11 Predictions for the 2010-2011 La Liga Season
The following are 11 predictions for the upcoming 2010-2011 season in Spanish professional football, ranging from league winner to relegations, from goal tallies and awards, to everything in between.
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Valencia Will Exceed Pre-Season Expectations
For any major club, losing your two best players would naturally set you back. Especially when those two players are Spanish National Team stars David Villa and David Silva.
However, since taking charge in 2008, first team coach Unai Emergy has led "Los Che" to steady improvements each season (including qualifying for the 2010 UEFA Champions League amidst financial turmoil). Despite their 2009 success, Valencia owners were basically forced to sell their two finest assets in order to cover their debts; first Villa to Barcelona for 40 million euros, and then David Silva to pocket-less Manchester City for another 30 million.
Nevertheless, los Che always seems to bounce back. Valencia has always been able to attract quality players, and even when not blessed with spectacular talents like Villa, have been able to compete in Spain during stagnating times.
The early 'noughties' were Valencia's last taste of true glory and Emergy will look to youngsters Ever Banega, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, and new signings Ricardo Costa and Roberto Soldado to maintain their top three finish and compete in the Champions League. I don't think we've seen the last of Los Che at the top...
La Liga Will Produce 2/4 UEFA Champions League Semi-Finalists
On paper, Real Madrid and Barcelona have arguably the two strongest club teams on the planet at present. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic, David Villa; these squads are stacked!
Valencia and Sevilla are no pushovers either and can compete with Europe's best as seen by Sevilla's last 16 appearance in last season's tournament. Barcelona's recent European mastery, and Jose Mourinho's cup-obsessed mentality will see these two teams through to the Champions League Semis.
Someone other than Lionel Messi to Win FIFA's Ballon D'Or
Yes, Lionel Messi is the best footballer on the planet. Yes, he's done things in the past two club seasons with Barcelona that may never be replicated. Yes, he scored an incredible 47 goals in all competitions in the 2009-2010 season. And Yes, he performed admirably for Argentina at the 2010 World Cup.
But admirable simply wasn't going to be enough for the "Flea" to win back-to- back World Player of the Year awards.
This World Cup proved once and for all that he simply is not the same player for Argentina as he was for Barcelona (how could he be?). Look to Inter Milan's treble winning and Dutch World Cup finalist Wesley Sneidjer, Spain and Barcelona's metronome Xavi Hernandez, or even, World Cup Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan to etch their names on the newly-merged "Fifa Ballon D'Or" award.
Real Madrid to Break Their Trophy Drought
Say what you will about his personality/media-attracting comments, his anti-football tactics, or his opportunistic job selections, but Jose Mourinho is a winner.
From winning a treble in 2003, and incredibly, the 2004 UEFA Champions League with Portuguese side FC Porto, to breaking Chelsea's 50-year long league drought, to winning the Italian League-Coppa Italia-and Champions League treble with Inter Milan in 2009-2010, Jose Mourinho has proven himself time and time again.
There is no reason, given the Real Madrid squad, why he can't push Los Merengues to an impressive trophy haul in 2010.
Look for Madrid to focus all of their efforts on re-obtaining the La Liga title that arch-rivals Barcelona have breezed through the last two seasons.
Barcelona to Underperform
With a squad built mostly around a core of Spain's 2010 World Cup winners, look for Barcelona to under-perform this coming season.
Xavi, Iniesta, David Villa, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Carles Puyol, and Gerard Pique were all World Cup winners and will be tired after the physical, mental, and emotional drain of winning the final.
Lio Messi and Dani Alves also lead their respective countries to quarterfinal appearances at the tournament. Having failed to sign their number one off-season target in Cesc Fabregas, look for Barca to disappoint.
Yes, the stock of forwards in Pedro, Bojan, Messi, Ibrahimovic, and David Villa is ridiculously talented and deep, but Barca is rather shallow at other positions (midfield and defense) and La Liga is a grueling nine month battle where injuries, suspensions, and missed opportunities can cost you the league.
