La Liga 2022/23 Outright Preview & Predictions

Andy

Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

The big headline this summer was that Real Madrid failed in their ongoing pursuit of Kylian Mbappé as the Frenchman opted to stay at Paris Saint-Germain, but there’s no feeling of disappointment in the white half of the Spanish capital. 

Carlo Ancelotti’s theme throughout this summer has been one of loyalty to the men who won the Champions League and LaLiga in a rare double last season. That’s why he is likely to at least start the season with the same starting line-up that he ended the season with. 

Among those who may look to break into the team are Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes. The Uruguayan midfielder started in the Champions League final in an advanced role on the right and offered energy and intensity, while Rodrygo offers a more offensive right wing option and ended the season with seven goals in 10 games.

New arrivals have included Antonio Rüdiger from Chelsea on a free transfer and Aurélien Tchouaméni for €80 million from Monaco. Both face a fight to earn a starting spot, though, with Ancelotti trialling Rüdiger at left-back in pre-season and Tchouaméni having to displace one of the world’s most famous midfield trios with Casemiro, Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos.

Deadwood has been moved on, from past-it legends like Marcelo, Gareth Bale and Isco, to disappointing reserves like Luka Jović, but they only played bit-part roles anyway. The only major concern with this squad is a significant dependence upon Karim Benzema. The Frenchman is in the form of his life but will turn 35 in December, and has seen Jović depart, while other number nines, Borja Mayoral and Mariano Díaz, are also seeking exits, while the club insist that they will not enter the market for another option.

Verdict

At odds of 2.1, they are the favourites to win LaLiga, but this isn’t the same sure bet that it was 12 months ago. Real Madrid have only won LaLiga back to back once this century, in 2007 and 2008, and had not done so before that since 1990. Carlo Ancelotti would need to become the first coach to do so since Leo Beenhakker in 1987 to 1989 as he won three in a row.

Our prediction is for them to come out on top, but be aware that Barcelona are an unknown quantity in complete contrast to Los Blancos. Ancelotti’s side have had a problem with dropping points against lower-quality opposition in recent years, and they will not be afforded the same luxury of having a buffer at the top of LaLiga. Their strength in depth, with Rüdiger and Tchouaméni offering substantial improvements, mean that they should be champions, but it may only take one injury to Benzema to derail their entire season.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

In the 123 years of FC Barcelona’s history, there has never been a summer quite like this one. It will go down as the summer of the “economic levers”, with Barça having sold off a variety of future assets in order to collect cash now.

They then used that money to sign Jules Koundé, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski for a combined €153m, in addition to free agents Franck Kessié and Andreas Christensen. This, obviously, makes the squad a lot better, as would a healthier season for both Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé.

At the Camp Nou, they also expect to have a better season than the trophyless 2021/22 because of the man in the dugout: Xavi Hernández. The Catalan coach took over in November of 2021 and had some highs and some lows in charge of the team. With a full pre-season – minus the half a week his Iran-stamped passport was refused entry to the USA – he’ll hope to leave his stamp on the team.

Whether that is good enough to knock off Real Madrid is unclear, though. The bookies don’t think it is, with Real Madrid still favourites to win LaLiga at 2.1, while Barça are priced at 2.4.

That does make some sense. Even though Barcelona have improved a lot, the huge head start that Real Madrid had on their rivals has to be kept in mind. They are Spanish and European champions and won the league by 13 points last year, which could have been an even larger gap had Los Blancos not taken their foot off the gas.

Although Barcelona improved under Xavi, even that wasn’t enough to match Real Madrid. Had the season started when the former captain was appointed as coach, Real Madrid would still have won the title by five points.

Verdict

It really should be a much closer LaLiga title race this season, since Xavi is in charge from the start and since Barça are spending money as if they’re not €1.2bn in debt. The youngsters like Gavi and Pedri will be another year older and Ansu Fati and Dembélé should hopefully be available more than they have been these past couple of years.

Still, Barcelona have a lot of work to do and winning the league title might be too big an ask. Expect them to go a lot further in all of the cup competitions, especially the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup, but Barcelona found out last year that it’s hard to pick up three points week in week out when you don’t have Lionel Messi. Recovering from losing such an all-time great may take more than one summer spending spree.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

LaLiga followers have come to know what to expect when it comes to Diego Simeone and Atlético Madrid. That legacy looks set to continue, particularly as the club renewed the contracts of star players like Jan Oblak and Thomas Lemar, with the coach seemingly yet to decide on whether to pursue a 5-3-2 shape or a 4-4-2 structure.

