LaLiga 2023-24 preview: Barca and Madrid gear up for title race, predictions and more


LaLiga is back. The 2023-24 season kicks off on Friday with Almeria vs. Rayo Vallecano, with the league’s big two getting underway on Saturday — with Real Madrid visiting Athletic Club — and Sunday, as Barcelona travel to Getafe.

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Will champions Barca retain their crown? Can a new-look Real Madrid bounce back? Could Atletico Madrid repeat their 2021 title win? And which of a host of contenders — Real Sociedad, Real Betis, Villarreal, a revitalised Sevilla — will clinch a top four finish?

ESPN’s Sam Marsden and Alex Kirkland take a team-by-team look at the league, assessing each club’s changing fortunes, players to keep an eye on, and their managers’ job security.


Team-by-team guide

– Transfers in: DF Rafa Marin (Real Madrid), MF Antonio Blanco (Real Madrid), FW Giuliano Simeone (Atletico Madrid), MF Ander Guevara (Real Sociedad)
– Transfers out: DF Victor Laguardia (retired)
– Last season: Segunda (promoted via playoffs), Copa del Rey (round of 16)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Alaves’ 2022-23 ended in the most dramatic way possible. A fourth-place finish in Segunda — after a nail-biting five-team race — sent them to the playoffs, where they were seconds from missing out on promotion when Asier Villalibre converted a 124th minute penalty in the second leg of the final against Levante. With the game’s last kick, heartbreak turned to euphoria in an instant, and Alaves were up.

It’s hard to imagine this season living up to that level of drama. Survival in Primera would be enough. Alaves have been First Division regulars over the last decade — with six consecutive top flight seasons from 2016 to 2022 — and boast an atmospheric, old-school stadium in Mendizorroza, but this squad looks weak, and a relegation battle is inevitable.

Key player: Luis Rioja

You could make a case for two promising former Real Madrid youngsters: Antonio Blanco, 23, previously one of Spain’s top-rated teenage midfielders, and Rafa Marin, 21, a centre-back who’s tough beyond his years. But let’s go for wide forward Rioja, 29. A late-career renaissance last season saw him score 10 goals in Segunda, more than double his previous best tally. You might say that, like a fine wine, he’s getting better with age.

Will their manager last the season?

No. Luis Garcia Plaza is a likeable coach who’s well used to a relegation scrap, but his record in Primera is mixed, to say the least. Winning promotion earned him some credit but Alaves managers don’t tend to last long, and if they’re struggling come the fall, don’t be surprised to see them make a change. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: FW Luis Suarez (Marseille), MF Dion Lopy (Stade Reims), DF Edgar Gonzalez (Real Betis)
– Transfers out: FW El Bilal Toure (Atalanta), FW Cristian Olivera (Los Angeles FC), DF Rodrigo Ely (Gremio), DF Nikola Maras (Alaves)
– Last season: LaLiga (17th), Copa del Rey (first round)

Will they be better or worse this season?

After flirting with relegation, the experienced Vicente Moreno has come in to replace Rubi as coach. Striker Luis Suarez (not that one) could prove a good pick up from Marseille after his loan was made permanent, although the loss of El Bilal Toure to Atalanta will be felt. They are likely to be in and around the relegation race, but have the squad to do better than they did last season.

Key player: Lucas Robertone

Midfielder Robertone has long been their most creative player and the onus will once again be on the Argentine to create for the forwards and chip in with a few goals of his own.

Will their manager last the season?

Moreno returns to Spain after a year with Saudi Professional League club Al Shabab FC. He worked wonders with Mallorca previously and, with the benefit of hindsight, did OK at Espanyol, at least at first. In a league that will be rife with manager dismissals, he looks a good appointment and has a decent shot at lasting the year. — Marsden


– Transfers in: MF Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta (Mallorca)
– Transfers out: DF Inigo Martinez (Barcelona), DF Mikel Balenziaga (Deportivo La Coruna)
– Last season: LaLiga (eighth), Copa del Rey (semifinals)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Last season’s eighth place was below par for Athletic. European football — realistically, the Europa League — should be their target. The Basques have a nice blend of talented youngsters like playmaker Oihan Sancet, players at their peak such as goalkeeper Unai Simon, and older heads like captain Iker Muniain. They also have a sensible, popular coach in Ernesto Valverde.

