Predictions for La Liga – 19/20

La Liga, next to Serie A, is probably my least favourite out of the top 5 leagues. While part of it is down to myself being unable to watch the games legally, I have other problems. It’s primarily down to my distaste for Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two clubs that dominate all discussion in Spain. Nevertheless, let’s look at the teams and players who will stand out in the 19/20 season, for good or bad reasons.

Outside Shout – Sevilla

While the signings of Nabil Fekir and Borja Iglesias have pushed Betis as top 4 contenders, I’d back Sevilla to do even better. I’m not claiming Sevilla are title challengers in any sense of the word. But with the quality and quantity of signings, they are arguably in a fantastic position to finish in that 4th spot.

Sevilla had a mixed 18/19 season. After a fantastic start to the season, which saw them top of the table at the end of November, it all fell apart. They dropped out of the top 4 after only winning 2 games between the start of December and the 10th of March. It meant the Europa League was their best chance of getting back into the Champions League. However, this ended in disaster, losing to Slavia Prague in the round of 16. This culminated in the sacking of head coach Pablo Machin, which left Sevilla with another rebuilding job.

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Who else to be at the helm of the tough task than Monchi. The Spaniard departed the team in 2017, joining Roma. However, after an unsuccessful stint with the Giallorossi, he returns to bring back the same magic he did for years. With all the top clubs desperate to bring in a director of football, there aren’t much better than Monchi. The value he managed to find out of the transfer market, especially Ligue 1, was remarkable. The likes of Lenglet, Gameiro, Banega, Navas, Sergio Ramos and Dani Alves were all discovered by the former Sevilla midfielder, showing his eye for talent is unrivalled. While his time at Roma wasn’t auspicious, with the Italian side dropping down the league during his two-year spell, returning to where his success began is the best thing for both parties.

With Joaquín Caparrós diagnosed with chronic leukaemia, the search for a new head coach was on. Julien Lopetegui was appointed head coach on the 4th of June, and I’m unsure what to think about it. Judging him based on a problematic four months at Real Madrid is unfair, considering how little he was backed in the market. While he was very successful with the Spanish national team, his managerial experiences at club level are not the most comforting. His most notable job was with Porto, where he finished 3rd with £57 million spent on 18 players, 7 of which were Spanish.

Joining a club that isn’t as insane as Real Madrid, where he will be given more time to take Sevilla back into the Champions League, will be fascinating. Lopetegui has always favoured a classic 4-1-2-3, a formation that Sevilla have not been playing in recent seasons. Lopetegui needs to resolve some of the consistent issues with the side, in defence and now upfront. Sevilla have sold two of their best assets in Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben-Yedder, meaning Lopetegui can start from scratch with the current core of players and plenty of new arrivals.

Sevilla did some of the best business in the window. They went out and resolved their most significant issues, being wide talent and defenders. Monchi targetted plenty of players from Ligue 1, with 4 of their 11 signings coming from the French top flight. Rony Lopes has left the sinking ship known as Monaco to finally play for a club where his talents can be showcased. Ocampos has arrived from Marseille, and while I’m not his biggest fan, I acknowledge he does offer a lot in terms of dribbling and physicality. Sergio Reguillon comes after unfairly being pushed out from Real Madrid. This is a delight to see because Sevilla have finally picked up a good left-back after years of being so one-sided, even if it is just a loan deal.

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Their best signing, by far, is Joan Jordan. The Spaniard had a very successful spell with Eibar, earning him a move to Sevilla. This is such an improvement over Vasquez and Mesa. The midfielder is solid defensively and offers a lot of ball-progression. This is one of the most sensible signings of the window, and I’m surprised other clubs weren’t showing interest.

Sevilla have made some signings where I have my doubts, but right now, they are in a great position to get that 4th spot. A balanced experienced yet youthful team that possess the qualities to challenge the other top sides in La Liga.

Overachievers – Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid’s summer can best be described as a mixed bag. Losing their best attacker in Griezmann, their best midfielder in Rodri and the hugely impactful Diego Godin was huge. While they did pick up over £200 million from only 3 of their sales, it meant a lot of work was needed to turn this into a Champions League squad once again. Atletico recruited without any sort of consistency, which is understandable. They brought in a mix of young talent in Felix, Lodi and Hermoso to keep the squad fresh on the long term, combining that with the experience of Trippier, Herrera and Felipe. It allows them to remain competitive in the short term while also giving them a future in two of their most important positions; attack and defence.

