Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Your Spanish Soccer Primer: ¡Viva La Liga!

Widely thought of as the world's two best footballers, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Barcelona's Lionel Messi (right) will likely continue their rivalry at the top of La Liga this year.

Ed. Note- SuiteSports would like to welcome our newest contributor, Mr. Justin Sherman. Justin is an avid fan of the beautiful game, and will be bringing you top-flight analysis of all the world's best league's throughout the upcoming season. So yeah, follow the dude on Twitter and come back for more soccer (er, football) goodness.

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

There’s an old saying that only two things in life are guaranteed; Death and taxes.

However, I think we need to add a third to the list, and that is constant soccer. Do these guys ever get a break? Seriously, it seems like just yesterday Barcelona were hoisting their fifth UCL trophy into the starry night in Berlin. Between Copa America and club friendlies, we’ve been soccer deprived for about a whole week this calendar year.

So, gentlemen, wash that champagne out of your hair and toss out the confetti, because new hopes and campaigns are upon us. With that, we preview the 86th season in Spain’s top flight- La Liga. 

History Lesson

There are not many leagues that can boast more top shelf talent than La Liga. With arguably the two strongest sides in the world in Barcelona and Real Madrid, you are guaranteed to have your breath taken away weekly. But, if last season showed anything, it was that Spain is now more than the big two, by qualifying an incredible five teams for possible Champions League participation (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, and Sevilla).

Barcelona won their 23rd La Liga title last year under first year coach Luis Enrique, and will most certainly go into the season as a prohibitive favorite. With the transfer window still open until August 31st, much can still change though with rosters not fully set.

The Contenders



You could not have asked for a better season from Luis Enrique’s side as they achieved their second Treble, bringing La Liga, Copa Del Rey and UEFA Champions League titles back to Catalonia. After a tumultuous start to the season, Barca managed to finish with an amazing 94 points, scoring 110 goals in the process.

Despite a transfer ban that allows none of their arrivals to make their competitive debuts until January, they still managed to land super talented Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan. With a three headed monster of Neymar, Suarez and Messi setting the goal on fire, defenders will surely be having nightmares come match day.

Barring injury, or a flat out lack of desire, another celebration will surely be headed to the steps of Las Ramblas come May.

Key Transfers In: Aleix Vidal, Arda Turan. 
Key Transfers Out: Xavi, Martín Montoya, Ibrahim Afellay.

Real Madrid 

Most people who watch soap operas tune in for the backstabbing, lies, and non-stop drama. No club was filled with more of that this summer than Real Madrid.

After a trophy-less campaign, President Florentino Pérez controversially fired Carlo Ancelotti and replaced him with ho-hum hire Rafa Benitez. If that wasn’t bad enough, club icon Iker Casillas was disposed of like last week’s newspaper.

Madrid's conduct in his exit was wildly criticized, with Casillas' parents claiming he was being forced out of the club, and should’ve signed with blood rival Barcelona instead. Many wouldn’t argue that a change of scenery was best for all parties involved, but a little more appreciation for his years of service would have gone a long way.

For weeks another icon, Sergio Ramos, threatened to leave for Manchester United if he didn’t receive a more lucrative contract before the club finally caved to his demands. All in all, much of last year’s team remains intact, and still boasts some of the best talent Europe has to offer.

With more effort given to squad rotation and defensive responsibility, Madrid should have no problem challenging Barcelona for the title. Win or lose, you can always count on “Los Blancos” to keep you entertained.

Key Transfers In: Danillo, Kiko Casilla, Lucas Vazquez. 
Key Transfers Out: Iker Casillas, Sami Khedira, Javier Hernandez.

Atletico Madrid

I thought I had it bad with junior varsity football conditioning, but Coach Diego Simeone puts Mr. Tremper to shame. No coach demands more from his players than Simeone, but his results speak for themselves. 

Since becoming coach in 2011, Atletico have compiled a record of 127-40-33, including an impressive five trophies for the most illustrious stretch in club history. For some players his tenacious pressing and buzz-saw counters can wear thin. For example, Arda Turan famously said “we run too much here."

His departure leaves big shoes to fill in Midfield, but they are banking on newcomers Vietto and Carrasco to provide the scoring punch that was sometimes lacking last term. Jackson Martinez comes in on a big money move from Porto and appears to be an upgrade from the departed Mandžukić, but his lack of experience in one of Europe’s top leagues is a cause for concern.

As the season comes to a close, look for “Los Colchoneros” to be in the race, still walking or not.

Key Transfers In: Luciano Vietto, Jackson Martínez , Yannick Carrasco, Stefan Savić, Filipe Luís, Bernard Mensah.
Key Transfers Out: Mario Mandžukić, João Miranda, Arda Turan, Toby Alderweireld, Mario Suarez.

