With the new season just days away, we have assembled a list of players who are most likely to cause an unexpected stir in La Liga this season. La Liga has been the breeding ground for the Premier League for a few seasons now, and some of these future stars could be bound for England next summer.
There was no mistaking which area Almeria struggled most with last season as they survived in La Liga by a whisker, despite conceding a whopping 71 times. If anything, credit must go to the attacking department, for without their contributions, Almeria would have been sent straight back down to the Segunda.
So this season, attention will again turn to the front line after the club spent the summer adding to the defence with lower tier fodder. Signings such as Ximo Navarro, Fran Velez and Mauro Dos Santos scream potential, but lack the experience required to fend off relegation. In stark contrast, the recruitment of former Mallorca striker Tomer Hemed is somewhat eye-catching as it gives Almeria a different dimension to last season when relying on the now-departed Rodri. His all-round contribution to a side likely to struggle once again could prove the difference this season.
If the club manage to hang onto Nigerian international Ramon Azeez, his second season in La Liga could be even more explosive than his first. A move to the Premier League awaits, but Almeria are desperate to hold onto him until at least January.
One of the stars of Athletic Bilbao’s stunning fourth placed finish was undoubtedly Aymeric Laporte, as the 20-year-old proved a composed presence in the heart of Bilbao’s defence. Despite playing 36 times for Bilbao last season, the lack of rumours surrounding the French centre-back makes him a hugely underrated prospect for the upcoming season.
Already notorious for becoming only the second Frenchman to play for the Basques, Laporte has become one of the division’s most impressive defenders. His debut in the Champions League will come this season, and whilst Bilbao may struggle without Ander Herrera, Laporte will have the platform to show he is amongst Europe’s brightest young prospects. Expect volumes of transfer speculation to revolve around this youngster next summer.
Despite winning the championship in May, the team Atletico have assembled to defend that title is much changed. The departures of Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Filipe Luis have dismantled the spine of the champions, but have invested well in their replacements.
Mario Mandzukic has been bought to replace Costa, and the Croatian international brings with him a similar goal threat. Alongside Mandzukic will be Antoine Griezmann, a long-time La Liga Blog favourite who flourished for Real Sociedad last season, and will continue his upward trajectory at the Vicente Calderon.
It was hoped that Oliver Torres would show a glimpse of Spain’s future this season, but has instead been shipped out on loan to Porto. Adrian Lopez, the supersub fro last season, has gone to Portugal too, and Javi Manquillo has joined Liverpool on a two-year loan, completing a trio of promising Spanish departures this summer. As a result, the one to watch in 2014/15 is how the partnership between Mandzukic and Griezmann takes off as Atletico go all out for more silverware.
Like Atletico Madrid, Barcelona have a much changed squad from this time last year. Carlos Puyol, Victor Valdes, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas are long gone, but Barcelona have reinforced properly to replace them. Thankfully, a pair of centre-backs have been recruited in the shape of Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen, which should give Javier Mascherano the opportunity to boast his quality in a more familiar midfield role.
Luis Suarez is the marquee signing, but as a relatively unknown quantity, we are predicting that Sergi Roberto will have his breakout season under Luis Enrique. Rumours concerning Xavi’s future at the club have been unclear, but the 24-year-old should naturally begin to ease himself into the first team at Barcelona as they prepare for the transition.
Celta’s 9th place finish last year showed how much Luis Enrique had improved as a coach, taking the side comfortably clear of relegation danger. It was no surprise that Barcelona came calling, although much to the disappointment of the Galician supporters. Whilst recreating last season’s top half finish would be mightily impressive under new coach Eduardo Berizzo, the club should do better than collapse and undo all of the good work under Enrique.
The club has been left in good nick, and even been strengthened with Joaquin Larrivey arriving from Rayo Vallecano. The Argentine scored 12 times under Paco Jemez in 2013/14 and alongside Nolito, could form a deadly partnership at the front. Although Rafinha has returned to Barcelona, the squad has remained intact, with goals and link-up play to be added by Larrivey.
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