La Liga – 2016/17 Preview
When discussing La Liga Santander it is very easy to just not look any further than the two football institutions of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Still, there is so much more to the league than that and in reality it is rarely as foregone a conclusion as you would think. Since the formation of the league in 1929 there have been 9 different winners.
But more interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly since the turn of the century 5 different teams have got their hands on the title. Welcome and overdue changes have taken place at a deep level in Spanish football – including the way the clubs are financed. This should open up the chances for more and more teams to have a go at achieving success in the league. This year Spain has 5 teams in the Champion’s League. As well as giving those teams extra financial muscle it is also a very good learning process for the players, clubs and managers alike to keep on improving. It also makes it easier to attract the world’s best talent to the club.
So will it be any different this year? Here we have a look at who the contenders are likely to be, come May.
There isn’t anywhere else to start than with the Catalan giants. Clear favourites with the bookmakers and football fans around the world, Barca are looking to make it three La Liga titles in a row. Luis Enrique may not be everyone’s managerial cup of tea but there is no doubting he has brought success – winning 8 out of a possible 10 pieces of silverware during his tenure at the Camp Nou.
When you have the likes of Neymar, Suárez and Iniesta in your starting 11 it seems crazy to suggest that they are anything approaching a one man team, but the fact remains they are hugely reliant on Messi – currently lying number 1 in the ratings. If anything was to happen to the Argentinian, you have to wonder if they do have enough to succeed in both the league and the Champion’s League, and you have to think Enrique would prioritise the latter.
It will be strange to see Barcelona take to the field without a Dani Alves, and his loss could have an unsettling influence on an already suspect defence. Enrique has addressed this bringing in Lucas Digne at left-back and Samuel Umtiti, while the midfield has been bolstered with Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez.
If everything goes there way, and they are lucky with injuries then it is for Barcelona to lose.
Barca’s great rivals Real have picked up more points, won more games and scored more goals in the league’s history than any other team. They will be looking to go one better than last time. After just 5 months in the job Zinedine Zidane secured the club’s 11th Champion’s League trophy, and only missed out on the title by 1 point but huge question marks hang over the Frenchman’s head.
Yes they have Ronaldo, but after a protracted transfer affair with Pogba ultimately resulted in them being significantly outbid by Manchester United they have basically been left with the starting 11 that they had last season. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but whereas their rivals have strengthened, they will instead be relying on Zidane to squeeze more points out of his squad over the duration of the season than Benitez managed. That could be a gamble, and that is the reason bookmakers have them firmly in second place. There have been some additions and players have been brought back after successful loan spells – most notably Marco Asensio, but whether they have enough strength in depth to compete on two fronts will remain to be seen.
While a lot of the early focus will be on Barca and Real, this could well play into Diego Simeone’s hands. Atletico have not only managed to keep hold of their best players they have added to an already very good squad. The biggest success over the transfer window was that Euro 2016 golden boot winner Antoine Griezmann committed his future to the club. Having ultimately failed in getting Costa in from Chelsea, they have made several astute signings, all in positions where they needed strengthening. Kevin Gameiro and Nico Gaitán are likely to go straight into the team, while Sime Vrsaljko is perfect cover for both full back positions. The team – and most importantly the squad – now looks like genuine contenders not just for domestic honours, but for European ones as well.
Simeone has shown he is an astute manager, and he gets his team playing for him and the badge. Though he has made no secret of his love of the Champion’s League, and his team are perhaps more suited for the two leg format, it would be no surprise if they were to repeat their league heroics of 2013/14.
Is there realistically anyone else who can wrestle the title from those three, or will they simply be looking to get into the European places, while looking for success in the ZTE sponsored Copa del Rey?
The first two obvious candidates are Sevilla and Villarreal. Unfortunately for both these teams, they have lost their respective influential managers. After looking like they had got themselves in a position to push on, this may well set them both back a season or two. Other teams to look out for as those possible contenders to upset the apple cart are Valencia, Real Betis and Espanyol.
Quique Sanchez Flores’ Espanyol side has some old heads in it, but importantly some talented old heads such as Martin Demichelis and Jose Antonio Reyes.
Valencia lost a lot of their talent in the summer, and looking at their team you have to wonder whether they have enough to break the better teams in the division down.
The main thing that Real Betis have going for them is their coach Gus Poyet. Poyet is a charismatic figure, and if his team are fortunate with injuries and suspensions and get on a role, you never know.
Whatever happens, it will be a thrilling ride. If Leicester showed us anything last year it is that in football – even over a league season – anything can happen. And if there is ever a dull moment, there is always these to watch and enjoy!
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