The 2021/22 season is up and running, and here at La Liga Lowdown we’re bringing you 20 players to watch out for from here until May. Youngsters, newcomers, a few possible surprises… we’ve got an exciting season ahead. So here’s one player from each team to keep your eyes on when getting your weekly dose of LaLiga.
The Uruguayan youngster is back in Vitoria. Despite playing only 12 matches since January, with just five as a starter, Alavés have paid Manchester United six million euros to bring him back for another spell at Mendizorroza on a season-long loan. Pellistri’s turn of pace, close ball control and quick feet will give Los Babazorros the spark they seemed to be lacking creatively last year, and it’s the perfect landing spot for him to improve his game all round if he wants to be impressing those back in Manchester.
Club: Athletic Club
It’s another Athletic goalkeeper with a name difficult to pronounce. He signed for the club just two years ago and since then he’s been playing within the youth team set-up, but could now be his chance to really break not only into the first-team squad but also into Marcelino’s starting line-up? With Unai Simón away on Olympic duty for Spain, 20-year-old Julen was in charge of shot-stopping in pre-season and seems to have impressed his manager. We’ll see if he continues to shine and makes life difficult for Unai when he’s back.
Club: Atlético de Madrid
This may seem like an obvious one, but João Félix is facing a crucial season in the Spanish capital. As of now, the ex-Benfica man has lost his spot in the starting XI and also missed Los Rojiblancos’ pre-season due to an operation on his right ankle from an injury he’d been carrying since last November. We all know João Félix has the talent but he’s going to have to display some real fighting spirit if he wants to impress Diego Simeone and regain his place this season. With only 13 goals in two La Liga campaigns, the young Portuguese needs to show the league why he became a record-breaking signing for the Colchoneros.
Club: FC Barcelona
Talk about landing on both feet and getting off to a flying start. The 18-year-old Austrian arrived in Barcelona on loan from Rapid Vienna at the beginning of the summer, and since then he has played all Barça’s pre-season friendlies, with a goal and an assist. In theory he’s been signed for Barça B but with Lionel Messi gone, Sergio Agüero, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé out with injuries, he could well be involved with the first team more than expected. His unpredictability on the ball, eagerness to drift into the middle and act as a playmaker during games could bring a lot to the Camp Nou. Gerard Piqué has even stated that his characteristics are very similar to Messi’s. We know Koeman doesn’t shy away from giving youngsters game time and important roles within the team. Will we see it again this season with Demir?
Club: Celta Vigo
Arguably Huesca’s most consistent player last season, Javi Galán has signed a 5-year deal with Celta and seems he’ll be a starter for Chacho Coudet from the very start. Used to playing as a wing-back under Pacheta, he’ll be shifting to his original left-back position this year in Celta’s 4-1-3-2 that helped them turn around a shaky start to the season last year. For Celta, Galán seems to be a perfect fit as he likes to get forward and deliver crosses, and playing in the same team as Iago Aspas will surely get him a few more assists than last campaign.
On loan from Real Madrid, the youngster will be looking to prove himself at Cádiz this season. There were rumours of him staying in Madrid with Raphaël Varane’s exit but the club have deemed him expendable this season and have chosen to put their faith in Jesús Vallejo instead. With just under 100 minutes played in the Spanish top-flight, Chust has the characteristics to become a starter at Cádiz and one to watch out for, but it won’t be an easy challenge for him.
With six goals and three assists, Fidel was crucial in Elche’s dramatic relegation-battle that they managed to survive on Matchday 38 last season. The Spaniard returned to Elche for free in the 19/20 campaign to help them gain promotion to LaLiga and he’s been a starter with all three managers that have come through the door since. Despite his main position being on the left flank, he played in almost every attacking role possible last year, and he even started at left-back in last season’s opener. His elegance on the ball makes him a joy to watch.
Club: RCD Espanyol
Despite debuting in LaLiga in 2018, it’s now that we’re going to be really introduced to Javi Puado. The Catalan has very good ball control and can naturally shift from one foot to another. This, in addition to his intelligence in the final third, makes him a very interesting player to watch at just 23. Puado renewed his contract with Espanyol this summer and he’s another name to add to the group of young Spaniards who’ve been racking up plenty of minutes over the past two years. Back in training just a few days after the Olympic final, he’ll be looking to help his team avoid a trip back to Segunda.
Club: Getafe CF
Breaking into the first team last season under José Bordalás, Iglesias could be an interesting back-up option to Damián Suárez. He landed in the Spanish capital in 2019 for a fee of just €100,000 and although he was originally signed for their youth team, Iglesias was included in Míchel’s pre-season plans, and he has just signed a contract extension until 2026. The 23-year-old covers both sides of the pitch with relative ease and has shown a good sense of timing in terms of when and where to place himself on the pitch during games.
Club: Granada CF
Position: Central midfielder
Signed this summer after leaving Barcelona for free, Monchu is one to watch and it looks like he’s going to have an important role in Robert Moreno’s Granada. Having played at Girona on loan last season, Barça consider that he has no future at the club but have made sure to include clauses that assure them buy-back priority as well as 50% of a future sale. The youngster usually plays in central midfield, whether that be as a defensive pivot or a more supporting role as the bridge between the team’s defence and attack, he’s always making himself available as an option when his team builds attacks.
JORGE DE FRUTOS
One of Levante’s most effective attacking players last season, de Frutos has become an undeniable starter for Paco López. With a lot of rumours about a possible exit or even a return to Real Madrid to play a supporting role within Carlo Ancelotti’s squad this season, it seems as though he’ll be staying put at the Estadio Ciutad de Valencia. With an impressive 10 assists and four goals in La Liga last campaign, the electric winger will be looking to better his tally to help Levante climb as far up the table as they can heading into this new season.