In concept, I do like a lot of their business, but during a closer examination, I have my doubts. Let’s start with Joao Felix. The teenage sensation arrives for a gigantic £113 million. There is no doubting the forward is talented, but substantial game time is something lacking in his repertoire. The 18/19 season was Felix’s first season of top-flight football and displayed some promising qualities. His shot location was generally fantastic, and his technical ability is undeniably excellent, but factors come into my reservations on this transfer. The first is Liga NOS. The Portuguese top-flight is difficult to judge when it comes to talent. Your club might pick up a Bernardo Silva, Alex Sandro or a Willy Boly, or end up with a Mangala, Jackson Martinez or Enzo Perez. Joao Felix could be just as useful as Griezmann, or even better, however, there is a likely chance the pressure on him might be too much. Felix is one of the only pacey forwards Simeone can use. There is no other player like him in the squad, with Morata and Costa both preferring the ball in the air. Atletico have paid a lot of money to seemingly beat the competition and remind the rest of Europe they are a threat.

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I’ve expressed my doubts about Marcos Llorente before, and my opinions on Trippier and Felipe aren’t nearly as negative as many. Simeone has a reputation of supercharging defenders, and I think he will find the value out of the pair. They definitely didn’t need to spend that much money on them, especially on Felipe, but they’re decent acquisitions in terms of the players they are getting. I like Hermoso and is arguably their best signing in the window, with the defender performing well in a similar system at Espanyol and still has time to improve.

So why are they, my overachievers? Most of their squad are recent summer arrivals and as noted, aren’t all likely to succeed. Simeone has a reputation for grinding out results better than any other coach in the game. He rarely uses the exciting talent given to him, and it makes me wonder if Simeone will just stick with his compact system, only to remain close with the top two. Atletico will finish the top four but will look bad doing so.

Underachievers – Barcelona

Barcelona have lost their traditions in recent years. While they have never been likeable, you could at least respect them for putting more faith in youth than big-money signings. However, the same luxury signings they seemingly mocked Real Madrid for making are now the players they want. This has culminated in a squad full of different players, and not in the right way. This team lacks pace in the attack and balance in the midfield. Even though I dislike the Griezmann signing, They did end bring in an understudy for the ageing Jordi Alba and one of the best midfield prospects in Frenkie De Jong. This squad is a general improvement over last year’s title winners, but many problems remain.

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Ernesto Valverde is by far the biggest and most frustrating problem at the club. I actually had a lot of respect for what he did during his first season. He turned Barcelona from a free-flowing, direct and pacey team into a very defensively solid and efficient one. It wasn’t the most entertaining watch, but it was working and kept Barcelona better than the rest of the league. In spite of their title-winning season, only losing a single game in La Liga, the fans were not happy. They didn’t just want to win, but in a way that Cruyff would be proud of. While insanely smug and arrogant, I can understand. Barcelona have the best player ever to grace a football pitch. Seeing him in the best attacking side in Europe and playing to his fullest while his career to starting to wind down is essential. Messi is the only reason why Barcelona have won the league under Valverde. While Messi hasn’t been at his untouchable best like he was back in 2011, this has been his most impressive time at the Nou Camp. In his thirties, he is still carrying his side more than ever before, and it’s comfortably established him as the greatest there is.

Barcelona have the best side in the league, but mediocre squad building and the wrong manager has made them weaker than they should be. They’ll underachieve through not playing to their potential. They will most likely win the league, but not nearly as comfortable.

Best Transfer – Frenkie De Jong

This is arguably the most of outstanding signing Barcelona have made since Ter Stegen. The former Ajax central midfielder was fantastic both domestically and in the Champions League, where he was vital in Ajax reaching the semi-final. He has so many qualities that persuaded Barcelona to pick up his signature. De Jong is an allrounder. He is good defensively while possessing a great passing ability and solid dribbling numbers. It allows him to be versatile in how he plays, whether as a ball-progressor or even or a centre-back. His ball retention is by far his best quality. During their dominant victory over Juventus, the old lady attempted to man-mark De Jong out of the game. This didn’t work; however, with De Jong dropping so deep that it made him difficult to mark. He would consistently receive the ball and dribble right through Juventus’ deep block. He was one of the most challenging players to dispossess in Europe.