Athletic’s self-imposed philosophical limitations — only signing players born or raised in the Basque Country — mean that improving the squad is a constant challenge, one that is most keenly felt in attack. Forward Inaki Williams is pacey but goal-shy, top scoring last season with eight league goals, followed by Sancet and Raul Garcia. That lack of a natural finisher puts a ceiling on their ambitions. They’ll also want to amend the form which saw last season trail off so badly, ending with just one win in eight games.

Key player: Nico Williams

The unpredictable winger — Inaki’s younger brother — is one of Spanish football’s most exciting raw talents and a full-back’s worst nightmare. Williams, 21, also needs increase his end product this season. He scored a solid six league goals last campaign, his first as a regular starter.

Will their manager last the season?

Valverde is a hero at Athletic thanks to two previous successful spells in charge, from 2003 to 2005 and 2013 to 2017. He did the club a favour by returning in 2022 — two years after being fired by Barcelona — and while last season was a slight disappointment, he’ll be given time to get it right. The reality is that Valverde’s track record and history with the club means there’s no other candidate who comes close to being a better option. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: DF Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), DF Santiago Mourino (Racing Club de Montevideo), DF Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City), DF Javi Galan (Celta Vigo)
– Transfers out: DF Matt Doherty (Wolves), DF Renan Lodi (Marseille), MF Geoffrey Kondogbia (Marseille), DF Sergio Reguilon (Tottenham), FW Giuliano Simeone (Alaves)
– Last season: LaLiga (third), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals)

Will they be better or worse this season?

That depends if you’re referring to the first half of last season, or the second. Atletico started off a disjointed mess, culminating in their embarrassing, bottom-of-the-group Champions League exit. Then they got their act together. Coach Diego Simeone went back to basics, rediscovered the team’s identity, settled on a working system and shipped out anyone who wasn’t on board.

The result: Atletico became the best team in Spain. The 43 points they accrued in the second half of the season was their second best tally in a 20-team league, and five more than Barcelona’s 38. The performances of players such as defender Mario Hermoso — whose form is a barometer for the team’s overall health — improved drastically, while academy product Pablo Barrios added energy and quality in midfield. Keep that up, and Atletico could mount a proper title challenge.

Key player: Antoine Griezmann

LaLiga’s best outfield player in 2022-23, freed of last year’s bizarre situation which saw him start off playing just half an hour per game — part of a battle of wills with Barca over a permanent deal — Griezmann went on to shine, ending with a remarkable 15 goals and 16 assists. Somehow still underrated for a World Cup winner and former Ballon d’Or contender, there’s nothing holding him back this time.

Will their manager last the season?

Yes. Simeone has been in charge for almost 12 years — winning two league titles, in 2014 and 2021 — and it’s no exaggeration to say he made Atletico the club they are today. Fans with long memories know they weren’t always a perennial top three — often top two — side. Even when they’ve slipped, as they did early last season, Simeone has always found a way to bounce back. Whatever happens this time, any decisions about his future — from Simeone, or the club — would be made next summer, not before. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: MF Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), DF Inigo Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), MF Oriol Romeu (Girona), FW Vitor Roque (Athletico Paranaense, not joining until next year)
– Transfers out: FW Ousmane Dembele (Paris Saint-Germain), MF Sergio Busquets (Inter Miami), DF Jordi Alba (Inter Miami), DF Julian Araujo (Las Palmas, loan), MF Nico Gonzalez (Porto)
– Last season: LaLiga (winners), Copa del Rey (semifinals), Champions League (group stage), Europa League (knockout playoff round)

Will they be better or worse this season?

