La Liga Lowdown
LaLiga 2021/22 Season Preview & Predictions: Our Top Half
Ahead of the season kicking off on Friday 13th August, we delve into each and every LaLiga team. In addition to our podcast preview, you can read on to discover analysis of strengths, weaknesses, transfer business, what fans of each club are expecting, and our official La Liga Lowdown squad prediction for every team.
Preview by Sam Leveridge
The reigning LaLiga champions, Atlético will be looking to do what they haven't done since 1951: Win back-to-back Primera División titles. Los Colchoneros stunned many with their incredible start to the previous campaign, showing attacking flair and guile which had been sorely absent from Diego Simeone's set-up in recent years. A nail-biting end to the campaign was enough to keep Atleti fans on the edge of their seat, but victory was to belong to the red and white stripes of the Spanish capital.
Strengths: Unlike after their unexpected LaLiga win in 2014, Atlético Madrid have kept the core of their squad together with only fringe players being moved on. With Jan Oblak in goal, Atleti know that they won't concede many, and the club have managed to keep hold of integral elements of their play, namely three crucial wide players in Kieran Trippier, Marcos Llorente and Yannick Carrasco, who bombard the flanks with energy and pace to tear teams to shreds.
Weaknesses: Atlético faded significantly in the 2021 calendar year and could be under even more pressure this time around as they head into the campaign as favourites. A real reason for that is the reliance on Luis Suárez in attack. Without reinforcements this summer, despite links to Rafa Mir, Simeone has no choice but to exhaust his Uruguayan centre-forward when he's chasing goals.
Transfer business: Rodrigo de Paul is arguably the star arrival in LaLiga this summer. After lighting up the Copa América alongside Lionel Messi, he heads to Madrid to play for Diego Simeone’s side eight years after the coach declared his admiration for the midfielder. Youngster Marcos Paul has also arrived from Fluminense, though he’s likely to have a bit-part role to play, replacing Vitolo as the reserve option on the flanks. More exits are likely, with third-choice right-back Santiago Arias and back-up goalkeeper Ivo Grbić among those linked with moves away.
Fan view (Brendy Boyle, @BrendyBoyle): “Looking at the state of affairs at both Real Madrid and Barcelona, Atleti look locked and loaded for another very successful season. The experience gained from winning the league last time around will be invaluable; it’s still a relatively young team; and the arrival of De Paul should really give them an extra bit of ‘verticality’ and drive right though the middle. And if João Félix can finally come good, Atletico have every right to consider them as favourites to win the league. They are still short of something in attack and I’d expect strengthening in that department. All in all, Atleti are in great shape; Simeone looks reinvigorated after winning LaLiga for a second time as Atleti boss and he is ready to go again. Atlético to win the league.”
LLL prediction: 1st
Preview by Hasan Karim
Last season seems to be as if it were in a different reality for Real Madrid. Despite a squad decimated by injuries, they fought to the last round in LaLiga, ultimately finishing second and made the Champions League semi-finals. However, this summer has been a whirlwind. Zinedine Zidane left, along with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. With Carlo Ancelotti at the helm and just the one signing made, Real are already in something of a crisis before a ball has been kicked.
Strengths: Whilst Real Madrid have certainly lost some very important figures, they have gained some good assets in the process. David Alaba has joined the club and multiple loan players have returned including Gareth Bale, Martin Ødegaard, Dani Ceballos and Luka Jovic. Los Blancos lacked depth, as they were ravaged by injuries last season. With added players, they may finally be able to rest players adequately, which is important given some of the advanced ages of players in the squad.
Weaknesses: Real Madrid’s main weakness has been something that has stared them in the face, for a few seasons now. The club still massively lacks in proven goalscoring players. Aside Benzema, no other player tends to shoulder the burden. In his first stint, Carlo Ancelotti often worked on outscoring his opponents, with this current squad, the Italian is certainly tasked with an uphill battle in the goals department.
Transfer business: It has been a very quiet summer for Real in the way of signings. David Alaba has been the only new face signed by the club, outside of the returning loanees. Madridistas have also been forced to wave goodbye to defensive mainstays, Ramos and Varane – just two names in the many sold, as part of Florentino Pérez’s piggy-bank fund, seemingly in aid of bringing in a superstar signing.
