Julien Laurens and Don Hutchison debate whether Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema or Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski will have the better season this year. (2:07)
The 2022-23 LaLiga season begins this week! A lot has happened since Real Madrid lifted its record-extending 35th league trophy over eternal rivals Barcelona. Madrid also won their 14th Champions League trophy (another record), but Barcelona aim to topple the champions with some new marquee players.
– LaLiga starts Friday: Osasuna vs. Sevilla (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)
While Real Madrid reveled with their silverware and Barcelona got busy by signing in a summer class headlined by Robert Lewandowski, other LaLiga teams and players made their own headlines. Atletico Madrid bid farewell to Luis Suarez, Sevilla saw several stars come and go, and Athletic Club welcomed back a team legend to the bench. The promoted sides (Almeria, Real Valladolid and Girona) will also fight to ensure their stay isn’t just for one season.
ESPN is your home for all LaLiga matches, replays, highlights and more. To walk us through what to expect from each of the 20 teams, ESPN contributors Graham Hunter, Alex Kirkland, Sid Lowe and Sam Marsden break down each squad and what to look out for this season.
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Jump to: Almeria | Athletic Club | Atletico Madrid | Barcelona | Cadiz | Celta Vigo | Elche | Espanyol | Getafe | Girona | Mallorca | Osasuna | Rayo Vallecano | Real Betis | Real Madrid | Real Sociedad | Valladolid | Sevilla | Valencia | Villarreal
– Transfers In: DF Kaiky (Santos), FW Marko Milovanovic (Partizan Belgrade), MF Gui Guedes (Guimaraes), DF Alex Pozo (Sevilla), DF Srdan Babic (Red Star Belgrade), DF Houboulang Mendes (free agent), MF Martin Svidersky (free agent), DF Arnau Sola (free agent)
– Transfers Out: GK George Makaridze (free agent)
– Last season: Segunda Division (promoted as champions), Copa del Rey (round of 32)
Almeria have signed Ronaldinho for their return. Well, sort of. He was among those invited to the opening night of the club’s remodelled Power Horse Stadium — and yes, that really is its name. Singer David Bisbal was there, too, leading the party. Alas, the pitch was left in a bad condition, forcing the team to move their next preseason match. And a small fire also broke out. Their preparation games haven’t gone particularly well, either.
“We would have liked to have won them all and played better,” admitted midfielder Inigo Eguaras.
There have been significant new arrivals in an attempt to improve the team, and there are resources to suggest they should be able to survive in the top flight, Alex Pozo signing a permanent deal after being on loan last year, but it won’t be easy they know.
A Nigeria international, Umar Sadiq has already played for six different Italian teams, had a one-game spell at Rangers in Scotland and was in Belgrade with Partizan. He has settled in Almeria, where the club’s spending power eclipsed most other teams in the division — although it does seem like it won’t be long before bigger clubs come for him. (In fact, some have already tried).
Sadiq was voted Almeria’s player of the season by fans, ahead of goalkeeper Fernando Martinez and captain Cesar de la Hoz. There’s a case for saying Sadiq is also the best in the whole division. He scored 18 league goals and provided nine assists. Fast, skillful and with an eye for goal, he will be vital if they are to stay up.
Almeria haven’t always been the most patient of clubs when it comes to their manager, and it was a sacking that brought Rubi in to begin with in April 2021. Almeria haven’t been the most trigger-happy club and although a bad start would increase the pressure on Rubi, he is well liked. He brought them up in the first place and has the experience and character to see the season through. He talks eloquently about the huge sacrifices he had to make to be a coach in the first place. He has a clear idea of how he wants his team to play, although there is pragmatism, too. — Lowe
– Transfers In: FW Gorka Guruzeta (free agent)
– Transfers Out: DF Unai Lopez (Rayo Vallecano), FW Inigo Vicente (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (8th), Copa del Rey (semifinals)
Athletic weren’t bad under coach Marcelino last season, but the Bilbao club weren’t always especially thrilling either. This summer it has been all change off the pitch — presidential elections saw Jon Uriarte voted in with an agenda promising change, modernisation and the return of Ernesto Valverde as manager — but the club’s unique Basque-only policy means the squad will remain almost entirely the same.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, especially away from San Mames — an up-and-down record of four wins, nine draws and six defeats on the road last year wasn’t good enough — and the target will be European football, having narrowly missed out last season, as well as a cup run like the ones that saw them reach the Copa del Rey final in 2020 and 2021. The basics of a strong team are in place, with a solid defence — presuming they hang on to Spain international Inigo Martinez — and developing talent like Oihan Sancet, Nico Williams and Nicolas Serrano further forward.
Iker Muniain played the best, most influential football of his career last season at the age of 29, finally fulfilling the promise that made him one of Spain’s most-talked-about teenage prospects over a decade earlier. One-club man Muniain is everything to this Athletic team — creative hub, set-piece specialist, captain and soul — and his ability to continue that form will be crucial to their chances of pushing further up the table. It would help if he could contribute a few more goals. Muniain has never gotten into double digits in LaLiga and scored four times last season, which just isn’t enough for an attacking midfielder.
Athletic’s goal scoring issues are well documented — Inaki Williams is a charismatic, lightning-quick forward, but he’ll never be a consistent scorer — and the team’s overall tally last year of 43 goals in 38 games was underwhelming. With no chance of signing a reliable 20-goal-a-season forward, goals from midfield will be vital, starting with Muniain.
