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2019-20 Spanish LaLiga season Preview – Barca still the team to beat

The wait is almost over; the 2019-20 Spanish LaLiga season kicks off this Friday at the Cathedral in Basque city of Bilbao between Athletic club and defending champions Barcelona. The Catalan giants dominated the scene last time out beating closest challenger Atletico Madrid by 11 points and more importantly Real Madrid by a whopping 19 points. The three LaLiga giants have accounted for approximately 80% of the €1bn-plus spending in Spain this summer; it’s once again difficult to see anything other than the now traditional three-horse race. We have seen a mass overhaul at the Santiago Bernabéu and Wanda Metropolitano with the likes of Eden Hazard and teenage sensation João Félix arriving to the Spanish capital. But will it be enough to challenge Barcelona’s overwhelming domestic dominance in Spain over the last decade?

BARCELONA

Barcelona start the new campaign as favorites to defend their Spanish title but they’ll be desperate for greater success in Europe this time around. The Catalans retained their title losing just three league matches all season but had to deal with condemnation from the media and fans largely due to the team’s style of play under Ernesto Valverde. The Champions League exit to Liverpool despite a huge first leg advantage and the Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia ended last campaign in an unpleasant note. The Blaugranas have spent over €220m to bring in Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid, Frenkie De Jong from Ajax and Neto from Valencia. Perhaps the biggest name to arrive at the Camp Nou is the French World Cup winner from title rivals Atletico. Barcelona have added firepower to an already strong attacking outlet and successfully weakened a rival in the process. Ernesto Valverde is likely to maintain the 4-3-3 system that has brought Los Cules success over the years but it remains to be seen how Griezmann fits in. What does the future hold for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele at the club and how will the coach manage the team in the event Neymar arrives. Club captain and talisman Lionel Messi is still Barcelona key player. He showed no sign of slowing down last term and even at the age of 32 he is likely to be the difference in the Spanish top flight again this season. Barcelona have been on their talisman but the arrival of Griezmann should help take the burden off the Argentine. The obvious target is the Champions League but a third straight title and fifth in six years will certainly be the other goal.

ATLETICO MADRID

A total of eight new faces have arrived at Ciudad Deportiva Wanda Atlético de Madrid to replace nine players who exited the revolving door at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium between the end of last season and this new campaign. It has been a huge summer of change at Los Colchoneros but with Diego Simeone still at the helms, Atletico fans are assured they will remain competitive as ever. Atleti finished above Real Madrid for the second season running and that perhaps could be the only silver lining in an ordinary campaign in the Simeone era. Simeone’s team at no point put pressure on Barcelona for the title and the round of 16 exit in Europe put an end to the dream of winning the Champions League on home turf in the first final hosted at the Wanda Metropolitano. There have been major exits from the club; Diego Godin, Luis Filipe, Rodri and Antoine Griezmann are amongst the key first team players to depart leaving Simeone with the massive task of rebuilding a new team. It will be a new-look Atletico Madrid that takes to the field this season with their starting XI likely to feature at least five new signings. The back four has a totally fresh look following the departures of long-serving trio Filipe Luis, Diego Godin and Juanfran. Jose Gimenez, Stefan Savic and Jan Oblak are some the senior figures with the Uruguayan required to step up as the new leader in defense. Koke is the new club captain and record signing João Félix will be expected to be a crucial role in attack despite his young age. The Portuguese wonderkid was brought in to replace Griezmann and has taken over the number seven shirt. Simeone has always built his team on the back of a strong defene and Atleti will be reliant on Jan Oblak this term. They’ve lost some players of the very highest quality this summer but crucially they have managed to hold onto the Slovenian who is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. With a new-look defence in front of him, Oblak will have an even bigger role to play. There is a lot work ahead for Simeone in the new campaign; it is tough to predetermine what to expect from Atleti this term after a summer of such radical change with over €250 million spent. A top three finish is the least expected while a deeper run in the Champions League and Copa del Rey would be seen as a good season.

REAL MADRID

The 2018-19 season is one to forget in the history of Real Madrid coming on the heels of three successive Champions League triumphs. Zinedine Zidane returned to the club in March as the third manager in charge of the team after Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari. Los Blancos finished third for the second season running, 19 points behind the champions. They crashed out of the Champions League in the round of 16 and were knocked out in the semifinals of the Spanish Cup. It was a disastrous campaign all round with no player with the exception of Karim Benzema who had a respectable campaign. The club wasted no time in splashing the cash on new players; five new players have arrived in the Spanish capital including Eden Hazard from Chelsea as the biggest name on the list. Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic, Eder Militao and Rodrygo will be expected to provide healthy competition for the established stars that underperformed in the last campaign. Hazard is Real’s first ‘Galactico’ signing in five years and he will be expected to hit the ground running and be the driving force in Real Madrid’s attacking play. Hazard arrives on the back on an impressive season with Chelsea scoring 21 goals in 52 appearances in all competition. The biggest coup managed by club president Florentino Perez was convincing Zidane to return to the club he walked out on nine months earlier following a third straight Champions League success. Challenging for the league title has become Real Madrid’s top priority for the season with the club winning just two LaLiga crown in the last ten. The Frenchman is saddled with the responsibility of inspiring a team that seems saturated after conquering Europe with four titles in the last six. He has tried various formations during preseason from the tested 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 systems but the team still looks some way short of the expected level. The first few weeks of the new season will determine how Zizou’s team will play this season but the pressure on the club legend is at the peak due to poor results in preseason. Zidane knows the club very well and the expectation from the board and the fans. The expectation is to restore the club’s pride that was badly bruised last season and return to winning ways immediately. It is an enormous task for the French coach but he has succeeded at the club before and he can recreate history for himself again. Time will tell if Real Madrid and Zidane made the right call to reunite.

