AS English's Liga predictions for 2017-18.
Who'll win the league?
Robbie Dunne: If Atletico Madrid can hold it together until Christmas when the reinforcements arrive, I think they’ll be hard beaten. Last year’s Real Madrid victory was out of the ordinary and I think they’ll try to win the Champions League for the third time in a row, which will allow Atletico to sneak in and win it.
Matt McGinn: Real Madrid - Los Blancos boast a remarkable depth of talent, and crucially, Zidane appears to be able to keep the squad happy. With Barcelona as weak as they have been in a decade, and Atlético unable to add to their squad until January, it's hard to see the title going anywhere but the Bernabéu.
Paul Reidy: Everything points to the 2017/18 season being a one-horse-race with Real Madrid seemingly on another level. Shrewd recent transfer dealings with promising national talent, Zidane's ability to motivate an entire squad of anxious to play star names coupled with Florentino's deep pockets make the Santiago Bernabéu outfit clear favourites to retain the title.
Calum Roche: Real Madrid - a no brainer from what we've seen but a couple of bad results could change that air of confidence. The young players brought in to the squad have impressed but it will be up to the older heads to lead the team to the title if a few results start to go astray. Zidane's side, let's not forget, enjoyed a fair amount of good fortune last season to reach the heights they did but this year they look less reliant on that factor.
Rob Train: Atlético could be worth a shout if Diego Simeone's side stay injury free for the first half of the season but it's difficult to look past Real Madrid. The two side's benches in the Spanish Super Cup second leg showed what Barça are up against this season.
Andy Hall: Real Madrid will walk it. Apart from having a midfield which is the envy of Europe, Zidane has built a side with enough variations that they will be able to battle on six fronts and ride through any injury crises from now until May. Their confidence is high and the new, younger players are looking settled, happy and hungry.
And who'll make up the rest of the top four?
RD: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia - Valencia have the youngest team in the league on average and have a manager in Marcelino who demands the team to be in perfect physical condition. Valencia are the kind of team that love throwing a spanner in the works and while many will have written them off, a good start and they could nip in an steal that four place.
MM: Barcelona, Atlético, Villarreal - Clearly weakened by the loss of Neymar, but still possess enough talent to give Madrid something to think about, particularly if Coutinho and/or Dembélé arrive. Messi, Suárez, Iniesta, Busquets, and Piqué are creeping in to their thirties, and Barça's cycle of dominance has clearly come to an end. This season is the beginning of a transitional phase that may well determine Barcelona's fortunes over the next decade.
'El Cholo' has retained his key players, despite Antoine Griezmann fluttering his lashes in the direction of Manchester. With the transfer ban in place, that represents success. Moving to a new stadium can sometimes disrupt a team's rhythm, particularly given the visceral character of the Calderón. That said, it is hard to conceive that the adaptation to the Wanda Metropolitano will be so difficult as to cost Atleti a Champions League spot. The arrival of Vitolo (and quite possibly Diego Costa) in January will provide a mid-season boost.
The Yellow Submarine were defensively superb last season, conceding just 33 goals. Despite the loss of Argentine defender Mateo Musacchio to Milan, coach Fran Escribá should be able to mould a similarly solid unit. In attack, the arrival of Carlos Bacca represents an upgrade on Roberto Soldado, and more importantly, forms the tongue-rolling Bakambu-Bacca striker partnership. Buying 21-year-old Pablo Fornals from Málaga was also smart business.
PR: Sevilla, Barcelona, Atlético - This could have been the season for Atlético Madrid...moving to the new stadium and boosted by continuity commitments from Simeone and Griezmann. However the impact of the FIFA ban will hit "Los Colchoneros" hard with no new arrivals being eligible to play until early January 2017 with a squad that will be fully stretched to meet the demands of league and Champions League group stage.
Are Barça really that bad? Neymar's departure and the manner in which they were outplayed by Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup has dealt two major morale blows and has the Catalan side reeling on the ropes. This state of mind could be revived with enough time in the transfer window to bring in reinforcements with the Dembele and Coutinho moves edging closer. A difficult season of transition ahead for Ernesto Valverde and even more expectation on the shoulders of the always excellent Lionel Messi.
Sevilla have a solid framework established from Jorge Sampaoli's debut season in charge at the Sánchez Pizjuán with replacement Berizzo poised to maintain a competitive side who will challenge in both domestic competitions and in Europe.
CR: Barcelona, Sevilla, Atlético. No surprises in terms of the three names but Sevilla will be the ones to push the big two closest. How close that is we will see but Atlético will have to hope that they stay in contention through the first half of the season after which they can strengthen. The new stadium could be a factor too, at least for the first year.
