon (0-2), Eibar (2-0)
After selling Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas , Luis Alberto and José Angel Campaña to various English clubs, Sevilla got a mammoth revenue of €55m, which chairman José Maria Del Nido has used wisely so far, buying Kevin Gameiro, Carlos Bacca, Beto and Jairo Sampeiro, plus bringing in on loan Mark Marin, Nicolas Pareja and Martins Carriço.
Although they lost two outstanding players, the new arrivals generated quite a big excitement among supporters, giving Del Nido the certainty that Sevilla are going to have 35,000 ticket holders. Perhaps he has been a bit exaggerated but a genuine enthusiasm is understandable.
Under a new coach, the former Valencia and Spartak Moskow boss Unai Emery, Sevilla have already begun their season beating easily Montenegrin outfit Mladost Podgorica (3-0) in the first leg of their Europa League third round qualifier. Although it is less than probable they will challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid, Sevilla is a serious contender for a Champions League’s spot and even in Europa League they can go far as they did in 2006 and 2007 when they won two Uefa Cups and a Uefa Super Cup.
Pre-season friendly games: San Fernando (4-1), Universitad Catolica (2-0), Nacional Medellin (1-1), Barcelona Guayaquil (3-1)
Miroslav Dukic has inherited an already fine side but with no money to use in the transfer market, Valencia needed to sacrifice their best player in order to carry on. With the sale of Roberto Soldado to Tottenham, Valencia will get a good revenue, though replacing a man who scored 59 goals in his three seasons at Mestalla would not be an easy task.
Having already lost the other striker– Nelson Valdez joined Arabian Gulf League’s club Al Jazira - Valencia have in the squad only the 19-year-old Paco Alcacer as main spearhead. Despite he has showed a good skill-set, his record obviously is not as impressive as Soldado’s and it will be pretty unfair to give only him the goalscoring burden. Paco Alcacer boasts just three goals in La Liga, during his time on loan at Getafe, whilst in the previous season he netted 11 times with Valencia B in the third tier. A scanty curriculum that can be improved by pairing the youngster with a real target-man.
While recent rumours say that Valencia are in pursuit of Fernando Torres, Helder Postiga and Fabio Quagliarella, the only official signings made by Dukic are Javi Fuego, Romeu Oriol and Michel, all midfielders. Perhaps if Valencia acquire a reliable striker they could compete for the fourth place, otherwise it is difficult to see them emerging from the mid-table.
Pre-season friendly games: Karlsruher (1-2), Manneheim (0-0), Stuttgart (0-1), Ac Milan (1-2)
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