We are one day closer! La Liga’s (and Barcelona’s) season opener, in Bilbao, is now just three days away.
As the weekend approaches, we examine another batch of this season’s La Liga squads. As before, we are breaking down the league in installments. As noted, however, this year we’re running through the likely bottom-15 in alphabetical order, five at a time, with the league’s biggest clubs – Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia and the Madrids (Atlético and Real) – to be addressed last, as their lineups may be most impacted by late transfer activity.
In Part 1 we worked our way across the north of Spain, from Galicia to Catalunya, with an extended stopover in the Basque country. This installment shifts the focus elsewhere in the country, to Madrid, València and Andalusia, along with the most paradisiac of the league’s locales.
City: Getafe, metropolitan Madrid (634 km / 394 miles southwest of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Coliseum Alfonso Pérez (17,000)
Coach: José “Pepe” Bordalás
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Enric Gallego, CF (€6m, from Huesca); Jack Harper, CF (€1.5m, from Málaga); Raúl Garcia, LB (free transfer, from Girona); Marc Cucurella, LM (on loan, from Barcelona); Allan Nyom, RB (undisclosed fee, from West Bromwich Albion); José Carlos Lazo, CM end of loan – returns from CD Lugo)
Departures: Dimitri Foulqiuer, RB (end of loan – returned to Watford); Gaku Shibasaki, CM (free transfer, to Deportivo la Coruña); Mathieu Flamini, DM (end of contract); Samu Sàiz, AM (end of loan – returned to Leeds United; now with Girona); Sebastiàn Cristóforo, CM (end of loan – returned to Fiorentina)
Where we’ve been…
Two years ago, it would have been perfectly reasonable to surmise that newly-promoted Getafe were well-positioned to stick around in La Liga, and actually stood a chance at carving out a niche in the top flight. The team had, in fact, spent the 12 seasons prior to their 2016 relegation in the top tier and had spent just one season in the Segunda before returning. On top of that, their coach, Pepe Bordalás, had an already-impressive track record of upward mobility.
In 936 career games as a coach, across a variety of levels, Bordalás’ teams have conceded just 902 goals. In 200 games (across two spells) in charge of his home-region club, Alicante, his teams allowed less than a goal per game and climbed from the regional leagues to the third tier of Spanish football. In the one season that Bordalás was in charge Alavés conceded 38 goals in 44 games and earned promotion to La Liga. He was puzzlingly sacked by Alavés despite the promotion, which allowed him to join Getafe, themselves preparing for that season in the second tier. He’s now helmed the Madrid-based side for three seasons, and each has been better than the one before.
In their first go-round back in the big time, Getafe, in a manner befitting their coach’s philosophy, finished comfortably in the top half of the league, with a +9 goal difference, having allowed fewer La Liga goals (33, or 0.87 per game) than all of their league counterparts outside of Barcelona’s 29 and Atlético Madrid’s – this is not a typo – 22, and came within a victory of a European spot, on 55 points. A deeper dive revealed that Getafe were, in fact, theoretically even better than that, trailing only Atléti in terms of expected goals allowed. Quietly rock solid.
Last season Getafe did not deviate from the plan, continuing to keep the ball out of their net (35 goals allowed, tied with Valencia for second-fewest), avoiding defeat (seven losses, fewer than every team in the league, except Barcelona, Atléti and Valencia) and grinding out victories (15, tied with Valencia for fifth-most). Beyond that, the addition of striker Jaime Mata to holdovers Àngel Rodríguez and Jorge Molina paid dividends, as Mata and Molina each netted a team-high 14 goals and combined for eleven assists, while Rodríguez scored eight goals of his own and set up another three.
This all added up to a season that was nothing short of spectacular. Unspectacularly spectacular, of course. Getafe did not lose consecutive games all season, they allowed multiple goals ina game just ten times (and never more than two) while keeping 13 clean sheets. They ranked in the top six in the league table for the last 20 weeks of the season, racked up 59 points, and fell a single result short of the Champions League.
