In years gone by, La Liga has always been dominated by the two major Spanish giants – Real Madrid and Barcelona battling it out, a two-way tussle between two heavyweights.
However, with Barca and Real experiencing turbulent times by their standards, the terrain has changed in the Spanish top division. Real Sociedad sit top of the pile currently, with Sevilla third owing to a game-in-hand. Atletico Madrid have shown, under the guidance of an ever-present Simeone, that the top teams are there to be toppled. Will we see an unlikely success story from this campaign? Or, can Xavi inspire Barcelona to reclaim their position on the throne?
Atletico Madrid under Simeone has shown that Real and Barca can be knocked off their respective pedestals, winning their first La Liga title under the Argentinian manager since 1996 in 2014. The title success was made ever sweeter by securing it on the doorstep of their rivals, a 1-1 draw enabling them to lift La Liga at the Nou Camp. This was the first La Liga title winner outside of these two Spanish heavyweights since the 2003/04 season, which saw Rafa Benitez’s Valencia lift the silverware. Atletico further showed their credentials with a La Liga title success in the season just gone, again dismantling the arrogance of their Madrid neighbours and their rivals in Barcelona.
Simeone’s men routinely get under the skin of those involved with Barca, picking up Luis Suarez for a cut-price from the Nou Camp and transforming him into their main man to lift silverware. More recently, Griezmann was lured back to the Wanda Metropolitano after a few seasons at the Nou Camp. The tides have already been turning, Simeone’s men benefitting from the giants falling off.
Real Sociedad are also benefitting, the Basque based football club top of La Liga after 13 games played so far. This isn’t a fluke arguably, Sociedad winning the Copa Del Rey last season with a final victory over near Basque neighbours Athletic Bilbao. Sociedad have always been known for producing talented players, before their talents move further afield from San Sebastian – the likes of Xabi Alonso being nurtured at Sociedad, the aforementioned Griezmann coming through the youth system before bursting through in the first team. Sociedad are beginning to remove their label of nearly men, piecing together a side committed at success for Sociedad instead of using the club as a stepping stone.
The likes of Alexandar Isak up top for Alguacil’s men are firmly on people’s radars, impressing at the Euro’s for Sweden this summer. 17 goals last La Liga campaign for the Swedish striker, he remains Sociedad’s main spark up top. Mikel Merino is also a crucial member of Alguacil’s squad, the one time Newcastle man thriving back in his native Spain. Unafraid to get stuck in, alongside scoring goals for Sociedad, he is a crucial component to Sociedad’s midfield alongside the experience of David Silva in a more attacking role. Robin Le Normand provides defensive stability too for Alguacil’s men, a well-rounded team at the manager’s disposal. Without a La Liga to their trophy cabinet since the 1980s, could the blue and white half of San Sebastian upset the odds? A Champions League spot would be a great achievement in itself, anything else merely a bonus.
Real Madrid do still remain second, not falling off to the same degree as Barcelona under Ronald Koeman, but their position in the league is under threat. Sevilla remain level on points with Los Blancos, losing only once so far this campaign. Routinely falling in and around the European spots, could they mount an unlikely title charge? The pool of ex-Barca players only strengthens, Ivan Rakitic returning to Seville in the twilight of his career. The Croat remains a heavily influential player for Lopetegui’s team, even at the age of 33.
Sevilla’s squad is littered with noticeable names, the likes of Jesus Navas and Erik Lamela featuring for Lopetegui’s men. Operating with an attacking mentality, the attack steals the headlines for Sevilla – a 4-3-3 formation often deployed, with Rafa Mir leading the line for Sevilla. The defence also garners some well deserved praise, Acuna a versatile full-back turned central midfielder alongside the defensive work of Frenchman Jules Kounde at centre-back. With just seven goals shipped this campaign so far, the defenders deserve equal praise to their flashy forwards. A well-rounded side altogether, could domestic success be knocking on Seville’s door?
The likes of Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano remain the best of the rest below the top four – Real Betis managed by ex-Manchester City and Los Blancos boss Manuel Pellegrini, Nabil Fekir the star-man for the green and white La Liga side. Vallecano noticeably start with Radamel Falcao up top, his decisive goal winning the contest against Barcelona at the end of October. Vallecano narrowly lost out at the Bernabeu too, a dark horse amidst the bigger teams circulating in La Liga. In a division that used to be so cut and dry, the competitive nature of La Liga is beginning to win admirers.
With Lionel Messi packing his bags for Paris, Barcelona were always going to the suffer the fallout of his exit. Moreover, Real Madrid have lost their way domestically with only three La Liga Titles to their name from the last ten years. With Atletico Madrid proving that the other teams comprising the Spanish top flight can push for the title, can Real Sociedad go all the way? Are Sevilla worthy candidates for the title? Time will tell, but excitement in Spanish Football has well and truly returned from a neutral perspective.