Fan view (Om Arvind, @OmVAsports): "Any optimism about the new life Carlo Ancelotti might inject into Real Madrid has been tempered by the realisation that the team will be worse than last season. Critical veterans are one year older and the departure of Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane leaves the defense thin. There is also the prospect of dumping further assets to go all in on Kylian Mbappé, signifying that there is to be some short-term suffering before Madrid can field a fully rounded squad. Nevertheless, with Barcelona in limbo and Atlético being good but not great, the title is still there for the taking. Mounting a successful challenge will require some growth from young places and a similarly reliable defensive structure as the 2019/20 side. There is reason to be skeptical of both happening, but if Carlo can prioritise the likes of Martin Ødegaard and institute a faster, more vertical style of play, there could be a path to raising the ceiling of this team."
LLL prediction: 2nd
Preview by Alex Brotherton
If there is one word that describes Barcelona’s 2020/21 season, it’s chaos. The cloud that formed over the Camp Nou during the Lionel Messi burofax saga never really lifted, and when wage-cut disputes and the highest profile presidential election in modern history followed, it seemed that crisis was never-ending. Two Clásico defeats, Champions League humiliation at the hands of PSG and a first third-place LaLiga finish since 2008 represented a disappointing season on the pitch, although there were some encouraging signs. An excellent string of results post-Christmas showed that Barça aren’t due for the scrap-heap just yet, while the emergence of youngsters like Pedri and Ilaix Moriba was encouraging. Lifting the Copa del Rey gave culés something positive to remember the season by.
Strengths: Even in what was by their standards a disappointing season, Barça still scored shed-loads of goals (85 to be exact), many of which came from overlap situations on the wings. Jordi Alba and Sergiño Dest are incredibly hard to stop once in full flight, and the new signings will give them even more deadly finishers to pick out in and around the penalty area.
Weaknesses: Barcelona’s problem lies in what to do when the opponent has the ball. Going forward the Catalans are imperious as ever, but last season it was too easy to score against them. The team’s ageing core of Busquets, Piqué and Alba looked vulnerable when out of possession, so phasing the trio out may be the only option. The problem wasn’t helped by seemingly unshakeable lapses in concentration, individual errors and dips in confidence from practically every defensive player. You can’t concede an average of one goal a game if you want to win the title.
Transfer business: Beyond the obvious departure of Lionel Messi, owing to their precarious financial situation, Barça have mainly stuck to signing free agents. Memphis Depay and Sergio Agüero will look to fill the Luís Suárez-shaped hole that hurt the Blaugrana last season, while Eric García and Emerson Royal (the latter costing €12 million) add defensive depth.
Fan view (Kevin Williams, @kevvwill): "Ronald Koeman has an astonishing collection of talent at his beck and call, and how he manages that talent will be decisive in what the club does in the coming months. Most significantly, does Koeman have a heart? Or more correctly, is Koeman heartless? Three linchpins in Busquets, Alba and Piqué have to be phased out this season. Last year it was too easy to score against us, and all three of those players had key roles in that ease. Koeman will have to trust in youth from top to bottom and be fearless in understanding what the team's needs are. Whether he will be allowed to meet those needs due to politics and supporter pressure is yet another matter. I’m excited for a new season, but also apprehensive because of extra-sporting factors that will almost certainly have an effect on the season."
LLL prediction: 3rd
Preview by Hasan Karim
Sevilla’s ascension under Julen Lopetegui has been nothing short of impressive. The Andalusian club has enjoyed a sustained period of success and improvement under the former Spain coach, with an exciting project that only seems to be growing. After finishing 4th in LaLiga last season, Sevilla come into 21/22 with plenty to be confident about.
Strengths: Boasting a squad full of top tier talent, Sevilla has kept hold of all of their main stars. Whilst the future of Jules Koundé has been in question, the Frenchman has remained at the club – which is a huge bonus for Lopetegui and co. With the additions of Erik Lamela and Marko Dmitrović, they have certainly somewhat strengthened too.
Weaknesses: Perhaps the main concern for Sevilla could be in the goals department. Whilst Youssef En-Nesyri did score 18 in LaLiga last season, questions were raised over his ability to sustain that form over a length of time. With Luuk de Jong failing to contribute much as a back-up, there could be a struggle for goals in attack.
Transfers: The club notably let go of young star Bryan Gil in exchange for cash plus Lamela from Tottenham Hotspur. This was a deal met with mixed reaction, given the potential Gil had shown on loan at Eibar. However, they did replace the outgoing Tomáš Vaclík with Eibar stalwart, Dmitrović.