Their squad has been reinforced, but some of the biggest names have been returning loanees. Saúl Ñíguez’s loan spell at Chelsea was far from successful, but he brings great versatility and added athleticism to the Atleti midfield. Álvaro Morata is also back at the Estadio Civitas Metropolitano after Juventus opted not to sign him permanently, and he bolsters an already strong attacking line-up featuring Ángel Correa, João Félix, Antoine Griezmann and Matheus Cunha.

The only signings have been the arrival of veteran Axel Witsel on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund and the €20 million addition of Nahuel Molina from Udinese. The Argentinian provides a replacement for Kieran Trippier after the England international moved to Newcastle in January, while the Belgian brings a versatile alternative to Geoffrey Kondogbia who could also drop into a back three in case of emergency.

Some of the major weaknesses in the squad remain unaddressed. Central defence was an issue last season, with José Maria Giménez and Stefan Savić being regularly hit by injury while Felipe and Mario Hermoso experienced woeful form, and that position has not been addressed. 

Verdict

Atlético have proven that they are capable of producing what it takes to finish top four, particularly after a disastrous first half of the season in 2021/22. However, there are still glaring issues with their squad and it would be hard to argue that they have pushed on or improved significantly from last season. 

This year will be a significant season for João Félix as he seeks to establish himself as the star of this team, ready to compete with some of LaLiga’s biggest attacking superstars. The real test could come at the other end of the pitch in how Atleti’s defence fare in terms of consistency and fitness. Failure to improve would put Atleti in danger of repeating the same struggles that blighted them last time out.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

The 2021/22 season was a special one for Real Betis, who ended a 17-year trophy drought by winning the Copa del Rey. They were impressive in the league too under their veteran coach Manuel Pellegrini, ultimately finishing fifth after challenging for a Champions League spot for most of the season.

They might even have finished in the top four had it not been for the Copa del Rey victory. While nobody at Real Betis would like to admit this, they suffered a post-Copa hangover and didn’t play nearly as well after lifting the cup, winning just two of the five league fixtures they had after the final.

Now, they have the chance for a fresh start and will look to break into a top four that has been made up of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla for each of the past three seasons. With city rivals Sevilla having suffered some major departures to their squad, Real Betis already have the foundations to mount a serious top four challenge, which they are priced at 6.0 to do.

That’s because this will be Pellegrini’s third season in charge at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, where his 4-2-3-1 system is well understood by a squad that will be largely unchanged.

While some clubs view a quiet summer as a negative, it is absolutely a positive for Real Betis. The most important thing for them was to keep the band together in order to run it back, which they’ve largely done, bar a couple of ins and outs on the fringes of the squad.

Verdict

Real Betis are starting from a position of strength, having won last year’s Copa del Rey and having finished fifth in last year’s table, just five points off fourth position. Having kept all their top talents, especially the attacking quartet of Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales, Juanmi and Borja Iglesias, the clear objective at the club for this season is to take that next step and to make the top four.

They’ll play in the Europa League as they aim to achieve this objective, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the club as this will be their second season in a row combining domestic ambitions with midweek continental action, as they also reached the last 16 of last year’s Europa League before falling to eventual champions Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

No side conceded fewer than Sevilla last season, but that feat seems a very difficult one to repeat for Sevilla. Both of their central defensive pairing, Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé, have moved on to Aston Villa and Barcelona respectively. Marcão has come in from Galatasaray, but has not previously played at quite such a high level and will have work to do.

Without that defensive security, more focus will be put on attack, where Sevilla are yet to bolster their ranks. Luuk de Jong, on loan at Barcelona, has left permanently, and Youssef En-Nesyri and Rafa Mir remain the club’s inconsistent attacking options through the middle. Last season, Mir was the only player to make double figures for goals in LaLiga, and he will demand more support if Sevilla need more goals to overcome their defensive frailties.

The 2022 calendar year has not been particularly kind to them, and they would have finished 7th had LaLiga started on January 1st. That led to understandable pressure on coach Julen Lopetegui, but he remains in the job and will need to turn some of the 11 draws from 20 games in 2022 into wins if he is to see his team improve.  

Sevilla do have one of the best in the business in sporting director Monchi. He’s a man who knows how to find a gem in the transfer market, but he is not usually a man who waits until the last minute. This situation could test his abilities to the limits.

Verdict

The odds pit them as the bookies’ pick to make the top four, but we aren’t so optimistic for Lopetegui’s side. Coming off some poor form to end last season and losing two key players has been a real confidence blow to those at Sevilla who believed that they had finally established themselves as regulars in the top four.

