• La Liga Lowdown

LaLiga 2021/22 Season Preview & Predictions: Our Bottom Half

Having already previewed the top half of LaLiga, we now turn our attentions to the bottom half of Primera División and the battle to avoid the drop to Segunda. We discussed the race in our podcast preview, but have also looked into each individual team with expert guidance from fans of each club to let you know what to expect from LaLiga's underdogs heading into the 2021/22 campaign.


Valencia

Preview by Has Karim


Drama and turmoil seems to be a common theme for Los Che in recent seasons, whether it be underperforming or issues off the field, the club has endured some very disruptive times recently. Last season was no different, as they slipped to a limp 13th-placed finish.


Strengths: The Valencia squad has lost the quality it once had, but there are plenty of youngsters keeping some semblance of positivity alive. Carlos Soler returns to the club as an Olympic silver medallist and Uroš Račić is expected to play a key role this season, while others like Álex Blanco and Kang-in Lee could kick on. Surrounded by leaders like José Luis Gayà, their development is key.


Weaknesses: The biggest issues for Valencia continue to stem from behind the scenes. The ongoing drama from the boardroom looms over the club, andwhile fans can certainly be excited about the arrival of José Bordalás, it seems hollow when there is a continued sense of instability overshadowing matters as he is yet to receive backing in the transfer market.


Transfer business: Other than a loan deal for Hertha Berlin’s Omar Alderete, Valencia’s best transfer acquisition has been that of former Getafe coach, Bordalás. He arrives as an individual with an impressive reputation, having taken Getafe from the brink all the way to Europe. Should he hit the ground running, he could turn round the fortunes at Mestalla, bringing an element of positivity not seen since the Marcelino era.


Fan view (Paco Polit, @pacopolitENG): “Predicting what to expect from Valencia has become some sort of annual Olympic discipline which requires plenty of effort with no real positive outcome. Up front, we’re seeing almost a carbon-copy of summer 2020 in the sense that a new coach has arrived (Javi Gracia then, José Bordalás now), fans have supported him as their last hope and that the promised signings aren’t actually coming: to date only center-back Omar Alderete has arrived, while last summer no signings were made whatsoever. We can only dream that Bordalás will be able to do a much better job than Gracia with almost the same squad; ‘almost’, because we can expect a couple of big footballers to make a move to other sides.”


LLL prediction: 11th



Levante

Preview by Alex Brotherton


Levante were the definition of inconsistent last season. A side that at times looked dangerous and sharp going forward looked lethargic and insipid at others, while a defence that was capable of running a tight ship could quite as easily lose its heads. A 14th-placed league finish was disappointing, but nonetheless deserved given the erratic nature of Levante’s performances. Paco López’s biggest job is working out how to get his side playing at its best more regularly.


Strengths: At times last season Levante looked pulsating in attack, the likes of José Luís Morales, Roger Martí and Jorge de Frutos capable of wreaking havoc against any defence. The experience of Roberto Soldado won’t harm the cause, and with a fully-fit José Campaña dictating the play from midfield, there’s no telling how many goals Levante will score this season.


Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the back door was always open. Paco López’s side repeatedly surrendered winning positions, often at the point in games when a Levante goal would have sealed 3 points. Only relegated Real Valladolid bettered Levante’s 14 draws, while only two conceded more than 57 goals. If the defence isn’t shored up, then it could be another frustrating campaign.


Transfer business: 36-year-old striker Roberto Soldado’s arrival from Granada will provide another option up front, while winger Roger Brugué will add some squad depth. Left-back Enric Franquesa, who played 27 times for Girona in Segunda last season, has signed on loan from Villarreal.


Fan view (Paco Polit, @pacopolitENG): “It’s not that easy to pinpoint where the fans’ expectations for Levante lie this season. Only a few months ago, at the beginning of 2021, the side seemed mighty enough to fight for Europe, but suddenly let themselves go in the final 10 games with plenty of disappointing performances and finished in a mediocre 14th place. To date only a couple of signings have come in, but they seem quite promising: Franquesa to strengthen left-back and a reliable veteran striker in Soldado to (partially) solve the finishing problems the team had last year. Add most of the big names staying (Morales, Roger, Campaña… don’t get your hopes up for de Frutos) and the re-opening of Estadio Ciutat de València to the fans, and we should expect a relatively decent season for Los Granotas.”