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There isn’t even debate on whether he starts. De Jong has to play whenever he is available. The Dutchman, alongside Arthur, offers a young central midfielder with more risk on the ball than his teammates. Rakitic is not as adventurous as he once was, Busquets has been overplayed for years, and Vidal hasn’t really worked out in Barcelona since his arrival. De Jong’s versatility would allow him to not only excel wherever he plays but to give Busquets and Rakitic a chance to be rested. De Jong’s arrival has zero drawbacks and is by far their best business since Luis Suarez.

Potential Flop – Munas Dabbur

Sevilla’s business overall was fantastic, but their forwards were always going to be difficult to replace. Los Hispalenses lost 3 of their starting forwards in Ben-Yedder, Silva and Muriel. It left them with only Munir as a starting striker, leaving them with a lot of work to be done. I have my doubts about Luuk De Jong, but he can play as an effective target man. It’s their acquisition of Isreali forward Munas Dabbur where my suspicions are raised. The former Salzburg striker was fantastic during his time in Austria. Dabbur was a well rounded forward who could score as well as create. He was excellent in the Europa League, where he scored 8 in 10 and helped guide Salzburg to winning every game in their group. It’s obvious Dabbur has talent, but excelling in a league where Salzburg are a level above everyone else means there is an instant reason to be worried. He’s also 27. Usually, when taking a talented player from a weaker league, they need to be at an age where they can improve or have re-sell value. As per usual, I could be wrong, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Dabbur leaving the club in a year.


Best Bargain Signings of the 19/20 Transfer Window XI

Covering the same stories of Harry Maguire, Nicolas Pepe, Paulo Dybala and all the other big names can be very frustrating. Seeing teams spend so much money on players where you can find improvements for less. I present an XI full of players who might not sell shirts but have arrived for a pittance compared to their market value.

GK: Alex Meret – £19.80m

The most expensive player in this XI starts us off. My knowledge on goalkeepers isn’t as vast as it is on midfielders and forwards, but this is a player who’s quality is undeniable. Meret is one of many goalkeepers to be produced from Italy and has finally reached the level we all knew he would. Originally, Meret was to be the replacement for Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus, which in itself was high praise. However, the Italian found himself fighting for that number one shirt at Napoli, alongside Karnezis and Ospina. It was a tough situation for a young goalkeeper to be placed in, battling for that starting spot against two experienced shot-stoppers, yet came out as the best. Out of the 13 starts he made, he conceded 0.63 goals per game, a vast improvement over Ospina’s 1.17. Meret is an excellent shot-stopper and commands his box with confidence. He is arguably at his best at doing what goalkeepers are there to do; ensuring his side keep those precious clean sheets. He might not be a fantastic distributor like the truly elite calibre of goalkeeper, but at only 22, he has plenty of time to improve on his weaker areas.

LB: Angelino – £10.80m

The full-back areas were becoming an increasingly problematic area for Manchester City, with Mendy’s long term injury problems making him unreliable. The champions have had a slightly unfair reputation of just signing players for obscene amounts of money. They have spent more than any other club during this decade, granted, but they have mostly spent it wisely during Pep’s tenure. Angelino has not cost nearly as much as other full-backs Manchester City have signed, but you cannot doubt his quality. Originally a Manchester City player, Angelino was very successful during a loan spell with NAC Breda, prompting PSV Eindhoven to sign the young Spaniard, where he excelled. There are two essential things to remember when looking at Ajax or PSV players. They are playing in an average league, and for sides who dominate a majority of the games they play, so their numbers should be taken into consideration. It’s hard to deny, however, that Angelino’s stats are frankly ridiculous. The Spaniard was creating two chances a game, completing 1.4 dribbles and putting in over 3.5 tackles and interceptions. While I don’t admit to being an avid PSV viewer, his numbers are reminiscent of full-backs to play under Guardiola with high dribbling and chance creation previously. Angelino is arguably the most sensible signing Manchester City have made in recent years. The defender is young and has arrived for a small fee. He is a deficient risk acquisition and could turn some heads this season.