Sevilla to Retain the Copa del Rey
While not the most prestigious trophy, in recent seasons Spain's top club teams Real Madrid and Barcelona have found winning the Copa Del Rey an elusive feat.
Sevilla has won two of the last four tournaments and have retained their flashy core squad in Luis Fabiano, Jesus Navas, Diego Capel, Didier Zokora, and Diego Perotti.
Look for Sevilla to be right up there with Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia this season and to replicate their 2009-2010 Copa del Rey success.
'Kun' Aguero Leaves Atletico Madrid in the January Transfer Window
Over the last two seasons it has become a cliche to use Sergio Aguero's name and the word "big transfer" in the same sentence.
Having been heavily-linked with a move to either Inter Milan or Chelsea, I would predict that El Kun will be moving sooner, rather than later. Perennial league under-achievers, Atletico Madrid will sell their most prized young asset at a maximum price, who himself yearns for Champions League football and a greater challenge.
Having Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, or Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder, and Samuel Eto'o on his team would certainly push Aguero to a higher level and allow him to shine on a brighter stage.
Pichichi Award: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Having not participated in the 2010 World Cup, and now with a La Liga season under his belt, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will truly shine.
Always one to prove himself (at least in league competitions), "Ibracadabra" will feel the pressure to once again prove his abilities after Barcelona signs David Villa. The emergence of young Pedro also doesn't bode well for Ibra's playing time, but if there's anything we've learned about the tall Swede, it's that he is always capable of stepping up his game and doing the unthinkable.
Physically fresh, now able to speak Spanish, and in the prime of his career, Ibrahimovic will bag goals by the handfull next season and pick up Spain's top-goalscorer Pichichi Award.
Zamora Trophy: Iker Casillas
Having accomplished so much at only 29 years of age, Spain and Real Madrid's goalkeeer, Iker Casillas will once again show the world why he is the best goalkeeper.
Iker lost out to Barcelona's Victor Valdes last season, but Barcelona's defense was much better than their rival's, and Real Madrid dealt with the season-long absence of Portuguese rock Pepe.
Even so, Iker was consistent as always and steadied Madrid's defense while the team picked up a record 96 points en route to a second place finish. Iker's good form at the World Cup will carry over to his club season as well.
Promotions: Real Betis, Recreativo de Huelva, Real Valladolid
Last season Betis were so close (and even tied for points with newly-promoted Alicante side Hercules ) to qualifying for the 2010-2011 La Liga competition after enduring a heart-breaking penultimate draw against Salamanca.
Look for that disappointment to inspire hunger in leading them back into Spain's premier competition for the 2011-2012 season. Likewise, Spain's oldest team, proud Huelva, or "El Decano (the Dean)" as they're known in Andalucia, will claw their way back into la Liga, while recently-demoted Valladolid will look to put an under-achieving season behind them.
Relegations: Almeria, Racing Santander, Sporting Gijon
Having lost the ethereal 19 year-old Sergio Canales to giants Real Madrid, perennial bottom-feeders, Racing Santander will finally falter to the Segunda for the first time since the 2001-2001 season.
Gijon and Almeria's inconsistency will lead them to the drop as well.
La Liga BBVA 2010-2011 Winner: Real Madrid
And finally; the winners of the 2010-2011 La Liga competition will be Los Blancos, Real Madrid.
The mastermind of Jose Mourinho coupled with the disappointments of 2009-2010, and the hunger and world beating talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Gonzalo Higuain, and Kaka will push Los Nuevos Galacticos to regain the league from Barcelona.
After a record 96-point season in 2009 in which they placed second, Madrid will not falter this time. After uncharacteristically making good quality young signings, and bolstering their midfield with Germany's midfield enforcer Sami Khedira, Madrid now has the experience, the desire, the talent, and the coach. A Champions League-La Liga double is not entirely out of the question.
Viva el Futbol!