Where we’re going…
After a dizzying climb the like of which Getafe have made in recent seasons, a team could be forgiven for taking a pause and looking to consolidate their position. Not these guys. This has the look of a club that’s not satisfied with what’s already been achieved, and is looking to build on these successes. Bordalás has clearly demonstrated a talent for getting players to buy in to his disciplined system, and virtually everyone of consequence is back.
Right-back Dimitri Foulqiuer is the only departing player who played more than 449 minutes in 2018-19 (he made 25 appearances and played 1,809 minutes), and the additions of Allan Nyom and Raúl Garcia should offset his loss on the back line. Meanwhile, although Getafe return their top three scorers, it’s worth noting that the departed Foulqiuer was the only other player to score as many as three goals.
To that end, the club has brought in the marvel that is Enric Gallego – a soon-to-be 33-year-old striker who did not debut in professional football until last season and, across 38 games with Extremadura (in the Segunda) and Huesca, scored 20 goals. In addition, a Màlaga-born-and-raised Scotsman, 23-year-old forward Jack Harper has also been brought in for depth, while Marc Cucurella, on loan from Barcelona, ought to provide pace and creativity down the left.
Know your strengths, and stay strong there. Identify and address your weaknesses. There’s a chance these guys really know what they’re doing. Provided the rigors of the Europa League don’t lead to a fatigue-driven collapse, there every reason to believe that Bordalás will integrate these new talents into the squad and guide Getafe right back into the top eight.
City: Granada (854 km / 531 miles southwest of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Nuevo Los Cármenes (19,336)
Coach: Diego Martinez
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Darwin Machís, LW (€3m, from Udinese); Domingos Duarte, CB (€3m, from Sporting Lisbon); Yan Brice, CM (€1m, from Sevilla); Fede Vico, AM (loan from Leganés made permanent for a fee of €285,000); Roberto Soldado, CF (free transfer, from Fenebahce); Neyder Lozano, CB (free transfer, from Elche); Yangel Herrera, DM (on loan from Manchester City); Sergio Peña, AM (end of loan – returns from Portuguese club Tondela)
Departures: José Antonio González, CM (loaned to Córdoba); Alejandro Pozo (end of loan – returned to Sevilla); Fede San Emeterio, CM (end of loan – returned to Real Valladolid)
Where we’ve been…
After a two-year hiatus, Granada are back in La Liga.
Granada turned in an outstanding 2018-19 campaign, looking a good bet to win the Segunda until Osasuna laid waste to the league over the season’s final third. Regardless, El Graná still secured automatic promotion with a 76-point tally and a stellar +24 goal difference. Their 52 goals scored were good for fifth in the league, while the 28 they conceded (.67 per game!) bested the next best defense in the league by three. After four matches, Granada sat sixth in the table. Things would not be that bad again, as they took up residence in the top five for the final 38 weeks of the season, 34 of which they spent in the top three.
Antonio Puertas was the team’s leading scorer, with ten goals, while six of his teammates (five of whom return) contributed between four and six apiece. Meanwhile, Àlvaro Vadillo paced the team with 11 assists, Fede Vico (7) and Àngel Montoro (5) also contributing.
Where we’re going…
Given the manner in which Granada secured promotion, this team has a clear template for not only surviving its return tour in La Liga, but to becoming a fixture in the top flight. In fact, one need only scroll up to find it. A stable and consistent lockdown defensive unit that piecemealed together a respectable attack without atop-end goal threat on hand? As if they don’t already know it, these guys need to focus their energy on being Poor Man’s Getafe.
The similarities in their seasons are uncanny. Granada suffered consecutive defeats just once in 2018-19, allowed multiple goals in a game just five times (never more than two) and kept 19 clean sheets.
Good news: Nearly the entire cast of characters returns. 14 players saw at least 1,400 minutes of game action last season – and a dozen return, including eleven of the top twelve. Six of the top seven goal-scorers are back, as are all five players with at least two assists. In addition, their phenomenal young goalkeeper, 24-year-old Rui Silva, allower of just 27 goals in 3,600 minutes a year ago, is still between the sticks. The only real losses are in midfield, where loanees Alejandro Pozo and Fede San Emeterio return to Sevilla and Valladolid, respectively.