Yes. Valverde is a club legend, former player and now three-time coach, answering the call to return after Marcelino decided he didn’t want to be an electoral pawn and quit at the end of last season. Valverde was the chosen candidate for two of the three presidential hopefuls, and arguably the only man popular enough in Bilbao to sway votes away from the other campaign and their pick, Marcelo Bielsa.
Valverde was in no hurry to come back — he enjoyed his time away from the spotlight after being burned by his experience at Barcelona — but had always made clear he was available if Athletic needed him. That time is now, and he’ll be given all the support he needs. — Kirkland
– Transfers In: DF Nahuel Molina (Udinese), FW Samuel Lino (Gil Vicente), MF Axel Witsel (free agent), FW Alvaro Morata (loan return), MF Saul Niguez (loan return)
– Transfers Out: DF Nehuen Perez (Udinese), FW Luis Suarez (free agent), DF Sime Vrsaljko (free agent), MF Hector Herrera (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (3rd), Copa del Rey (round of 16), UEFA Champions League (quarterfinals)
Last season was disappointing for Atletico as they surrendered their LaLiga crown without putting up a fight. Despite that, the campaign still ended as many might have predicted before it began, behind only Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga and beaten by Manchester City in Champions League.
Fans will demand more this time, with expectations under coach Diego Simeone that they compete with Spain’s top two and challenge for cups. However, financial restrictions have prevented them from so far improving their squad as they would have liked over the summer. Madrid and Barca, in contrast, look much stronger after their business in the transfer window. That leaves Atletico a long way behind their title rivals on paper, but that is often how Simeone most likes it.
Atletico have always been more about the group than any individual under Simeone, but they have a potential superstar in Joao Felix. They paid €120 million to sign him from Benfica in 2019 after losing Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona. Over the past three years, he has shown glimpses of his talent, but he has lacked consistency. The Portugal international is almost unplayable when he is on form, combining strong dribbling skills with goals and assists and adding versatility across the attack.
Now, after 21 goals in 81 LaLiga appearances, he needs to improve his numbers to live up to his transfer fee. Going into his fourth campaign in Spain, Atletico have high hopes that this will finally be the season he takes his game to the next level.
Yes. There can’t be many managers in Europe, let alone just Spain, with as much room to slip up as Simeone. In over a decade in charge, he has guided Atletico to two LaLiga titles and two Champions League finals appearances, among other accolades. Atletico will face a nigh-on impossible task when they do finally have to replace him. — Marsden
– Transfers In: FW Raphinha (Leeds United), DF Jules Kounde (Sevilla), FW Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), MF Pablo Torre (Racing Santander), DF Andreas Christensen (free agent), MF Franck Kessie (free agent)
– Transfers Out: MF Philippe Coutinho (Aston Villa), DF Oscar Mingueza (Celta Vigo), MF Matheus Pereira (Eibar), FW Rey Manaj (Watford), DF Dani Alves (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (2nd), Copa del Rey (round of 16), UEFA Champions League (group stage), UEFA Europa League (quarterfinals)
Barcelona will fare better for an almost infinite number of reasons — including the fact that, last season, they were often hapless and embarrassingly vulnerable. How effectively they convert signings into registered players is obviously key. But the squad is generally fitter, smarter, more talented and brimming with renewed confidence.
Should Barcelona manage to get all their new signings (including Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto) authorised to play in LaLiga then frankly they immediately profile pretty strongly as title favourites. There is, however, an abyss awaiting them. If some or all of the new signings are left kicking their heels until January, unregistered to play in anything except the Champions League due to LaLiga’s financial fair play rules, then the club will be embroiled in a vastly embarrassing and damaging storm of finger-pointing and humiliation.
Should that happen, Xavi Hernandez’s team would clearly be much weaker too. A pretty cataclysmic prospect.
Nevertheless, once the 42-year-old Catalan got his messages through to staff and players last season they proved — even without the likes of Lewandowski, Raphinha & Co. — that Barcelona can field an XI capable of going toe-to-toe with any rival and being competitive. Not something that was true under predecessor Ronald Koeman.
The safe bet is Pedri — the risky one is Lewandowski. Pedri might not seem the safe answer given that he suffered through injury at the beginning and end of last season. Also, let’s not ignore that he’s still only 19 and starting his third season in the elite. But not only does the kid from the Canary Islands possess an absolutely outstanding football talent, brain and temperament, he also patently makes the difference for Xavi’s team. When he was in the starting XI last season Barca were unrecognisable. Over the last few matches for the Blaugrana, last season and during the summer, he’s shown hugely improved finishing. If this prodigy adds goals to his game… simply wow!
Lewandowski, on the other hand, should be the banker bet here. Vastly experienced, hugely motivated, supplied by a talented array of passers behind him and off both wings — it should be like shooting fish in a barrel. But whether or not they manage to register their new goal machine is a lingering nightmare question for the club. If Lewandowski and Pedri are teamed up week after week for Barcelona then… rivals beware.
Barring something absolutely extraordinary then — yes, no doubts here. Not only is Xavi a remarkable football man with the most astute brain, masses of personality, durability and an infectious communication skill, he’s the darling of this club. Club president Joan Laporta loves him, fans deify him, players respect him — a situation for which most coaches would give their left arm.
There are a couple of other important elements too. Barcelona is a burnout club and while no-one’s completely immune, Xavi previously thrived in that environment for over 16 years. He’s got the chops. Last the season? Several of them I’d say. — Hunter
Don Hutchison and Julien Laurens discuss Barcelona’s problems with registering their new signings.