RT: Atlético, Barcelona, Villarreal. If Atleti are in the top two come Christmas they'll go into the market to reinforce and could push Madrid all the way. Barça may have to settle for third if they're unable to bring in the players they want before the end of August but a lot will depend on the fitness of Luis Suárez and Leo Messi. Villarreal have consolidated their squad and brought in a proven Liga scorer in Carlos Bacca and will pip Sevilla to fourth.
AH: Barcelona, Atlético and possibly Villarreal, who looked strong in the pre-season, signed well and with Fran Escribá at the controls they have all the right ingredients to pip Sevilla to a top-four finish. Carlos Bacca was an excellent signing and with Denis Cheryshev coming back from injury, they'll be aiming for Champions League football again.
Europa League places?
RD: Sevilla and Real Betis - I think Sevilla will get it right under Toto Berizzo but I also don’t believe it will happen straight away. He will have to adjust to the Champions League provided they go through and did not convince with Celta Vigo last year in his end of season planning. If Real Betis can play the style under Setien that Las Palmas played, along with their new signings they could be a sight to behold. A historically large club with a huge fanbase and this could be a magical season for them.
MM: Sevilla and Athletic - Sevilla will push Villarreal close for fourth spot. In fact, the only reason I don't think Sevilla will make the top four, is that I fancy them to have a strong (yet energy-sapping) run in the Champions League. Eduardo Berizzo is a natural replacement for his compatriot Jorge Sampaoli, whose flirtations with the Argentine Football Association contributed to Sevilla dropping away at the end of last season. Nolito and Navas both arrive return to their native Andalucia from Manchester, and playmaker Ever Banega is back at the club where he has enjoyed the best football of his career. Continuity is key for the Basques. As with Atlético, the retention of key players constitutes a success. Talented youngsters Williams, Laporte, and Kepa blend with the experience of Aduriz, San José, and Raúl 'mild-mannered' García. Cuco Ziganda replaces Ernesto Valverde after six years with Bilbao Athletic, the club's B Team.
PR: Valencia, Villarreal - Can Marcelino steer HMS Valencia back to calmer waters ? Very possibly... watch "Los Che" push for a European place under the guidance of the wily Asturian coach. Groundhog Day for Villarreal with yet another sixth place beckoning for Setiens side.
CR: Villarreal, Espanyol - Watching Espanyol last year there were signs of huge improvement under Quique Sánchez Flores. He's bedded in and he'll srping a few surprises this season. Villarreal, simply because they're better than the best of the rest and the addition of Carlos Bacca to more or less the same squad as last season means they should be able to push Atlético for the final Champions League place.
RT: Sevilla and Betis - Eduardo Berizzo is the perfect coach to build on Jorge Sampaoli's brief legacy and the club have done some excellent business over the summer. Betis are a little more left field but if Quique Setién can get them playing Las Palmas-style football they have the squad to cause a few surprises. Ryad Boudebouz is a decent bet to "do a Mahrez" down on the south coast and who doesn't want to see Joaquín do well?
AH: Sevilla, Real Sociedad - two teams who are in Europe this season and are keen to make it a regular occurance. Celta, Athletic Club and Valencia should be up there too. It will be interesting to see how La Real perform on three fronts have lost Yuri Berchiche over the summer - that leaves them a little short-staffed at the back but with Agirretxe back from injury, they look strong going forward.
Which three clubs will be relegated?
RD: Malaga, Las Palmas, Getafe - I believe the Malaga problems regarding the signing of Javi Garcia and the selling of many of Michel’s best players will lead to more confusion last year. They were only saved near the very end of last year and now have sold arguably their best midfielder (Camacho) and their best attacking midfielder (Fornals). The rot will continue at Las Palmas, which has only be exasperated by Prince’s contract issue. Also, they will rely heavily in Vitolo only to lose him in January. An old squad, a battling performance against Tenerife in the play-off final and I think they might have too much to do to stay up.
MM: Leganés, Getafe, Alavés - Los Pepineros were saved last season by the dismal form of their relegation rivals. Leganés have recruited well in defence, but it is hard to see where the goals will come from. They only scored 36 last season. Getafe came up through the play-offs, with the final played on the 24th June. Play-off-winning teams often find it difficult to stay in LaLiga due to the lack of time to prepare for the upcoming season. Gaku Shibasaki and Amath are smart signings, with both key to Tenerife's promotion push last season, but they will still struggle. The Alavés squad that reached the Copa del Rey final last season has been picked away at, and Mauricio Pellegrino has also moved to pastures new. Second-season syndrome beckons.