Better news: Leganés loanee Fede Vico, who scored five goals and assisted on seven others last season, is now here for good, and he is joined by a legion of players with considerable experience played at a decent level. Bolstering the already-elite defense are center-back Domingos Duarte (39 starts, 4 goals for Deportivo La Coruña), midfielder Yan Brice (29 starts for Almería), left-back Neyder Lozano (23 starts for Elche), defensive midfielder Yangel Herrera, a Manchester City loanee with 31 appearances across 2018 and 2019 for New York City FC in MLS and Huesca in La Liga. Reinforcing the attack, meanwhile, are winger Darwin Machís (8 goals in 15 games with Cádiz last season), the ageless Roberto Soldado, and Sergio Peña (20 starts for Tondela in the Portuguese first division).
Like Getafe, Granada has done well to identify and implement a style of play conducive to climbing the ranks. Beyond that, the club has done an excellent job of both maintaining the core that got them here, while also supplementing it with talent and experience. Barring an incredible acclimatization to top-flight defenses, goal-scoring is likely to be an issue for El Graná. However, with the stability, experience and continuity they’ve got on hand, Granada are an excellent bet to stick around.
City: Leganés, metropolitan Madrid (634 km / 394 miles southwest of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Estadio Municipal de Butarque (12,450)
Coach: Mauricio Pellegrino
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Martin Braithwaite, CF (loan from Middlesbrough made permanent for an undisclosed fee); Jonathan Silva, LB (loan from Sporting Lisbon made permanent for a fee of €3m); Juan Muñoz, CF (€1.5m, from Alcorcón); Roberto Rosales, RB (€1.5m, from Màlaga); Fede Varela, AM (from Porto B, for an undisclosed fee); Juan Soriano, GK (free transfer, from Sevilla); Aitor Ruibal, RW (on loan from Real Betis)
Departures: Fede Vico, AM (loan toGranada made permanent for a fee of €250,000m); Guido Carrillo, CF (end of loan – returned to Southampton); Nabil El Zhar, RW (free transfer to Al Ahli, in Qatar); Mikel Vesga, DM (end of loan – returned to Athletic Bilbao); Andrii Lunin, GK (end of loan – returned to Real Madrid); Allan Nyom, RB (end of loan – returned to West Bromwich Albion; now with Getafe); Juanfran, RB ( end of loan – returned to Deportivo La Coruña); Kenneth Omeruo, CB (end of loan – returned to Chelsea); Michael Santos, CF (end of loan – returned to Màlaga)
Where we’ve been…
Frankly, kinda bored. With the exception of their home date against Barcelona (in which Leganés — winners of a single point and scorers of four goals in the season’s first five games — fell behind after twelve minutes, steadied the ship and held out until halftime, and then proceeded to flip that deficit into an advantage in a span of less than two minutes early in the second half, and then held out for a deserved win), there’s not much about last season that that’s particularly noteworthy.
As noted, Leganés stumbled out of the gate, capturing four points and scoring six goals in their first seven games, and spent much of the first half of the season flirting with relegation. They found their footing once the calendar flipped to 2019, racking up 20 points in three months and lifting themselves out of danger, and into the afternoon nap portion of the league table, between 11th and 13th, where they set up shop for the remainder of the season.
Los Pepineros wound up the campaign with 45 points and goal difference of -6. For better and for worse, they did an excellent job of keeping the ball out of the net. The 43 goals they allowed was more than that allowed by only the best defenses in the league – Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Getafe and Barcelona. However, their total of 37 goals scored was downright relegation-worthy – tied with Girona and better than only Rayo Vallecano. This potent blend yielded the least “goaly” campaign in La Liga, in which ball hit net just 80 times in 38 games.
2018-19 Leganés happened. I wish I had more for you.
Where we’re going…
Six Leganés players scored multiple goals last season. Youssef En-Nesyri led the way with nine goals, and the now-departed Guido Carrillo chipped in with six. Meanwhile, Jonathan Silva and Martin Braithwaite paced the team in assists, with six and five, respectively.