This side is not an easy team to beat. They lost the same number of games as champions Real Madrid last season with four, but had twice as many draws with 16 compared to Real Madrid’s eight. That also reflects the fact that the Sevilla midfield is as good as you will find anywhere in LaLiga, but what’s ahead and behind them let them down. 

Lopetegui’s structured defensive strategy will inevitably be disrupted by lacking a clear defensive pairing only weeks before the start of the season, and while an excellent goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou could have his work cut out. A 6-0 friendly defeat to Arsenal is just the latest sign that this could be a difficult season for Sevilla.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

If reading analyses of Villarreal’s 2021/22 campaign, you’ll come across a range of views. Some have labelled it as a major success given that they reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, eliminating Juventus and Bayern Munich along the way. On the other hand, some will point to their final league position of seventh and describe the campaign as a disappointment.

The fair evaluation surely lies somewhere in the middle. Unai Emery went for an 8.5 out of 10 when asked for a grade for the 2021/22 campaign, but knows Villarreal need to improve in the league and be much more consistent. Put bluntly, they have drawn far too many games that they should have won during Emery’s first two seasons in charge.

As they aim to achieve a higher league position, Villarreal will have largely the same squad. There have been a few comings and goings here and there, but the starting line-up is essentially untouched.

And, that starting XI should be better than it was last year if Gerard Moreno can have a healthier season. Injuries meant he could only play in 17 of 38 league games last term, but having the forward more available will make a big difference.

The issue might be with squad depth. This was the problem last term as Villarreal dropped a lot of points when rotating in LaLiga during their run to the Champions League semi-finals and they should have another lengthy European run this year as they’ll be competing in the Conference League, which won’t be as tough but which they should progress to the latter stages of.

Verdict

We’ve seen over Emery’s first two seasons in charge of Villarreal that they have done well in Europe, winning the Europa League in 2020/21 and then reaching the final four of the Champions League last year, but that this has come at the cost of consistency in the league. With a deep Conference League run a possibility in 2022/23, it could be more of the same.

This is why Villarreal are unlikely to challenge for the top four, but they should at least be one position better than they were last term, since Gerard Moreno will hopefully have better luck with injuries. That’s the reason for predicting they’ll move up from 7th to 6th.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Real Sociedad’s business this summer has been all about the attacking ranks of the squad. Two eye-catching signings have been those of Brais Méndez from Celta Vigo and Take Kubo from Real Madrid. Both come in to fill wide positions, including that vacated by Adnan Januzaj and Portu, and could also bring goals to the flanks.

The team’s real strength comes in defence. Only Real Madrid and Sevilla conceded fewer goals last season, while nobody conceded fewer than the nine goals that La Real conceded on home turf at the Reale Arena. Nacho Monreal has departed since then, but Robin Le Normand has committed his long-term future to the club and the backline will have a similar look.

The worry for Imanol Aguacil comes at the other end. 40 goals scored last season was less than two teams who were relegated, and with an xG of 56.09 was the biggest underscoring of xG by any team in Europe’s top five leagues, with only neighbours Athletic Club and Genoa in Serie A joining them in underscoring their xG by a double figure amount. 

That has been addressed somewhat by the wide acquisitions and the signing of Mohamed-Ali Cho, but the 18-year-old from Angers only has four senior goals to his name. The more likely contributor will be an almost-fit again Mikel Oyarzabal, who ended the season as top scorer with nine league goals despite being ruled out for the last two months of the season after tearing his ACL. 

Verdict

The last few seasons have been a continual repeat for Real Sociedad, of starting superbly and then quickly fading as the second half of the season comes around. Maintaining that consistency is essential if Real Sociedad are to push on. Unfortunately, their business this summer doesn’t look to be enough to take that next step.

Méndez and Kubo will both be looking to prove that they can take a step up to play at Real Sociedad’s level, and should contribute more goals than the four that Januazaj and Portu managed last season. Remaining defensively strong will be at the heart of their strategy for this new season, but unless Alexander Isak finds some consistency in front of goal, or they make a late addition to their attack, a race for Europe is the best they can hope for.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Athletic Club spent the entirety of the 2021/22 LaLiga season locked in mid-table. They were never higher than seventh, they were never lower than 12th and they sat in eighth for the whole of the run-in, never quite able to push for the seventh and final European position.

Thankfully for Athletic fans, they reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and the final of the Spanish Super Cup, otherwise it would have gone down as one of the most uninteresting seasons in club history.

The defence was very solid last term, as they conceded just 36 goals in 38 games, which was the third-best record. Centre-back Iñigo Martínez was instrumental to that, so the fact he is ultimately likely to stay is a major positive.

