The hangover is real.
The finale of the 2018 World Cup took place 18 days ago. This feels somehow impossible in that these two and half weeks without meaningful football have felt like an interminable wilderness slog, despite the sense that there’s still a significant buildup of World Cup yet to be digested and metabolized.
Alas, here we are. The kickoff of the Premier League eight days away, with La Liga slated to get rolling a week later. As August 17 approaches, rather quickly at that, it’s time to take a look at the participants of the 2018-19 La Liga campaign. In the interest of our collective sanity, we’ll tackle the task in a few installments over the couple of weeks. At the conclusion of last season, we bid farewell to Málaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruña – it only makes sense to kick things off with a look at the trio of teams that have taken their places:
City: Vallecas, Madrid (605 km /376 miles southwest of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas (14,708)
Last time in La Liga: 2015-16
2017-18 season recap: Los Vallecanos secured automatic promotion with a league-high 76 points and a goal difference of +19. Their 67 goals scored, good for second in the Segunda, made them one of just two teams in the division to average more than 1.5 goals per game. Raúl de Tomás was their leading goal scorer with 24, with Óscar Trejo contributing 12 of his own. Meanwhile, the captain, Adri Embarba, paced the team in assists, with 14.
Rayo stumbled out of the gate in 2017-18, spending the first third of season between eighth and fourteenth in the league table, before righting the ship. They finished out the campaign as perhaps the best team in the division, sitting no worse than second place in the final 16 weeks, and holding the top spot for six of the last seven.
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Gaël Kakuta, LW (€3.0 mm, from China); José Pozo, Attacking Midfield (€1.3 mm, from Almería); Emiliano Velázquez, CB (€1.0 mm, from Atletico Madrid); Luis Luis Advíncula, RB (loan, from Tigres UANL, in Mexico)
Departures: Johan Mojica, LB (€5.0 mm, loan to Girona made permanent); Baiano, RB (€1.5 mm, to Alanyaspor, in turkey); Raúl de Tomás, CF (end of loan – returned to Real Madrid Castilla); Unai López, Attacking Midfield (end of loan – returned to Athletic Bilbao)
Cool to know: Rayo’s fans, Los Bukaneros (the Buccaneers), representing the working-class barrio of Vallecas in Madrid, are known for their left-wing views, namely vocally opposing racism, fascism and homophobia, as well as protesting against the commercialization of football. In keeping with their buccaneering theme, the song for which the club is best known, “La Vida Pirata” (“The Pirate Life”) is regularly chanted at the club’s games.
In 2014, when 85-year-old Carmen Martínez Ayuso was evicted from her home of more than 50 years in Vallecas, the club, led by coach Paco Jémez, not only offered to assist her in finding a new home, but also paying her rent!
In 2018-19… Let’s be real, after Barcelona, this should be your favorite La Liga team.
The bad news here is that Rayo have lost one of last season’s biggest contributors with Raúl de Tomás returning to RM Castilla. On the bright side, however, the remainder of the squad returns largely intact, supplemented by some new arrivals that should round out a solid starting XI. A lack of depth in midfield could become an issue, but there is quality here and, having spent just two years out of La Liga, Rayo returns enough top flight experience to believe that they belong. Given the state of their fellow La Liga newcomers, to say nothing of a couple of truly questionable incumbents, it’s not too hard to see Los Vallecanos surviving the season.
City: Huesca, Aragon (260 km / 160 miles northwest of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): El Alcoraz (7,500)
Coach: Leo Franco
Last time in La Liga: Never!
2017-18 season recap: Huesca kick off their first-ever top flight season having finished segunda en la Segunda, on 75 points, securing automatic promotion. Huesca posted a league-best goal difference of +21, netting 61 times, while only allowing 40 to their opponents. This tied them with Sporting Gijón for the third-stingiest defense in the division. If you’ll allow me a quick aside, let’s spare a moment for two truly miserly defenses that will forever be lost to the ages. Consider Osasuna and Cádiz, the league’s eighth and ninth place finishers, who allowed 34 and 29 (!!) goals, respectively. In 42 games! Ouch. Sorry, guys!
At any rate…
Like Rayo, Huesca, also scuffled in 2017-18’s opening weeks. They managed to get back on track more quickly, spending 25 of the final 30 weeks of season in one of the top two spots in the league table, en route to second place, and that aforementioned automatic promotion spot.
Watford loanee Chucho Hernández and attacking midfielder Gonzalo Melero shared the club’s scoring lead with 16 goals apiece, while David Ferreiro led the team with 11 assists. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Álex Remiro also starred, allowing just 38 goals in 40 matches. Unfortunately, his loan came to a close at season’s end, and he’s back at Bilbao, replaced by a new loanee, Atlético Madrid’s 22-year-old Argentinean, Axel Werner.
