La Liga 2016/17 season preview: Atleti set to challenge while big boys go backwards
Robbie Purves | August 18, 2016
La Liga 2016/17 season preview
After a summer of managerial moves and signature signings, the season is set up to be one of the most competitive in recent memory, with Atletico Madrid continuing to put pressure on the big two and Villarreal dealing diligently.
As some of the world’s finest footballing talents prepare to lace up their boots in Spain’s scorching sunshine, Coral football writers have provided punters with a comprehensive La Liga 2016/17 season preview for the exciting new campaign…vamos!
Simeone to seal second success?
Diego Simeone’s first season in charge of Atleti in 2011 ended with the team winning the Europa League, by beating Athletic Bilbao 3–0 in the final in Bucharest, with the green shoots of the success to follow clearly visible.
Now, with the 2014 La Liga title triumph and two Champions League final appearances under his belt, the Argentine’s bolstered outfit comes into to the season as one of the title favourites, with Coral having the Madrid side at 10/1 to claim top spot.
El Cholo’s side possessed the best defensive record in the league last term, and has now reinforced his strong selection with the signings of attacking talents Kevin Gameiro and Nicolas Gaitan for a combined fee of £48.45m.
Gameiro, signed from Andalusian side Sevilla, scored 29 goals last term and is likely to be paired with Euro 2016 top scorer Antoine Griezmann if Simeone opts for 4-4-2. Gameiro is a solid acquisition, with his excellent link up play and finishing – also weakening their rivals.
Alternatively, Argentina winger Gaitan could complete an attacking trio in a 4-3-3, with Gameiro in the middle while Griezmann occupies the opposite flank. Gaitan recorded 11 assists and 20 goals last term and will be an arrival to keep an eye on this year.
If Atleti can manage to keep their outstanding defensive record going, and Simeone’s new arrivals hit the ground running, the Vicente Calderon could be the scene of a second league title triumph in four years.
Big boys go backwards?
Despite being faced with a potential transfer ban, Los Blancos have not knee jerked themselves into multiple signings, but exercised their buy-back option on Alvaro Morata for £25.5m and brought Balearic Islander Marco Asensio into the first team set up, after loan spells at Espanyol and his native Mallorca.
During Morata’s time in Italy with Juventus – where he won two Serie A titles – he scored important goals, but is yet to become a reliable, prolific marksman.
Asensio is perhaps the most exciting of the two, and has already hit a stunning strike on his official debut in the Super Cup. The silky smooth midfielder has been hailed as the next Spanish world beater and, at just £2.98m, looks a steal.
However, the Madrid club’s lack of headline grabbing euro splashing could signal a new era of sensible spending at the Santiago Bernabeu, and allow for a more even playing field as the new, more democratic La Liga TV deal kicks in – Los Blancos are 6/4 to win their first title in five years.
Meanwhile, Barcelona have added Euro 2016 winning midfielder Andre Gomes from Valencia for £29.75m, France centre back Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne, highly rated prospect Denis Suarez from the Yellow Submarine and promoted starlet Sergi Samper from Barca B.
Umtiti looks the pick of the bunch and should finally put to rest any doubts to what Luis Enrique’s centre back pairing should be.
However, there are still questions to be asked of the squad’s depth – especially if injuries hit the forward line.
The lack of real progress made by Zinedine Zidane’s side and Barca will buoy Atleti – but Enrique’s outfit remains odds-on favourites at 8/11 to claim their seventh title in nine years.
Major managerial moves
The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan has been the scene of perhaps the biggest La Liga managerial move of the summer, after Unai Emery left Sevilla for PSG. The Basque boss lifted three Europa League trophies on the trot in Andalusia and formed a formidable partnership with director of football Monchi, which allowed them to consistently punch above their weight.
Now under the guidance of former Copa America winning head coach Jorge Sampaoli, who is already being criticised for his style of play, Sevilla will look to build upon their seventh-place finish.
After Valencia’s much publicised troubles last term, the managerial torch has now been passed to Pako Ayestaran.
The Champions League winning assistant initially came into Gary Neville’s backroom staff in February of this year, but after a downturn in results, was appointed manager until the end of the season when Neville was sacked.
Ayestaran recorded consecutive La Liga wins over Sevilla, Barcelona, Eibar last term and was subsequently named permanent manager.
Outside shouts for high finishes
This year’s La Liga looks set to be a straight three horse race, but the division’s middle class are growing stronger.
Yellow Submarine set for success?
Villarreal have moved smartly in the window to strengthen their squad. The Yellow Submarine swooped for Alexandre Pato for just £2.55m, for a striker that netted 51 in 117 league games for AC Milan in his last permanent spell in Europe, it was an astute piece of business. Partner him with 22 goal man last season Cedric Bakambu and El Madrigal could be in for an impressive year.
But they didn’t stop there, the club delved into Serie A to pluck Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone from Italy. The former will likely form a midfield three with Manu Trigueros and fellow new arrival Alfred N’Diaye or veteran Bruno Soriano sitting in front of the back four.
The side had the fourth best defensive record in the league last year, but sometimes struggled with creativity. By adding former Real Madrid winger Denis Cheryshev, Sansone and Cristian Espinoza to the concoction, it should stand the club in good stead for an impressive season.
The club finished fourth last term and is 5/1 to finish top of the table without the big three.
Bilbao bounce back while Sevilla slide
Ernesto Valverde has spent nothing this window, but will be encouraged by managing to keep star names Aymeric Laporte and Inaki Williams.
Williams broke out in their previous campaign as the Basque outfit’s offensive star, netting 13 and assisting six from the flank, while the evergreen 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz scored a stunning 36 goals in all competitions.
If Laporte, Williams and Aduriz keep fit, and Iker Muniain continues to bounce back from injury, expect the San Mames club to fight for fourth at 3/1.
Meanwhile, Sevilla may slide after losing Emery. The Andalusian outfit failed to win a league game away from home last term, finishing a disappointing 7th.
With Grzegorz Krychowiak, Gameiro, Ciro Immobile and Ever Banega all leaving, the side looks depleted.
Wissam Ben Yedder, who scored 23 last year has been brought in to soften the blow and add goals, but the fact that PSG and other Ligue 1 big clubs passed up on the opportunity to sign him, should worry Sevilla fans.
There is only so long a streak like Monchi’s – buying, developing and selling super talent – can run for.
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