The problem for Athletic Club last term was that they just couldn’t take their chances, scoring 43 goals, just the 10th-best goals for record in the division. Chances were there, but Iñaki Williams, Raúl García and co. couldn’t capitalise and there was a 14-goal difference between Athletic’s xG and their actual goals scored, which was the second-largest difference in the whole division.

Unfortunately for the Bilbao-based club, there isn’t much they can do to put that right in the summer transfer window, since their Basque-only transfer policy means they can only bring in players from their region and that talent pool is quite dry once you account for all the Basques already on the books of either Athletic or their rivals Real Sociedad.

However, Athletic Club have been able to make a change in the dugout by bringing back former coach Ernesto Valverde for a third stint in charge. He has previously been able to get the best out of Williams and García, while his arrival has lifted the mood around the whole club, after a season and a half of Marcelino’s quite negative tactics.

Still, as the famous saying goes, the coach can’t score the goals himself. So, whatever changes Valverde implements, he’ll still require better production in front of the opposition goal.

Verdict

The return of Ernesto Valverde is certainly a major coup for Athletic Club. Since he was last in charge in Bilbao, he won two LaLiga titles with Barcelona, which look more and more impressive now after seeing what has happened at the Catalan club since he was sacked.

But, the squad is essentially the exact same as last year’s and there is no real reason to believe that Athletic are going to dramatically improve their scoring numbers this campaign. Therefore, a similar sort of season and a similar position would make sense.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Last season was all about Espanyol re-establishing themselves in the top flight after winning Segunda at the first time of asking, and they did just that, though not in the most glamorous of circumstances.

The biggest change at Espanyol this summer was one that came early on with former Granada coach Diego Martínez appointed as the replacement for Vicente Moreno, dismissed just before the end of 2021/22. Martínez is a promising coach who is highly-rated after taking Granada from Segunda to the Europa League in just two seasons.

His transfer business has made his statement clear with veterans like Diego López and David López moved on. The most controversial exit could instead be Raúl de Tomás, the team’s top scorer with 17 goals last season, as he requested to leave Espanyol’s pre-season camp in England to pursue an exit. Whether any club meets Espanyol’s €35 million demand remains to be seen.

Incoming, Espanyol may already have a replacement for De Tomás. Joselu was hired from Alavés, where he single-handedly led a fight against relegation which eventually saw the Basque team succumb to their fate despite his 14 goals. Beyond that, other arrivals such as Brian Oliván from Mallorca and loanees Benjamin Lecomte and Vinícius Souza act as replacements for those who have departed.

The spine of this Espanyol team is a strong one, with Leandro Cabrera a real warrior in defence and Sergi Darder among Spain’s most creative midfielders. Adding depth has been the objective, while promising youngsters like Óscar Gil, Javi Puado and Adrià Pedrosa could all kick on too with another year of first-team experience under their belts.

Verdict

Martínez is a shrewd operator who knows how to get the best out of a squad with limited resources, and that will most likely be the challenge he faces this season. His appointment was something of a coup for Espanyol, but their squad remains an average mid-table group of players at best.

With De Tomás’ future unclear, it could unsettle the team’s plans should he depart late in the window and a significant fee only arrive at the last minute, but Espanyol did well to recruit Joselu early on which should keep them treading water even if they are unable to bolster further. Don’t expect anything miraculous from Espanyol this season, but they should have enough to steer well clear of danger too.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Getafe’s start to the 2021/22 season was historically dreadful, as they lost each of their first seven games to leave the club rock bottom of the table and seemingly destined for the second division. However, this terrible start actually turned out to be one of the best things to happen to Getafe in some time, as they were able to turn to the pool of out-of-work coaches early and nab their former boss Quique Sánchez Flores.

Under Sánchez Flores, Getafe turned their season around. His 5-3-2 system worked very well, especially at home as they lost just two out of 15 home games with QSF in the dugout. The incredible turnaround saw Geta ultimately finish 15th, setting the team up for a better campaign this time around.

The board have absolutely backed Sánchez Flores in the transfer market, quietly improving the squad and bringing in the kinds of players he needs for his 5-3-2 formation. They have picked off quality players like centre-back Domingos Duarte and central midfielder Luis Milla from relegated Granada, as well as bringing in another central midfielder in Jaime Seoane and a winger in Portu. The only major departure at Getafe this summer was starting left-wing-back Mathías Olivera, but he has been well replaced by Fabrizio Angileri from River Plate.

Getafe are even pushing to keep striker Borja Mayoral after last year’s loan spell and they’re ready to pay a significant transfer fee to Real Madrid for him. That would further boost the attack that has Enes Ünal – the fifth-top scorer in LaLiga last season, with 16 goals – and it would cap off what has been an excellent and ambitious transfer market.

