El Centrocampista

SEASON PREVIEW PART ONE: Athletic Club, Atlético, Barcelona, Betis and Espanyol

With the new La Liga campaign almost upon us (albeit delayed slightly due to the current player’s strike), it is time to look at the 20 teams who will battle it out for glory this season.

Can Mourinho’s Real Madrid stop Barcelona from claiming another title? Will big-spending Málaga break into the European places? Who will be fighting for survival?

Over the next week, the writers at El Centrocampista will take a closer look at the sides and analyse their chances this term – including key players and the ones to watch.

Part One begins today with a look at Athletic Club, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Betis and Espanyol.

Read what we think and we encourage you to add your thoughts and views in the comments section!



Stadium: San Mamés, Bilbao

Nickname: Los Leones

Coach: Marcelo Bielsa

Finished last season: 6th

Players In: Herrera, Orbezogo, Zubiaurre

Players Out: Balenziaga, Díaz de Cerio, Ustaritz

Athletic enjoyed a solid if not spectacular season last term. Joaquin Caparros led Los Leones to a respectable seventh place finish in what proved to be his final term as Athletic Coach.

Seventh place, given Athletic Cub’s selective transfer policy, has to be considered a reasonable success.

And despite first-leg heroics at the Nou Camp, the Basques were always expected to bow out of the Copa Dey Rey at the last 16 stage as soon as they were drawn against Barcelona.

Since the end of the season Joaquim Capaross has been replaced by Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Bielsa brings with him a reputation for fostering innovative, attacking football and could enjoy working alongside the likes of Muniain and Llorente.

If Bielsa can build on the success of Caparros and bring some attacking verve to San Mames then I see no reason why Athletic shouldn’t be pushing for the top six again this season as well as going on a decent cup run.

Key Player: Fernando Llorente. The Basque battering ram is easily Athletic’s most valuable player.

The Spanish international was vital to the club’s success last season chipping in with 18 strikes in La Liga. He will be vital to all Athletic hope to achieve in the coming year.

One to Watch: Iker Muniain. The tricky little forward has become a real crowd-pleaser at San Mames since making his full debut at the tender age of 16. Since then Munain has become a first team regular as well as a key part of the Spanish Under- 21 setup. He was part of the side than won the Under 21 World Championship this year. He is a player with a big future.

El centrocampista prediction: 6th



Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón

Nickname: Los Colchoneros, los Rojiblancos or Los Indios

Coach: Gregorio Manzano

Finished last season: 7th

Players In: Micael, Falcao, Arda, Coutois, Adrián, Tiago, Miranda, Júlio Alves, Borja, Pulido, Cabrera,                             Pérez, Gabi, Salvio, Silvio, Asenjo

Players Out: Valera, Raúl García, Agüero, Pérez, De Gea, Ujfalusi

The Madrid side have experienced huge changes since over the past 18 months; from winning the Europa League right through to the loss of key players and their manager this summer. Last season ended with a respectable 7th place in the league but the real work starts now.

Gregorio Manzano is back for his second spell as manager after replacing Quique Sanchez Flores, and he faces a huge task in replacing the stars that have left for pastures new. David De Gea and Sergio Aguero both left for Manchester with defensive stalwart Tomas Ujfalusi also leaving this summer. They are expected to be joined by Diego Forlan who is looking for a move away from the Vicente Calderon.

Manzano has set about finding replacements instantly with young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois joining on a season-long loan from Chelsea, Tiago making his loan deal permanent with Arda Turan, Gabi and Portuguese defender Silvio also joining the club for a combined €23 million.

The forward line is of most concern for Atletico fans but Adrian Lopez has arrived after impressive displays in the Under 21 European Championships to help ease the situation. However, the most exciting capture of the summer is with Porto hitman Radamel Falcao – Atletico have tied up a deal for the Colombian hitman, and is expected to fill the void left by Aguero.