Fan view (Chris Lail, @ChrisLail): "This has been a bit of an unusual off-season for Sevillistas; into August with only two signings thus far. The reason being, Jules Koundé. The young Frenchman will move this offseason and once that happens, Monchi can make the moves he feels will keep Sevilla in the top 4 and drive to even higher goals. Losing Koundé will hurt as our third-ranked defence will suffer. Can the team overcome such a loss and add key pieces to strive for that quarter-final Champions League goal and a top-three finish? In Monchi we trust. I think the lack of movement in the roster will allow for this team to reach our goals and continue to surprise the critics."
LLL prediction: 4th
Preview by Hasan Karim
After a historic campaign in 20/21, where Villarreal won the Europa League title, their slip to seventh place in the league was largely forgotten. A somewhat underwhelming league finish aside, Unai Emery’s side certainly showcased some growth, with plenty to come based on what we saw in 20/21.
Strengths: Heading into the season, Villarreal have secured the future of Juan Foyth, who shone for them on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, and added another defensive option in Aïssa Mandi from Real Betis. As a result, Villarreal’s squad depth is that little bit stronger than it was in the previous campaign.
Weaknesses: Whilst they have certainly got depth in some areas, there is still a lack of depth in others, particularly with the goals department. Gérard Moreno shone for Villarreal last season, however, aside him there weren’t many goal getters within the side. As they head into the Champions League and higher up the league table, they may find themselves in need of more fire power.
Fan view (Zach Hicks, @VillarrealUSA): "I don't think any Villarreal fans expected massive squad renovations this summer, it's not our way. So, the main thing came down to keeping the guys we had and bolstering a few key areas. I'm very pleased with the Mandi signing and with making Foyth permanent/bringing [Manu] Morlanes back into the fold, jury is still out on [Boulaye] Dia. Whether our table position improves on last year will largely depend, I think, on how Champions League goes. If we make the Champions League knock-outs, we'll probably be done with Europe sooner and put greater focus on the league. Otherwise we'll be chasing another Europa League title and our league place with suffer as a result. Either way, it looks to be a really fun year for Villarreal."
LLL prediction: 5th
Preview by Hasan Karim
La Real head into the upcoming campaign, buoyed by what was quite a successful 20/21 season. The Basque club won the Copa Del Rey and finished 5th in LaLiga, despite enduring something of a slump toward the end of 2020. The club has begun their preseason on form, picking up wins in all but one of their games so far. With momentum seemingly starting to roll, they could be in for another successful season in 21/22.
Strengths: Los Txuri-Urdin have been seen as a side with potential to be in and around the top sides in the league. Perhaps their biggest strength coming into the campaign is very much the fact they have kept hold of their young stars. Mikel Oyarzabal and Alexander Isak, in particular have been persistently linked with moves, however the Swede has signed a new long-term deal and the Spaniard has remained too. With both sticking around, they could very well spearhead the side into the Champions League places this year.
Weaknesses: While David Silva has proven to be a top quality addition to this side when he joined last season, the former Manchester City man did struggle with injury. La Real still miss a creative force in the middle of the park particularly since Martin Ødegaard returned to Real Madrid, and with no signings seemingly coming, a lack of refresh in this department could hurt them down the line.
Transfer business: The window has been quiet for La Real at both ends, other than returning loan players, the club has made just the one signing in goalkeeper, Mat Ryan. They have seen no players depart the club as of yet in the window. The Basque club have reportedly showed interest in re-signing Martin Ødegaard, however, they would need to sell before looking into a potential transfer for the Norwegian.
Fan view (Kem, @TxuriBleu): "Despite having to go through a long winless streak at the end of 2020, Real Sociedad still managed to secure a Europa League spot. Thanks to an 86th-minute winner from Alexander Isak, who has been in an incredible run of form since the second half of the 20/21 season started. Furthermore, the outstanding performance he displayed in the Euros to top off his breakthrough season can only mean that it's all just the beginning for the Swedish international. All in all, I think Real Sociedad could step up a gear and aim for the much-coveted Champions League spot. Although they were a level below Sevilla last season, many La Real players are entering their prime and have gained plenty of experience from playing multiple competitions last season, including European football as well as a Copa del Rey final where they came up victorious against their true-born rival Athletic Club. Mikel Oyarzabal, Alexander Isak, David Silva, Mikel Merino, and the gaffer himself Imanol Alguacil are expected to become the main inspiration for the rest of the team."