They can’t do any better in LaLiga and will likely once again compete with Real Madrid for the title. The task is to improve in Europe and they should get out of their Champions League group, whoever they draw, with the squad they have. However, after losing the experience of Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba and the unpredictably of Ousmane Dembele, it is hard to know whether Barca have improved this summer. Ilkay Gundogan is a good addition and Oriol Romeu may prove a smarter pick-up than expected by many. Coach Xavi Hernandez knows silverware is demanded.

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Key Player: Ilkay Gundogan

Gundogan has arrived from City as a free agent and, even at 32, he could prove the player to help Barca play the way Xavi wants alongside Pedri at the tip of the midfield.

Will their manager last the season?

It would take something quite remarkable for Xavi not to last the season, but next summer could be interesting, depending on how the campaign pans out. His deal is up in 2024 and, while everyone insists negotiations are progressing well, there is room for a small amount of doubt beyond this year. — Marsden


– Transfers in: MF Carlos Dotor (Real Madrid), FW Jonathan Bamba (Lille), DF Manu Sanchez (Atletico Madrid)
– Transfers out: GK Ruben Blanco (Marseille), DF Javi Galan (Atletico Madrid), MF Denis Suarez (Villarreal)
– Last season: LaLiga (thirteenth), Copa del Rey (round of 32)

Will they be better or worse this season?

They should be significantly better. Last season was a disaster for Celta. That thirteenth place is misleading, as they barely escaped relegation on the final day thanks to a 2-1 win over champions Barcelona, with both goals scored by the campaign’s one bright spot: breakout star Gabri Veiga.

Neither of last season’s coaches — Eduardo Coudet and Carles Carvalhal — could get the team playing with any kind of consistency, with the lows being an eight-game winless streak from October to January, and May’s six games without a win which almost saw them relegated.

The appointment of Rafael Benitez as coach has brought a renewed sense of optimism, while Veiga’s expected exit — with several Premier League clubs considering paying his €40 million release clause — hasn’t yet materialized. A top-half finish isn’t out of the question.

Key player: Iago Aspas

At Celta, it’s always Aspas, the team’s leader, creative hub and primary goal threat. Even at 36, he’s still going strong. Aspas has an impressive, long-term scoring record, with 14, 19, 22, 20, 14, 14, 18 and 12 league goals over the last eight seasons. The only question mark is how he’ll get on with Benitez. The manager hasn’t always been a fan of spontaneous talents and big personalities.

Will their manager last the season?

Celta pushed the boat out to land Benitez, opting for a different calibre and profile of manager to the club’s gloriously eclectic list from recent years which includes Antonio Mohamed, Miguel Cardoso, Fran Escriba, Oscar Garcia, Coudet and Carvalhal. This time, president Carlos Mourino has opted for one of the biggest names in Spanish coaching this century, even if Benitez’s last LaLiga job — at Real Madrid in 2015-16 — ended in failure. It should work. But there’s also an outside chance that it implodes spectacularly. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: MF Gonzalo Escalante (Lazio), FW Sergi Guardiola (Real Valladolid), FW Darwin Machis (Real Valladolid, loan), DF Javi Hernandez (Leganes, loan), DF Lucas Pires (Santos, loan), DF Jorge Mere (America, loan)
– Transfers out: FW Theo Bongonda (Spartak Moscow), DF Alfonso Espino (Rayo Vallecano), FW Choco Lozano (Getafe)
– Last season: LaLiga (14th), Copa del Rey (first round)

Will they be better or worse this season?

A 14th place finish sounds good for Cadiz, but they were still one of the teams going into the final round of the season with a chance of going down. So how do you define better? Chances are they finish lower than 14th but that does not necessarily mean a worse season if they are able to secure their top flight status before the final week of the campaign. Unfortunately, though, another scrap for survival may await.

Key player: Jeremias Ledesma

Securing Gonzalo Escalante on a permanent basis was important after the midfielder’s performances on loan last season helped keep the club up. Perhaps it would be more realistic to single out Ledesma, though, who was one of the best goalkeepers in LaLiga last year.