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RCB: Ozan Kabak – £13.50m

The Bundesliga is always reliable for finding talent and Kabak is no exception. The Turkish centre half joined Stuttgart only in January, yet as already made another move, this time to Schalke. Die Knappen had arguably the worst ‘Bundesliga dropoff’ I’ve seen. While it was slightly expected, with the side finishing 2nd in the 17/18 season only down to their lack of opposition, with Dortmund, Leipzig and the other top sides all seemingly having down years. They were never expected to finish in the top 4 again, but the drop they had was a shock. It revealed how badly they had done business in the transfer market. They have signed very underwhelming talents and have consistently allowed their best players to leave for nothing. Last season seemed to be the wake-up call they needed, with Kabak fixing a huge problem area for Schalke. Kabak is the stand out talent from Turkey. He is only 19, yet shares qualities with more experienced defenders, possessing great anticipation and maturity you don’t expect to see from a player so young. He instantly became a starter for Stuttgart and has the skillset to help guide Schalke right back to the top half of the table.

LCB: Gianluca Mancini – LOAN (obligation to buy for €15m)

Another player to develop through Atalanta’s famous system, Mancini presented himself to be one of many promising young Italian defenders. He fits the profile in which Roma needed to recruit, a young defender who reads the game very well. The loss of Kostas Manolas was huge for Roma. While not as good as Fazio defensively, he had that pace which enabled him to stand out and allow him to catch a majority of forwards bypassing the defensive line. Mancini is a very sensible signing and has the potential to be a starter for the Giallorossi for years to come. While committing over a foul a game can look worrying, he does possess a similar role to Manolas for Atalanta, making those recovery tackles in an attempt to stop the opposition scoring. Mancini has the speed, size and strength that you see in all top-level centre-halves. His aerial dominance is one of his stand out traits. Mancini won more aerial duels for his side than any other Atalanta player and winning 63% of his aerial duels. But there is more to him than his physicality. He reads the game very well and has shown a lot of maturity for a player still so young. Mancini is not perfect defender just yet, but he could be that elite centre back Roma have needed for a long time.

RB: Kevin Mbabu – £8.20m

Mbabu was one of the highlights of that surprising Young Boys title-winning side. We all saw Dijril Sow, Kasim Adams and Denis Zakaria all leave to join Bundesliga clubs, and Mbabu didn’t take long to follow. Wolfsburg picked up the former Newcastle United full-back to help give Glasner another dynamic defender, to have another player who can contribute in attack. After years of making bad signings, Wolfsburg seem to have finally followed the crowd and began finding value in the market. Mbabu’s signing is insanely sensible. Glasner’s system will require all of his players to be tactically versatile and to cover all areas of the pitch. Mbabu excelled while playing under Adi Hutter, an excellent manager in his own right and shows that the Swiss defender can perform under a demanding coach. It should make his transition into Glasner’s pressing simple to not be difficult. Mbabu is a signing that has minimal risk and shows how well Wolfsburg have been doing after looking destined to fall.

RCM: Pablo Sarabia – £16.20m

For the first time in years, I have loved PSG’s business this summer. Leonardo’s arrival has caused a considerable change in approach in the capital. A player leading this change is Pablo Sarabia. The French champions fought off a lot of competition to sign the Spaniard for his low release clause and have added a fantastic attacking option. Sarabia always looked at a player who could become great but could never reach that level. After years of quietly contributing for his side, Sarabia finally had that breakout season, ending last season with the same total assists as Lionel Messi. He is an aggressive midfielder who has shown an excellent pressing ability under Sampaoli and Machin. Sarabia seemed to be the only player who performed consistently throughout 18/19 in a side that started strong but struggled after Christmas. Sarabia is far from the superstars that PSG are known for chasing in recent years. He is energetic and has the ability and experience to fit into what Tuchel is demanding from his side.

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CM: Xaver Schlager- £13.50m

Wolfsburg are here again, and it might be one of the most exciting signings of the window. While Mbabu has Champions League experience, Schlager is younger and can offer something more unique to Glasner’s side. The 21-year-old brings some needed quality into a very defensively-minded midfield set-up. While Arnold and Guilavogui do keep their team stable in the middle. Schlager is a great dribbler and is excellent in those tight situations. The former Salzburg midfielder is fantastic can avoid pressure with ease. He will help give Wolfsburg some ball progression in deep, to help them compete against all sides in the league. Athletic full-backs and a midfield with some needed drive are what is required to help Glasner have the talent and ability to help push towards those Champions League spots.

