La Liga Preview: 10 Predictions for the 2012-13 Season in Spain

Michael CernaCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2012

La Liga Preview: 10 Predictions for the 2012-13 Season in Spain

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    We are now just days away from the opening match of the 2012-2013 La Liga season and fans are desperate for the new campaign to start.

    The transfer window is not closed yet, but already we have seen some major moves around the league.

    Malaga's financial troubles have caused some major sales while Valencia has gotten even stronger despite losing Jordi Alba.

    Many other clubs will line up very differently from last season while Real Madrid and Barcelona will keep their core the same.

    Last season, Levante was Europe's biggest success story in a time where financial powerhouses dominate every league. Will there be a similar team to emerge this season?

    What follows are 10 predictions about the upcoming La Liga season in Spain.

    Some are bold, some not so much. Either way, all of them should create some discussion among you readers.

Xavi's Assist Record Will Fall

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    During Barcelona's historic 2008-2009, Xavi set a new standard in La Liga, earning 20 assists in the league.

    Last season, Mezut Ozil led all of Europe with 17 assists. Even more impressive was his teammate Angel di Maria who managed 15 assists despite starting just 16 matches.

    With Ozil and di Maria in the best form of their careers and feeding the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Gonzalo Higuain, Xavi's assist record could be broken by either or both of them.

    Health will be the only concern for these two.

The Fight for Spots 3-6 Will Be the Best in Europe

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    Last season, readers who followed my weekly league review articles saw the closest race for the top six that Europe has seen in quite some time.

    In the end, Atletico fell just short of the Champions League while Levante shocked us all and filled the sixth spot.

    This season, there is simply no way of knowing who will qualify.

    Atletico Madrid should challenge Valencia for third place, but we have seen them disappoint with strong squads in recent years.

    Athletic Bilbao appear to be the other challengers to target a Champions League place, but internal problems with Marcelo Bielsa may prove too great a distraction.

    There are plenty of squads that were very close to the top six last season or have improved enough to make a serious run at Europa League qualification this year.

    Valencia, Atletico, Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Getafe, Malaga, and even Espanyol could all challenge for a top six finish.

    The league title race is the most predictable of all major European leagues, but the fight for the top six is the closest and most unpredictable of all.

Rayo Vallecano Will Struggle to Stay in La Primera

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    No offense to Andrija Delibasic, but when the Montenegrin is a club's biggest scoring threat, you know they're in trouble.

    Rayo avoided relegation in the dying seconds of last season in one of the most emotional moments of the year.

    After losing their most dynamic player, Michu, to England, they will struggle in the front half—unless Leo Baptistao proves to be as good as the club and I say he can be.

    Unfortunately, they not only sold Michu at a bargain rate, they also could not really reinvest that money because of their financial struggles.

    Now they have only one top class player in Javi Fuego and a potential breakout star in Baptistao, but little else in terms of star power.

    The Madrid-based side will really struggle this season and will be thankful to stay out of the relegation zone past December.

Atleti and Valencia Will Finish Third and Fourth

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    Valencia

    This summer, Valencia had the best transfer window in La Liga and arguably the best in Europe.

    Los Che filled every need they had. They reinforced the midfield, added or will add a left back, found a right back and new winger, and sold a few players that were no longer needed.

    While teams like Chelsea were equally successful, Valencia did it with far less cash and without ever having a billionaire owner to build their squad in the first place.

    The biggest concern for them will be adjusting to life under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino.

    Atletico Madrid

    Los Colchoneros are every bit as strong as Valencia. They have the best pure striker in Spain, two of the best fullbacks in La Liga, and enough depth to handle three competitions.

    Many players, including Emre, believe the club can even challenge the big two this season. I guarantee that Diego Simeone will have the entire squad believing the same thing.

    There are still plenty of questions, though. How will Raul Garcia perform now that Diego has returned to Wolfsburg? Will he disappoint yet again in Madrid?

    The club also lost yet another highly touted academy player when Alvaro Dominguez left for Germany. Cata Diaz is a solid player, but not really a starter.

    How the central defense holds up could be key to Atletico's season, but MIranda and Diego Godin are certainly capable of forming a truly elite pairing.

Cristiano Ronaldo Will Win the Pichichi Trophy

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    Last season Ronaldo finished four goals behind Lionel Messi's record of 50.

    While neither player is likely to reach that number again, Ronaldo has the better chance of winning it this year.

    Messi

    Last season, Messi scored more goals than any other player in European history. While magnificent, one reason he was able to do that was because of the lack of attacking options at Barcelona.

    Lionel Messi was the most important player to his club in all of Europe, but that hurt his team in the end. Defenses knew that by locking Messi down, they greatly limited the chances for Barcelona to score.

    This year Messi should have Pedro, Villa and Afellay all back from injury. That should see his goal tally decline, but the overall performance of the team improve.

    If he once again has to carry the weight, watch out for a late-season injury to hurt Barcelona this season.

    Ronaldo

    Messi's rival had the opposite happen last season.

    Ronaldo shared the pitch with two strikers who scored over 20 league goals last campaign.