– Transfers In: DF Victor Chust (Real Madrid), MF Ruben Alcaraz (Real Valladolid), DF Joseba Zaldua (free agent), FW Awer Mabil (FC Midtjylland)
– Transfers Out: DF Varazdat Haroyan (free agent), MF Jens Jonsson (free agent), FW Salvi (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (17th), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals)
Cadiz stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season and will be prepared for another long campaign at the bottom of the table. This is their third successive season in LaLiga and despite memorable results against Barcelona and Real Madrid, the statistics are trending downward. From a 12th-place finish in their first season back to 17th last year, they are among the favourites for the drop this time. Their squad looks short of quality and bodies, but there is still time left before the transfer window closes to address some of those issues.
There is a lack of stand-out talent in Cadiz’s squad, but there is one name most people will recognise: Alvaro Negredo. The former Spain striker will turn 36 later in August and will not play all 38 games, but his goals could be the difference between staying up or going down for Cadiz. He has netted 15 times in the league across the past two campaigns, and his teammates will be looking to him to match those numbers this year. Former Arsenal and West Ham United forward Lucas Perez, who joined for free in January, could also chip in with a few goals.
No. Former Espanyol boss Sergio Gonzalez replaced Alvaro Cervera in January and did well to keep them in Spain’s top flight. However, there is little room for sentiment in football, especially at the bottom of this league, as Cervera, who originally led Cadiz to promotion, found out. Therefore, at some point in the season, Cadiz are likely to find themselves in and around the bottom three, and the most common thing clubs do in LaLiga to look for a reaction is change the coach. — Marsden
– Transfers In: MF Williot Swedberg (Hammarby), DF Oscar Mingueza (Barcelona), MF Luca de la Torre (Fulham), FW Julen Lobete (Real Sociedad)
– Transfers Out: FW Brais Mendez (Real Sociedad), MF Nestor Araujo (Club America), FW Emre Mor (Fenerbahce), MF Okay Yokuslu (West Bromwich Albion)
– Last season: LaLiga (11th), Copa del Rey (round of 32)
It has been a tumultuous summer for Celta, who are in a situation in which they have decided that they do not want two of their best players — but can’t yet find a way of getting either to leave on terms they accept. A conflict over Denis Suarez‘s role in the agency that moved youth teamer Bryan Bugarin to Real Madrid saw Celta president Carlos Mourino describe the midfielder as a “traitor” and vow to force him out — only to accuse Suarez of turning down offers that arrived. Meanwhile, Santi Mina — who had been left out of the squad after his conviction for sexual assault — took legal action to force the club to include him again, pending an appeal.
Which is not a good way to prepare for the season, all the more so as Mourino claims that the wages of Suarez and Mina account for 20% of the budget, meaning “we can’t strengthen the way we wanted to [yet].”
Celta’s sporting advisor is Luis Campos — yes, the same person hired by PSG in a similar role — and Mourino insists they will build a “magnificent squad” with eight signings to come, but they’re not there yet. In addition, goal scorer Brais Mendez joined league rivals Real Sociedad, adding further pessimism in Galicia.
“Key” doesn’t even get close to expressing it. And all the more so without Brais, Suarez and Mina. Iago Aspas renewed his contract until 2025, which was the most important bit of footballing news from the summer. And while Aspas looks ever more alone — Nolito left this summer, too — he really is absurdly good.
Aspas is their captain, goal scorer, one-man army, emblem, youth teamer and spiritual leader: their everything, really. His league goal-scoring tallies since returning to Celta: 18, 14, 14, 20, 22, 19, 14. At a club like this one, it’s a ridiculous record. But he is 35 now: can it really go on forever?
When Chacho Coudet took over in 2020, he led a revolution. The man who admitted he is all alone in Vigo and needs to think only about football improved results immediately, dragging Celta from near the bottom of the league to almost qualifying for Europe. And with the team playing fun football, too — wild, ambitious and all over the place. A little bit like Marcelo Bielsa, basically.
But that style makes huge demands on key players, defensively they were open and the impetus and the results have slipped away. The football is not as fun as it was, there is a hint of disconnect and given all Celta’s potential issues if results go against them, he will come under pressure. In a word, then, it’s tempting to stick your neck out and foresee a surprise. In other words, to say: no. — Lowe
– Transfers In: FW Ezequiel Ponce (Spartak Moscow), DF Carlos Clerc (free agent)
– Transfers Out: MF Ivan Marcone (Independiente), FW Pablo Piatti (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (13th), Copa del Rey (round of 16)
Survival will once again be Elche’s sole target in this third season back in LaLiga. They escaped the drop on the final day in 2021 and managed to secure top-flight status with four games to spare last year, so that’s progress of a kind. Any improvement on last season’s 13th place would be a cause for celebration, but another relegation scrap is more likely.
The summer transfer market has been quiet so far, but expect owner Christian Bragarnik, the influential Argentinian super-agent who bought the club in December 2019, to pull some strings in the final days of the window. There’s a strong spine to the team — Edgar Badia is an underrated goalkeeper, Johan Mojica provides pace and quickness at wing-back and Lucas Boye is a battering ram up front — but the squad could do with at least one forward addition to help score the goals needed to stay up.
Wide men Fidel Chaves and Pere Milla are fundamental to how the team plays in attack, and hanging on to Milla — who posted an emotional farewell message to fans on Instagram in May only to be informed that staying up had triggered an automatic contract extension — is an unexpected, if awkward, bonus.