VALENCIA

Los Che experienced a season of two halves last campaign. The first stanza saw Valencia draw too many matches and saw them fall off very early in the title race if they were ever in it. Their Champions League return ended at the group stage too but they bounced back brilliantly from January onwards with a club record unbeaten run which propelled them to an eventual 4th place finish in La Liga. The 2019 form saw them excel in the Europa League making the last four and upset Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final to round off a remarkable campaign and claim their first silverware in 11 years. Valencia board patience with Marcelino yielded rewards at the end of the day but the former Villarreal manager will prefer to start the new season on a better slate than the last. Without a doubt, the Asturias born coach is fundamental to Valencia’s recent revival but will be under no illusions that those draws last season have to be converted to victories with the signing of Maxi Gomez from Celta Vigo. Goncalo Guedes and Geoffrey Kondogbia absence to injuries hurt them last season but the duo should be fresh and ready for the season. In addition, Dani Parejo will continue as Marcelino’s key player alongside fellow country man Carlos Soler in midfield. It is all about consolidating on the successes of last season and closing the gap to the top three and possibly breaking through. Valencia have some of the most promising young players in LaLiga on their books with South Korean teenager Lee Kang-in and homegrown Ferran Torres. These youngsters will be a delight to watch this season with the performances produced at the tail end of 2018-19 season. A top four finish and another season with Champions League football would be another successful campaign for the Mestalla outfit.

OTHERS

Getafe missed out on Champions League football by whiskers last season. Imagine what the atmosphere would be like inside Coliseum Alfonso Pérez if the Champions League tune were to be played in there. José Bordalás has performed wonders at the small Madrid suburb club two years after returning to the top flight. It may be unrealistic to expect Getafe to challenge for the top four again due to the extra volume of games in the Europa League. A very busy summer at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán has seen a major overhaul at Sevilla including the arrival of new boss Julen Lopetegui. The former Real Madrid and Spain coach has to ensure that Los Nervionenses don’t fade away like last season after a bright start. The Andalusia club will be pushing for a Champions League place as the objective for the season. David Gallego takes over from Rubi who did a terrific job in his solitary season as Espanyol boss. If Borja Iglesias stays in Catalonia, he will be the key player for Los Periquitos who overachieved last season. The appointment of Gaizka Garitano proved an inspired move as Athletic Bilbabo climbed the table to ultimately finish in 8th – just missing out on Europe when at one stage a relegation battle looked on the cards. If Los Leones can make San Mames the fortress it was, the Basque club can target European qualification in the new season. Real Sociedad was another Basque club with a mixed bag last campaign. Asier Garitano was fired at Christmas but La Real still struggled to find the required consistency under Imanol Alguacil. The arrival of Martin Ødegaard and Alexander Isak has got San Sebastián buzzing for the new campaign. Los Verdiblancos wasted no time in replacing Quique Setien at the end of poor campaign with former Espanyol coach Rubi. The new coach’s style of play is similar enough to that of Setien therefore radical changes shouldn’t be needed. Real Betis fans want European qualification and Rubi will be careful not to become a victim of his own success like his predecessor.

La Liga will welcome three fresh teams to the Primera División. Osasuna, Granada and Mallorca will attempt to find their feet in the Spanish top flight. Osasuna were crowned champions of the Segunda Division with an extraordinary home record. Jagoba Arrasate has added a few new recruits to help them as survival is the main objective for Osasuna. Granada are back in LaLiga after two seasons out and they will hope to do better than they did in 2016-17 when they were relegated with Tony Adams. El Graná have impressed in pre-season, they take momentum into the new season and have done some smart business but perhaps not enough to see them avoid a relegation battle. Real Mallorca have returned to the top flight return fresh from back-to-back promotions. Mallorca’s rise over the last eighteen months from Segunda B football to the Primera Division has been a pretty remarkable transformation for a club that was in complicated problems when they dropped out of the second tier in 2017. The Islanders have brought in no fewer than 10 new faces to San Moix including highly rated Aleix Febas from Real Madrid Castilla. Vicente Moreno has been the mastermind behind Mallorca’s rise to the top flight but their survival may rest on their ability to turn Son Moix into something of a fortress again.

The 2019-20 LaLiga season promises us excitement throughout the nine months of the season. Interestingly, we have 17 Spanish, two Argentines and one French coach in the league. El Clasico, El derbi Madrileno, El Gran Derbi, Basque derby and other derbies are some of the exciting derbies for the season. We shall be previewing matches from this league as part of our FESIG focus weekly. The entire season odds are available on our sports shop. Simply visit Babaijebu.ng and place your bet on all LaLiga matches.

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