Verdict

There is optimism in the air at Getafe and rightly so. This year, they’ll start the season with a coach who has a good thing going and with a much-improved squad compared to last year. Therefore, they should expect to finish a lot higher than the 15th place they achieved last season, perhaps even sneaking into the top 10.

If they can keep up their impressive home form and improve a little on the road, they’ll be competitive in every game. The only concern for Getafe would be if Enes Ünal’s goalscoring form drops off, but, on the flip side, the Turkey international may even continue his development and add to what was his best ever goals tally for a single season.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

After defeat in the Copa del Rey final and a disappointing end to the 2021/22 campaign, there was change throughout Valencia as club president Anil Murthy was sacked by owner Peter Lim and coach José Bordalás was replaced by legendary Italian midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. He becomes the third Italian to lead the club and will hope to match the success of Claudio Ranieri, who won a Copa del Rey and European Super Cup with Valencia.

To date, Valencia have retained their star players José Luis Gayà and Carlos Soler, despite financial pressures to sell this summer. That continues to give Valencia a very strong spine to their team. Giorgio Mamardashvili has joined permanently, with Gabriel Paulista and Gayà leading the defence, and Soler in the middle with Gonçalo Guedes adding some spice in the final third.

New arrivals have also been more than enough to excite their fans. Hugo Duro’s impressive loan spell was made permanent and two other wingers have arrived. Former Villarreal wideman Samu Castillejo returns to Spain after four years at AC Milan and Samuel Lino joins from Atlético on loan having been very impressive with 17 goal involvements in 34 games in Portugal last season.

Outgoings are still likely, and the squad is still missing a number nine that they can rely on. Bordalás was far from a fan of Maxi Gómez and Gattuso does not appear keen either, so an exit seems inevitable. That leaves Marcos André as the only out-and-out centre forward, and he too has been linked with a summer sale.

Verdict

Valencia are a club full of surprises and so anything could be possible with Los Che this season. Much will depend on the business, or perhaps the lack of business, that is done between now and the end of the transfer window. Retaining the services of Gayà and Soler, whose contracts both expire next summer, could be the difference between a European push or mid-table mediocrity.

Their options in attack are limited, but they are defensively strong and have plenty of other sources of goals, such as Soler, Castillejo, Guedes, Duro and Lino. What is essential to the success of Valencia this season will be providing continuity and consistency to Gattuso’s project. Marcelino is the only coach to survive two full seasons at Mestalla since Unai Emery left in 2012, and that lack of forward planning has begun to tell.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

After a poor start to last season, with four defeats and one draw from the first five games, Celta Vigo quickly recovered and put together a solid campaign. They spent the second half of the season between 10th and 13th position in the table, ultimately finishing 11th.

2021/22 was the first full season for Celta Vigo’s Argentine coach Eduardo Coudet and he established a non-negotiable 4-1-3-2 formation that his players executed very well. He didn’t rotate very much at all, though, and preferred to use just 13 of 14 players in that system. Luckily for him, Celta Vigo didn’t have many injuries to those players last term, but that can’t be guaranteed going forward.

This is why Celta Vigo have looked to carry out a mini squad overhaul this summer, which they are doing in partnership with new sporting advisor Luis Campos, the same sporting advisor who has been hired by PSG. To share Campos – who built the Monaco and Lille squads that won Ligue 1 over the past decade – with a European giant like PSG is a major coup for Celta Vigo.

They’ve so far brought in centre-back centre-back Unai Núñez, midfielders Williot Swedberg, Luca de la Torre and Óscar Rodríguez and forward Julen Lobete, but they still need to add more bodies to this squad, since many of the fringe players who hardly featured last campaign have departed. Currently, they have just 19 members of this squad, so still have some work to do. It’ll then remain to be seen how it all comes together and if the decision to change a third of the squad is a wise one.

In any case, Celta Vigo will continue to look towards their talisman Iago Aspas, who has scored at least 14 LaLiga goals for seven seasons in a row with Celta Vigo, netting exactly 17 last term. He is now 35 going into this season, though, so Celta Vigo do need to start planning for whenever his form drops off, which they’ll hope isn’t this year.

Verdict

Of all the teams in LaLiga, Celta Vigo are one of the more difficult to predict given that they’ve changed so much in their squad this summer. Their success or failure will depend on how these players fit in, as well as whether or not Aspas can keep up his goal scoring form. 