PR: Getafe, Leganés, Girona - The gap between the Spanish top flight and second tier is gradually widening, with newly promoted sides generally struggling with the demands of LaLiga. Leganés were perilously close to the drop zone last season and will struggle and expect them to tumble along with top flight debutants Girona along with the team everyone loves to hate, Getafe CF. Also expect Las Palmas to flirt with the drop zone.
CR: Leganés, Getafe, Girona - The Cucumber Growers pushed their luck at times last season and will probably come up short in a division with slightly more quality at the bottom. Getafe just don't have the resources to make a fist of it while Girona, despite, having half of Manchester City's academy in the team, will find it all a bit too much in their first-ever Primera campaign.
RT: Getafe, Leganés, Alavés - It's difficult to discount the three promoted teams going straight back down given their resources but Alavés will struggle after losing Marcos Llorente and Theo Hernández while I fear for Leganés, who have not done much eye-catching business this summer.
AH: Deportivo, Leganés, Las Palmas - Depor and Leganés survived by the skin of their teeth last season but will need to improve if they are to avoid the drop this season. Las Palmas have spent the past few seasons playing some of the most entertaining football in the top two divisions but with Jesé, Roque Mesa and Kevin-Prince Boateng out of the pitcture and Vitolo only on board until January, they will struggle to replicate that form. Girona look like the kind of team who might stay up - they are gritty and competitive and have rebuilt the squad with the idea of remaining in the top flight.
Who'll win the Pichichi trophy?
RD: Karim Benzema - I think Ronaldo might go cold and I’m not entirely sure of the situation at Barcelona so I’ll pick Benzema.
MM: Lionel Messi - Barcelona will rely on him more than ever, and the best player in the world will step up.
PR: The obvious option would be to elect one of Messi, Suarez or Ronaldo ... Griezmann is the alternative with the French striker looking to the season to launch a potential Ballon D'Or push. Zaza at Valencia is an outside bet too!
CR: Luis Suárez. Messi will still be the main man at Barça but will need to drop deeper to dictate even more of the play - especially if no suitable replacements for Neymar's creativity come in. Expect Messi's assist rate to reach new levels as the Uruguayan gladly laps them up.
RT: He of the social media mirth, Antoine Griezmann.
AH: Luis Suárez never fails to find the target but having said that, Real Madrid have been scoring for fun although they have goal scorers right the way through the squad - Casemiro or Asensio may get into double figures which would be a great achievement in itself.
And the Zamora?
RD: Ter Stegen - Again, this could be dodgy but I think he was excellent last season and underrated by many. He will have his work cut out for him but he will manage to concede the least.
MM: Jan Oblak - The best 'keeper in the league, playing behind the best defence in the league.
PR: Jan Oblak - Safest pair of hands in LaLiga aided with a supporting cast of a masterly miserly defence.
CR: Jan Oblak. Tough to see past Atlético and the big stopper impressing at the back after seeing them last year and knowing what Simeone is likely to do to get results.
RT: Sergio Rico - with Berrizzo in charge I expect Sevilla to tighten up considerably at the back after Sampaoli's gung-ho reign and Rico is arguably the second-best keeper in the league behind Jan Oblak. However, the big Slovenian is reliant on an ageing defence and new stadium syndrome can't be ruled out.
AH: Oblak. a superb, commanding goalkeeper in front of the most solid defence in LaLiga
Which side will concede the most?
RD: Getafe and Las Palmas tied - As I said with the relegation, they have too much work to do and will be constantly under the cosh. Expect Barca and Real Madrid to put four or five past them.
MM: Las Palmas - Only Granada and Osasuna conceded more goals last season. The Islanders will be great fun going forward, with the collateral damage being a porous defence.
PR: Las Palmas - They may just about escape the drop but a depleted squad with limited reinforcements and a rookie coach at this level all point to plenty of goals against the Canary Island side.
CR: Getafe - It's bound to be one of the bottom three and Geta's defensive record last season posed a few questions in spite of them climbing out of the Segunda.
RT: Las Palmas - the Canary Islanders shipped 74 last season, more than relegated Sporting, and while they've signed plenty in attack Manolo Márquez has done little to shore up at the back.
AH: Las Palmas - as Rob says, they have a relatively aging defence and conceded 74 last season - only two teams let in more and they have only had one pre-season to sort out any issues at the back which might not be enough. They seem intent on bringing in forwards but have brought in players with little or no experience in the top tier from midfield to the goalkeeping position.
Top Spanish scorer?
RD: Vitolo - he will be relied heavily on by Las Palmas and then will arrive at Atletico Madrid with his tail up, ready for a title challenge. And he won’t disappoint.
MM: Iago Aspas - Celta are free of European commitments this year, and a fresh Aspas will be a reliable source of goals.