LLL prediction: 12th


Espanyol

Preview by Matt Clark


After appointing Vicente Moreno from direct rivals Mallorca, Espanyol made an instant return to LaLiga once again, crowned as Segunda champions at the very first time of asking to return to Primera División.


Strengths: Attack. With Raúl de Tomás, Espanyol have a reliable and prolific goal-scorer. The Segunda Pichichi with 23 strikes, he will be the focal point of their attack. Young talent Javi Puado also reached double figures, while Adri Embarba was the assist king of Segunda. This triumvirate helped Los Pericos amass 71 goals in their promotion campaign.


Weaknesses: Lack of depth. Despite possessing a very strong first XI, there is a significant drop-off in quality in reserve which could cost the team when the fixtures start coming thick and fast. Another issue is individual errors. Mistakes were all too frequent in Segunda last season, but rarely cost them. In LaLiga, those are more likely to be punished regularly.


Transfer business: A quiet summer for Espanyol so far, aside from making loan deals permanent, chiefly Landry Dimata up front. In the defensive areas, Miguelón and Sergi Gómez have arrived to bolster the Catalans' rearguard.


Fan view (Christian, @ChristianRCDE): "I like to go into every season with optimism, but I think there’s a need for realism too. I expect us to be in the lower half of midtable at best. Survival will depend on how exhausted Puado is from playing all summer and whether both RDT and Dimata can stay fit. They’re a deadly duo, but there’s no viable cover. Moreno himself is my other significant concern. He’s exceptionally cautious by nature. I worry he may naturally return to that state and it will cost us. I’d say Keidi Bare is the most important player for us. He’s the midfield pitbull that breaks everything up, gives his soul to the team every game, but he’s also very good on the ball too. The kind of midfielder we’ve lacked for a very long time. I think the only goal should be staying up and building from there. We’ve been poorly run from top to bottom, a big refresh was needed, and to some extent still is.”


LLL prediction: 13th



Granada

Preview by Alex Brotherton


Granada will struggle to match the meteoric highs of reaching the Europa League quarter-finals in their maiden European voyage last season, but there’s no doubting that they’ll try. Supporters of the Andalusian club will remember the famous victory against Napoli until the day they die; it was just a shame that they couldn’t see the two-legged duel in-person. Talismanic coach Diego Martínez left at the end of last season, replaced by former Spain coach Roberto Moreno. He may be somewhat unproven, but he has something to prove after the whole Luis Enrique debacle over the national team job.


Strengths: Granada showed bags of character last season, hopefully a legacy that then-manager Diego Martínez has left behind. In a season ravaged by Covid-19 cases and injury they still managed to reach the last eight of a debut Europa League campaign, dumping out Napoli along the way and winning plenty of plaudits for their spirit and determination. That Granada were forced to fulfil a fixture away at Real Sociedad despite only having five regular first team players to call upon is an illustration of the struggles overcome in order to finish in a respectable ninth position.


Weaknesses: Granada conceded more goals in LaLiga than anyone else last season, a whopping 65, so that’s an obvious area to improve. When the defence was breached, there was a tendency for it to collapse, so Robert Moreno must address that.


Transfer business: Veteran striker Carlos Bacca, fresh from winning the Europa League with Villarreal, has been brought in to fill the Roberto Soldado-shaped hole up front, while 21-year-old midfielder Monchu has arrived from Barcelona to replace Yangel Herrera, who was on loan from Manchester City.


Fan view (Heath Chesters, @HeathGCF): "Following a string of notable departures, particularly that of hugely successful manager Diego Martínez and his achievements over the last three seasons, there's an inevitable sense of trepidation ahead of the 2021/22 season amongst Granada fans. That said, Robert Moreno is keen to make a good impression and even met representatives from all the leading fan groups during pre-season, a nice touch that speaks volumes of his own personality. He explained that he’d like to see Granada return to Europe again, although that could be a tall order during his first campaign at the helm. So long as the fans are able to see plenty of commitment from the team, they'll be happy. Granada fans have always preferred substance over style. Finishing around mid-table or higher would achieve consistency and further stability for the club, although there's enough quality in the squad to push higher."


