La Liga has made a lot of headlines this summer, and many for the wrong reason. The main talking points have been Atletico Madrid and Barcelona’s legal dispute over Antoine Griezmann’s transfer, Eden Hazard’s eventual move to Real Madrid, Nabil Fekir’s shock decision to join Real Betis and Valencia managing to keep hold of their boss Marcelino Garcia Toral after a turbulent summer.
Despite the transfer window remaining open, the focus now switches back to the football and it promises to be one of the most intriguing seasons in recent years.
Ahead of the season opener on Friday night when Athletic Bilbao host defending champions Barcelona, here is an in-depth look at how the non-title contenders, the sides who will not be battling for a European place, where success could considered to be a mid-table finish.
Head coach: Gaizka Garitano
Last season: 8th
Transfers In: Peru Nolaskoain (Bilbao Athletic, promotion), Inigo Vicente (Bilbao Athletic, promotion), Asier Villalibre (Bilbao Athletic, promotion), Gaizka Larrazabal (Bilbao Athletic, promotion)
Transfers out: Mikel Rico (Huesca, free), Alex Remiro (Real Sociedad, free), Xabi Etxieta (Getafe, free), Sabin Merino (Leganes, free), Ander Iturraspe (Espanyol, free), Peru Nolaskoain (Deportivo, loan), Andoni Lopez (Elche, free), Inigo Vicente (Mirandes, loan), Markel Susaeta (released)
With such restrictions in the transfer market, Athletic Bilbao always face an uphill battle when it comes to trying to improve on last season’s performance.
Gaizka Garitano recently defended the club’s policy of only signing Basque players, saying: ‘It is different when you play not just for money, not just to win titles but we play for our jersey, for our values, for our families, friends, it is something special in the world.’
Bilbao have somehow managed to get by and actually possess a talented squad. After nailing down Inaki Williams’ future, who was linked to Manchester United this summer, Garitano will hope to try and deliver European football for a club that has been starved of it in recent seasons.
Last term’s eighth-placed finish was a huge improvement on the previous campaign which saw them almost get relegated and Gartiano will be eager to keep pushing Bilbao in the right direction.
Key Man: Inaki Williams
The Spaniard will be Bilbao’s main scoring threat and will look to emulate his form in front of goal last campaign after posting a season best of 13 La Liga goals.
Head coach: Fran Escriba
Last season: 17th
Transfers In: Ivan Villar (Celta Vigo B, promotion), Jorge Saenz (Valencia, loan), Santi Mina (Valencia, free), Joseph Aidoo (Genk, £7.2m), Denis Suarez (Barcelona, £11.6m)
Transfers Out: Dennis Eckert (released), Nemanja Radoja (released), Robert Mazan (CD Tenerife, loan), Gustavo Cabral (Pachucha, free), Facundo Roncaglia (Osasuna, £225k), Andrew Hjulsager (KV Oostende, £450k), Emre Mor (Galatasaray, loan fee £540k), Mathias Jensen (Brentford, £3.42m), Maxi Gomez (Valencia, £13m)
Celta Vigo came perilously close to the drop last season and only averted disaster after an inspiring second half of the season.
They may not be one of the favourites to go down, but Vigo could struggle again this term. Maxi Gomez, who netted 13 important goals in La Liga last season, will be a big miss.
The Uruguayan played a significant role in them beating the drop but departed earlier this summer for Valencia for just £13m. Denis Suarez is a solid acquisition but the Spaniard has found it tough to find his best form and remain fit in recent years.
If he can return the level he’s capable of, there’s no doubt he will be a big player for them. But it is in attack where you fear Vigo could be exposed. They lack firepower and the pressure will be on the aging Iago Aspas to deliver another glut of goals this time around.
Key Man: Iago Aspas
Yes, he is still around and still banging in goals for Celta Vigo. Just the 20 goals for him last season. There’s no doubting that Vigo’s hopes will be pinned on the Spaniard. But at the age of 32, whether he can remain fit or not will prove key.
Head coach: Asier Garitano
Last season: 11th
Transfers In: Lucas Perez (West Ham, £2.07m), Joselu (Newcastle, £2.02m), Ramon Mierez (Tigre, £2.01m), Luis Rioja (Almeria, £1.8m), Saul Garcia (Deportivo La Coruna, free), Tachi (Atletico Madrid B, free), Aleix Vidal (Sevilla, loan)
Transfers Out: Antonio Cristian (Fuenlabrada, free), Carlos Vigaray (Real Zaragoza, free)
For a time last season it appeared that Alaves would cause a shock by finishing in the top four.