PR: Sergi Enrich - if Eibar can hang on to the Mallorquín, expect another net-bulging season from the 27 year old, with his goals instrumental in securing yet another miraculous campaign for Eibar in LaLiga.
CR: Iago Aspas - he impressed last season in front of goal and will have Maxi Gomez to distract defenders (although if Marco Asensio gets plenty of minutes he may have a shout)
RT: Aritz Aduriz, who narrowly missed out last season to Iago Aspas.
AH: Asensio - he's in a side who are serial scorers, he's brimming with confidence and Zidane will give him more minutes this season.
Manager of the year?
RD: Zinedine Zidane - He will lose LaLiga by a point or two, win the Copa del Rey and with the Spanish Super Cup already in the bag, he seems to be halfway there.
MM: Zinedine Zidane - The Frenchman is clearly a superb man-manager, and is answering critics of his tactical nous.
PR: Marcelino - Is he the man to finally restore stability at one of Spanish footballs biggest clubs? In a word ...probably!
CR: Zidane. Fortune favours the brave they say and this got him the plaudits last season. This year the team will play in a manner that the Frenchman enjoyed as a player and he will further demonstrate how best to deploy the various tools he has at his disposal. Keep an eye on Fran Escribá impressing too.
RT: It'll obviously go to Zidane if he retains the Liga title but given his relative resources Escribá should be up there if he takes Villarreal back into the Champions League.
AH: The man with the Midas Touch - Zidane. Real Madrid have the two Super Cups in the bag and will be favourites to lift the Club World Cup. Can't see them winning all six trophies though - even though they have the depth in the squad to do so. Would love to see El Cholo Simeone do well and win something in Atleti's first year at the new Metropolitano stadium.
First manager to get the chop?
RD: Míchel - Walk or be sacked, I’m not sure but he won’t make it beyond September.
MM: Míchel - Málaga look weaker than last season, and had three different coaches during 2016/17. The door to the manager's office may well continue to revolve.
PR: Las Palmas' Márquez Roca. See concede the most.
CR: Míchel, who'll walk or be pushed out of Málaga. Are they even taking bets on this one?
RT: Míchel, who has already had a run-in with the club over transfer policy before a ball has been kicked.
AH: Míchel. The writings already on the wall.
Who'll score the first hat-trick of the season and when?
RD: Griezmann against Malaga on Sept 16th.
MM: Karim Benzema (vs Levante, Jornada 3) - Madrid, at home, against newly-promoted opposition. With Ronaldo banned, I'll go for Benzema.
PR: Benzema - at home vs Levante on September 9.
CR: Luis Suárez at home to Málaga on matchday 9.
RT: Messi away at Getafe in week three.
AH: Messi, against Eibar at Camp Nou in Week 5. Barça should be hitting full gear by then.
Which player will win the young player of the year award?
RD: Asensio - He is the man of the moment but he will be on too good a team and with too much exposure to not be at the top of the list and he should nab 8 or 10 goals in the process.
MM: Marco Asensio - The Mallorquín is among the best young players in the world, and Zidane's willingness to rotate will give Asensio plenty of opportunities to display his unnerving talent. An honourable mention to Fede Valverde, on loan at Deportivo from Real Madrid. The 18-year-old is already part of the Uruguay national team, and has impressed for Pepe Mel's outfit during pre-season.
PR: Asensio - Providing Zidane offers the Mallorca born decent playing time, expect goals, assists and flair from Spanish football's brightest talent.
CR: Marco Asensio. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold right now. In saying that, he's pretty much run out of those magical debuts!
RT: Asensio is the obvious choice but he may even push for the Player of the Year award at this rate. I'm quite excited about Enes Ünal at Villarreal, who bagged 18 in the Eredivisie for Twente last season.
AH: Asensio is such a great player, what a talent. Hopefully Zidane can shield him from all of the hype he is going to get and keep him grounded. Other players to look out for are Athletic Club goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and Valencia's Carlos Soler - both of whom have already impressed.
Which side will get the most red cards?
RD: Getafe. Under the cosh, defending for their lives, a dodgy defense and plenty of heated battles against Leganes, Atletico and Real Madrid. Chalk it.
MM: Deportivo - Fabian Schär is a fine signing at centre-half, but his fellow defenders Raúl Albentosa and Sidnei have the turning circles of a cruise liner. Clumsy professional fouls aplenty in Galicia.
CR: Real Sociedad - La Real are a tough, physical side who don't mind getting stuck in and showed last season that they walk a fine disciplinary line.
RT: Levante - Every club has their "DNA" and Levante's is kicking the bejesus out of the opposition.
AH: It'll be among one of the three teams who end up going down, so Leganés, possibly.