La Liga has made a lot of headlines this summer, and many for the wrong reason. The main talking points have been Atletico Madrid and Barcelona’s legal dispute over Antoine Griezmann’s transfer, Eden Hazard’s eventual move to Real Madrid, Nabil Fekir’s shock decision to join Real Betis and Valencia managing to keep hold of their boss Marcelino Garcia Toral after a turbulent summer.
Despite the transfer window remaining open, the focus now switches back to the football and it promises to be one of the most intriguing seasons in recent years.
The race for the title will be anyone’s call with Atletico and Real spending big in a bid to close the gap on Barcelona, while the battle for European places could be between any of six or seven teams.
Ahead of the season opener on Friday night when Athletic Bilbao host defending champions Barcelona, here is an in-depth look at how at the seven teams who will be battling for the title, and a European spot next season.
Head coach: Diego Simeone
Last season: 2nd
Diego Simeone has spent big this summer and expectations will be high. Joao Felix has particularly caught the eye during pre-season and Atletico will want him to play a big role this campaign to fill the void Antoine Griezmann has left.
Despite bringing in eight new faces, a concern for Atletico will be that they also lost a number of experienced members of their squad this summer with the likes of Diego Godin, Juanfran and Felipe Luis leaving on frees.
Traditionally a well-oiled machine that prides itself on clean sheets, you can expect more of the same from Atletico, who have strengthened at the back more than anywhere else this summer.
They could welcome one more addition through the door too should James Rodriguez’s protracted move from Real Madrid be finalised before September 2’s deadline.
Atletico only had the only trophy to celebrate last term, having lifted the European Super Cup but the goal this season will undoubtedly to win one of the major ones on offer.
Key Man: Joao Felix
You can’t sign for £114m and not expect to be the club’s top dog.
Following the departure of Griezmann, the onus will be on the young Portugal international to step into his shoes. If pre-season is anything to go by, he shouldn’t have any problems.
Head coach: Ernesto Valverde
Last season: 1st
It’s fair to say that Barcelona have been front and centre when it has come to the transfer window’s biggest stories this summer. After finally capturing Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid in a controversial £108m deal, the Catalan giants don’t look like stopping just yet as they look to conclude Neymar’s sensational return to the Nou Camp.
But if you look past the drama, Ernesto Valverde has quietly enjoyed a good window. The Barcelona boss has added depth at full-back with the addition of Junior Firpo from Real Betis while Neto replaces Jasper Cillessen as Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s understudy in goal.
In the friendlies we’ve seen of him so far, Frenkie de Jong looks like he’s played at Barcelona his whole career and has fitted in seamlessly. However, their pre-season preparations took a knock when Lionel Messi picked up a small injury during training just days after returning, so Valverde will be hoping he can get his talisman back as soon as possible.
Key man: Lionel Messi
Even if Neymar returned this summer, Barcelona will continue to rely on the little Argentine who will ridiculously still bag you 30-50 goals in all competitions.
Head coach: Jose Bordalas
Last season: 5th
Getafe earned a place in the Europa League group stages having finished in fifth place in La Liga last season.
This campaign they will be seeking to push on even further and will have designs on getting into the top four.
Coach Jose Bordalas will have to manage his squad carefully so that his key players aren’t too exhausted by the Europa League.
However, Getafe have a talented squad and are unlikely to be pushovers when they face La Liga’s leading lights.
Key Man: Jorge Molina
Molina was a key factor behind many of Getafe’s impressive displays last season, as evidenced by the fact that he scored 14 goals in La Liga.
The sharp shooter managed to get 62 per cent of his efforts on target as he caused numerous problems for opposing defences.
Even at the age of 37, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and will be looking to be prolific again this campaign.
Head coach: Zinedine Zidane
Last season: 3rd
It all looked so promising for Real Madrid at the start of the summer window as Zinedine Zidane looked to get all of his transfer business done and dusted ahead of the new campaign. Real brought in Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Ferland Mendy in what looked to be the new era of Galaticos.
However, their pre-season came tumbling down in an instant when they were truly humbled by a new-look Atletico Madrid side in America. There were complaints that Hazard had packed on the pounds while Real’s aging midfield continued to be a thorn in Zidane’s side.