However, a disappointing conclusion to the campaign meant that they ended up finishing in mid-table, and they now have a new coach at the helm in Asier Garitano, who replaces Abelardo.
Many of Alaves’ key players last campaign were only at the club on loan, and the likes of Takashi Inui, Borja Baston and Jonathan Calleri have all departed.
Alaves have responded by bringing in two forwards who struggled to make much of an impact in the Premier League – Lucas Perez and Joselu. They have also signed Aleix Vidal, previously of Barcelona, on loan from Sevilla.
It could well prove to be a difficult season for Alaves, with much depending on whether their new strikers can hit the ground running.
Key Man: Lucas Perez
Perez mustered just four league goals across his spells in England with Arsenal and West Ham.
However, there will be much expectation on the 30-year-old to impress for Alaves as he makes his return to La Liga.
During a loan spell at Deportivo La Coruna two seasons ago, Perez scored nine times in La Liga, and he will be aiming to better that tally as he looks to play a major part for Alaves.
Head coach: Jose Luis Mendilibar
Last season: 12th
Transfers In: Edu Exposito (Deportivo La Coruna, £3.6m), Quique (Deportivo La Coruna, £2.97m), Pedro Bigas (Las Palmas, £2.7m), Roberto Alabe (Atletico Madrid B, £2.52m), Takashi Inui (Real Betis, £1.8m), Esteban Burgos (Alcorcon, free), Roberto Correa (Cadiz, free), Alvaro Tejero (Real Madrid Castilla, free), Asier Benito (Bilbao Athletic, free), Ruben Lobato (Oviedo Vetusta, free)
Transfers Out: Joan Jordan (Sevilla, £12.6m), Ruben Pena (Villarreal, £7.2m), Marc Cucurella (Barcelona, £3.6m), Pablo Hervias (Real Valladolid, £900,000), Pere Milla (Elche, free), Unai Elgezabal (Alcorcon, free), Jose Antonio Martinez (Granada, loan), Asier Benito (Ponferradina, loan), Roberto Olabe (Albacete, loan), Nano (Cadiz, loan).
Eibar have become somewhat predictable, with last season seeing them finish in midtable again.
A 12th place finish followed on from them finishing 9th and 10th in the previous two campaigns, with it anticipated that they will end up in a similar position again this time around.
The departure of midfielder Joan Jordan is a blow, but Edu Exposito, who joined from Deportivo La Coruna, should be able to slot in quickly.
Experienced coach Jose Luis Mendilibar remains in charge and his side should be able to comfortably avoid relegation.
Key Man: Charles
He may be 35 years old, but Charles was hugely impressive for Eibar last season as he scored 14 goals in La Liga.
Eibar will hope that the forward will be able to continue finding the net with regularity for at least one more campaign.
Head coach: David Gallego
Transfers In: Matias Vargas (Velez Sarsfield, £9.45m), Fernando Calero (Real Valladolid, £7.2m), Ander Iturraspe (Athletic Bilbao, free), Andres Prieto (Leganes, free), Bernardo Espinosa (Girona, loan)
Transfers Out: Mario Hermoso (Atletico Madrid, £22.5m), Aaron Martin (Mainz, £5.4m), Hernan Perez (Al Ahli, free), Roberto (West Ham, free), Alvaro Vazquez (Sporting Gijon, free), Oscar Duarte (free)
Last season: 7th
Espanyol fared rather well last season as they finished in seventh place in La Liga, earning a place in the Europa League qualifiers.
However, the departures of some significant players during the summer could end up hitting the club hard.
Mario Hermoso, for instance, joined Atletico Madrid, and as a consequence Espanyol may be considerably less resilient at the back.
In addition, if they do end up progressing in the Europa League, it could prove to be something of a hindrance as far as their domestic form is concerned, with manager David Gallego, who has replaced Rubi, facing a tough task.
Key Man: Marc Roca
A product of Espanyol’s academy, Roca produced some consistent performances last season.
This campaign, with several players having moved on, the defensive midfielder may find himself tasked with more responsibility as Espanyol look to enjoy an impressive campaign.
Roca was linked with Bayern Munich earlier this summer, but elected to remain at Espanyol. If he continues to perform to such a high standard, it surely won’t be long until there is more speculation about his future.
