La Liga Preview: Rest of 2007-08

September 5, 2007

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From mid table Obscurity to Europe: Real Zaragoza, Deportivo La Coruna, Real Mallorca, Athletic Bilbao and Villareal 

Real Zaragoza on paper were one of the most exciting teams to emerge from the pack last season. Built around the Argentine axis of the Milito brothers, Pablo Aimar and Andrés d’Alessandro, Zaragoza at times resembled the South American giants in style and play.


Since then, defender Gabriel Milito has left for Barcelona and how effectively Zaragoza replace him will determine how far they can go. They have brought in defenders Roberto Ayala, Francisco Pavon and defensive midfielders like Peter Luccin and Matuzalem to shore up the team but it is new striker Ricardo Oliveira’s arrival alongside cult forward Diego Milito that holds the most promise.

Crippled by financial difficulties, Deportivo has shed most of their high salaried stars and instead rely on homegrown talents but these young players have yet to reach their potential. New coach Miguel Angel Lotina who has a reputation for being able to develop and mould young players into an effective whole, will be put to the test this season.

Still there is hope amongst the fans and it is thanks to the arrival of Mexican sensation Andres Guardado. This left-winger is one of Mexico’s best young players, aggressive and known for his explosive speed and dribbling skills. His signing, Riki, and Julian de Guzmán now forms the foundation for a new team of which much is expected.

 

Real Mallorca are one of those teams that are too good to go down but not good enough to make a challenge for honours. The best option they have is to have a good cup run or to make an impression in Europe and they look a good bet to do so once again this year. In Ariel Ibagaza, they have a natural creator of chances while Venezuelan Juan Arango has also been very impressive going forward. Amongst the ranks are also dependables like Angelos Basinas and Fernando Navarro. 

 

They signed Dani Guiza from Getafe to lead the line and together with Pierre Webo, his arrival gives Mallorca a pairing upfront that is physically imposing and strong. With the team expected to continue their long ball tactics inherited since the days of Hector Cuper, both Guiza and Webo will be given plenty of opportunities to showcase their strength in the air.   

 Not many people know that besides Barcelona and Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao are the only team in Spain that has never been relegated although they came very close to doing so last year. For a club with tradition and success, last season’s struggles came as a huge shock.

Much will still have to depend on Joseba Etxeberria and the mercurial playmaker Fran Yeste to lead the team while the scoring load will fall on striker Fernando Llorente. His emergence as a centre-forward last year was the one bright spark from an otherwise dismal season and he gives hope that there is now a successor to the throne once held by names such as Pichichi, Julio Salinas and Ismael Urzaiz.

Villareal must be hoping that lightning does striker twice; the Yellow Submarines have brought in another ex-Man United striker in Giuseppe Rossi to replace the departed Diego Forlan and how effectively he fills that hole will have a big impact on the club’s future.

An assessment of the club shows a weakness in central defence and an uncertain attack but a plethora of talented, attacking midfielders like Santi Cazorla, Cani and Chilean Matías Fernández (South American Footballer of the Year for 2006) more than make up for the lack of a consistent hit man. Still look for French veteran Robert Pires to play a crucial role as he pulls the strings and makes things happen.

 

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