On the Hot Seat

Rafa Benitez (Real Madrid) 

No seat burns hotter in sports than the one of plush blue leather on the pitch of the Santiago Bernabéu. Florentino Pérez is George Steinbrenner on steroids, and a trophy-less season is guaranteed to give a coach his walking papers- past success be dammed.

Benitez replaces the departed Carlo Ancelotti despite widespread fan and player support. An uninspiring hire, Benitez comes in after guiding Napoli the past two seasons to moderate success. He returns to his dream club with the weight of the world on his shoulders, in what is likely his last chance for success at one of Europe’s elite clubs.

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) 

No player was more polarizing in Spain last year than the Welshman. Having come over from Tottenham in 2013 for a world record fee of 100 million Euros, Bale delivered a sensational first campaign, including the capture of the all-elusive tenth Champions league title.

His form woefully dipped in his second year with media criticism reaching a fevered pitch. The low point came in January in a match against Espanyol when he was loudly booed by his home fans for being selfish in shooting for goal rather than passing to a wide open Ronaldo. 

With the full backing of President Pérez looking to make good on his investment, a philosophy change is in the works that will see Bale play a more centralized role with more possession of the ball. It’s a make or break year for Gareth that will see him either elevated to club icon, or relegated as just another over hyped star.

Ciro Immobile (Sevilla) 

No player will want to forget the 2014 season more than the Italian. After scoring 22 goals in 33 games in his lone season at Torino, Immobile made his big money move to German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, hailed as the heir apparent to the departed Robert Lewandowski. 

Ciro managed only three goals in twenty four appearances, drawing the ire of his coach Jürgen Klopp on multiple occasions. Now Ciro moves to Sevilla on a season-long loan, where he will be expected to be the club's top scorer.

He must deliver, as his wallet and international career hinge on this campaign.

Players to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo/Lionel Messi (Real Madrid/Barcelona)

You knew it was coming didn’t you? The world’s two greatest players are debated more than ketchup vs. mustard.

No matter where your allegiances lie, you must admit that we are witnessing two of the greatest players to ever grace the pitch. Last campaign Ronaldo scored a mind-numbing 61 goals in all competitions to win the Pichichi, while Messi put in 58. Messi got the better of his arch nemesis in the trophies department, with a historic treble.

Both players are integral to their team’s success and will also be looking to end the debate of best player alive once and for all.

Jackson Martinez (Atletico Madrid)

The center forward finally made his long awaited move to a big club. It appeared AC Milan had all but signed the Colombian when Atletico Madrid came in like a thief in the night and snatched him away for 35 million Euros.

The out-and-out goal scorer finished as the Primeira Liga's top marksman in all three of his seasons at Porto. His physicality and serious athleticism will surely be a welcomed sight to coach Simeone’s physical style of play. With a hefty price tag, the pressure is on for Jackson to find his footing almost immediately.

Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad) 

Remember that really cute girl in high school who would constantly give you the signals she was into you, but when it came time to finally get that kiss, there was always an excuse?

Well, Mr. Vela fits this description to a tee. His talent is unquestionable, and when he is focused he very well may be a top-10 player in La Liga. Unfortunately, inconsistently creeps in all too often, and makes us forget why the Mexican international is so very special.

If Vela can replicate his form from the 13/14 campaign, Sociedad should be able to land a top-10 spot in the table.

Under the radar

Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla)

This guy’s name alone can raise eyebrows, but luckily my girlfriend is Ukrainian and can help with the pronunciation. A virtual unknown, Yevhen really turned up his game the last two years playing for Dnipro in his home country.

He led his teammates on an improbable run to the Europa league final against none other than Sevilla. He immediately caught their attention with a terrific display of pace and skill on the ball. He moved on a free transfer to Spain and immediately rewarded their faith with a goal against Barca in the UEFA Super Cup.

Expect big things from the winger in the upcoming season.

Real Betis

Yes, I am putting an entire team on the list. The reason is simple: Betis are no ordinary promoted side. Having featured in Spain’s top flight for many years, Betis nose-dived under terrible ownership into the second division.

Hoping to make sure they don’t repeat that fate, Betis went out and signed Rafael Van Der Vaart and Juan Manuel Vargas. Though both players are past their respective primes, their leadership and confidence is just what this team needs. Don’t be surprised to see Betis challenge for a Europa League spot.

Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao) 

If there’s one word that describes Artiz it’s consistency.

The Basque forward has scored 14, 16, and 18 goals respectively the last three years. He also has a knack for scoring in the biggest games, evidenced by his hat trick against Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup to kick off this season.

If Bilbao wants any chance of qualifying for Europe, they will need their leading man to dominate week in, week out.


La Liga- Barcelona
Copa Del Rey- Atletico Madrid
Champions League qualifiers- Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla
Relegation- Las Palmas, Sporting Gijón, Eibar

1 comment :

C. Plaza said...

Goodbye to the best goalkeeper in the history of soccer, Iker Casillas. Can't wait for another super-excited season. Hala Madrid!!