Will their manager last the season?

Sergio Gonzalez has worked wonders in the south of Spain, coming in to keep Cadiz up in 21-22 and then repeating the feat last season. He will get time, but if Cadiz find themselves in the bottom three for a prolonged period, expect a change. — Marsden


– Transfers in: FW Choco Lozano (Cadiz)
– Transfers out: FW Munir El Haddadi (Las Palmas)
– Last season: LaLiga (fifteenth), Copa del Rey (round of 32)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Much better. Last season, coach Quique Sanchez Flores clung on until April before eventually being fired, despite poor football, uninspiring results and a growing divide with the fans. Club icon Jose Bordalas — who took Getafe to the brink of an unprecedented Champions League qualification during his first spell in charge — came to the rescue, steadied the ship and inspired a final day escape.

You know what you’re going to get with Bordalas. His teams are ruthlessly efficient — with little interest in possession and passing, lots of fouls and physicality, and frequent time wasting and rule bending — but they are efficient, and they win more often than not. His Getafe team will be much more than the sum of its parts, and you wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish in the top half of the table.

Key player: Enes Unal

Is Unal the most underrated forward in LaLiga? The 26-year-old has been Getafe’s best player for the last two seasons — scoring 30 league goals in that time — and he will be this time, too. Unal has it all: he’s strong, quick, dangerous in the air and with the ball at his feet, capable of scoring from close range or from distance, and happy to play as a lone forward or in a front two. Getafe are lucky to still have him. The bad news is that they’ll have to wait: he’ll miss the first half of the season with a cruciate ligament injury.

Will their manager last the season?

Yes. Bordalas answered the call to save Getafe last season, and they’ll be desperate to keep him now for as long as possible. Club president Angel Torres has described the coach as “like a brother” and the fans embrace his style of football as a badge of honour. Bordalas won’t be pushed out; he’ll leave when he wants to. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: FW Artem Dovbyk (SK Dnipro), MF Yangel Herrera (Manchester City), MF Ivan Martin (Villarreal), DF Daley Blind (Bayern Munich), GK Paulo Gazzaniga (Fulham), FW Savio (Troyes, loan), MF Pablo Torre (Barcelona, loan)
– Transfers out: MF Oriol Romeu (Barcelona), MF Ramon Terrats (Villarreal)
– Last season: LaLiga (10th), Copa del Rey (second round)

Will they be better or worse this season?

No one expected Girona to finish 10th last season but since then they have lost Romeu to Barcelona, while Taty Castellanos and Rodrigo Riquelme both returned to their parent clubs after successful loan spells. They have made some interesting signings, though, in Daley Blind, Pablo Torre and Artem Dovbyk, while coach Michel brings stability and an attractive playing style. They should be too good for the drop, but repeating a top 10 finish is a big ask for the Catalan side.

Key player: Artem Dovbyk

Striker Dovbyk will be tasked with replacing Castellanos’ goals. Girona will be hopeful he can do so after having great success in the Ukrainian market last January. Midfielder Viktor Tsyhankov gave them a big boost in the second half of the campaign and should also help Dovbyk settle quickly.

Will their manager last the season?

Michel has earned the right to stay in the job even if there are blips this year. If he goes, it will mean things have gone really wrong and Girona are fighting for survival. — Marsden


– Transfers in: FW Shon Weissman (Real Valladolid), MF Gonzalo Villar (Roma), FW Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor), MF Gerard Gumbau (Elche), DF Jesus Vallejo (Real Madrid, loan)
– Transfers out: DF Quini (Olympiacos), FW Adrian Butzke (Vit. Guimaraes)
– Last season: Segunda Division (winners), Copa del Rey (second round)

Will they be better or worse this season?

The question for Granada is not whether they can be better than last season, when they won the second division, but if they can improve on 2021-22, when they were relegated from LaLiga. Paco Lopez has come in as coach since then and his football is fun to watch — especially against the big teams, as his Levante side showed regularly — but not always the most consistent. Gerard Gumbau and Jesus Vallejo could prove clever pick-ups and if they can carry their momentum into the new campaign, they should have a good chance at staying up.