Head coach: Diego Martinez
Transfers In: Darwin Machis (Udinese, £2.7m), Domingos Duarte (Sporting Lisbon, £2.7m), Yan Brice (Sevilla, £900,000), Fede Vico (Leganes, £225,000), Roberto Soldado (Fenerbahce, free), Neyder Lozano (Elche, free), Yangel Herrera (Manchester City, loan), Jose Antonio Martinez (Eibar, loan)
Transfers Out: Adrian Castellano (Numancia, £270,000), Sergio Pena (FC Emmen, free), Pablo Vazquez (CD Badajoz, free), Jose Antonio Gonzalez (Cordoba, loan), Alberto Martin (released), Fran Rico (released), Nicolas Aguirre (released), Raul Baena (released)
Last season: 2nd, Segunda Division
One of the newly promoted sides, Granada have returned to La Liga after two seasons away.
They will be hoping to fare rather better than in their last top flight campaign, when they finished bottom of the table.
Notably, there haven’t been many major departures from Granada this summer, and coach Diego Martinez earned much praise.
It will still be very difficult, though, for his side to avoid going straight back down again.
Key Man: Roberto Soldado
Former Spain striker Soldado joined Granada on a free transfer this summer following his departure from Fenerbahce.
Boasting plenty of La Liga experience, the 34-year-old will be heavily relied upon by Granada this season.
Last season Soldado scored six league goals in 21 games for Fenerbahce, but it is hoped that he will be able to score more often for Granada.
Head coach: Mauricio Pellegrino
Transfers in: Martin Braithwaite (Middlesbrough, undisclosed), Juan Soriano (Sevilla, loan), Aitor Ruibal (Real Betis, loan), Aitor Ruibal (Porto B, undisclosed), Andre Grandi (Internacional de Madrid, free), Sabin Merino (Athletic Bilbao, free), Alex Martin (Real Madrid Castilla, free), Roberto Rosales (Malaga, £1.08 m), Juan Munoz (AD Alcorcon, £1.35m), Jonathan Silva (Sporting Lisbon, £2.7m), Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea, £4.5m)
Transfers out: Mamadou Kone (Deportivo de La Coruna, loan), Dani Ojeda (Albacete, loan), Andres Prieto (Espanyol, free), Ezequiel Munoz (Lanus, free), Nabil El Zhar (Al Ahli Sports Club, free), Fede Vico (Granada CF, £225k), Gerard Gumbau (Girona, £450k), Luciano (Gremio, 900k)
Last season: 13th
Now entering their fourth consecutive campaign in La Liga, Leganes will be looking to build upon last season, when they finished 13th – their highest ever position.
They made headlines last September by beating Barcelona 3-1 and have moved to bring in Martin Braithwaite permanently from Middlesbrough after he impressed during a loan spell.
This season it wouldn’t be surprising if Leganes were to finish in mid table again. They have a tough start, though, as they host Atletico Madrid.
Key man: Youssef En-Nesyri
He played a pivotal part for Leganes last season, scoring nine goals in La Liga.
That led to interest in the Moroccan from a host of clubs, including Brighton.
Leganes rejected an £18million offer from the Seagulls, leaving En-Nesyri frustrated, and if he stays it will be interesting to see whether the 22-year-old’s commitment levels remain the same.
Head coach: Paco Lopez
Transfers in: Ruben Vezo (Valencia, £4.5m), Sergio Leon (Real Betis, £3.6m), Gonzalo Melero (SD Huesca, £3.2m), Carlos Clerc (Osasuna, free), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol, free), Jorge Miramon (SD Huesca, free), Hernani (Porto, free), Borja Mayoral (Real Madrid, loan)
Transfers out: Ruben Garcia (Osasuna, £2.7m), Chema (Nottingham Forest, £450k), Esteban Saveljich (Rayo Vallecano, £270k), Pedro Lopez (SD Huesca, free), Jason (Valencia, free), Pepulu (Tondela, loan), Ivi Lopez (SD Huesca, loan), Raphael Dwamena (Real Zaragoza, loan), Koke (Deportivo, loan)
Last season: 15th
Levante have had a mixed bag pre-season but will take some confidence into the season, having beaten relegation rivals Mallorca in their final friendly.
Up first is last season’s surprise package Alaves. It will be important that they get off to a fast start with games against Real Madrid and Real Betis to come inside the first month.
They beat the drop comfortably last season, keeping afloat by seven points and will be out to retain their position in the top-flight again.
They have some exciting talent, particularly at the top end of the pitch and should have enough to repeat last season’s achievement of staying up.
Key man: Roger Marti
13 La Liga goals is a decent return for anybody, but the fact Marti managed to find the back of the net this many times in a struggling team makes it even more impressive.
Levante have enough about them to pick up points even Marti isn’t firing, but if the 28-year-old can find form like last season, they should be safe again.