Boye was picked by Elche fans as their 2021-22 player of the season and caught the eye further afield, too, even being linked with a move to Atletico Madrid. The 26-year-old, who made his Argentina national team debut earlier this year, has never been a high-volume scorer — his seven league goals in each of the past two seasons were a career high — but he’s the kind of tireless, mobile forward who is a real handful for opposition defences. Injuries have been an issue, hamstring problems restricting him to just 24 starts last season, but if he stays fit he’ll be key to Elche’s chances of staying in LaLiga for another year.
Yes. Francisco is a charismatic and experienced young manager who improved the team considerably after taking over in November 2021 and has been rewarded with a contract renewal for another year. Owner Bragarnik has praised his attack-minded outlook — contrasting it favourably with predecessor Fran Escriba — but wouldn’t hesitate to act if the club look like they’re drifting towards relegation, as he did in sacking fan favourite Escriba last season. It all depends on how things are looking come the fall. — Kirkland
– Transfers In: MF Tonny Vilhena (Krasnodar), FW Joselu (Alaves), DF Brian Olivan (free agent)
– Transfers Out: DF David Lopez (free agent), GK Diego Lopez (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (14th), Copa del Rey (round of 16)
The 2021-22 season was a real Jekyll and Hyde affair for Espanyol. To be promoted and then be mid-table at the halfway point of season, winning more than they lost and drew and looking distinctly well coached, was an achievement. The second half, however, was ruinous, especially for outgoing coach Vicente Moreno.
Diego Martinez take note. Espanyol were nearly relegated and played like a squad that had lost their way, lost faith. The new man in charge is a talent. And he’s got a habit of imprinting his playing personality on a team. That’d be like a cold drink in a hot desert for Los Periquitos. However, there’s a clear case that Espanyol, talent-wise, have made a net loss in the market. Too much drained away, not enough brought in. There are indications of Raul de Tomas and Martinez not necessarily clicking, a terrible prospect. Starting well, stabilising and reducing their goals against tally are key tasks when LaLiga kicks off.
Again, there’s competition. And the Sergi Darder fan club will be fuming that I’m not naming the crafty midfielder. But it should be José Luis Mato Sanmartín, aka Joselu. His one-man campaign to keep Alaves up was deeply impressive, and he’s got a lot of energy, athleticism and goals to bring to this task. A leader figure, someone to aim at, harder-working than RDT
Of course, you’d hope so. Not only do Espanyol need footballing growth, an upward trajectory, a Copa del Rey run and a fuller stadium, all of which this new coach can heavily influence, Martinez is self-evidently one of the “coming men” of Spanish football. He’s got a task on his hands, no question.
But should we be looking back on him having done well at Espanyol and imprinted his ideas on the Blanquiazules by the end of the season it’s arguable that his current club might be fighting off suitors for his services. — Hunter
– Transfers In: MF Luis Milla (Granada), DF Domingos Duarte (Granada), MF Jaime Seoane (free agent)
– Transfers Out: DF Mathias Olivera (Napoli), FW Hugo Duro (Valencia), DF Ignasi Miquel (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (15th), Copa del Rey (second round)
Getafe had endured their worst start to a season at the beginning of 2021-22: eight games, seven defeats, no wins … and then Quique Sanchez Flores took over. It wasn’t always that pretty, but it was pragmatic, and they improved rapidly. Rock bottom, then by the start of the new year they were five places and 10 points off last place, having lost just one in nine and defeated Real Madrid.
“The mental state is different now,” their coach said, having reached his players in a truly remarkable way, a case to declare him coach of the season. “It’s interesting watching a team convert negative energy into positive, how horizons can change, how a group is transformed,” he said. Now they have to try to take a step again, and their summer signings suggest they might be able to.
Getafe found a collective spirit last season in which a handful of different players could be considered key, Enes Unal and Mauro Arambarri perhaps the most significant of them. The summer signings have been interesting and suggest others who might play key roles, too: Portu, Leandro Seoane, Domingos Duarte and Fabrizio Anglieri could all be starters.
Borja Mayoral, scorer of six goals in a half-season on loan, when he didn’t always start, has made his deal permanent from Real Madrid and could be very significant. And then there’s Milla — a lovely technical midfielder with edge, arrival, vision, tactical understanding and an ability to score goals, too. If he plays to his level, the entire team should improve.
Sanchez Flores declared Getafe’s bid for survival “a battle for hungry minds and broken hearts,” which he won and by miles. This year is different, the challenge to move on from there, but he — in his third spell at the club — could hardly be more loved. So, that’s a yes, then. — Lowe
– Transfers In: FW Valentin Castellanos (loan, New York City FC), DF David Lopez (free agent), DF Yan Couto (loan, Manchester City)
– Transfers Out: none
– Last season: Segunda Division (6th, promoted via playoffs), Copa del Rey (round of 16)
It was third-time lucky for Girona as they returned to LaLiga last season for the first time since 2019. They were beaten in the playoffs in 2020 and 2021, but upset the form book earlier this year to beat Eibar and Tenerife and secure promotion back into Spain’s top flight.
They have a good coach in Michel and a good mix of youth and experience in their squad. Arnau Martinez is one of the most highly rated young defenders in Spain, while Cristhian Stuani and David Lopez, a summer signing from Espanyol, has top-flight know-how. Elsewhere, Valentin “Taty” Castellanos is an exciting signing from MLS Cup champions NYCFC. Regardless of all of that, though, the objective is crystal clear: stay up.