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Osasuna are as mid-table as any team can come. Having finished 10th in their return to LaLiga in 2019/20, they dropped to 11th in 2020/21 before bouncing back to 10th again in 2021/22. Dreams of Europe emerged after a strong start to last season, but Osasuna are the kind of side who remain too far from the chasing pack but have too much quality to worry about the bottom half. 

That is reflected in their transfer business too. To date, they are yet to lose any regulars, though Jon Moncayola has attracted interest from Athletic Club, and they have instead strengthened with depth, rather than necessarily by adding star quality. Manu Sánchez has returned on loan from Atlético and Rubén Peña from Villarreal adds more depth on the right of defence. 

The more impressive deals have been those to sign Aitor Fernández, the Levante goalkeeper who will compete with Sergio Herrera for the number one shirt, and Moi Gómez, also from Villarreal. The winger could boost the quality of Osasuna’s attack, with his six Champions League appearances for the Yellow Submarine and creative vision likely to boost a more direct and route-one Osasuna attack.

Elsewhere, David García will lead Jagoba Arrasate’s defence and Rubén García and Chimy Ávila will accompany Ante Budimir in attack. Those four players alone possess the quality that could be needed to push Osasuna into the top half after all.

Verdict

Osasuna have benefitted from the struggles in recent years of sides like Valencia and Espanyol, having dropped to the bottom half after years of being firmly in the top 10. This year, the sense is that their rivals have done more to strengthen than they have. 

The calendar year table for 2022 would have left Osasuna in 13th and that matches our prediction for 2022/23, with the squad lacking the strength in depth to compete toe-to-toe with the likes of Athletic and Valencia as they have in recent years. Arrasate’s achievements have been remarkable, but he has got a squad overachieving rather than building something that is ready to take the next step.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Of the three promoted sides, Almería look the strongest. It’s not because they came up as champions, as this should be taken with a large pinch of salt given that they were actually set to finish third and miss out on automatic promotion when they entered stoppage time on the final day of last season. But, the fact their promotion rivals Eibar conceded a goal saw Almería move from third all the way to first in the division. In other words, the margins between being champions, runners-up or missing promotion were so fine.

No, the reason why Almería should be considered the strongest of the newly promoted sides is the fact that they have done some good work in the transfer market. Owned by the Saudi Arabian Turki Alalshikh, Almería don’t lack cash and have spent €17m – a sizable sum for any LaLiga team at that end of the table – to strengthen what was already the most expensive squad in Spain’s second division.

Some of the imports look impressive. For example, right-back Houboulang Mendes was good for Lorient in Ligue 1 last season. There are also high hopes for the striker signed from Partizan Belgrade, Marko Milovanović, especially given Almería’s previous smart finds from the Serbian market. Plus, Almería even won the race to sign the highly rated 18-year-old Brazilian centre-back Kaiky from Santos.

With Rubi as the man tasked with putting this all together, Almería can feel quietly confident as this is an experienced coach who has already coached four different clubs in Spain’s top division. That he was able to finally earn Almería their long-awaited promotion back up was an achievement in itself. Now, it’s time for the next step.

Verdict

As is the case for any newly promoted side, simply staying up will be the objective for Almería. However, they should have a squad capable of competing for a little more than that, especially if they can keep hold of star striker Umar Sadiq, who scored 18 goals in the second tier last season.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

The best news for Rayo Vallecano in the transfer window this summer may well be the fact that there hasn’t been very much news. That has meant that the club has been able to hold on to talented coach Andoni Iraola, as well as promising youngsters like Fran García.

The biggest blow to their ranks came in the ending of Sergi Guardiola’s loan spell as he returned to Real Valladolid after scoring 10 goals in all competitions last season. He is yet to be replaced, and while Radamel Falcao is a superb talent, he struggled with injury last season and Rayo desperately need a number nine who they can rely on. Former Atleti forward Diego Costa has been linked, but at the age of 33, he may not be the consistent option that most fans would be hoping for. 

There have been incomings, with experienced goalkeeper Diego López arriving to compete with Stole Dimitrievski and Florian Lejeune reinforcing the defence after relegation with Alavés last season. 

Salvi Sánchez has also joined from Cádiz, adding to some talented options out wide to build upon Isi Palazón and Álvaro García’s strong displays last season which caught the eye of much of LaLiga. Having the two flanks just as deadly, with Óscar Trejo as the creative force through the middle, is at the very heart of Iraola’s game plan.

Home form will be crucial to Rayo this season, and they’ll be hoping to become a more consistent team than they were following promotion. Having put themselves in the race for Europe in the first half of the campaign last term, unbeaten at home until January, they faded away heavily with a 13-match run without a win between January and April. With only two wins from the second half of the campaign, they would have finished bottom of the table for that period.