With the Europa League win now forgotten, Manzano’s rebuilding progress will be tested this coming season. If the new signings can fill the void left behind then Atletico could surprise a few in La Liga, but currently it is just ‘wait and see’ time.

Key player: Radamel Falcao – Recently signed from FC Porto, Falcao is a fantastic replacement for Kun Aguero. With a whopping price tag, Falcao comes to Atletico looking to build on an ever growing reputation. He has bagged an astonishing 72 goals in just 87 games in Portugal, whilst becoming the Europa League’s top goalscorer last year. Big things are expected of the Colombian, but we have no doubt that he’ll be a success.

One to watch: Koke – young Spanish winger has broken into the first team setup at the Vicente Calderon and has proven to be a great young prospect. The addition of Arda Turan may hamper his development but from the bench, you can expect to see some good cameo appearances from the 19 year old.

El Centrocampista prediction: 6th




Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona

Nickname: La Blaugrana

Coach: Josep Guardiola

Last season finished: Champions

Players In: Sanchez, Fábregas, Kiko

Players Out: Jeffrén, Milito, G, Bojan, Henrique, Cáceres.

Barcelona finished up last campaign as the undisputed kings of European football.

With a third successive league title in the bag, the Catalan globe trotters outclassed Manchester United in the Champions League Final to claim the famous trophy for the second time in three years.

Since Pep Guardiola’s appointment in 2008, Barca has quite simply dominated La Liga.

With the help of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, no team has yet been able to match them.

Even Real Madrid with their moneybags approach to transfers has been unable to halt the classy Catalans.

Although it seems impossible, Guardiola’s side has improved over the summer.

By bringing in both Alexis Sanchez and Francesc Fabregas, “Pep” has added two top class players to his already glittering array of talent.

It’s hard to see how anyone can stop Barca from now going on to make it four titles on the bounce.

Key Player: Leo Messi. What can I say about him that’s not been said a million times before? Quite simply the greatest footballer on the planet, Messi is the cornerstone of this great Barcelona side.

Scoring 53 goals last season, “the flea” drove Barcelona towards their third successive title and second Champions League triumph in three years.

If he can remain fit and hungry then Barcelona will be hard to stop.

One to Watch: Thiago. The Italian born Spanish Under -21 international is a hugely gifted attacking midfielder.

Widely compared to Andres Iniesta, the La Masia graduate made his breakthrough last season and starred for Spain’s Under -21s at the World Championships.

This could be a big year for him.

El centrocampista prediciton:  1st



Stadium: Estadio Benito Villamarín

Nickname: Béticos del Universo, Los Verdiblancos

Coach: Pepe Mel

Finished last season: 1st (Segunda)

Players In: Rodríguez, Amaya, Isidoro, Ezequiel, Beñat, Roqué, Calahorro, Toni,                                       Nelson, Rodri, Montero, Juande, Fabri, Matilla

Players Out: Emana, Toni, Belenguer, Lopes, Rovérsio, Bascón, Odonkor

After years of mismanagement, over-paid players and relegation, Betis are back after two years of life outside the top division. They appointed Pepe Mel – an ex-Betis player – as coach, and the Andalusian club haven’t looked back as he built his own side and guided them to the Segunda title.

Despite optimism being as high as it has been for years, the club still has an €80 million hanging over it. This means transfers will be restricted to cheap fees, frees or loan deals as they look to strengthen for the test of La Liga. The Villarreal pair, Javier Matilla and Jefferson Montero, have both joined the club but, overall, the team will rely heavily on the same squad as last year. Although it doesn’t sound promising, it has to be said that players such as Jorge Molina and Chechu Dorado did look too good for Segunda.

With an opening day derby against Sevilla to look forward to, Real Betis’ huge fanbase will be looking for a ferocious start to their season. With an astute coach who gets the best from his players, they may well surprise a few in the top league once again.

Key player: Jorge Molina – The huge targetman was a key player in the promotion last year and is likely to cause defences problems again this year. 18 goals in 34 games in Segunda was a terrific way to repay the €1,6m fee that Betis laid out for him. If Molina can stay fit then he can have another good season at the Andalusians, and expect plenty of strength and power from the experienced striker.