It seems cruel not to say Cristhian Stuani here. The Uruguay striker, now 35, has scored 106 goals in 178 games for Girona across the top two divisions in Spain. However, it’s the arrival of Castellanos that adds an element of intrigue to Michel’s team going into the campaign. The Argentine was the top scorer in Major League Soccer in 2021, and was leading the league once again with 13 goals this season before joining Girona on loan. With Castellanos keen to try his luck in Europe, Girona made sure they took full advantage of their relationship with the City Football Group to get the deal over the line.
Yes, with rocky spells. Michel is an expert in getting teams into LaLiga but not in keeping them there. He previously took Rayo Vallecano and Huesca up but was fired before the end of the following season. Girona will hope he has learned from those experiences and can keep them in the league across 38 games. There will be patience in Michel in that sense, but it won’t be infinite if results do go badly. — Marsden
– Transfers In: FW Vedat Muriqi (Lazio), DF Pablo Maffeo (Stuttgart), GK Predrag Rajkovic (Reims), MF Rodrigo Battaglia (free agent), DF Jose Copete (free agent)
– Transfers Out: DF Joan Sastre (PAOK), DF Aleksandar Sedlar (free agent), MF Aleix Febas (free agent), GK Manolo Reina (free agent), DF Brian Olivan (free agent), MF Salva Sevilla (free agent), Matthew Hoppe (Middlesbrough)
– Last season: LaLiga (16th), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals)
“We were like ghosts. Those were terrible, terrible days. What we went through I wouldn’t wish on anyone. We were liquidated, screwed, dead,” Mallorca coach Javier Aguirre said. He was talking about the state of the club with two games to go, relegation virtually a reality.
But then on the final day, they won in Pamplona and somehow survived — their Mexican manager, drenched in sweat, had done it again. The question now is: can they do it all over again and without the drama this time? Almost 15,000 season-ticket holders — and a move to get rid of the running track at Son Moix — might help. And preseason suggests they might be OK: unbeaten in five games, including against Napoli, there is a certain optimism about the place.
Standing there wearing nothing but a towel and a huge smile on the final day of the season, Vedat Muriqi insisted that what he wanted was to stay at Mallorca, the team he had just stayed up. What they wanted was for him to stay, too. He had been vital in their survival, and was popular in the dressing room. A finisher and a fighter: a big, strong target man of a forward, the kind who was supposed to be out of fashion, you could throw a washing machine in the air and he would head it.
The problem was that his future, he admitted, wasn’t entirely in his hands. It wasn’t entirely in theirs either — he was on loan from Lazio. Eventually, a permanent deal was signed, and he looks set to play a key role this season.
Sometimes it’s tempting to ask what Aguirre does it for. After a long, long career in coaching, having earned enough to live comfortably and reached an age to retire, why go to clubs in trouble, taking on all the pressure and the stress? Why be a fireman always facing the risk of relegation? In short, he doesn’t need this.
But then maybe that’s the point: maybe he does really, really need it, deep inside of him. A fantastically entertaining, direct, honest and talkative coach, immensely popular, when he took over at Mallorca on an emergency mission, the one condition he insisted on was that they let him continue if he saved them. Which he did when they appeared dead and buried — and that goes a long way. Barring something really, really bad happening, he should be there to the end. — Lowe
– Transfers In: FW Moi Gomez (Villarreal), GK Aitor Fernandez (Levante), DF Ruben Pena (Villarreal)
– Transfers Out: DF Jonas Ramalho (free agent), FW Marc Cardona (free agent), MF Oier Sanjurjo (free agent)
– Last season: LaLiga (10th), Copa del Rey (round of 32)
Osasuna have achieved remarkable stability in recent seasons, finishing 10th, 11th and 10th since they were promoted in 2019, and more of the same would do nicely, thank you very much. The club have spent their time in LaLiga wisely, investing in infrastructure — the redevelopment of El Sadar saw it voted by one account the world’s best new stadium — while building a reputation for fast-paced, rock-and-roll pressing football played in front of some of the league’s noisiest fans.
There are few more charismatic footballers in LaLiga than Ezequiel “Chimy” Avila, the swashbuckling, tattoo-covered, thick-thighed Argentinian forward who only ever seems to score spectacular goals. Last season was one of consolidation and recovery after the two successive cruciate knee ligament injuries that saw him miss 15 months of football between January 2020 and April 2021.
Six league goals were a disappointing tally, but the three-year contract extension signed in March showed Osasuna believe the best is yet to come. Footage of Avila finding the net with a rabona volley from an impossible-looking angle in preseason training suggests they might be right.
Yes. Jagoba Arrasate is one of the longest serving coaches in Europe’s top leagues at just over four years in charge. In LaLiga, only Diego Simeone has been around longer. There’s genuine gratitude to and affection for a man who got Osasuna promoted in 2019 and has kept them in the top flight ever since, and although it can’t be ruled out entirely, it would take a spectacular decline in performance for the club to sack him. — Kirkland
– Transfers In: DF Unai Lopez (Athletic Club), GK Diego Lopez (free agent), FW Salvi (free agent)
– Transfers Out: none
– Last season: LaLiga (12th), Copa del Rey (semifinals)
Rayo were one of the stories of last season. An eventual 12th-place finish doesn’t begin to do justice to the dizzying roller-coaster ride that preceded it, as the team ever so briefly found themselves in the Champions League places after a flying start — going unbeaten at home until Christmas — before a calamitous run that saw them go 13 winless games and flirt with relegation.