LLL prediction: 6th
Preview by Matt Clark
After a disappointing 2019/20, Betis enjoyed a positive campaign last season. Manuel Pellegrini navigated them to a 6th-place finish and Europa League qualification. They also enjoyed a run to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.
Strengths: Manuel Pellegrini is one of the most experienced and respected coaches in the division. His tactical approach has enabled Betis to be a more rounded side, and matches are less chaotic than under his predecessors. His past European exploits should be a definite advantage as Los Verdiblancos look to make a mark on the continental stage once again. Also, the team has a very strong midfield. Sergio Canales was the indisputable MVP for Betis last season, leading the team for goals. Adding the mercurial talent of Nabil Fekir, the ageless Joaquín still going past 40 and the young talent in the shape of Diego Lainez, Betis have a lot of creative depth.
Weaknesses: Betis' defence has so often been their Achilles’ heel and it continues to be a potential area of concern for Pellegrini. With 50 goals conceded last season in LaLiga – as many as they scored – they cannot afford to be as leaky as they approach this campaign. The loss of Aïssa Mandi to direct rivals Villarreal was a stinging blow to their backline.
Transfers: The aforementioned Mandi and Emerson Royal are significant losses, but they have bolstered their ranks with the free transfers of Rui Silva and Youssouf Sabaly. Juan Miranda has also made his move permanent. Rui Silva in particular is a genuine upgrade between the posts, and has recent European pedigree with Granada.
Fan view (Andrew Miller, @AndrewMillerNBA): “It’s tough to gauge where Real Betis are right now. On one hand, there has to be an element of optimism and positivity following such a successful league campaign. On the other hand, there are still a lot of gaps within the squad that need to be filled. Most fans will be expecting a good performance across all three competitions. At a minimum, Betis should be aiming to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League and ideally another decent cup run after last year’s quarter final. The main priority, however, will be ensuring they qualify for Europe again beyond this season. Borja Iglesias for me is the key player. Having a strong goal-threat up front is something the club have lacked for a few seasons now and his ability to put the ball in the net really shone through at the end of last year when they needed it most.”
LLL prediction: 7th
Preview by Matt Clark
The appointment of Chacho Coudet changed everything at Balaídos, improving their fortunes on the pitch and increasing the optimism of the fanbase. They ended the season 8th, and threatened to make a late charge for Europe.
Strengths: In attack. Coudet has radicalised the approach with a heavy focus on intense attacking football, and the profiles of Celta’s forwards blend together superbly. They also have plenty of stars. Iago Aspas continues to deliver, but it is no longer a one-man show. Renato Tapia was also one of their standout performers last season.
Weaknesses: In defence. For all their exciting football, the defence can look exposed and vulnerable. If they want to push for Europe this season, they will need to tighten up. The centre-back depth is also cause for concern.
Transfer business: Celta have strengthened with the additions of goalkeeper Matías Dituro, winger Franco Cervi and full-back Javi Galán. The latter is undoubtedly one of the signings of the summer. A revelation at Huesca, the lack of clubs battling for his signature was surprising. A steal at just €4 million, it is a strong statement of intent from Celta.
Fan view (Ian Morris, @Celta USA): “Coudet took a lifeless but talented squad and rejuvenated it last season. Celta has a wealth of attacking options, including the legendary Iago Aspas, goal-scorer Santi Mina, breakout star Brais Méndez, new addition Franco Cervi, conductor of the attack Denis Suárez and the ageless Nolito. All of these are put into a position to succeed in Coudet’s aggressive 4-1-3-2 formation. The defence, as always, should be the team’s biggest weakness. Even more pressure is put on them due to Coudet’s offensively-slanted scheme. Without Tapia’s tactical intelligence, physical presence and defensive organisation, this team wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is. Celta can and should fight for European positions this season and look to push deep into the Copa del Rey. The increase in squad depth should help us compete with other mid-high tier sides for those coveted positions and give us the chance to return to Europe for the first time since 16/17.”
LLL prediction: 8th
Preview by Sam Leveridge
Marcelino's side will be hoping to kick on after irregular form over the past 18 months. Struggling under Gaizka Garitano, Marcelino's arrival helped Los Leones to dream of a late cruise to Europe, but it was eventually too little, too late for the Basque side. With Real Sociedad now firmly on top as the better side in the region, Athletic are keen to get back on track and keep up their form from the second half of last season.
