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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sports Sunday Thread #1 For 8/23/15: La Liga BBVA 2015-16 Preview - The Other 18



Since so much attention is given to the Big 2 and their continued preference to have the rest of the league be broke and not competitive against them, this La Liga preview will take an important, quick look at the rest of the 18 teams in the second best league in the world.

It's the historic 85th season of La Liga BBVA.

Atletico Madrid are arguably the deepest they have ever been under Diego Simeone, and that includes the title winning, Champions League finalist campaign of two years ago. Still, that deepness is created by the absences of key figures Arda Turan, Mario Manduzkic, Miranda and Mario Suarez. Though the latter have been replaced by equally talented figures, Turan's passing quality and vision is something yet to be seen consistently from exciting prospects Oliver Torres and Saul Niguez. Nevertheless, if Simeone gets a great season from the explosive Jackson Martinez, Atletico could certainly benefit from Barcelona's early season lack of depth and Real Madrid's always potentially combustable situation with Rafa Benitez at the helm.

Valencia was The League's most exciting team after the big two last season. A free following attack with a vibrant midfield and class finishers Paco Alcacer and Alvaro Negredo saw Nuno Santo name rise as a potential star manager for years to come. The loss of Nicolas Otamendi, however, is a big blow right before the start of the season, as Los Che will hope Portuguese youngster Ruben Vezo can form a fine partnership with German young stud Shkodran Mustafi. They also hope they can get the steal of the summer in Belgian talented teen Zakaria Bakkali, banished from PSV after being the youngster player ever to score a hat trick in the Eredivisie's great history. With the Champions League playoff tie against Monaco a must win as well as anything else in either the Champions League's group knockout stage or Europa League, this season will definitely show us all if Valencia are back among Europe's elite.  

Sevilla haven't been so lucky at keeping all their valuable figures, as the Europa League champions see Carlos Becca, Aleix Vidal and Stephane M'Bia gone. Unai Emery knows that Sevilla are a smart transfer club, and the arrivals of Michael Krohn-Dehli, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Ciro Immobile, Sergio Escudero, Gael Kakuta, and record signing Steven N' Zonzi could have the Andalusia power as owners of the best summer business. Kevin Gameiro is more than capable of picking up the slack from Bacca's departure in what will be a season that asks Emergy's side if they too are among the continent's best or a tier below.

Villarreal has suffered some many losses, with Giovani Dos Santos leaving to Los Angeles the least of the major departures. Standouts Denis Cheryshev and Luciano Vietto have either went or returned to the capital, meaning manager Javi Garcia will have to count on Spurs castoff Roberto Soldado to refind his sparkling form from his time at Getafe and Valencia. The two Malaga Samus, Garcia and Castillejo, will also be vital to whether Villarreal will be amongst Spain's elite or be mired in a relation struggle their club has seen too often. Atletico Madrid man Leo Baptistao will also be key.

Atletico Bilbao has managed to keep their core players and will be formidable this season if they can handle the Europa League awkwardness that can plague teams. Ernesto Valverde has retained key men Adruiz, Susaeta, Iturraspe, Muniain and de Marcos to name a few, making times at San Memes very positive right now.

Celta Vigo meanwhile will have to overcome the departures of young promise Santi Mina, lead line leader Joaquin Larrivey (to Baniyas of all clubs), clever Brazilian veteran Charles and solid Dane Michael Krohn-Deli. Eduardo Berizzo will do well to hold onto the much coveted Nolito before this transfer window ends, but has at least made up for his departures with good editions. UEFA U-21 Championships star John Guidetti comes in on a free, while solid Daniel Wass keeps the Denmark representation at the club going on for another season with his move from Evian. Iago Aspas returns from where he made his name a few years back and hopes to shake off a few humbling, disappointing seasons at Liverpool and Sevilla.

Malaga have seen the departure of some of their exciting wave of young talent that made their mark last season. Juanmi and the two aforementioned Samus (Garcoa and Castillejo) have exited, but Javi Garcia's has done well to retain dynamic Moroccan Nordin Amrabat while bringing in his countryman Adnane Tighadouini from a good season at NAC Breda. The signing of Charles from Celta was a fine move as well.

Espanyol have seen a number of changes to their side. Longtime captain and figure Sergio Garcia has journeyed off to a big pay day in Qatar, while other big names Kiko Casilla, Christian Stuani, Hector Moreno and Lucas Vasquez have departed as well. It will be a challenge for second year manager Sergio Gonzalez, who hope a bunch of new young additions lead by Gerard Moreno and Italian keeper Francesco Bardi will overcome big losses.