Let’s be honest, this team could have turned over a significant chunk of the squad without losing much curb appeal. And that’s exactly what’s happened. Gone are Carrillo, Nabil El Zhar (and his four goals), defensive midfielder Mikel Vesga (23 starts), right-backs Allan Nyom (20 starts) and Juanfran (17 starts), center-back Kenneth Omeruo (27 starts) and Michael Santos, one of four players with at least three assists, despite appearing in just 16 games.
A pair of loanees, arguably the team’s two best players, Braithwaite and Silva, are now permanent members of the squad. They are joined by a number of incoming acquisitions: Juan Muñoz (13 goals with Alcorcón), Roberto Rosales (21 games last season with Espanyol) and a duo from Majadahonda: Fede Varela (five assists) and Aitor Ruibal (11 goals and four assists).
Overall, this is probably a recipe for more of the same. There’s enough dull, droning competence to imagine this team falling into the drop zone, but there’s really not much to dream on.
City: València (349 km / 217 miles south of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Estadi Ciutat de València (26,354)
Coach: Paco López
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Rúben Vezo, CB (loan from Valencia made permanent for a fee of €5m); Sergio León, CF (€4m, from Real Betis); Gonzalo Melero, CM (€3.6m, from Huesca); Carlos Clerc, LB (free transfer, from Osasuna); Óscar Duarte, CB (free transfer, from Espanyol); Jorge Miramón, RB (free transfer, from Huesca); Ivi, RW (end of loan – returns from Sporting Gijón)
Departures: Jason, RW (free transfer, to Valencia); Rober, CB (end of loan – returned to Deportivo La Coruña)
Where we’ve been…
On the surface, Levante’s 2018-19 La Liga campaign was just another season. This was a goaly lot, scoring 59 and conceding 66. They won eleven games, drew eleven, and lost sixteen times. They wound up 15th in the table, on 44 points, having spent much of the season bouncing between 10th and 15th. All in all, not much to see here.
Under the guise of a ho-hum middle-third season, this team was, in fact, low-key must-see-TV. For starters, defensively they were awful. It doesn’t require the deepest of dives to reveal that the unit that allowed the second-most goals in La Liga (66) was actually the beneficiary of good fortune and lackluster finishing by the opposition. Based on expected goals, reality flattered Levante’s defense to the tune of roughly 13 goals, and the 79 goals they “should” have allowed was, yep, 13 more than the next theoretically leakiest defense.
Translate that underlying performance into points and Levante slides from fun, 44-point bet-the-over ne’er-do-well, floating blissfully along and never flirting with relegation to a dead-last points tally of just about 40, and a -25 goal difference. There is an alternate reality in which last season was an absolute train wreck — if, after the train wreck a bunch of dudes showed up to kick balls past Oier Olazábal.
Now, let’s take a step back and give credit where it’s due: if a team is going to be bad, this is the way in which to go about it. 15 different players scored at least one goal, and twelve scored at least two. More of their games finished with a (two-team) total of four goals (10) than with any other total. Five times Levante and their opponents combined to score a single goal – the same number of times they combined for five goals. Levante took part in twice as many games featuring eight goals (two) as they did goalless draws (one).
The Leganéses and Alavéses of the world are presumably someone’s preferred flavor. For many, however, the unhinged fever dream is a welcome departure from stoic functionality.
Where we’re going…
More goalfests, probably. We can point to the arrivals of center-backs Rúben Vezo and Óscar Duarte, right-back Jorge Miramón and left-back Carlos Clerc, with Rober (32 starts last season) the only real departure, as a commitment to fortifying the back line. That is undoubtedly the aim, and there’s an excellent chance that next season’s defense is, in fact, improved. Bear in mind, however, that last year’s team was exceptionally lucky to concede 66 times, and could conceivably have shipped 80. Merely being “bad” defensively would represent considerable improvement.
Fortunately, Levante’s attack returns virtually intact, having only swapped out Jason (2 goals and 5 assists in 26 starts) for ex-Betis striker Sergio León and ex-Huesca man Gonzalo Merelo in the middle of the park. Even in the absence of a dramatic improvement on defense, there is enough attacking talent here to go blow for blow with most teams in La Liga.