LLL prediction: 14th


Getafe

Preview by Alex Brotherton


The winds of change are certainly blowing at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. After five fruitful seasons under the divisive José Bordalás, which included a memorable European campaign, Getafe decided to try a different approach, hiring the more expansive, attack-minded Míchel. It was probably the right time for change; 2020/21 was Getafe’s worst season under Bordalás, uninspiring performances and the predictability of their trademark rough-and-tumble style resulting in a 15th-placed finish. Míchel has publicly stated that he’s aiming for a top eight finish and a Copa del Rey final, a fairly realistic target given the talent at his disposal. The first challenge? An opening day trip to Bordalás’ Valencia.


Strengths: Getafe are defensively sound, conceding 43 goals last season – fewer than eight of the 14 sides that finished above them in the table. Djené Dakonam impressed in the heart of the defence, and when called upon, keeper David Soria was usually in fine form. The arrival of Stefan Mitrović will further bolster the backline.


Weaknesses: Drastic improvement is required in the goalscoring department. No team tallied less than Getafe’s 28 league goals last season, with joint top scorers Jaime Mata and Ángel Rodríguez only bagging five each. The latter has since left for Real Mallorca, perhaps affording Enes Ünal a chance to become the main man.


Transfer business: The arrivals of Carles Aleñá and Vitolo, on a permanent deal and loan respectively, are smart deals, and should go some way to boosting midfield creativity. New strikers Darío Poveda and José Macías, the latter a highly-rated Mexican, signed on loan from Chivas, should provide some much-needed spark up front.


Fan view (Dominic Tancock, @dorsetdom1905): “Exit Bordalás and welcome back to Míchel. The new dawn comes with new players, with Vitolo arriving on a free from Atletico and Hugo Duro back in the fold. I’m delighted that Aleñá has been made permanent as he looks a class act. Mitrović adds steel to the back line and is a perfect ‘Getafe’ style player. Hopefully we will be slightly more easy on the eye this season, but much might depend on Marc Cucurella and Mauro Arambarri’s next moves – if they stay we can be mid-table, maybe top 10, especially with fans back in the Coliseum.”


LLL prediction: 15th


Cádiz

Preview by Sam Leveridge


Álvaro Cervera wrote himself into Cádiz's history books by securing promotion to Primera but retaining the club's top flight status has only further cemented his place as a legend. A strong start to the campaign allowed Cádiz's boisterous fans to dream, and the side faded later on in the campaign but did enough to secure another season in the elite. A 12th-placed finish was the club's best since 1988, but this season the pressure will be on to match that.


Strengths: Cádiz became specialists in providing upsets last season, beating both Real Madrid and Barcelona, impressively avoiding defeat to Barcelona in either of their meetings. Cervera's tactical set-up means that Cádiz know how to play well against confident, offensive sides, and have proven that they can operate as a unit. In the likes of José Mari and Álvaro Negredo, they have experienced leaders, while Conan Ledesma in goal was one of last season's revelations.


Weaknesses: Only Granada conceded more goals than Cádiz last season, often with those goals coming in big thrashings. Heavy defeats to Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid may be expected, but conceding four to Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad and Athletic Club is a bigger concern. Cervera has plenty of options in defence, but has struggled to pick a regular, consistent, back four.


Transfer business: Cádiz have been busy with a whopping eight signings coming in to date, with Ledesma turning his loan deal permanent being the star attraction. One to keep an eye out for is Chilean holding midfielder Tomás Alarcón, with his hard-working and combative style. Víctor Chust has also joined on loan from Real Madrid, despite previously being tipped as one of Carlo Ancelotti's options at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, so he will be hoping for regular game time to justify his decision and is very highly-rated.


Fan view (Sergio Vargas, @CadizAnalytics): “The only real expectation any Cádiz fan should have is to stay up another season and consolidate the team in LaLiga. It's difficult to say right now with the summer transfer window still open but I believe it is quite possible that we will suffer more than last season. What Cervera managed to achieve last season with the squad is something remarkable. Hopefully the new signings will adapt well and will improve the team, but we still need a few experienced players that will help us throughout the season. I believe we will stay up, but it's going to take a lot of work and probably a bit of suffering.”


LLL prediction: 16th



Alavés

Preview by Sam Leveridge


As seems to be an annual occasion, Alavés left it late but managed to turn things around and avoid the drop in 2020/21. Heading into their centenary season, Pablo Machín could not implement his philosophy and the return of Abelardo was a complete disaster, conceding five goals in a single game more often than he won. Javi Calleja's arrival turned things around, and Alavés' talented squad lived to fight another day.


