Picking a Surprise Star for Each La Liga Team This Season
Certain things are to be expected: Cristiano Ronaldo scoring in well near every La Liga game for Real Madrid, for example, or Lionel Messi continuing his record-breaking career with Barcelona.
We can even assume that Luis Suarez will hit the ground running at Camp Nou, and that Mario Mandzukic will help Atletico Madrid supporters forget about Diego Costa.
These players are household names, established superstars.
But each of the Primera Division’s 20 teams will also be looking for surprise performances from unexpected players, and in the following slideshow we’ll have a look at several of them.
Here are 20 footballers—one from each club in the Spanish top flight—who could make a difference by becoming surprise stars in 2014-15.
Almeria: Wellington Silva
Wellington Silva has been on a Spanish loan tour since joining Arsenal from Fluminense in 2011, and this season his port of call will be Andalusian outfit Almeria. The diminutive 21-year-old scored only three goals for Murcia last season but contributed five assists in 39 matches in all competitions.
Athletic Bilbao: Kike Sola
Kike Sola was supposed to make an impact at Athletic Bilbao last season, but injuries derailed his campaign following a summer move from Osasuna. Now fully recovered, the striker seems to be rounding into form and tallied twice in a recent friendly against Getxo.
Atletico Madrid: Saul Niguez
The acquisitions of Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic should keep Atletico Madrid near the top of the table in 2014-15, but the loan return of Saul Niguez from Rayo Vallecano could also prove important to the club’s fortunes. A highly rated midfielder, the 19-year-old will find himself with increased responsibility should Koke or Mario Suarez go down injured.
Rafinha impressed while on loan at Celta Vigo last season, where he happened to work under current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique. Now back at Camp Nou, the versatile 21-year-old is eager to prove himself in the Barcelona first team and could prove to be a vital linking player as veteran Xavi Hernandez takes on a lesser role.
Celta Vigo: Nolito
Nolito is already a star at Celta Vigo, but for the club to improve on its ninth-place finish from last season he will have to become more of a national figure. With 12 La Liga goals in 2013-14, the 27-year-old bounced back following a disappointing campaign split between Benfica and Granada and will no doubt be looking to build on that form over the next few months.
Despite finishing seventh in the Segunda and having none of their players finish among the statistical leaders in any category, Cordoba prevailed in the promotion play-offs and, as a result, will compete in La Liga this season. Xisco—a one-time Newcastle bust—hauled in a decent tally of goals last term and will be counted on to deliver in the top flight in 2014-15.
Deportivo La Coruna: Lucas Perez
Deportivo La Coruna are also back in La Liga after winning promotion from the Segunda, and in June they agreed a loan deal with PAOK winger Lucas Perez. The shifty attacker scored 10 goals in all competitions last season and will be an important figure in the Deportivo attack this term.
Eibar: Xabi Iruretagoiena
Eibar won the Segunda last spring and, as a result, are about to kick off their first-ever season in La Liga. Theirs is a small squad that will likely struggle to score, and as a result goalkeeper Xabi Iruretagoiena will have to be the hero on most nights for his side. The 28-year-old, who is short by goalkeeping standards, signed a two-year contract last February.
Elche: Carlos Sanchez
Elche are another side without an abundance of firepower, which means they’ll have to keep things as tidy as possible in front of their own goal. Enter Carlos Sanchez, who enjoyed a terrific debut season at the club in 2013-14 and will look to provide a necessary shield in front of the back four in the coming season once again.
Espanyol: Hector Moreno
Rafael Marquez got the plaudits, but Hector Moreno was equally solid in defense for Mexico at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The 26-year-old, who joined Espanyol from AZ Alkmaar back in 2011, will get a lot of positive attention should he manage to build on his international form for the Barcelona outfit.
Getafe: Sergio Escudero
Sergio Escudero has competition at the right-back position at Getafe, but the 24-year-old put in a handful of standout performances last season and could just be ready to take his game to the next level. His goal against Sevilla in 2013-14 was vital in the Greater Madrid outfit’s bid for another season of top-flight football.
Granada: Ruben Rochina
Ruben Rochina has spent much of the past three years in Spain, despite being on the books at Blackburn Rovers. But earlier this month, the 23-year-old former Spain youth international agreed a permanent move to Granada, where he’ll be looking to improve on the three goals he managed for Rayo Vallecano last term.
Levante: Loukas Vyntra
Loukas Vyntra has gone from agreeing a six-month contract with Levante to becoming an important part of the Valencia side’s setup. A Greece international with 50 caps to his name, the defender particularly impressed in a surprise win over La Liga champions Atletico Madrid last season.
Malaga: Luis Alberto
Luis Alberto wasn’t going to get much playing time at Liverpool, so he was loaned to Malaga for the 2014-15 season. It was on the back of an impressive campaign with the Barcelona B side that he joined Liverpool for nearly £7 million last summer, and the hope at Anfield is that regular minutes in Spain will see him get his development back on track.
Rayo Vallecano: Javier Aquino
An Olympic Gold Medalist with Mexico in 2012, Javier Aquino is still considered to be among El Tri’s most promising up-and-coming internationals, even though he’ll turn 25 in February. A right-sided attacker who can create problems on the dribble while posing a threat from distance, he should add an element of diversity to the Rayo Vallecano attack in 2014-15.
Real Madrid: Raphael Varane
Real Madrid’s squad is so star-studded it’s hard to claim that any of their players could be “surprise performers” this season. But Raphael Varane is one. The 21-year-old defender is already a full-fledged France international and could suddenly displace Pepe in manager Carlo Ancelotti’s preferred XI in 2014-15.
Real Sociedad: Alfred Finnbogason
Real Sociedad were always going to have to replace the departed Antoine Griezmann this summer, and they did just that in acquiring Alfred Finnbogason from Heerenveen in July. The top goalscorer in the Eredivisie last term with 29 tallies, the 25-year-old Iceland international will look to slot in up top but can also operate from Griezmann’s old position on the left.
Sevilla: Iago Aspas
Another Liverpool attacker heading back to Spain to rediscover his form is Iago Aspas, who joined the Anfield outfit from Celta Vigo last summer. Before the move he had tallied 12 times in La Liga but failed to make much of an impact in the Premier League. Sevilla, no doubt, are hoping they’ve acquired the Aspas of two years ago on loan.
Valencia scored just 51 goals in 2013-14 and barely finished in the top half of the table. The acquisition of striker Rodrigo on loan from Benfica should help Los Che in the offensive department as the 23-year-old tallied 18 times in all competitions last season.
Villarreal: Luciano Vietto
Luciano Vietto’s inpact in Argentine football was modest, but after joining Villarreal from Racing earlier this month the Primera Division outfit are hopeful the 20-year-old can make a career for himself in Spain. The right-footed forward can play either up top or in support of a centre-forward and has scored a pair of goals in two appearances for the Argentina Under-20s.