Back for a second loan spell in Mallorca, arguably where we’ve seen the Japanese youngster play his best football in Spain, Kubo needs to prove the doubters wrong once and for all. Despite shining with the national team, it’s been three years now since he signed for Real Madrid and so far, his Bernabéu career is on hold, instead jumping from loan to loan. It’s time for Kubo to take the reins of Mallorca’s attack and show what he’s capable of on the biggest of stages.
Club: CA Osasuna
Becoming Osasuna’s most expensive ever signing, Budimir needs to prove he’s worth the €8 million Los Rojillos have paid for him. After finishing last season off strongly with 11 goals, the Croat will be looking to improve his 13-goal LaLiga tally from when he was at Mallorca two seasons ago. He’ll have competition within the squad now Chimy Ávila is back after being out for most of last season, as well as Kike García who’s been signed from Eibar after they were relegated.
Club: Rayo Vallecano
Has Luca dug his own grave? The second son of Zinedine Zidane had earned the chance to be Rayo’s first-choice keeper in the season-opener against Sevilla, but just 15 minutes into the match he was given a red card after a very juvenile mistake that resulted in a penalty for their rivals. The Frenchman, who had only played a handful of games throughout the course of the last campaign, became Rayo’s starting keeper towards the end of the season due to Stole Dimitrievski going on international duty with Northern Macedonia, and Luca duly took the opportunity with both hands in the promotion play-offs. He impressed in the matches he played and was rewarded with inclusion in Rayo’s first line-up of the league campaign, but could this mistake mean it’s back to the bench for him, or will Andoni Iraola give him the benefit of the doubt and hand him another chance?
Club: Real Betis
It’s been a crucial 12 months for the La Masia graduate. After playing just 11 games in the Bundesliga whilst on loan at Schalke 04 in the 2019/20 season, Barcelona sent him on loan again, this time to Real Betis for a fee of €7 million. The Spaniard started the season on the bench with Álex Moreno being preferred by Manuel Pellegrini until December, but Miranda managed to turn his fortunes around. Financial problems at Barça have forced the club to let him go for free despite having an option to extend his contract for a further two years, and Betis quickly swooped for the youngster’s signature, keeping him at the Andalusian capital until 2024. After being away at the Olympics with Spain and missing out on Betis’ first match in Mallorca, Moreno’s injury means Miranda will surely be their starter this season. Will he play a role in giving Betis the defensive stability they lacked last year?
Club: Real Madrid
Possibly Real Madrid’s most exciting player to emerge from the academy in recent years, Miguel Gutiérrez impressed everyone last season when handed his first-team debut by Zinedine Zidane. His intuition and understanding of the game at such a young age and on such a big stage make him one to look out for this season, but he’ll have a great deal of competition in his position. Ferland Mendy, Marcelo and David Alaba are in theory all starters at left-back ahead of the youngster, but with Marcelo and Mendy not being fit enough at the beginning of this season and Alaba preferring to fill in at centre-back, will Carlo count on Miguel to step up?
Club: Real Sociedad
Position: Defensive midfielder
Straight back into the starting line-up after Olympic duty, Zubimendi has just kicked off an important season. Not only is he out to secure himself a definitive place in Imanol Aguacil’s line-up’s but he could also be looking to gain a spot in Luis Enrique’s national squad ahead of Rodri Hernández. Despite participating in almost all La Real’s matches last season, there were times where it looked like he wasn’t considered as important as a player of his calibre should be. His presence on the field has replaced that of Asier Illaramendi and provides the perfect balance in a midfield made-up of himself, David Silva and Mikel Merino, allowing the latter more freedom going forward when he’s on the pitch.
Could it be a season of redemption for the Argentinian? After eight years at Tottenham, Lamela has joined Sevilla in a swap deal for Bryan Gil. The winger has set out to prove the doubters wrong, scoring a brace in the season-opener against Rayo Vallecano and a last-minute winner against Getafe. A player who everyone assumed was bound to be a back-up option may surprise everyone and earn himself a starting position in Julen Lopetegui’s side with Lucas Ocampos’ drop in form last season as well as his injury at the start of this one.
Club: Valencia CF
Nor Jaume Domenech nor Jasper Cillessen, José Bordalás may have found a new man to stand guard in front of Valencia’s goal this season. 20-year-old Mamardashvili has started in both Los Che’s LaLiga games thus far and made a strong case for himself during the team’s pre-season, gaining his manager’s trust. At over 6’4”, the keeper had been signed for Valencia Mestalla (the club’s B team), on loan with an option to buy from Dinamo Tbilisi. Without even knowing Spanish yet, he’s still managed to communicate with his teammates and earn himself a chance of being Valencia’s first-choice goalkeeper this season.
It’s been an important few months for Villarreal and they’ve proved it by signing Dia from Reims. The Senegal international scored 16 goals last season and will be looking to do the same with the Yellow Submarine. It looks like he’s already in sync with the star of the show, Gerard Moreno, having provided him a perfect assist in the European Super Cup final against Chelsea. We’ll have to wait and see if he’s capable of carrying his goal-scoring form into LaLiga and prove to be a top signing for Los Groguets.
Want to track how these players do throughout the season? Or just enjoy seeing clips of Juan Román Riquelme strutting his stuff? Follow us at @LaLigaLowdown on Twitter.