    Since Ronaldo plays out wide and not in a central role like Messi, this worked to his and Madrid's advantage.

    By playing out wide, clubs were less willing to double Ronaldo since that would mean opening up the middle of the pitch.

    Knowing that Benzema or Higuain were there waiting for space to score made the opposition even more unwilling to take that risk.

    This freed up a lot of room for CR7 and he can score from nearly anywhere on the front half with just a few feet of room.

    The same freedom will likely be given this season and Ronaldo will have another monstrous season.

Granada Will Exceed Expectations and Surprise People

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    Last year Granada finished just one point above relegation and hovered around that point basically all season.

    But that is not entirely telling of what to expect this season. Even last year there were positive signs.

    They played both Barcelona and Real Madrid very closely at different points and took points from Bilbao, Atletico, and Malaga.

    Expectations

    This summer Granada was one of the more successful and active clubs in the transfer window.

    They picked up one of the better midfielders in the league when they signed Irney from Real Betis and also used their shared owner to bring a few Udinese players to Los Carmenes.

    Having Guilherme Siqueira and Gabriel Torje will ensure that they will be a fun team to watch.

    Granada will not fight for European qualification, but finishing near the top 10 is a real possibility.

Sevilla Will Make It Back to Europe

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    Last season Sevilla were extremely inconsistent and fell out of the top six.

    There were times where it seemed they had forgotten how to score. At one point, they went eight matches without a win—and five matches without a win a month before.

    Now they look to become one of the most exciting teams in Spain.

    They had a very successful transfer window despite worries that Alvaro Negredo or Gary Medel could leave—though there is still time.

    Starting XI

    Just based on talent, Sevilla's starting 11 is good enough to challenge for the top four as they shift to the 4-3-3.

    They now have one of La Liga's best keepers in Diego Lopez and did well to sign Botia from Sporting Gijon.

    Medel and new signing Hedwig Maduro will join Ivan Rakitic to form a great midfield while Jesus Navas and Jose Antonio Reyes should help Negredo bounce back from a slightly disappointing year.

    If this team can grow to understand each other quickly, they could use a favorable first couple months of fixtures to fire them into the top six.

Vicente Guaita Will Be La Liga's Best Keeper

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    Last season, Vicente Guaita's 76% save percentage was the best in Spain. He also averaged 3.58 saves per game.

    Over the last two seasons, the 25-year-old has grown into one of Spain's best keepers.

    He has been so consistently impressive that he has relegated the talented Diego Alves to Cup games while also forcing Miguel Moya out of the club.

    Breakout Performance

    In Valencia's second match against Real Madrid last season, Guaita outshone Iker Casillas and produced one of the best individual performances of the year with 10 saves against Real's 32 shots.

    The 0-0 draw ended up being one of the most exciting matches of the season despite neither side scoring a goal.

    Now, I am not saying that Guaita will overtake San Iker as the greatest keeper in football. In no way do I think that will happen.

    But I do predict that he will have the best season of any La Liga keeper on the year.

Real Madrid Will Repeat as Champions

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    If you take a quick look at Real Madrid's projected starting 11 for next season, you will see that it may be the best in the world as there is not a single weak spot.

    They have the best keeper in football, two elite center backs, two top left backs, a top five midfielder, two 20+ goal-scoring threats, and one of the two best players in all of football.

    If Real Madrid hold on to Nuri Sahin and Kaka—or sign Luka Modric or another midfielder to replace them—they will also be one of the deepest squads in Europe.

    That is not to say that Barcelona is not equally talented, but there are more concerns going into the season for La Blaugrana.

    As I showed in my article reviewing Barcelona's preseason, there are questions surrounding their defense and even their attack.

    Real Madrid's concerns are less worrying—which I covered here.

    The reigning champions will not only be the favorites to retain the La Liga title, they will also look beyond Spain for silverware.

A La Liga Team Will Win the Champions League

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    While definitely debatable, many fans and analysts would say that Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two best teams in football, despite neither even making the Champions League final last year.

    Barring last season, key players from these two teams have been crowned European champions every year since 2007.

    In 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo helped lead Manchester United to the title. In 2010, Jose Mourinho led Inter Milan to their third trophy.

    In the year between, Barcelona was Europe's best team.

    This season, both teams will be aiming for European glory once again.

    Barcelona will look to win their fourth title in eight years, but will struggle to repeat history and have a new manager lift the Champions League trophy in his first season.

    Real Madrid is currently the stronger of the two and arguably the strongest in Europe. There is no question about what their goals are this season.

    La Liga's two giants will be among the favorites to win Europe's biggest prize by bringing the Champions League trophy back to Spain.

Conclusion

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    So what are your thoughts?

    How do you predict the new La Liga season to go?

    Will Barcelona take the league title back from their rivals or will Real Madrid be too strong for the Catalans?

    Who do you predict will fill the Champions League and Europa League spots?

    Please feel free to leave your comments, questions and predictions below. I look forward to discussing the upcoming season with all of you.

     

    Also check out my other recent columns:

    6 Things We Learned From Barcelona This Summer

    LA Liga Preseason Power Rankings

    Neymar and the Top 15 Young Talents in Football