Survival was even more creditable given the club’s chaotic off-field management — led by a president, Raul Martin Presa, who delights in his confrontational relationship with fans — microscopic budget and crumbling stadium. The latter has been given a lick of paint over the summer by its owners, Madrid’s regional government, but off-field issues persist, as highlighted by waiting until the week before the season begins to launch both the team’s new kits and season ticket sales for fans.
The team’s up-and-at-’em style is built on marauding full-back play from Ivan Balliu and Fran Garcia, with Alvaro Garcia adding more pace out wide and Oscar Trejo and Isi Palazon bringing a touch of class to the midfield. They’ve added a veteran goalkeeper in Diego Lopez and a solid centre-back in Florian Lejeune, while reports suggest Presa is personally leading negotiations with free agent Diego Costa in the hope that he might be this year’s Radamel Falcao. Rayo: embrace the chaos.
Balliu and Garcia were Rayo’s most important players in terms of the team’s playing style last season, but it’s hard to overlook the influence of captain and playmaker Trejo. He led the charts at Rayo for chances created (60), assists provided (9) and goals + assists (12) last season, and at 34, his understanding and reading of the game gets better each year.
Yes, probably. At any other club, Andoni Iraola’s transformational role at Rayo — getting them promoted in his first season, keeping them up against the odds and reaching a Copa del Rey semifinal for just the second time in their history — would see him have a job in Vallecas for as long as he wants it. This is the most exciting up-and-coming young manager in Spanish football, after all. But Rayo isn’t any other club, and frankly anything could happen. A run of bad form could see him go if relegation looks a real possibility. — Kirkland
– Transfers In: FW Luiz Henrique (Fluminense), FW Willian Jose (Real Sociedad), DF Luiz Felipe (free agent)
– Transfers Out: GK Joel Robles (released), FW Cristian Tello (released)
– Last season: LaLiga (5th), Copa del Rey (champions), UEFA Europa League (round of 16)
Although they lost out on a Champions league place in the final weeks, slipping away slightly when it had looked like it might just about be within reach, Betis’s fifth-place finish represents a huge success. And a first Copa del Rey success in 17 years, only their fourth ever, absolutely does. They did it playing great football too, so no wonder there were wild celebrations in the city.
The one issue might be how to manage expectations: even if they do improve, it’s difficult to see a space for them to step into and thus improve on fifth, so strong are the teams around them. The economics have made it hard to add to the squad, too. They still need to sell to meet salary limits.
Preseason has been difficult too. A friendly against Marseille in Chesterfield, England, ended in a mass brawl and a 1-1 draw. That makes it five summer games without a victory.
It’s hard to reduce Betis to one player. Sergio Canales remains class. Juanmi was an unexpected source of goals last season, but can he be again? Borja Iglesias‘ contribution was vital at key moments. And the two full-backs were vital too flying up the wing (Hector Bellerin‘s loan from Arsenal is over and a permanent deal has not been secured yet). Then there’s Marc Bartra. And Joaquin is still around.
But maybe it’s Nabil Fekir: strong, clever and a man of outrageous talent who scored direct from a corner last season. A bit of a throwback, a dribbler who seems to play for fun sometimes and is brilliant to watch, he gives Betis that touch of something special — particularly against the biggest teams. There’s a reason he is the most fouled player in Spain: they’re scared of him, and rightly so.
In another life, Manuel Pellegrini would like to play the piano and he was all set to be an engineer, but he is better at coaching. That charming man, they call him, and staff at the club could not speak more highly of him. That said, there’s an edge to him too, a fierce competitiveness and a clarity. He is not just the coach, but much more — this is his project. It is very much his team, built to his specifications and with his beliefs.
In the winter, he renewed until 2025, and everyone was delighted. Even if the pressure is never far away at Betis, the club has stability now and there is no reason to imagine him not seeing through the whole season, and probably beyond. (Although there’s always the doubt about what happens if he gets offers). He’s 68, which even he says is quite old to be doing this, but he has no intention of retiring until he can’t do the job any more — and the evidence is that he absolutely can. — Lowe
– Transfers In: MF Aurelien Tchouameni (AS Monaco), FW Noel Lopez (Deportivo La Coruna), DF Antonio Rudiger (free agent)
– Transfers Out: MF Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad), DF Mario Gila (Lazio), DF Victor Chust (Cadiz), FW Luka Jovic (free agent), FW Gareth Bale (free agent), DF Marcelo (released), MF Isco (released)
– Last season: LaLiga (champions), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals), UEFA Champions League (champions)
How do you improve on a near-perfect season? Carlo Ancelotti’s team outperformed absolutely everybody’s expectations last year, winning LaLiga by 13 points and pulling off the most logic-defying Champions League win in the tournament’s history. The only way is down, then.
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Madrid don’t tend to win back-to-back titles anyway — they’ve only successfully defended LaLiga once in the past 30 years — and this time they should face some proper competition from both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
The team will look much the same. Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni have both arrived, but judging by preseason, neither will be an initial starter. Thibaut Courtois should maintain his performance level as the best goalkeeper in Spain, but it will be intriguing to see how long Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric remain the first-choice midfield with Tchouamani, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde knocking on the door.
Vinicius Junior should continue his development into the league’s most exciting player, while by the end of last season Rodrygo didn’t look too far behind him.
Karim Benzema. The best player in the world and imminent Ballon d’Or winner for 2022 was peerless last season, every touch a miniature masterpiece, every goal a work of art. And there were so many of them: 27 goals in LaLiga, his best ever, plus another 12 assists.
