LaLiga week 1 predictions: Real Madrid to trip up at Anoeta?
As Spain's top flight gets a new season underway, we dusted off the ol' crystal ball and peered into the future - this is what we saw...
Osasuna sprang a surprise in Segunda last season, winning the playoff final against Girona after finishing in 18th place the previous year. Enrique Martín managed to steady the ship in time to prevent the drop into Segunda B and then guided the side to Primera at the first time of asking. However, Martín faces a true battle to keep Osasuna in the top flight. In the Pamplona outfit’s last season in the big time, Osasuna won just four away games. One of those was against Malaga. A repeat here is extremely unlikely, even if Martín goes with five at the back, as he often did in 2015-16.
Deportivo - Eibar (Fri, 22:00) | Prediction: home win | Result: 2-1
Depor lost just twice in the first half of last season and spent a fair while dreaming of Europe. A second-half collapse saw Depor finish 15th, one place lower than Eibar. The Riazor board appointed Gaizka Garitano as boss in June, the man who of course guided Eibar to the top flight originally. Meanwhile, the Galicians' best bit of business this summer has been hanging on to Lucas Pérez. The forward plundered 17 league goals last season and will be key to Depor’s prospects in 2016-17.
Barcelona - Betis (Sat, 18:15) | Prediction: home win | Result: 6-2
Despite being mostly awful last season Betis finished in the top 10. It was a strange season for the verdiblancos, who couldn’t buy a win at home in the first half of the season and then folded on the road in practically every match after the winter break. The loss of Alfred N’Diaye to Villarreal will not help a side that leaked 52 goals last season and Barcelona carved through Sevilla over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup to limber up for their opener. This could be a very unpleasant introduction to La Liga for Betis boss Gus Poyet.
Granada - Villarreal (Sat, 20:15) | Prediction: draw | Result: 1-1
Villarreal ended last season in fourth under Marcelino, only for coach and board to have a bit of a to-do this summer, causing the architect of a cracking season at El Madrigal to take his ball home. Since then, Villarreal lost 2-1 at home to Monaco and face a task to qualify for the main draw next week in the Stade Louis II. Villarreal are also without Roberto Soldado, Jonathan dos Santos and Denis Cheryshev through injury, with Cédric Bakambu a doubt. It will be interesting to see how Granada’s business in the loan market works out over the season but having narrowly escaped the drop last season the home side will settle for even honours against a Champions League side, as Villarreal are at least until the 23rd.
Sevilla - Espanyol (Sat, 22:15) | Prediction: draw | Result: 6-4
Sevilla pulled off something of a coup by luring Jorge Sampaoli to the Sánchez Pizjuán to replace Unai Emery. The task facing the former Chile coach was laid bare by Barcelona’s Super Cup stroll. The heart and soul of Emery’s side has been removed – Krychowiak, Coke, Gameiro, Banega and Reyes have all departed – but goals should be no problem with Vietto, Ben Yedder, Franco Vázquez and Ganso all added to the squad. Espanyol also did well to land Quique Sánchez Flores and two of La Liga’s most talented tacticians should ensure decent seasons for their respective sides. This one has the distinct aroma of a draw though.
Athletic have been spared their gruelling pre-season of last year and have been solid in friendly action, beating Borussia Dortmund and losing narrowly to Southampton and Schalke. Among their fixtures was a 1-1 draw with Sporting. Traditionally tough to overcome at El Molinón, Abelardo’s side avoided the drop last season on the final day and will be keen to get off on the right foot this time around. The same result as the sides’ pre-season knock-about seems logical.
Real Sociedad - Madrid (Sun, 20:15) | Prediction: draw | Result: 0-3
No Ronaldo. No Luka Modric, who is suspended. No Keylor Navas. Probably no Karim Benzema. A narrow 1-0 win for the visitors in this fixture last season. A 4-2 Sociedad victory the season before that and a 3-3 at the tail end of the 2012-13 season at Anoeta. This is not the easiest fixture for Zinedine Zidane to kick off his first full season in charge and La Real will fancy an upset. It could go either way.
Atlético - Alavés (Sun, 22:15) | Prediction: home win | Result: 1-1
Alavés have had a cracking summer in the transfer market, adding quality players like Deyverson, Víctor Camarasa and Zouhair Feddal (all Levante), Marcos Llorente (Real Madrid), Theo Hernández (Atlético) and Ibai Gómez (Athletic). However, despite Atlético’s underwhelming pre-season, and the sensation that Alavés will be just fine when the season ends next May, it is still too early for the newly promoted side to be eyeing scalps like that resting on the head of the 2014 title holder and Champions League finalists.
Celta - Leganés (Mon, 20:00) | Prediction: home win | Result: 0-1
Also freshly promoted, Leganés are among the favourites to go down before a ball has been kicked. A squad with a total market value of a few euros more than Celta trousered for selling Nolito to Manchester City hints at the uphill struggle facing the wonderfully named Cucumber Growers. A bit of quality has been added in Unai López (Athletic), Gabriel (Juventus) and Rubén Pérez (Granada) but it may well prove to be a step too far for the Madrid side this season. Leganés have never played in Spain’s top flight and Celta will be fairly confident of giving them a less than comfortable introduction to the big time.
Valencia - Las Palmas (Mon, 22:00) | Prediction: home win | Result 2-4
Last season was an unmitigated disaster for Los Ché. The white hankie-waving Mestalla crowd saw off Unai Emery in 2012 after three – three! – third-placed finishes and were rewarded with a list of appointments and sackings that resulted in brief stability under Nuno Espirito Santo and ended with Gary Neville. Now under the studious leadership of Pako Ayesterán, who succeeded the hapless Neville at the tail end of last season, Valencia’s new ownership will be anticipating an immediate upturn in fortunes under a man quietly credited with orchestrating most of Rafa Benítez’s successes. Las Palmas are first up and while the unlikely arrival of Kevin Prince Boateng will be fun to watch as the season progresses an 8-0 thumping of a southern Canary Islands 11 was followed by losses to the UAE and Tenerife. Subsequent friendlies against the likes of Darmstadt and Marítimo Funchal are hardly the best preparation for an opening day visit to Mestalla.
*All times CEST.