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Lusinho, LB (free transfer, from Deportivo La Coruña); Jorge Miramón, RB (free transfer, from Reus Deportiu); Eugeni Valderrama, Attacking Midfield (loan, from Valencia B); Rúben Semedo, CB (loan, from Villareal); Xabier Etxeita (loan, from Athletic Bilbao); Samuele Longo, CF (loan, from Inter Milan); Damián Musto, MF (loan, from Club Tijuana, in Mexico); Pablo Insua, CB (loan, from FC Schalke 04); Axel Werner, GK (loan, from Atlético Madrid)
Departures: Álex Remiro, GK (end of loan – returned to Athletic Bilbao); Álvaro Vadillo, LW (free transfer, to Granada); Jair Amador, CB (free transfer, to Maccabi Tel Aviv).
Did you know? The club’s original iteration, Huesca CF, was created in 1910. The club went on to join the Royal Spanish Football Federation in 1922, but ultimately folded in 1926 A replacement, CD Huesca was born in 1929, and renamed Unión Deportiva in 1940, only to once again shut its doors in 1956, due to financial trouble. The current iteration of the club was established in 1960, and has been operating continuously for nearly six decades.
In 2018-19… Huesca was one of the most solid and consistent teams in the Segunda last season. However, much of their success stemmed from stifling attacks far less potent than those they’ll be facing in La Liga. It’s tough to see the defense holding up as well as it did last season, in no small part because last season’s star goalkeeper is gone. Beyond that, they will be integrating new faces all over the field. They’ll fight gamely in the club’s first-ever top-tier season, but they’ll face massive challenges in both keeping the ball out of their own net, and scoring enough to secure at least a few victories, Huesca’s stay in La Liga is unlikely to be a very long one.
City: Valladolid, Castilla y León (658 km / 409 miles west of Barcelona)
Stadium (Capacity): Estadio José Zorrilla (26,512)
Coach: Sergio González
Last time in La Liga: 2013-14
2017-18 season recap: Valladolid finished the league campaign in fifth place, scoring a league-high 69 goals. El Pucela ended the campaign with 67 points and a goal difference of +14. Valladolid did not cut the figure of a promotion candidate for much of 2017-18, as they conceded goals at a rate befitting a bottom-third side and spent just one of the season’s final 35 weeks above fifth place in the table. They languished largely between seventh and eleventh place, before a late surge secured a spot in the promotion playoffs. Once there, however, they cruised to promotion, first dispatching Sporting Gijón by a combined 5-2 score over two legs, before hammering Numacia 4-1 (3-0 in the first leg) to cement their place in La Liga for 2018-19.
Jaime Mata was the leading scorer not only for Valladolid, but for the entire division, his whopping 33 goals nine better than Rayo’s Raúl de Tomás total’s of 24 (Mata added another two goals in the promotion playoffs, bringing his season total to 35). Meanwhile, Óscar Plano led the team in assists, with 8. In what is likely to be an absolutely devastating blow to El Pucela, Mata – and roughly 45% of the team’s goals from last season – are gone, as he signed with Getafe on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract. I frankly don’t know how a team that would likely have been overmatched in the rosiest of scenarios recovers from that.
Comings and Goings
Arrivals: Ivi, RW (loan, from Levante); Keko, RW (loan, from Málaga); Alberto Guitián (end of loan – returns from Sporting Gijón)
Departures: Jaime Mata, CF (free transfer, to Getafe); Deivid, CB (free transfer, to Las Palmas); Giannis Gianniotas, RW (end of loan – returned to Olympiacos); Pablo Hervías, RW (end of loan – returned to Eibar)
Did you know? Valladolid won silverware in 1984, knocking off Atlético Madrid 3-0 in the final of the Copa de la Liga – a knockout competition that ran for just four years (1983-86). Barcelona won in 1983 and 1986, with Real Madrid claiming the cup in 1985.
Real Valldolid’s best-ever top flight finish came in 1996-97, when El Pucela finished seventh, under the guidance of Rafa Benítez.
Valladolid’s 2006–07 side has a pretty solid claim to the title of “Greatest Segunda Team Ever”, achieving a division-record 88 points, finishing a staggering 26 above fourth place (i.e., non-promotion), going unbeaten in 29 straight matches between October 2006 and May 2007, and securing promotion on April 22, 2007, with eight games remaining in the season –still the earliest any club has achieved promotion in Spanish football history.
In 2018-19… Consider: a fifth-place team with a bottom-third defense in the second tier is now without far-and-away its primary catalyst in attack, and has done little in transfer market to fill either that void, or meaningfully bolster the defense. This could get bleak.
Stay tuned in the coming days for the next riveting installment, when we take a look at a handful of holdovers who will likely spend the coming season fighting for their La Liga lives.