Strengths: Athletic have one of the best coaches in LaLiga in Marcelino, a man who knows how to organise his teams and how to make them win. Combined with a golden generation of Basque defenders, from Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche out wide to Iñigo Martínez and Yeray Álvarez in the middle, you can count on Athletic to keep the goals conceded figure low, even when Unai Simón is missing after taking part in both Euro 2020 and the Olympics for Spain.
Weaknesses: Athletic are desperately missing a goalscorer. Iñaki Williams is far from prolific, Raúl García isn't getting any younger, Asier Villalibre struggles to convert minutes into goals and there's no sign of any fresh hope. For as strong as this side's defence can be, and is, that can only take them so far until the number of goals scored picks up.
Transfer business: The only club yet to sign any first team player at all, there have been murmurs that Marcelino is growing frustrated with the club’s lack of transfer activity. The only arrival to date has been Real Sociedad B captain Álex Petxarroman, who provides cover at right-back having impressed for Xabi Alonso's team. In terms of outgoings, deadwood like Iago Herrerín and Ibai Gómez have been moved on.
Fan view (Beñat Gutiérrez, @beinatguti): "Athletic fans face the start of LaLiga still suffering from the painful defeats in the Copa del Rey finals but excited about a new generation of players who are knocking on San Mamés' doors. Summer has been painfully uneventful in Bilbao, especially considering that Marcelino made clear he wanted a lean squad. A week from the start of the competition, he still has 30 players. If that wasn't enough, Yuri underwent ill-timed surgery at the start of the preseason and he'll be out for the first two months of LaLiga. Marcelino's main challenge is not to obtain immediate results but to undertake a well needed renovation in the squad. It's going to be a crucial year for players like Oihan Sancet, who enjoyed Marcelino's confidence last season, and for Unai Vencedor and Oier Zarraga, who needs to prove they are solid alternatives in the midfield to replace the not such a fan favorite Dani García. With growing concerns about Raúl García ageing, Iñaki Williams needs to step up and finally deliver what fans expect of him. He won't be alone though, the younger Williams, Nico, will be on his side as one of the most thrilling rising stars at Athletic."
LLL prediction: 9th
Preview by Sam Leveridge
No longer the new boys in LaLiga, Osasuna are now looking to push on and towards the top half of the table. Firmly established in Primera and investing well on and off the pitch, star talent Jon Moncayola showed his commitment by signing 10-year contract with his boyhood club. That's testament to the promise that Osasuna have to offer this season and beyond.
Strengths: Osasuna's attacking options are among the best in LaLiga. The permanent addition of Ante Budimir and free transfer signing Kike García join a fit again Chimy Ávila in a deadly trio in attack. Another big bonus for Jagoba Arrasate's men this season is that fans will be back at El Sadar. They went 31 games unbeaten at home until November 2019, and making home turf a fortress with their raucous fans backing them will be essential, especially after renovations were carried out while fans were away.
Weaknesses: Consistency. There can be little questioning Osasuna's quality in some areas of the squad, but a lack of stand-out talent means that there can be little room for mistake. Players like goalkeeper Sergio Herrera are capable of winning points single-handedly on their best day, but also throwing them away on their worst. Osasuna's other criticism has been a lack of a plan B in their approach, but new arrivals could change that.
Transfer business: It’s been a good summer for Osasuna. Ante Budimir and Kike García are the headline acts, but retaining loanee Jonás Ramalho from Girona is more strong business. Left-back Cote has come in from relegated Eibar after being one of few to impress last season, while Jesús Areso is a promising addition from Athletic Club.
Fan view (Natxo Torné, @groundhopperbcn): “Keep the faith. Club Atlético Osasuna continues one more year with Jagoba Arrasate's project with great performances and a team with a vast identity. Ante Budimir seems like a big-money move for Osasuna, but people agree he's done very well, and the team adds strike-power with Kike García. Finally, let's see if Chimy can be back. Otherwise, the central pillar for Osasuna has been keeping Navarre's talent Jon Moncayola in Pamplona. This makes the difference when it comes to future projects in Osasuna.”
LLL prediction: 10th
Want more? Craving some tactical analysis of what to expect from Chacho Coudet's first full season at Celta Vigo? Or just intrigued to see how many full-backs Unai Emery has in his squad this season? Join us on Twitter at @LaLigaLowdown.