Looking at this season’s La Liga relegation battle

Last season saw one of the least exciting relegation battles in recent La Liga seasons, with three teams that looked sub-par from the off.

For 23 consecutive weeks reaching the final day, Sporting Gijón, Osasuna, and Granada sat in the relegation zone, without much of a hope of staying in Spain’s top flight.

This season promises a little more life at the bottom of La Liga, with some strong promoted teams returning to the top division, and some interesting moves happening amongst the relegation candidates.

Here we profile some of the teams most likely to finish the season without glamour, beginning with the newly promoted sides.

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The Valencian outfit return to La Liga after a one year-absence, and in truth they never looked like they weren’t a La Liga side in their short time away.

From day one, Levante bossed Spain’s second division and won the league with ease, growing a huge gap at the top of the table early, and holding onto it throughout the season.

In a normally extremely tight and competitive league where usually the difference between promotion and relegation can be just managing to string a few wins together at the right time of the year, Levante looked like a step above throughout, eventually winning the title by 14 points after taking the foot off the gas too.

Now their quality will be tested again in the division their squad was made for.

However, Levante will have a huge void to fill in their team as they prepare to compete alongside some of the best teams in the world, as their top scorer last season and second-top scorer in the division, Roger Martí, suffered a devastating ACL injury that will keep him sidelined for half of the season.

They’ll be hoping the newly arrived Ivi, who hit 14 goals for Sevilla’s B team Sevilla Atletico in Spain’s Segunda last term, will be able to fill that void.

Ivory Coast international Cheick Doukouré has also arrived, from Metz in Ligue 1, and Antonio Luna should also add some quality to their starting XI.

With no major losses in personnel, Levante have a decent chance at staying up this year, as their squad showed last year that they were too good for the second tier.

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Playoff winners Getafe, like Levante, return to Primera after a one-year absence.

Unlike Levante however, they have had an almost complete overhaul in their squad, closing so far 17 new deals (and counting) for arrivals to south Madrid.

Many of these signings came by way of buying permanently important players they had on loan last season, giving the players more assurance of their importance to the club and the current project at Getafe.

Amongst the new arrivals come a few La Liga veterans in Mikel Bergara, Bruno González, Vitorino Antunes, and Faycal Fajr.

These players will add to the overall quality of the squad and the hunger in competition for places in the starting XI, as Geta will look to play a simple style of football based on strong foundations.

Their manager, José Bordalás, will finally get his chance at La Liga after guiding Alavés to the promised land in 2015/16, before the club decided to ditch him.

Getafe were undoubtedly one of the better sides in Segunda last term, but questions remain over whether they’ve strengthened enough to hold onto their top-flight status.

The squad doesn’t have a lot of young players in it that will be trying to make strides in their careers, unless they begin dipping into the academy, so largely the club know what they’re getting in the personnel they have and those that have newly arrived, and may end up struggling this term.

Twenty-two-year-old winger Álvaro Jiménez may prove to be an important player tasked with injecting some youthful vibrancy into the team, hoping he can continue the upward trend he’s enjoyed in recent years.

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After flirting with promotion for a number of seasons and dramatically blowing their chances on a couple of occasions, Girona finally got promoted to Spain’s top division for the first time in their history.

They’ve had an interesting summer ahead of their historic La Liga debut, after Manchester City’s owners City Football Group, became joint owners of the Catalan club in an initricate, complicated financial deal that also involves Pere Guardiola, brother of Pep.

Thusly, the La Liga newcomers have been bolstered with a host of young City loanees to help them secure survival.

Aleix García (20), Marlos Moreno (20), Pablo Maffeo (20), ‘Larry’ Kayode (24), and Douglas Luiz (19) all come on loan to Girona from Manchester City for this season.

García has already had a taste of senior football with the Cityzens and looks like a tidy midfielder, while Moreno brings some La Liga experience to the squad after his loan spell with Deportivo La Coruña last season.

They’ve acquired fantastic leadership and La Liga experience in their new goalkeeper from Athletic Bilbao, Gorka Iraizoz, while Christian Stuani and Marc Muniesa should add more quality to their starting XI too.

Girona will be hoping to emulate Leganés’s example last season and survive in their La Liga debut year, but it’s always a tall order organising a team with such a large amount of new faces.

However, they’ve got quality in their side, and if things are going badly by the time the January transfer window comes around, they do have some financial muscle to help them keep their top-flight status.

Girona have an exciting mixture of youth and experience in their set up that could work out for them, but they know they’ll be in for a difficult ride and every point earned will be one to celebrate.

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Other clubs that may struggle

Deportivo La Coruña

Depor probably would have been relegated last season had they not had the cushion of three especially bad teams below them. In the end they finished just five points above the relegation zone, but enduring a miserable campaign with too few joyful sparks.