Key player: Myrto Uzuni

Albanian forward Uzuni joined Granada the year they were last relegated from the top flight, but it was last season when he took off. He scored 23 times, more than anyone else in the second division, and his goals will be key to Granada’s survival hopes.

Will their manager last the season?

More than most, this feels dependent on Granada making a good start. If they don’t, you fear for Lopez, whose brand of football is not the best suited to a relegation scrap. — Marsden


– Transfers in: DF Julian Araujo (Barcelona, loan), FW Munir El Haddadi (Getafe), FW Sandro Ramirez (Huesca), GK Aaron Escandell (Cartagenga), DF Daley Sinkgraven (Bayer Leverkusen), MF Javi Munoz (Eibar), FW Cristian Herrera (Ibiza)
– Transfers out: DF Sidneii (Ceara SC), FW Florin Andone (Eldense), MD Wilfrid Kaptoum (AEK Larnaca)
– Last season: Segunda Division (runners-up), Copa del Rey (second round)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Las Palmas are fun to watch under Garcia Pimienta, the former Barcelona B coach, but often lack efficiency in the final third. Just 49 goals in 42 games last year was enough to get them promotion from the Segunda Division, but they will have to improve this time round. The need to be more clinical explains the signings of Munir El Haddadi, who will be reunited with his old Barca teammate Sandro Ramirez, and Cristian Herrera. Mexico international Julian Araujo also represents good business: young, hungry and with a point to prove. That said, it’s hard to see past them being anywhere other than the bottom third of the table.

Key player: Jonathan Viera

Captain Viera, one of the silkiest players in Spain on his day, remains vital to his hometown side, but there is plenty of young talent to keep an eye on in the squad as well. Alberto Moleiro, 19, is highly rated and Araujo, 21, will be looking to make his mark in LaLiga.

Will their manager last the season?

Pimineta took Las Palmas into the playoffs in his first season in charge after inheriting the team in eighth place in January. He then took them to promotion last term. The ex-Barca B boss now needs to prove himself at the top level of Spanish football. Do that, and a few bigger teams may come calling.— Marsden


– Transfers in: FW Cyle Larin (Real Valladolid), DF Siebe Van der Heyden (Union SG), FW Manu Morlanes (Villarreal), MF Omar Mascarell (Elche), DF Toni Lato (Valencia)
– Transfers out: FW Kang-In Lee (Paris Saint-Germain), FW Angel Rodriguez (Tenerife)
– Last season: LaLiga (ninth), Copa del Rey (round of 16)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Bettering or matching last year’s top-half finish would be an incredible result for Mallorca and veteran coach Javier Aguirre. The reality is, having lost last season’s top performer in Kang-In Lee, that a drop-off is more likely. Target man Vedat Muriqi will do extremely well to match last season’s 15 league goals, although he’ll get a helping hand from new signing Cyle Larin, another example of the smart squad building Mallorca have done in recent years. Staying out of the relegation battle for a second successive season would be an achievement in itself.

Key player: Vedat Muriqi

The swashbuckling Muriqi is a refreshingly old-school centre-forward, who enjoyed the best season of his career leading the line in 2022-23. Only Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema and Joselu scored more than his 15 league goals. Double figures this time would be an acceptable return.

Will their manager last the season?

Yes. Aguirre, 64, is one of LaLiga’s great characters, with almost 20 years of managerial experience including six Spanish clubs: Osasuna, Atletico Madrid, Real Zaragoza, Espanyol, Leganes and now Mallorca. What “El Vasco” did last season — lifting Mallorca out of the relegation scrap, getting wins over Real Madrid and Atletico along the way — is right up there with any of the Mexican’s managerial feats. Even if they drop off, his job should be safe. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: DF Johan Mojica (Villarreal), DF Alejandro Catena (Rayo Vallecano)
– Transfers out: FW Ez Abde (Barcelona)
– Last season: LaLiga (seventh), Copa del Rey (finalists)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Last season was one of the best in Osasuna’s 103-year history, qualifying for the Conference League — eventually being reinstated, after UEFA threatened to kick them out over a decade old match-fixing case — and making it to their second ever Copa del Rey final, where they were beaten 2-1 by Real Madrid.

