La Liga season: Bests, worsts, final quirks and other notable accolades
Barcelona. The Catalans incurred negative headlines towards the end of the season when they were eliminated from the Uefa Champions League by Atletico Madrid as part of losing four games in five which allowed both Madrid clubs back into the title race. But that wobble only started after the Catalans went 39 games unbeaten. That’s an incredible run for any team, let alone one which started the run without their injured best player and who then flew to the other side of the world to be crowned world champions in the middle of it.
Barca have issues to address. The majority of their best players are in their late 20s and early 30s, they fear the financial might of England’s Premier League and they have to fund a huge Camp Nou makeover and expansion, but they have been football’s pre-eminent side for a decade and they are still exceptionally strong.
Biggest let downs?
Carlos Vela is one of Real Sociedad’s most talented players. He didn’t show it last season. At Valencia, central defender Aymen Abdennour cost €25 million (Dh103.5m), a significant fee for them. He was supposed to replace Nicolas Otamendi; he didn’t. Valencia bought dreadfully last summer and it showed in a 12th-placed finish. An even bigger fee of €35 million was paid by Atletico to Porto for striker Jackson Martinez, but the Colombian was sold after six months for an Asian transfer record fee of €42 million to Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande.
That will be Fernando Torres. While the 32-year-old striker didn’t make Vicente del Bosque’s provisional Spain squad for the European Championship, the former Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan striker finished the season superbly as he helped boyhood club Atletico push for the league title and reach the Champions League final. High on confidence after scoring his 100th goal for the club, Torres came back to regain his status at the club where he became a youthful hero.
Barcelona bought wide men Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan, who were prepared to spend half the season out of their new team due to the transfer ban. They were expected to feature from January 1 onwards when that ban was up, yet both were underused by a manager reluctant to rotate his side. They were two of half a dozen players whom Luis Enrique didn’t appear to trust. His squad is small.
Real Madrid 0 Barcelona 4 (November 21, 2015). Had Madrid drawn the first clasico of the season, they would have won the league. They weren’t close to drawing a game which the visitors controlled throughout, with Luis Suarez scoring twice. One of the most encouraging factors for Barca was that they were so dominant without Lionel Messi, who started on the bench after a 10- week injury and was introduced with the game already won. After a fine team performance including from lesser light Sergi Roberto, Barca moved six points clear.
With a home average of 38,000 Real Betis weren’t only the best-supported team in Sevilla, but were the fifth best-supported team in Spain. A final day win over relegated Getafe in front of 50,000 saw them rise to 10th in the league – a successful first season back after promotion last term thanks largely to the 18 goals of 34-year-old striker Ruben Castro. All three promoted sides enjoyed huge rises in crowds as average gates in La Liga rose by 5.4 per cent on last season. There are still too many empty seats at too many grounds, though.
The longevity awards
Juan Carlos Valeron and Manuel Pablo were mainstays of that “Super” Deportivo La Coruna side of the noughties. Both retired at the end of the season. Valeron played 760 competitive games, full-back Pablo, also 40, deserves his break. A nod, too, to Athletic Bilbao’s Carlos Gurpeggi, 35, who retired at the weekend after 18 years with the Basques.
Call yourself a big club?
Along with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of the three biggest clubs in the world. At home, both are well supported. Away from home it’s a different matter, with abysmal away followings of mere dozens in venues less than two hours from home.
The Best Eibar Story
Eibar, the minnows who managed to stay in the top flight for a second successive season, this time by a far more comfortable margin that last when they only stayed up because Elche’s financial irregularities. Like last term they started well and flirted with the European places. Unlike last term, they still had enough in the tank to finish five points clear of relegation. On average crowds of 5,200 in a tight stadium which holds only 6,200 in a town of only 27,000, that’s astonishing.
• Villarreal did really well to finish fourth and reach the semi-finals of the Europa League. They play attractive and usually attacking football and boast a formidable home record, though they faded badly once fourth was secured and provided limited opposition to Sporting Gijon, who stayed up.
• Celta Vigo started the season really well and hammered Barcelona. They also beat Atletico as they finished an impressive sixth to qualify for the Europa League. To do so on a small budget while playing entertaining football is a success story. The Galicians have recruited well since Luis Enrique took charge in 2013, but they lost their man to Barcelona a year later and now they have lost their sporting director Miguel Torrecilla.
• Malaga also deserve praise. They lost some of their best players last summer and again in January. Unlike previous seasons, they didn’t spend much to replace them, but cerebral coach Javi Gracia developed young players, improved experienced ones and oversaw some epic performances, most notably against Barcelona.
• Promoted Las Palmas were bottom of the league in October. They finished 11th after wise manager Quique Setien took them up the table.