Rayo Vallecano is another fun mid table side who will have to overcome key departures. Gone is club record scorer Alberto Bueno and pacy Gael Kakuta, where Paco Jemez will hope his passing side have enough to stay comfortable this year.

Real Sociedad start their second season with David Moyes with a lot of stability. Only struggling Alfreo Finnbogason is the key departure, as the Scottish manager may have gotten the steal of the summer for a midtable club with the signing of talented Brazilian forward Jonathas from cash strapped Elche.

Levante seek David Barral as the only major departure, as Lucas Alcaraz has done well to add Liga Sagres talents Nabil Ghilas and Deyverson. Mainstays David Navarro, Ruben Garcia, and captain Juanfran return for Lucas Alcaraz in his second season in charge. But he'll be asking himself all season once again on where the goals will come from.

Getafe sees rookie coach Fran Escriba retain most of his key players. Pedro Leon, Pablo Sarabia, Angel Lafita and Alvaro Vasquez are still with the former Burger Kings, with influential left back Sergio Escudero as the only key man out gone. And with incoming on loan young talents Moi Gomez, Alvaro Medran, Emiliano Velazquez and Benard Mensah, it could be a funny season for this unglamorous Madrid club.

Deportivo La Coruna features another second year coach in Victor Sanchez, who will likely have another precarious campaign to avoid the drop. As another cash strapped La Liga side, it's another season of loan arrivals and departures for Deportivo. Longtime club personality Helder Postiga is gone for good, with youngsters Ivan Cavaleiro, Borja Lopez and Isaac Cuenca's time at the club unfulfilling and short. The big additions of talented veteran Cani, after his disappointing loan spell at Atletico, and uber talented Valencia on loan man Federico Cartabia will do wonders for the club, especially if they and sharp Celso Borges can be clever in the middle. JuanFran returns again, with Oriol Riera and Juan Dominguez back to lead Deportivo into the 85th season of The League.

Granada also had a stress filled campaign with their fate saved at the very end. Manager Jose Sandoval doesn't need that pressure again, but it seems inevitable with a boatload of players egressing and a good number of them coming in. Granada cashed in on Jeison Murillo's solid Copa America
for Colombia. Gone as well is right back Allan Nyom to Watford, but there are way more welcomed editions for Sandoval to deal with. Fast Congolese forward Thievy is capable of producing some tallies, though Uruguayan youth international Nico Lopez could be the new singing hit for the Andalusian side. The development of young talents Isaac Success and Jhon Cordoba could make for exciting times for Sandoval, especially if they and veteran duo Piti and Youssel El-Arabi bring their best.

Sporting Gijon return to La Liga BBVA with Abelardo Fernandez establishing himself as the man to lead this team back up to the second best league in the world. Fernandez's third year sees no major departures, vital for Gijon's chances of surviving a drop many people expect them to take. Gijon also saw the major boost of getting on loan young talents Antonio Sanabria and Alen Halilovic. The Croatian Barcelona wunderkid in particular was a notable scalp for Fernandez, as many good clubs throughout the continent clamored for his services. Gijon had by far the best defense in the Liga Adelante and will need that in ambulance this season, especially in their opener against Real Madrid of all teams. Luis Hernandez, Bernando, Alberto Lora, Bernardo and Ivan Cuellar's play determines the fate of the Asturias located club. Can their backline be superb with higher competition?

Real Betis also see their return to the Spanish top flight, with Pepe Mel bringing in a number of notable names. Longtime Hamburg regulars Rafael van der Vaart and Heiko Westermann, along with Peruvian Juan Vargas, are the "glamour signings." But the editions of Francisco Portillo, Petros and German Pezzella could prove more valuable. More important than bringing in players for Mel, however, was seeing star scoring duo Ruben Castro and Jorge Molina remain. Betis definitely have enough in attack to stay up, but they know full well the dangers of thinking you are too good for the drop.

Las Palmas dramatic playoff promotion win sees their first return to La Liga since 2002. Goal scoring was never a problem for the Canary Islands club in Liga Adelante, producing a league leading 73 goals with champions Betis.  Former Boca Juniors and Barcelona B product Sergio Araujo is their star man, as the 23-year-old will look to see if he can finally shine at the highest level. Veteran backline editions Antolin Alcaraz and Javier Garrido will be tested week in, week out, with young Argentine holding midfielder Federico Bravo a player who may have to protect them. Paco Herrera knows that they are the favorites to finish bottom at the league. But he and the Las Palmas fans will certainly enjoy the experience and give it their all. 
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