Verdict

The lack of signings in key areas is a concern for Rayo, particularly as their squad was the third oldest in LaLiga at 28 years and 5 months average age last season. In particular, attacking reinforcements are desperately needed before deadline day. Relegated teams Granada and Levante both scored more goals than Rayo last season.

Iraola is a smooth operator and a smart tactician who should be able to ensure that his team do enough to steer clear of relegation, but this year’s challenge could put up more of a test to match their 12th-place finish of last season. 


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Cádiz looked like they were set for relegation midway through last season, before the club directors took the difficult decision to sack the beloved Álvaro Cervera. His ultra defensive style simply wasn’t working any more and that was made even clearer when Sergio González took over and improved the side’s results.

Sergio isn’t an especially attacking coach either, but his 4-4-2 system is at least a little more balanced than the very deep low block used by Cervera. This change saw Cádiz improve a lot and ultimately survive on the final day, with a 1-0 win away at already relegated Alavés.

Coming into 2022/23, Cádiz are likely to be in the relegation battle once again, but at least this time they’ll start the campaign with Sergio in charge. Likewise, they’ve managed to keep some of their best loanees from last term, signing Rubén Alcaraz and Víctor Chust on permanent deals.

Meanwhile, if you look at Cádiz’s list of departures, don’t be alarmed. There are as many as eight players who have departed, but this isn’t a bad thing, as Cádiz had the most bloated squad in all of LaLiga last year. It was a disruptive dressing room at times, so moving on several fringe players should make Sergio’s life easier.

Verdict

Every Cádiz fan knows they should expect a relegation battle in 2022/23. That’s just natural for a club of this size. However, they’ll hope that securing survival can be a little easier than it was last year as they have a better coach from the start and they have a better balanced squad.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Mallorca will look to build upon their dramatic survival last season under the same coach, Javier Aguirre, who kept them up. The Mexican did a superb job following his appointment in the Spring as he took 1.3 points per game, compared to 0.93 points per game before his arrival. He will now have a rare chance to build a team as he wants to in Spain, something he hasn’t been able to do since his time at Espanyol eight years ago.

The club’s transfer business to date has exceeded expectations for many. In particular, Mallorca smashed their club-record transfer fee to bring back Kosovan forward Vedat Muriqi from Lazio on a permanent deal. The 28-year-old spent the second half of 2021/22 on loan in the Balearics and his eight goal involvements in 16 games was crucial to their eventual survival, even earning him LaLiga’s May Player of the Month award. 

In goal, captain Manolo Reina moved on and the once-highly-rated Prerag Rajković joined from Stade Reims for only €2 million. That may prove to be a real bargain, and is likely to provide an improvement on Sergio Rico’s performances on loan last season.

Right-back Pablo Maffeo has also joined permanently and forward Lago Junior has returned from a loan to Huesca last season, with Aguirre ready to give him a first-team opportunity this season. Some other influential figures have also moved on, with Salva Sevilla and Aleksandar Sedlar heading to Alavés and full-backs Brian Oliván and Joan Sastre moving to Espanyol and PAOK respectively. They will not be significantly missed in terms of playing time, and Rodrigo Battaglia’s arrival brings experience, but there is still a need for further strengthening.

The islanders will most likely be looking to secure some late bargains in the transfer window but know that doing so comes as a risk without a full pre-season under the orders of their coach. Whether their talent is sufficient to make the risk worthwhile could be a decisive factor in how the team gets on this season.

Verdict

Mallorca have made some strong additions, but their squad remains one of the weaker ones in LaLiga. Aguirre is the Sam Allardyce of Spanish football when it comes to keeping teams away from the drop zone against all odds. 

The truth is that, even in spite of some fine transfer business, it will be unlikely to boost the team sufficiently to keep them clear of the bottom. Another battle against relegation seems inevitable. Their experience from last season, and a whole season of Muriqi’s goals, may be just enough to see them live to fight another day.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Elche were another of those teams who managed to survive last year thanks to a mid-season coaching change. They sacked Fran Escribá after 14 match days with the team in the relegation zone and improved a lot under new boss Francisco, climbing all the way up to their final position of 13th. That final position of 13th should be taken with a pinch of salt, though, as they were still only four points above the final relegation position of 18th.

Rather than realise how close they were to relegation last year, Elche have rested on their laurels somewhat during this off-season. They have made just one new acquisition, that of free agent left-back Carlos Clerc, while they lost a few useful squad members, such as Antonio Barragán or Darío Benedetto.

The lack of action is a concern to Elche fans, although it’s not a surprise. This is a club that has been moved from one boardroom drama to another in recent years and whose current owner, Christian Bragarnik, is also a football agent, meaning his interests and the club’s interests aren’t always aligned.

