x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Villarreal may be ones to make some noise in Primera Liga this season

Villarreal, under coach Marcelino, using his preferred 4-4-2, have held onto their best players. They finished an impressive sixth last season and play in the Europa League this term. They have got financial stability and reasonable 17,000 average crowds.

Uche Ikechukwu, centre, led Villarreal in scoring last season. Radmir Fakhrutdinov /  EPA
Uche Ikechukwu, centre, led Villarreal in scoring last season. Radmir Fakhrutdinov / EPA

All the teams who showed promise in Spain last season lost their best players in the close season.

That, sadly, is the reality for every Spanish club outside the big two.

Even Atletico Madrid, Spain’s champions and the European Cup finalists, lost their finest talents to Chelsea, a side they knocked out of the Uefa Champions League in April.

Athletic Bilbao will miss Ander Herrera, now at Manchester United. Croatian Ivan Rakitic, who was central to all that Sevilla did last season when they surged up Primera Liga and won the Europa League, has joined Barcelona. Luis Enrique took Celta’s best player Rafinha back to Barcelona and Real Sociedad will greatly miss Antoine Griezmann, now further up football’s food chain at Atletico, plus goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

Fifteen months after being minutes away from the Champions League semi-finals, Malaga have lost almost all their big name players, and their budget is a third of what it was two years ago.

Levante lost goalkeeper Keylor Navas to Real Madrid and Valencia sold French defender Jeremy Mathieu to Barcelona.

He was so impressive in their win at Camp Nou last season that Barca just could not resist him.

Only Villarreal, under coach Marcelino, using his preferred 4-4-2, have held onto their best players. They finished an impressive sixth last season and play in the Europa League this term.

They have got financial stability and reasonable 17,000 average crowds.

Their €50 million (Dh243m) budget is down on the €76m figure of 2011/12, but they found out then that paying out does not guarantee success.

Villarreal were relegated that season. Local boy Bruno Soriano is Villarreal’s star, the 30-year-old central midfielder having been at the club man and boy.

Veteran right winger Cani, 33, is in his ninth season for the “Yellow Submarines” and continues to perform well while Giovanni dos Santos, once tipped as a future Barcelona star, can play on the right or left and scored an impressive 11 league goals last term.

He will be joined by his midfielder brother Jonathan from Barcelona. Leading scorer Uche, 30, brings more experience and the Real Madrid loan-out Denis Cheryshev – the 23-year-old Russian who has lived in Spain for so long that he says he almost feels Spanish – will add midfield options.

Villarreal struggled with a domestic and European campaign in 11/12, but they also had the worst injury list in Spain.

Another top-six finish and the latter stages of the Europa League will represent success.

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THE PROMOTED CLUBS

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EIBAR

With a home seating just 5,200 and an average attendance of 2,900 last season, Eibar are the smallest team to compete in Primera Liga. They have increased their budget from €3 million (Dh14.5m) to €18m, but staying up will be a battle. Their promotion is an amazing story and an inspiration for every small club.

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CORDOBA

Back in the top-flight thanks to a play-off victory for the first time in 42 years, Cordoba are coached by former Barcelona player Albert Ferrer. The city and their 21,000-capacity stadium are big enough to support a Primera Liga club, but staying up will be an achievement.

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DEPORTIVO LA CORUNA

The once great Galicians have become a yo-yo club. In Victor Fernandez, they have one of Spain’s most iconic coaches. Though few expect a return to glory days, a well-run Deportivo side should stay up. The problem is they have not been well run in the past few years.

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