Strengths: Coach Calleja. The former Villarreal manager took over in April and Alavés lost only two of his nine games in charge, compared to six defeats from the previous nine, earning him a new two-year contract. Popular at the club and across LaLiga, his more open and expansive style has earned plaudits and he hasn't shied away from taking big decisions like letting influential players leave the club. Alavés is a club in need of a long-term plan for change, and Calleja could well be that man.


Weaknesses: A squad with Alavés' attacking options should be confident of scoring goals, but there are plenty of doubts. Lucas Pérez was sidelined over personal issues last season and is yet to score in 2021, while leading scorer Joselu has been linked with Sevilla all summer. Even should he stay, still a distinct possibility with Alavés reportedly having offered him a new contract, questions will be asked over his pre-season preparations.


Transfer business: Outgoings have largely been more controversial than incomings, with club captain and legend Manu García departing, only to be replaced by a younger midfielder of the same name from Sporting Gijón. Joining on loan, Manu García the second is tipped for greatness after making his Spain debut earlier this year and could prove to be a promising acquisition. Rodrigo Ely, Deyverson and Rodrigo Battaglia have all been allowed to depart after loans and contracts ended, while Florian Lejeune and Facundo Pellestri have both returned, the former permanently. Toni Moya arrives from Atlético Madrid to add depth and Taichi Hara provides an intriguing attacking option while speculation continues over whether Joselu will remain at the club.


Fan view (@BanquilloAlbia1): “Alavés start the season with the big signing for most fans being the coach, Javi Calleja. His style of play, his hope, his professionalism and his positivity is making a lot of us believe in him blindly, we know we have a proper coach with him. Our signings include a lot of gambles. Lejeune returning permanently is the most significant to date, he ended the season as the most reliable and in form. Taichi Hara is an exotic signing, he did well in Croatia but our league is quite a lot more demanding. Manu García and Ivan Marín have smashed it in Segunda, and Toni Moya and Carlos Isaac bring new life to Alavés. With fans back at Mendizorroza, Calleja’s good work, and if we can keep good players, I’m hoping for a season without too much suffering to achieve our objective again, which is to stay up in Primera for another year.”


LLL prediction: 17th


Real Mallorca

Preview by Matt Clark


The island side returned to LaLiga at the first attempt, winning automatic promotion by finishing 2nd in Segunda last season. Level on points with champions Espanyol, Luis García Plaza’s side were just pipped to the title on head-to-head.


Strengths: Midfield. The majority of Mallorca’s quality is concentrated in the central third. Salva Sevilla and Dani Rodríguez dovetail beautifully, dictating the tempo of games as required. If they can make the step up in level and maintain these performances, that should stand Mallorca in good stead.


Weaknesses: Goals. Despite amassing 82 points in Segunda, they only scored 54 goals in 42 games, 17 fewer than Espanyol. To survive in LaLiga, teams usually need either a solid defence or a regular goal-scorer. Mallorca appear to be lacking in the goals department, but that could yet change.


Transfer business: Since Mallorca were last in LaLiga, they have sold Ante Budimir to Osasuna while young prodigy Luka Romero has moved to Lazio. In terms of reinforcements, they have signed goalkeeper Dominik Greif, Amath N’Diaye permanently and Ángel Rodríguez. The latter will bring experience, graft and goals. The free transfer of Jaume Costa and the loan of Pablo Maffeo will bring quality to the full-back areas, another area which needed addressing.


Fan view (Paul McGarraghy, @PaulMcGarraghy): “I’m feeling optimistic. The club seems to have learnt the lessons from 2019/20 in terms of personnel. The additions have all been sensible so far. The manager has really made a difference; he seems to have made the team more cohesive and more united. He seems a pragmatist and able to identify when change is needed during a game – something I felt the previous manager [Vicente Moreno] lacked. It feels like the squad and more importantly the club as a whole is just all round better prepared this time around. This is a squad with good chemistry and has the right balance between quality and personality – particularly in the midfield. The lack of a star goal-scorer is the biggest worry at the moment. Goals keep you up and I am a bit worried. A reasonable achievement would be avoiding relegation. It’s so important to stay up this year from both footballing and commercial points of view. If Mallorca can avoid the drop then I believe there is enough groundwork already laid for the project to grow”.