Roger Martí and José Luis Morales combined for 25 goals (13 and 12, respectively). They are back. Also returning are José Campaña and Rubén Rochina, who scored four goals apiece and combined for 14 assists (9 by Campaña), as is Coke, who chipped in four goals from his defensive position (both a feature and a bug?) and perhaps the most purely talented player on the squad, Enis Bardhi, who scored three goals and set up another four from midfield.
With any meaningful improvement at the back, Levante could be eyeing a spot in the top dozen of the league table. It feels safe to assume that, at the very least, that that unit will not be any worse. Levante should once again provide some excellent bang for our entertainment buck en route to a middle-third finish.
City: Palma, Balearic Islands (244 km / 152 miles southeast of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Estadi de Son Moix (23,142)
Coach: Vicente Moreno
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Igor Zlatanovic, CF (€1.3m, from Serbian club Radnik); Pablo Chavarría, CF (free transfer, from French club Reims); Aleix Febas, CM (free transfer, from Real Madrid Castilla); Josep Señé, CAM (free transfer, from Cultural Leonesa); Aleksander Sedlar, CB (free transfer, from Polish club Piast Gliwice)
Departures: Salva Ruiz, LB (free transfer, to Valencia); Stoichkov, CAM (loaned to Alcorcón); Pervis Estupiñán, LB (end of loan – returned to Watford U-23)
Where we’ve been…
Mallorca finished the Segunda campaign fifth, on 69 points, and, thanks to six wins in their final eight games, punched their ticket to the promotion playoff. More on this in a second.
In the regular season, Mallorca scored 53 goals (third in the league), conceded 37 and were a model of consistency. They were in the top half of the table for the entirety of the season, and spent 36 of the last 38 weeks between fourth and eighth. The team’s top scorers were Ivorian forward Lago Junior, who led the way with 11 goals, and Ariday Cabrera, who scored seven times. Meanwhile, Salva Sevilla led the team in assists, with nine, while Lago Junior set up eight scores.
Thanks to their fifth-place finish, Mallorca qualified for the playoffs for promotion into La Liga. Edging past Albacete 2-1 over two legs set up a two-legged final against Deportivo La Coruña, who’d cruised past Málaga. It’s tough to imagine the first leg, played in Galicia, unfolding any more disastrously than it did for Mallorca. Not only did they fall behind 1-0 after 37 minutes, four minutes later they were reduced to ten men. Depor rode their advantage the rest of the way and added an insurance goal before the final whistle. They could have been forgiven for heading to the Balearic Islands thinking they already had a foot in the top flight.
That second leg, however, was a different story. Mallorca quickly fought their way back into the tie, as Ante Budimir put them ahead after 21 minutes. They held that advantage for 40 minutes, until Salva Sevilla doubled their lead, and leveled the tie in the 62nd minute. With everything now to play for, the sides battled for 20 minutes until, eight minutes from the end of regular time, Abdón, a forward who’d entered the game as a substitute, struck for a third, completing the 3-0 remontada and securing Mallorca a second consecutive promotion and a place in La Liga for the first time in six years.
Where we’re going…
In addition to Lago Junior, who could well break out as a star in La Liga, Mallorca’s best shot at surviving the season will be continuity. Last season, 17 players logged at least 1,000 minutes for Mallorca – and 15 of them return. Their top five (and seven of the top nine) goal-scorers are back, as are five of six players who had at least three assists. In addition to Junior, forwards Ante Budimir and Ariday Cabrera, along with midfield playmaker Salva Sevilla will be vital. The only losses of consequence are defenders Salva Ruiz and Pervis Estupiñán, and attacking midfielder Stoico, who combined for six goals and five assists last season. Their production should prove replaceable.
With the attacking talent on hand, Mallorca promises to be a fun addition to La Liga. However, their ability to keep the ball out of their own net could prove a very real concern. The ability to score goals, rather than simply aiming to grind out 0-0 and 1-0 results, will make these guys pesky. Safety, however, will hinge on the solidity of the back. It’s exceedingly likely that Mallorca’s return to La Liga is an entertaining fight for their lives.