Head coach: Vicente Moreno
Transfers in: Lumor (Sporting Lisbon, loan), Aleksandar Sedlar (Piast Gliwice, free), Josep Sene (Cultural Leonesa, free), Alex Alegria (Real Betis, free), Aleksandar Trajkovski (Palermo, free), Aleix Febas (Real Madrid Castilla, free), Pablo Chavarria (Stade Reims, free), Igor Zlatanovic (Radnik, £1.17m), Martin Valjent (Chievo, £1.35m), Ante Budimir (Crotone, £1.98m)
Transfers out: Carlos Castro (CD Lugo, loan), Sergio Buenacasa (SD Ponferradina, loan), Enzo Lombardo (Racing Santander, loan), Pablo Valcarce (SD Ponferradina, loan), Bryan Reyna (Barakaldo CF, loan), Stoichkov (Alcorcon, loan), Franco Russo (SD Ponferradina, loan), Alex Lopez (Extremadura, loan), Salva Ruiz (Valencia, free), Fernando Cano (Lleida Esportiu, free), Alvaro Bustos (Pontevedra, free), Leandro Montagud (Cultural Leonesa, free), Pol Roige (GIF Sundsvall, free), Alejandro Faurlin (Marbella FC, free)
Last season: 5th, Segunda Division
Anywhere above the bottom three will do for Mallorca this season just to restore some normality.
In the last three seasons they have been relegated, then promoted and promoted again.
They came up via the play-offs, but unlike in the Championship, it is far from the richest game in football, so Mallorca have had to operate on a shoestring budget this summer.
It’s going to be a real struggle for them, but the fact they lost the first play-off leg 2-0 and won the second leg 3-0 to secure promotion suggests they have the mettle to at least put up a good fight.
Key man: Lago Junior
Any side that has just gone up into a new league has to rely on a striker grabbing them enough goals to win matches.
That responsibility for Mallorca falls firmly on the shoulders of Lago Junior this season. He was their top scorer last term, netting 11 times in the league.
The jump to La Liga is a big one, but Mallorca will hope Junior is up for the test and can come close to his tally last campaign.
Head coach: Jagoba Arrasate
Transfers in: Pervis Estupinan (Watford U23s, loan), Raul Navas (Real Sociedad, loan), Jaume Grau (Real Madrid Castilla, free), Adrian Lopez (FC Porto, free), Facundo Roncaglia (Celta Vigo, £225k), Darko Brasanac (Real Betis, £900k), Brandon (Stade Rennais FC, £1.8m), Robert Ibanez (Getafe, £1.8m), Marc Cardona (Barcelona, £2.25m), Chimy Avila (San Lorenzo, £2.43m), Ruben Garcia (Levante, £2.7m)
Transfers out: David Rodriguez (released), Xisco (released), Miguel Olavide (released), Jaume Grau (CD Lugo, loan), Miguel Diaz (CD Tudelano, free), Carlos Clerc (Levante, free), Imanol Garcia (Cordoba, free)
Last season: 1st, Segunda Division
Osasuna raced away to win the Spanish second division and bounce back to La Liga at the first time of asking.
But this season will be very different. They will not experience the winning feeling as often as they did in the Segunda and they must be prepared for that.
Osasuna have been a yo-yo club since their relegation from the top-flight in the 2013-14 season and will be eager to take this opportunity to re-establish themselves as a La Liga club.
First season, just stay up by any means necessary, that will be the goal.
Key man: Chimy Avila
Avila was a very smart buy by the La Liga new boys.
The midfielder scored some eye-catching goals last season during his loan spell at Huesca and his overall play is neat and tidy.
He bagged an impressive 10 goals last time around and will be key to Osasuna’s chances of survival.
Head coach: Rubi
Transfers in: Borja Iglesias (Espanyol, £25m), Giovani Lo Celso (PSG, £20m), Nabil Fekir (Lyon, £20m), Juanmi (Real Sociedad, £7m), Emerson (Barcelona, £5m), Dani Martin (Sporting Gijon, £4.5m), Alfonso Pedraza (Villarreal, loan)
Transfers out: Pau Lopez (Roma, £21m), Junior Firpo (Barcelona, £16m), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham, loan fee: £14.5m), Sergio Leon (Levante, £3.5m), Ryad Boudebouz (Saint Etienne, £3m), Takashi Inui (Eibar, £2m), Victor Camarasa (Crystal Palace, loan), Darko Brasanac (Osasuna, £900,000), Alin Tosca (Gazisehir, free), Alex Alegria (Mallorca, free), Aitor Ruibal (Leganes, loan), Julio Gracia (Badajoz, loan), Liberto Beltran (Lleida Esportiu, loan)
Last season: 10th
A side with real potential that at times showed just what they were capable of last season.