LLL prediction: 18th


Rayo Vallecano

Preview by Matt Clark


Rayo Vallecano were the late chargers into the Segunda play-offs, and as is often the case, they carried that momentum forward, seeing off Leganés and then Girona to win promotion after two seasons away.


Strengths: The coach. Andoni Iraola has been impressive in his first two seasons. After taking Mirandés on a terrific Copa del Rey run in 2019/20, promotion with Rayo has raised his stock higher still. Many observers will be watching his progress keenly.


Weaknesses: Rayo’s success last season caught everyone by surprise, so making the step up could be difficult. Off the field, tensions between fans and president Raúl Martín Presa have been bubbling for some time. Any further complications could derail their survival bid.


Transfer business: Rayo moved quickly to snap up highly-rated Fran García on a permanent deal. Perhaps their most notable signings have been the midfield pair from Fuenlabrada. Randy Nteka and Pathé Ciss will bring depth, physicality and quality to their engine room.


Fan view (Paul Reidy, @paulreidy67): “To be frank, the optimism levels are low. Going into the last round of fixtures last season, no-one expected Rayo to get a play-off place, let alone secure the final promotion spot. This is still very much a Segunda División side and sporting director David Cobeño has acknowledged that the club needs at least six more additions. The strength of the squad is having experienced players with many of the first team having played at the top level previously (Óscar Trejo, Bebé, Mario Suárez). The depth however is a major concern. Rayo will also be handicapped by the (totally understandable) stadium restrictions with the compact ground well known for being a "hostile place" for visiting sides, with the proximity to the pitch traditionally always an advantage. The ongoing long-running tension between fans and club president Raúl Martin Presa is another area of concern. Argentine captain Oscar Trejo, back at the club for his second spell, is a vital figure, he is the lynchpin of the side. Isi Palazón is another key cog in the wheel and was possibly the player of the season last year. Finishing 17th would be a significant achievement for the club. I hope that the social fractures between the boardroom and supporters can be bridged as at a small club with the profile and size of Rayo, harmony and the unconditional support of the fan base is vital.”


LLL prediction: 19th



Elche

Preview by Alex Brotherton


2020/21 was Elche’s first season back in LaLiga after five years away, and they survived by the skin of their teeth. The campaign began in the worst possible circumstances, with popular coach Pacheta leaving just weeks after securing promotion. Jorge Almirón came and went, before Fran Escribá arrived in February. Despite spending 14 of the last 19 matchdays in the relegation zone, a final day win against Athletic Club, coupled with Huesca’s inability to beat Valencia, saw Los Franjiverdes leapfrog Huesca and avoid the drop.


Strengths: Despite things rarely going their way last season, Elche’s spirit and togetherness was admirable. The players were always fully committed in the face of managerial chopping and changing, and that dedication inspired a close bond between players and fans; the raucous final day atmosphere at the Estadio Martínez Valero showed that. It’s hard to see this season being any easier for Elche than last, but with the same attitude, anything is possible.


Weaknesses: Elche need to create more. According to FBREF, last season they ranked 20th for shot-creating actions per 90 minutes (10.5), and 18th for goal-creating actions per 90 minutes (1.34). It’s cliché, but goals win games. If Elche had a stonewall defence then it wouldn’t matter so much, but they don’t.


Transfer business: New centre-backs Pedro Bigas and Enzo Roco, signed from Eibar and Karagümrük respectively, will look to shore up a defence that conceded 55 goals in 38 games last season. Loan deals for defensive midfielder Iván Marcone and striker Lucas Boyé have been made permanent, both smart decisions given their importance last season.


Fan view (Keith Farnan, @keith_678): “After defying the odds to stay up last year, I truly believe we can do it again. With Escribá having a chance to put his own stamp on the squad, I’m optimistic. Having tied Boyé down to a permanent deal, managing to hold on Édgar Badía (so far) and the smart signings of Roco and Bigas, I feel like the squad depth is improving. I think we’ll defy most people’s expectations, but it will be tough. My prediction is a very hopeful, perhaps unrealistic, mid-table finish.”


LLL prediction: 20th


Want more? Pondering over what Míchel achieved in his first spell at Getafe to make Ángel Torres fall in love with him? Or just fascinated by the chaos that is Rayo Vallecano? Join us on Twitter at @LaLigaLowdown.