One to watch: Jefferson Montero – The Ecuadorian winger has struggled to break in at Villarreal and spent the second half of last season on loan at Levante – but there can be no doubting that the 21 year old has talent. Montero has pace and trickery and should be a great outlet on the wings, supplying the ammunition for the giant Molina to bag the goals for Betis as they look to stay in La Liga.

El Centrocampista prediction: 15th



Stadium: Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, Barcelona

Nickname: Los Periquitos or Blanquiblaus

Coach: Mauricio Pochettino

Finished last season: 8th

Players In:  Rui Fonte, Angel, Casilla, Martínez, Dídac, Coro, Luna, Moreno, Albín

Players Out:  Ciercoles, Angel,Molina, Duscher, Fonte, García, Alonso,                                                                       Chica, Callejón, de la Peña

Espanyol were another side that started brightly and faded badly towards to second half of the season. After finding themselves in a Champions League place, the bad form kicked in and they ended the season in 8th position.

As ever, the club’s summer is revolving around who they can keep hold of as the bigger clubs take a keen interest. Ben Sahar, Callejon, Javier Chicha and Ivan Alonso are amongst the players that have left recently, weakening the team a great deal. There are some positives, though, with main man Osvaldo still currently at the club, along with captain Javi Marquez and Didac Vilá who has joined from AC Milan on a season-long loan. They also have a future star breaking through in the form of Álvaro Vásquez who impressed for the Spanish Under 20s this summer.

A couple more additions, particularly in the creative department of the side and there could possibly be another charge for Europe on the horizon.

The club possess an ambitious coach in Mauricio Pochettino and a youth system that carries on producing first-team players.

Should they hold onto their most important players then a solid season with the possibility of European qualification in the coming years should not be too far away.

Key player: Javi Marquez – creative midfield player made a real impact last season, contributing some all action displays and long range passing that brought around likenesses to Xabi Alonso. Not afraid to shoot from range, Marquez possesses good shooting ability and could break into the international setup soon. Expect the partnership in central midfield with Raul Baena to really blossom this season.

One to watch: Álvaro Vásquez – Young striker who hit the headlines last season could be set for more games this year. He came in to deputise for star player Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, but after the Italian got an injury, the 20 year old striker ended up scoring a few goals and putting himself right into contention with Pocchettino.

El Centrocampista prediction: 9th




  1. Geir Magne Staurland

    20 August, 2011 at 15:24

    Both Athletic and Atlético on 6th place?
    Brilliant article, by the way.

  2. ollydawes

    20 August, 2011 at 20:41

    Think that’s my fault! Was rushing some editing last night, sorry. Should read Bilbao 7th, Atleti 6th.

    Thanks for the good comments, will try and get Part 2 up quickly. 🙂

  3. Jamie

    21 August, 2011 at 23:34

    Athleic: 6th. “Athletic finished in seventh place.”Jamie, you twat.

  4. Jamie

    21 August, 2011 at 23:47

    Should say I’m referring to myself and not Jamie Halden

  5. Ry

    26 August, 2011 at 10:54

    Great stuff, some massive changes for Atleti this season should make them a slightly unknown for the first few games. Can’t wait to see Bielsa impose his style on Bilbao!

  6. Almiento

    26 August, 2011 at 13:24

    Great article!
    Just a small correction. Isidoro, Ezequiel, Beñat and Roqué were already part of the first squad last season and played an important amount of games for Betis. Sadly, Roqué was forced to temporarily leave football in January or February to fight against cancer. He’s still recovering from the disease. Juande, Rodri and Nelson were on loan to other clubs last season, with the first two being released after their return. Arzu has also being released, and left-back Vega will probably be released soon too. Regarding signings, Javi Chica is missing from the players signed for next season and there are rumours that City might agree on a loan deal that would take Santa Cruz to Betis today.

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