They looked like a team that desperately missed star man Lucas Perez last season after he signed for Arsenal.

However, reports in Spain say Depor are prepared to offer the A Coruña native a ten-year contract to come back to the club, which would keep him employed by the club until the age of 38.

For the moment, Adrian Lopez will have to do.

A utility striker, Lopez will battle hard on the front line for Depor, but the 2013/14 title winner with Atleti is a striker that’s not exactly known for his goals, but more so his work rate and ability to bring others into attacking moves.

Florin Andone was the subject of transfer speculation from Burnley, but Depor reportedly rejected one bid.

It could be the case that Depor will have to choose one of Andone or Perez, as having both in the team may be out of the question for the club on a financial level.

The defence has been bolstered with the arrival of Fabian Schar too, coming from Bundesliga high flyers Hoffenheim.

The young winger Zakaria Bakkali will be given a chance to show what he can do on loan from Valencia.

It’s been a summer of a couple of decent transfers and lots of pre-season wins, but significant improvement on last season will be needed if Depor are to stay up.

Pepe Mel took over as manager only last February, so has had his first pre-season to work with the squad and implement his own style of play.

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The south Madrid outfit will play their second ever La Liga season this year, following the success they enjoyed last year of staying up with one game to spare.

However, Leganés must be considered as one of the favourites to go down this season, due to the same luxury awarded to Depor of having three teams that were just worse than them.

Leganés are one of the smallest teams with one of the smallest budgets in the league, and finishing 17th again will represent a success for them. We shouldn’t forget that this club were playing in Spain’s third division as recently as 2014.

With just days before the season kicks off, Leganés lack firepower up top and defensive stability will be Leganés’ bet to staying in La Liga.

They’ve reinforced their back line this summer with new recruits Tito (who suffered relegation from La Liga the last two seasons with Rayo Vallecano and Granada, could a three-in-a-row be on the cards?), Mauro dos Santos, and Joseba Zaldua, but they are going to have to rely probably too heavily on the talented winger Alexander Szymanowski to help out the underwhelming forwards Miguel Ángel Guerrero, Mamadou Koné, and Nabil El Zhar.

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Las Palmas

The islanders are a strange case – last season they delighted the La Liga world in the first half of the season with some truly outstanding goals and fantastic results, before everything changed.

Free-spirited Quique Setién met with the board some time around the halfway point of the season and came to a disagreement, resulting in the early announcement that the manager was to leave the club come the season’s end. Setién is now at helm at Real Betis.

Naturally, the results began to decline, as the players knew that Setién would no longer be their coach in a short time.

The second half of the season proved rough, as Las Palmas managed only three wins after the half way point, with 13 losses coming in that time too.

So what does this season look like for them? They will, in bizarre circumstances, have the services of Spanish international Vitolo until January, courtesy of Atletico Madrid.

They also lost probably their best player, Roque Mesa, to Swansea City.

Mesa boasted some of the league’s best statistics last year even despite their decline in the second half of the season, as he finished with the second most amount of possession-wins (296), and the third most successful passes in the league (2,480), behind only Steven Nzonzi of Sevilla and Koke of Atletico Madrid.

Las Palmas will also be without one of their stars from the good half of last season, Kevin Prince Boateng, who chose to terminate his contract just two days before the start of the new campaign in very unexpected circumstances.

New manager Manolo Marquez has a big job on his hands to revive the focus from the first half of last season, and put an end to the downward spiral and genuine lack of ambition or care shown by the players in the second half of the season.

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After a ninth place finish and a Copa Del Rey final, it might sound strange to see Alavés listed as a relegation candidate. However, things look a little rocky for the Basque outfit.

Their success last season was built largely on the incredible performances of some young loanees who have since left for pastures new.

Theo Hernandez has signed for, and Marcos Llorente has returned to, Real Madrid, while Víctor Camarasa has gone to Betis and Deyverson has returned to Brazil, all leaving massive holes throughout the Alavés team.

If they’ve got one thing going for them though, it’s that Alavés not just survived, but thrived on wholesale changes last year.

After clinching promotion to La Liga, they promptly fired their manager, and cleared out their second-division squad, replacing them with a coach and players they deemed fit for Primera.

That manager last term, Mauricio Pellegrino, has also left, for Southampton, leaving Luis Zubeldía in charge of recreating last year’s magic.

Zubeldía comes from Colombian football, and hasn’t lasted long in any job he’s had as a manager so far in his career, which has all been in South American football. He and the club have a lot of getting used to new surroundings, and only time can tell if they’ll be able to do it all over again.

It’s most definitely not going to be easy for them though.

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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