The Spanish giants have often looked disjointed and out of sorts during pre-season and even Marca have stated that the idea of Real winning a trophy this season is ‘farcical’. While keeping that in mind, you’d expect Real to challenge Barcelona and Atletico for the league this season given the amount they’ve shelled out this summer.
Key man: Eden Hazard
Brought in for a deal worth up to £150million, Hazard will be that go-to player whether he starts out on the left or in the No 10 position behind Benzema. Zidane will need to drum out that ‘unselfish’ characteristic Hazard possesses if he’s going to become a goal-machine for Los Blancos.
Head coach: Julen Lopetegui
Last season: 6th
Big things are expected at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium this season with a new manager in place and £100m spent on new talent.
Returning director Monchi has got straight down to work with 11 new signings to help Julen Lopetegui rebuild his reputation after quitting as Spain manager on the eve of the World Cup for a disastrous spell with Real Madrid.
The Spaniard faces the task of getting the new-look side to gel together as quickly as possible but improving on last year’s sixth-placed finish should be achievable.
Key man: Rony Lopes
The attacking midfielder will be desperate to banish the thoughts of last season’s nightmare with Monaco and begin a new chapter at Sevilla.
Two years ago, Lopes was linked with just about every major club in Europe after banging in 15 goals. Last season he managed just the four as Monaco narrowly escaped relegation.
Sevilla have clearly seen something in Lopes to splash out £22.5m off the back of such a disappointing campaign and will look to him to be their creative spark this term. A cultured midfielder who is great on the ball, can pick out a pass and has an eye for an goal, he possesses all the attributes to shine in this league.
Head coach: Marcelino García Toral
Last season: 4th
Valencia survived a turbulent summer which saw the futures of general manager Mateu Alemany and head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral almost leave the club.
Alemany appeared ready to walk away from Valencia and Marcelino vowed he would follow him through the exit doors if he did, but the latter had a change of heart and the two have remained.
Having achieved so much, it will be difficult for Valencia to maintain the high standard, but they have invested well, bringing in the likes of Jasper Cillessen, Maxi Gomez and Denis Cheryshev. A top-four finish will be the expectation.
Key man: Goncalo Guedes
There’s no doubt that Guedes possesses the potential to be a big hitter in La Liga. Since joining Valencia from Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, he has shown glimpses of a world class player but has not performed on a consistent basis.
You can’t help but think that this could be the season he finally announces himself as a top player in the league.
There will be less pressure on him to score goals regularly following Gomez’s arrival and he is expected to be given a new licence of freedom in an attacking role behind the main striker, which he could really flourish in.
Head coach: Javier Calleja
Last season: 14th
Given the talent in the squad, there can be no arguments that last season fell way below expectations.
Although it could have been much worse with Villarreal staring relegation in the face at one point. A strong finish to the season saw them finish comfortably in 14th in the end.
It will be tall ask for them to better that this time around after losing key players such as Pablo Fornals and Denis Cheryshev in the summer window but it would be foolish to label them as mid-table languishers just yet.
They have some highly-rated prospects in Samuel Chukwueze and Santiago Caseres and will have genuine ambitions to crack the top 10.
Key man: Santi Cazorla
You’ve seen all the videos on social media, he may be 34-years-old and only recently recovered from an injury that kept him out of action for two years, but Cazorla still has plenty to offer.
He pulled the strings in midfield last season and has retained all the flair and technical skills that made him one of the best exports the Premier League has seen.
He even earned a recall to the Spain squad for his performances last season. Cazorla has that rare ability to pull a big moment out of the bag when needed and with another tough season expected, he will have a significant role to play.
La Liga winner odds
- Barcelona – 4/9
- Real Madrid – 7/4
- Atletico Madrid – 12/1
- Valencia – 100//1
- Sevilla – 150/1
La Liga top goalscorer odds
- Lionel Messi: 4/6
- Eden Hazard: 9/1
- Luis Suarez: 10/1
- Antoine Griezmann: 14/1
- Karim Benzema: 16/1