LCM: Juan Jordan – £12.60m

Let’s move onto Sarabia replacement. Juan Jordan is one of many new arrivals for Sevilla. While Dabbur, Reguilon, Torres, Kounde and Ocampos are all exciting signings for Lopategui’s side, Jordan is their stand out signing in terms of value for money. The Spaniard stood out in an extremely defensive Eibar team, topping the side for key passes. Being able to play in such an organised and well-drilled side will help give Sevilla a player who is equally capable of contributing on both ends of the pitch. Jordan didn’t reach the same high number of goal contributions as Sarabia, but you expect his total to rise in a more attacking team. Sevilla’s midfield was an area that was in desperate need of reinforcements thanks to Sarabia’s departure and Banega not getting any younger. Jordan is arguably the most sensible of the arrivals. He is still only 24 and has enough league experience to make that £13 million already look like money well spent.

RW: Moussa Diaby – £13.50m

While PSG aimed to bring in players to counterbalance the more significant signings, their departures show the talent that they produce in the French capital. Unfortunately, the Champions decided to sell some of these talents, in an attempt to resolve their financial problems. With Weah and Nkunku being the other significant departures, Diaby is by far the most exciting. Only Sane, Gnabry and Iwobi managed a higher expected assist per 90 out of players under 23 to play over 1000 minutes last season than the Frenchman. It showed he stood in limited minutes, competing with some of the best wingers in Europe. His performances were a massive boost for Tuchel, who had two of his star forwards struggling with injuries throughout the season. Mbappe was always going to take the spotlight as the best player from Paris, but Diaby has deservedly moved to a club where his game time will improve. Bayer Leverkusen is one of the many clubs in the Bundesliga that are taking huge steps in the right direction. With an attacking style that has blown many teams away already, Diaby could finally play the minutes he deserves.

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ST: Alexander Isak – £5.85m

Borussia Dortmund are one of the biggest selling clubs in Europe, knowing how to profit off the young players they bring in. One player that didn’t benefit during their time at the Westfalenstadion was Swedish forward Alexander Isak. The young striker attracted interest back in 2017, when he was only 16, scoring 10 in 24 for AIK. Isak was supposed to be one of Dortmund’s stars and, at the time, the long term heir to Aubamayeng, but it didn’t work out for him. A loan spell at Willem II reminded us all of the talents that Isak possesses. The Swede blew the Eredivise in his short loan spell, scoring 13 in 15 starts, fantastic return for any young player. His insane scoring record attracted attention across Europe, with many clubs wanting to take a punt on the player, but it was Real Sociedad who won his signature. It was an excellent signing for the La Liga side, who struggled in the final third last season, finishing in the bottom half of the table for goals scored. Januzaj is a great dribbler, and Oyarzabal scored an impressive 13 goals, even if 3 of those goals were penalties, but they needed some real talented additions. Odegaard is a great addition, adding ball progression through the middle, but Isak is a fantastic finisher and has that maturity that made him stand out at such a young age. Next season could be where Isak puts his name on the map as one of Europe’s young stars.

LW: Marcus Thuram – £8.10m

Thuram was a must signing for any club interested in adding a physically dominant player to their ranks. He remained to be Guingamp’s only goal threat in a horrendous season which saw them finish bottom of the table. The 21-year-old displayed versatility and some traits that made him stand out in the world where there are so many talented wide players. No other young winger can match his strength and size, very reminiscent of his father, who was arguably the best player in his position. I thought Arsenal should have picked him up since they were so desperate for wide talent. But as usual, a Bundesliga club was first to land him. This time it’s Borussia Monchengladbach, a side managed by one of the most promising managers in the world. Marco Rose demands a lot from his players, with tactical flexibility and a willingness to defend from all positions essential to how his sides play. Thuram showed how he was willing to do a lot of defensive work last season, which could have been a reason why Gladbach signed the forward. This upcoming season is a significant time for Thuram. Being allowed to learn from one of the most intelligent managers around, to develop his game and give him a chance to make it at an even bigger club.