Benzema is so good and so important to how the team functions, that Madrid look like opting not to bring in another centre-forward this summer, knowing that no deputy could effectively step into his shoes in any case. Just pray that he doesn’t get injured — while on World Cup duty with France, say — because then Madrid would be in real trouble.
Yes. Carlo Ancelotti has been fired by Madrid president Florentino Perez before, and says the thought of it happening again doesn’t bother him in the slightest. But that 2015 dismissal came at the end of a disappointing season, not midway through. If the popular Italian were to lose his job at the Bernabeu — which would be highly likely if they finish without a trophy, regardless of last year’s outrageous success — it would almost certainly happen in June, and not before. — Kirkland
Julien Laurens says Aurelien Tchouameni’s desire to move to Real Madrid over other European clubs is what ultimately got his transfer from Monaco over the line.
– Transfers In: FW Brais Mendez (Celta Vigo), FW Mohamed Ali-Cho (Angers), FW Takefusa Kubo (Real Madrid)
– Transfers Out: FW Willian Jose (Real Betis), FW Julen Lobete (free agent), DF Nacho Monreal (released), FW Adnan Januzaj (released)
– Last season: LaLiga (6th), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals), UEFA Europa League (knockout round of the playoffs)
Real Sociedad have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in Spain under Imanol Alguacil. They play on the front foot and press well. If there is one criticism, it is that they tend to start seasons fast and drift off later. That has certainly been the case over the past two campaigns. They are among a pocket of clubs outside of Madrid, Barca and Atletico who could compete for the top four, but it will be tough for them to maintain their form over a 38-game league season while dealing with Europa League fixtures as well. They should be in and around the top six positions, though, as they were last year.
Mikel Oyarzabal is the star of this Real Sociedad side but the Spain international has not played since tearing an ACL in March and is not yet close to a comeback. Elsewhere, La Real have veteran midfielder David Silva at the end of his career and exciting young prospect Takefusa Kubo at the start of his, but Swedish striker Alexander Isak will become the focal point in the absence of Oyarzabal.
Isak is 6-feet-4 but his height should not fool you. He is also brilliant with his feet. After scoring 17 goals in 2020-21, he was linked with Barcelona. Last season’s tally of 10 was down on what was expected, though, so he will have a point to prove this time around.
Yes. Alguacil has perhaps been one of the most underrated managers in European football since he took charge of La Real at the back end of 2018. He steadied the team in his first season in charge, helping them finish ninth, and followed that up with seventh-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes in the past three seasons. The only danger is that he’s set the bar so high, there could be some discontent if they don’t challenge for Europe once again. — Marsden
– Transfers In: FW Gonzalo Plata (Sporting CP), MF Monchu (Granada), FW Ivan Sanchez (Birmingham City), DF Sergio Escudero (free agent), GK Sergio Asenjo (Villarreal)
– Transfers Out: MF Ruben Alcaraz (Cadiz), DF Nacho Martinez (free agent)
– Last season: Segunda Division (promoted as runners-up), Copa del Rey (Round of 32)
When Brazilian legend Ronaldo Nazario is not only your club president but someone investing time, vision, experience and ambition to complement his cash injection, then Valladolid are a valuable commodity to LaLiga and, thus, you’d hope the answer is “better” or “at least as good.” You’d say that maintaining their presence in LaLiga, in other words avoiding relegation, might be construed as “better.”
But it was a huge achievement coming up from that difficult, dangerous, deep hole of La Segunda. Talking about “trajectory,” Valladolid finished equal top on points but were, by a huge margin, La Segunda’s best team in the second half of the season. They’re well coached and motivated — Pacheta can be a big factor in keeping them up. they’ve done well in the market; I particularly like their signing of Sergio Asenjo who can keep the goals-against tally manageable. Valladolid to stay up.
Perhaps their business isn’t complete yet. Perhaps there’ll be a jack-in-the-box signing who immediately inherits this category. But I’m tempted to say: Shon Weissman. At previous club Wolfsberger, he looked prolific. When he joined the Pucelano in 2020, that talent evaporated. Last season’s 20 goals bore a massive brunt of responsibility and he’ll need to accept that again, but against better quality defending. Time for Shon to shine again.
Ronaldo previously showed massive loyalty when Sergio Gonzalez was coach. He’s a guy who’s not only patient but empathetic. Meaning that Pacheta, talented, bursting with personality, a good communicator and motivator, has a high chance of making it to the end of the season.
But as club president, Ronaldo didn’t enjoy relegation, or having to fight back up — and there’s always a risk that if La Primera is treating the Pucelano cruelly, then the coach pays the price. All in all, Pacheta should finish the season. — Hunter
– Transfers In: DF Marcao (Galatasaray); Isco (Real Madrid)
– Transfers Out: DF Jules Kounde (Barcelona), DF Diego Carlos (Aston Villa), FW Luuk de Jong (PSV Eindhoven), DF Alex Pozo (Almeria), FW Anthony Martial (loan ended, Manchester United)
– Last season: LaLiga (4th), Copa del Rey (round of 16), UEFA Champions League (group stage), UEFA Europa League (round of 16)
Not a good season for Sevilla last time out — with the exception of guaranteeing Champions League football again. As in the famous scene between Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in “On the Waterfront” — they really could have been contenders.
But they weren’t. Too risk-averse, too plagued by injuries, not enough goals. To do better this season will require not just a fully fit, fully functioning Youssef En-Nesyri, but a team brimming with more conviction, more self-confidence and a willingness to take creative risks.