It really could be a complicated season for Elche. Even though Francisco saved them last year, Escribá had done likewise in 2020/21 before and that didn’t buy him much time in 2021/22. Francisco also spent the last few weeks of last term experimenting, switching between three or four different formations in search of a winning formula that he didn’t quite find.

Verdict

Given the doubts in the dugout, the squad and the boardroom, Elche are not a very convincing prospect and are likely to find themselves in the middle of the relegation battle, a battle they are priced at 2.75 to lose.

If Elche are to survive, it might be via a poor start, a coaching change and some January reinforcements, the formula they’ve used over the past couple of years.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Owned by Ronaldo Nazario, Valladolid secured a dramatic return to LaLiga courtesy of an injury time goal on the final day to snatch automatic promotion from Eibar. They eventually missed out on the title, despite being level on points.

This summer has primarily been about continuity for coach Pacheta. Gonzalo Plata, Monchu and Iván Sánchez all joined permanently after impressive loan spells helped to secure promotion last season.

Additionally, Valladolid have brought back goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, who fell out of favour at Villarreal last season but is respected as one of Spain’s most reliable showstoppers even at the age of 33. He brings plenty of experience, as does Sergio Escudero who joins from Granada to replace Nacho Martínez at left-back, and Sergi Guardiola who returns from a loan spell at Rayo Vallecano.

Shon Weissman will be a man to watch after his 20 goals helped Valladolid to score more goals than anybody else in Segunda last season, with his strikes alone counting for 14 of Valladolid’s 81 points. The Israeli international will now need to produce that form at the top level and surpass the six goals he registered in 2019/20.

Verdict

Coach Pacheta will be hoping for third time lucky in LaLiga having twice previously been sacked with his team in the relegation zone in spells with Numancia and Huesca, but it seems that he could be in for another relegation battle. Joint-relegation favourites with fellow newly-promoted team Girona, Valladolid’s investments this summer have been the less eye-catching of the two and, arguably, when more work is required.

The core of this squad is similar to that which was relegated two years ago, with some young arrivals adding energy and potential. How they adapt to the top flight may be crucial, because the 4-3-3 shape used in Segunda will be much harder to apply against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona than it was against Alcorcón and Fuenlabrada. Having conceded more goals than any of the other promoted teams last season, they may face the biggest challenge to adapt tactically to the superior opposition.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

It’s always difficult for the team that is promoted to LaLiga through the playoffs, which this year is Girona. That’s because they weren’t promoted until June 19th, almost a month after all the other 19 teams in Spain’s top division were assured of their place. That meant Girona’s preparations for 2022/23 started much later than the rest of the clubs in LaLiga, which is a problem since they had a lot of work to do.

Girona finished sixth in the regular season last year, before their impressive playoff success. Although they defeated both Eibar and Tenerife on merit to earn promotion, their performances in the regular season were so-so and they started the summer with the weakest squad by far of all 20 LaLiga teams.

The fact that Girona is part of City Football Group is a big help, as they’ve been able to sign Manchester City’s talented young right-back Yan Couto, who had a stint at Girona in the past, as well as New York City FC’s Taty Castellanos, who was the MLS top scorer in 2021 and also in 2022 up until his departure.

Those are two impressive signings, but the Catalan club haven’t done much more than that so far. Their only other acquisition to date is to bring in 32-year-old midfielder David López from Espanyol, which will only be a good signing if he can stay healthy.

It’s not really their fault, given they didn’t know which division they’d be playing in until June 19th, but Girona still have a lot of work on their to-do list if they’re to have a chance of staying up.

Their coach Míchel will also hope that he is better prepared for this top-flight campaign than he was in his two previous adventures at LaLiga level. He won promotion with Rayo Vallecano and with Huesca in the past, but was sacked midway through the subsequent top-flight season by both of those ex-employers, who both went down anyway. Girona will hope to avoid a similar fate.

Verdict

Girona are favourites to suffer relegation by most bookies and that’s no surprise. They were essentially the 26th best team in Spanish football last year and haven’t improved that squad much, at least not yet. That’s why they are our picks to finish at the very bottom in 2022/23.

They could, it should be pointed out, be quite fun to watch, though. Coach Míchel is known for promoting an attacking brand of football and two of the very best players in this Girona squad will be their strikers. One is Cristhian Stuani, who scored 22 goals in the second tier last year and 19 the last time he played in the top division, which was 2018/19. The other is the aforementioned Taty Castellanos, who arrives with talent and youthful ambition at the age of 23.


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