Betis had a care-free and attractive style of playing but the core of their side has been cut up this summer.
Pau Lopez, Junior Firpo and Giovani Lo Celso, who was instrumental in midfield last term, have all gone on to bigger and brighter things, but you can’t help but wonder had Betis kept hold of them that they could have made a real push to break the top six.
As it happens, that is not the case. Fans will be however be delighted by the capture of Nabil Fekir, who decided to join from Lyon despite seemingly having a number of more appealing offers.
Borja Iglesias was prolific for Espanyol last season too, so his signing will add further firepower to their goalscoring threat. The ambition will be to finish in those European places. Whether they can do it or not is another thing entirely.
Key man: Nabil Fekir
It will be interesting to see how the Frenchman takes to La Liga.
Fekir has only ever played in France, so it will be a challenge for him to adapt to his new surroundings. If he can be even half the player he was at Lyon then Betis have got a gem.
He scored a shed load during his time at Lyon and assisted almost just as much for his team-mates. The 26-year-old is Betis’ most talented player and will revel in being the star man and their focal point of attack.
Head coach: Imanol Alguacil
Transfers In: Alex Sola (Real Sociedad B, promotion), Robin Le Normand (Real Sociedad B, promotion), Aihen Munoz (Real Sociedad B, promotion), Andoni Zubiaurre (Real Sociedad B, promotion), Ander Barrenetxea (Real Sociedad B, promotion), Ander Guevara (Real Sociedad B, promotion), Martin Odegaard (Real Madrid, loan), Alex Remiro (Athletic Bilbao, free) Modibo Sagnan (Lens, £4.05m), Alexander Isak (Borussia Dortmund, £5.85m), Portu (Girona, £9m)
Transfers Out: Alex Sola (Numancia, loan), Jon Guridi (Mirandes, loan), Martin Merquelanz (Mirandes, loan), Jon Bautista (KAS Eupen, loan), Hector Moreno (Al Gharafa Sports Club, free), Eneko Capilla (Asteras Tripolis, free), Geronimo Rulli (Montpellier, £1.35m loan fee), Juanmi (Real Betis, £7.2m)
Last season: 9th
There will be a notable change for Sociedad this season, with the renovation of their Anoeta Stadium set to be completed.
A major plus for the club this summer was retaining the services of wingers Mikel Oyarzabal.
However, the departure of defender Hector Moreno, among others, could prove to be problematic.
Key man: Mikel Oyarzabal
There was much speculation about Oyarzabal’s future this summer, with Manchester City among the clubs to have been linked with him.
However, the winger ended up staying at Sociedad and will be seeking to build upon a hugely impressive 2018-19 campaign, when he scored 14 goals and provided four assists in La Liga.
This season Sociedad are set to again be heavily reliant upon the 22-year-old.
Head coach: Sergio
Transfers in: Javi Sanchez (Real Madrid, loan), Jorge de Frutos (Real Madrid, loan), Pedro Porro (Manchester City, loan), Sandro Ramirez (Everton, loan), Andriy Lunin (Real Madrid, loan), Federico Barba (Chievo, loan), Pablo Hervias (Eibar, £900k)
Transfers out: Moises Delgado (Racing Santander, loan), Antonio Dominguez (Algeciras CF, free), Fernando Calero (Espanyol, £7.2m)
Last season: 16th
Ronaldo may have splashed out to purchase a majority share in the club last season, but the former Brazil star’s wallet has remained firmly shut this summer.
Despite last season’s struggles to beat the drop, Pablo Herbvias has been the club’s only permanent signing, moving from Eibar for £900k.
The loan signing of Sandro Ramirez however could prove to be a great piece of business. He may have flopped at Everton and failed at Real Sociedad last season, but the Barcelona academy product has proven he can score regularly in La Liga, having netted 14 times for Malaga in the 2016-17 campaign.
Having scored the least amount of goals last season (32), Sandro’s acquisition provides Valladolid’s attack with the firepower it has so desperately been lacking. Fernando Calero will be a big loss for them though after the talented defender joined Espanyol. Just staying up will be the goal this season.
Key man: Sandro Ramirez
The pressure will fully be on Sandro Ramirez to score goals this season.
His confidence will be at an all-time low after failing to score a single league goal in 24 games at Real Sociedad last season, but if he can recapture his best form, he could have a sole impact on where Vallodolid end up this term.
La Liga relegated odds
- Mallorca – 5/7
- Granada CF – 5/4
- Valladolid – 7/5
- Osasuna – 9/5
- Alaves – 2/1
- Levante – 3/1