Isco can, unquestionably, help with that task. There are those who argue that Sevilla, last season, were very much a product of Julen Lopetegui — organised, practical but far from thrilling and just short of top level. Time for him to refute that. Losing both of their key central defenders in Kounde and Diego can be, if not ruinous, hugely difficult to recover from. Can do better, must do better… might not though.
You can, of course, make a case for others but let’s say: En-Nesyri. He was a shadow of himself last season and it hurt Los Rojiblancos so much — not just in goal supply but in how other teams set up to play against Sevilla. He’s got power, pace, aerial ability and the right measure of generosity in front of goal that while he’s set on bulging the net he’ll play in a colleague if they’re better positioned. If he gets back into his best form it will transform the team, their confidence, ignite the passionate fans and frighten the opposition.
Lopetegui has a good relationship with Sevilla sports director Monchi. Sevilla tend to be a loyal club. A good place to live and work. Lopetegui has managed Spain and Real Madrid, so there are not going to be many spots, in this country or the majority of European elite clubs, where he’s going to be better placed than he is now. So, yes. He should finish the season.
But, be clear, there’s a seed of doubt been sown over recent months — to appease these wonderful fans Lopetegui needs to turn out more attacking more daring football. Or else… — Hunter
Julien Laurens feels it isn’t too late for Isco to resurrect his career after he joined Sevilla from Real Madrid on a free transfer.
– Transfers In: MF Goncalo Guedes (Wolverhampton Wanderers), FW Hugo Duro (Getafe), FW Samu Castillejo (AC Milan)
– Transfers Out: none
– Last season: LaLiga (9th), Copa del Rey (runners-up)
Valencia are not a development ground for stability, so you never know what to expect from them. This summer saw the appointment of former Italy international Gennaro Gattuso, who becomes their 14th coach in the past 10 years. Gattuso did relatively well with AC Milan and Napoli in Italy, but he has never coached in Spain and he has never worked at Valencia, who remain in constant turmoil with supporters demanding owner Peter Lim sells the club.
Despite those fractions, Valencia finished fourth as recently as 2018-19, when they also won the Copa del Rey, reaching the final again last season. If things click under Gattuso, beating last season’s ninth-place finish is possible, but it’s a big if.
Local lad Carlos Soler has scored 11 league goals in each of the past two seasons and has drawn interest from Barcelona this summer. With just one year to run on his contract, there is uncertainty about his long-term future at the club, but while he remains at Valencia, he will carry their hopes of success. An attacking midfielder who can also play wide in a front three, Soler’s game has really improved in the past two years, during which time he’s earned nine caps for Spain, scoring three times.
The transfer of Portuguese winger Goncalo Guedes to Wolves will hurt, but left-back Jose Luis Gaya is a threat if he stays fit.
No. Recent history is against Gattuso at Mestalla, where managers do not last long. It’s the fourth successive season in which Valencia will kick off with a different coach. Last year began with Jose Bordalas, the season before with Javi Gracia and the year before that with Marcelino.
If Salvador Gonzalez, better known as Voro, is not wheeled out before the end of the campaign, then Gattuso will have done something right. Voro’s been caretaker coach five times since November 2015. — Marsden
– Transfers In: FW Jose Luis Morales (Levante), DF Kiko Femenia (Watford), GK Pepe Reina (free agent)
– Transfers Out: FW Moi Gomez (Osasuna), DF Mario Gaspar (Watford), GK Sergio Asenjo (Real Valladolid), DF Ruben Pena (Osasuna)
– Last season: LaLiga (7th), Copa del Rey (round of 32), UEFA Champions League (semifinals)
I think they have to fare better. OK, it was an historic achievement for this club to reach a second Champions League semifinal — filling the community with pride and the club’s coffers with tens of millions. However it’s clear that the two Fernando Roigs, senior and junior, who run this club, aspire to concrete success not just glory. This means trophies. They’ll want this talented squad to have a serious charge at the Copa del Rey and they’ll most definitely expect Villarreal to be more consistent, more entertaining and more successful in LaLiga.
Finishing seventh, obviously outside the main UEFA qualifying places will have been the cause for a revision of strategy and a cause of unhappiness. Their transfer work hasn’t been spectacular, although adding Pepe Reina is a guaranteed addition of hunger for competitive standards. A degree of how much we can expect from the Yellow Submarine will flow from whether or not the rumoured ”big bid” for Yeremy Pino arrives and is accepted. Summary: more fun, trophy-focus and better league performance are obligatory tasks for Unai Emery’s team.
Obviously it’s Gerard Moreno. This is a fabulous footballer. So talented, so feisty, and, prior to last season, looking like he was just hitting his prime. Last term was ruinous for him injury-wise and that hurt Villarreal badly. He’s only just 30 and you’d hope that last season’s problems were anecdotal, not endemic.
It’s not just his goal stats that make him the big dog here, it’s his leadership, his assists, the belief he instills in fans and fellow players alike. Keep him fit, keep him strong, keep him convinced about what’s happening around him and Villarreal have a magician in their ranks.
Well, well, well. That’s an interesting question. Emery flirted with leaving for Newcastle United last season and, at the very last instant, flinched and decided to stay. He was appointed by the junior Roig and that can be an influence in how he’s viewed going forward. Emery gave an interview in late spring expressing the fact that, one day, he’d like another shot at the Premier League following his stint at Arsenal. Possible he stays, perhaps even likely, but guaranteed… no. — Hunter