5 La Liga Teams That Will Underachieve This Season
Malaga and Athletic Club get La Liga back underway on Saturday night, with Barcelona back in action on Sunday and Real and Atletico Madrid kicking off on Monday evening.
If the title race is even half as exciting as last season, it will be a good one.
Elsewhere, teams will have more modest expectations than winning the league. Some will be aiming for European football, others for a top-half finish and a few will be hoping to dodge the drop.
The following slides look at five teams who could underachieve this season. Taken into consideration was the size and reputation of the club—and what that means for expectation levels—as well as performances in recent seasons.
Therefore, if they've been doing well recently, they've raised the bar, and it may become more difficult to jump it this time round.
With great success comes increased expectations. For the first time in a decade, a team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona won Spain's top flight last time out, but can Atletico Madrid repeat that feat this season?
It seems extremely unlikely.
Diego Simeone admitted in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday (as translated by Football Espana) that it "will be hard for [Atletico] to compete with [Madrid and Barca]."
There's nothing remotely surprising there, but given all the hard work done by the Argentine since he's been in charge, it will be disappointing for the club's fans to see them fall away from the top two again.
Not that it is likely to be that dramatic. Atletico have bought well over the summer and should once again be able to compete. Tuesday night's Super Cup draw at the Bernabeu demonstrated that.
Unfortunately, once you hit the top, there's often only one way to go. It will be difficult for Atleti to achieve the same success as last season...but is that necessarily underachieving?
Like Atletico Madrid, it seems slightly harsh to suggest that Real Sociedad will underachieve. Over the past two seasons (fourth, seventh), they have qualified for both the Champions League and the Europa League.
As a result of their success, though, they've lost some stars. Asier Illarramendi moved to Real Madrid last summer, and Atletico snapped up Antoine Griezmann for £24 million during the current window, per Sky Sports.
Illarramendi and Griezmann haven't really been replaced, mainly because it's difficult for the club to attract players of that quality.
Good players do remain in San Sebastian—Inigo Martinez, Ruben Pardo and Carlos Vela—but do they have the depth? Do they have the legs to maintain a push for the European spots alongside a Europa League campaign?
Doubts also exist over Jagoba Arrasate. His first season as boss was OK, but it was worse than the year before. They started slowly and were hopeless in the Champions League.
With a taste of the high life, it could be time for Sociedad to take a couple of steps back.
Under Unai Emery, Valencia had third position on lockdown. However, with the rise of Atletico Madrid and the sacking of Emery, they have drifted into the wilderness over the last two seasons—not that letting Emery go was the wrong decision.
Ernesto Valverde almost rescued Champions League football for them in 2012/13, eventually missing out to Real Sociedad on the final day of the campaign. Last term, they didn't even qualify for Europe, finishing 10 points back from seventh spot.
This year, things could be different. However, with Peter Lim's takeover of the club dragging on, they are not starting the season in a great position.
A new manager has been appointed in Nuno Espirito Santo. Meanwhile, lots of new players have arrived.
How soon will they jell, though?
Valencia see themselves as the third-biggest club in Spain, only behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, so missing out on the Champions League again has to be classed as underachieving.
Their best hope of hitting the right notes will perhaps lie in the fatigue of other teams. Athletic Club and Sevilla, their biggest rivals for a top-four spot, are both competing in European competitions this season.
Deportivo La Coruna
It's been a while since those famous European nights at the Riazor between Deportivo La Coruna and the likes of Manchester United and AC Milan, but SuperDepor, as the team of that era became known, still carry weight across the continent.
Unfortunately, their recent history doesn't tally with that weight. In each of the last four seasons, Deportivo have either been relegated to La Segunda or promoted back into La Liga.
This year, they'll be hoping to put an end to the yo-yo effect.
With a passionate crowd of nearly 35,000 behind them, they should be able to maintain their place among Spain's elite.
However, very little has happened this summer to suggest that will be the case. Victor Fernandez replaced Fernando Vazquez as manager before pre-season even began, while the club have struggled in the transfer market.
They look desperately short of goals, and impressive youngsters such as Pablo Insua, Jose Rodriguez and Isaac Cuenca may struggle when the going gets tough.
Getafe have occupied a spot in La Liga since 2004 now, finishing as high as sixth in 2010 and as low as 17th in 2009.
Last year, they eventually finished 13th, although they had flirted with the possibility of relegation.
In the end, the Romanian Cosmin Contra came in as a coach and ensured they stayed in the top flight.
They have pockets of quality in their squad—Pablo Sarabia, Pedro Leon, Vicente Guaita—but they lack depth, and they're terribly short on atmosphere.
It may seem like a strange thing to say, but it's not especially inspiring for professional footballers to be playing in front of a near-empty stadium every other week.
The Madrid-based side should have enough to beat off the drop again—sides like Eibar, Cordoba, Elche and Almeria have much less talent—but if they get stuck in a rot, who knows what could happen.