Improving on that would be a lot to ask, so instead, they’ll settle for finishing in the top half of the table, and perhaps putting together another cup run. Mojica and Catena look like handy additions, who should fit into Osasuna’s fast-paced, entertaining style of football.

Key player: David Garcia

There’s no single obvious candidate here. The explosive Chimy Avila might be a contender, but he was often left out of the starting eleven last season. Playmaker Aimar Oroz, 21, is improving fast, while forward Ante Budimir is their most reliable goal threat. Osasuna’s solidity is their strength, though, so let’s go for captain Garcia, one of the best centre-backs in the league.

Will their manager last the season?

Yes. Jagoba Arrasate has been at Osasuna for five years. Among current LaLiga managers, only Atletico’s Simeone has been around longer. The club have stuck with him through bad times, like a three-month winless streak in 2020-21, and last season was their reward. President Luis Sabalza described Arrasate as “the ideal coach for Osasuna” before the cup final in May, and it would take quite a turnaround to see him lose his job. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: DF Florian Lejeune (Alaves), DF Pacha Espino (Cadiz), DF Aridane Hernandez (Osasuna)
– Transfers out: DF Fran Garcia (Real Madrid), MF Santi Comesana (Villarreal), DF Alejandro Catena (Osasuna), DF Mario Suarez (unattached), GK Diego Lopez (unattached)
– Last season: LaLiga (eleventh), Copa del Rey (round of 32)

Will they be better or worse this season?

It’s time to worry about Rayo. Previous coach Andoni Iraola worked miracles, guiding the team to midtable stability and — two years ago — a Copa del Rey semifinal, playing invigorating, aggressive, attacking football. But Iraola is gone, now in charge of Bournemouth, and the jury is out on his replacement, Francisco Rodriguez.

Rayo have also lost three key players: non-stop left-back Fran Garcia, underrated midfielder Santi Comesana and ball-playing defender Alejandro Catena. Pacha Espino, signed from Cadiz, is a useful addition who fits the Rayo profile, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the team are weaker. And of course, the club are a perennial mess off the pitch, finally releasing this season’s kits and season tickets just a week before kick-off. Expect a relegation battle.

Key player: Isi Palazon

The shaven-headed midfielder, 28, is one of LaLiga’s most elegant playmakers and a scorer of spectacular, often long-range goals — nine in the league last season — drifting in from the right-hand side. His influence is only matched by the rocket-fuelled Alvaro Garcia, 30, on the other flank.

Will their manager last the season?

No. Iraola is an impossible act to follow, raising expectations beyond any reasonable level, and Francisco’s record — he was most recently seen spending 11 months at Elche after a year at Girona and seven months at Huesca — does not inspire a great deal of confidence. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: DF Marc Bartra (Trabzonspor), DF Hector Bellerin (Sporting Club), MF Marc Roca (Leeds, loan), DF Chadi Riad (Barcelona, loan), MF Isco (unattached), Ayoze Perez (Leicester City), Alex Collado (Barcelona)
– Transfers out: MF Sergio Canales (Monterrey), FW Diego Lainez (Tigres UANL), DF Edgar Gonzalez (Almeria), FW Loren Moron (Aris Saloniki), Alex Collado (Al-Okhdood, loan)
– Last season: LaLiga (6th), Copa del Rey (last 16), Europa League (last 16)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Like most LaLiga sides, money is tight at Real Betis but they have operated well in the free agents and loan market. Isco and Marc Roca come in to add depth and talent in midfield, while defenders Marc Bartra and Hector Bellerin both return for their second spells at the Seville-based club. They should be in and around the top six once again, although that will depend on getting all their new players registered. Like many LaLiga clubs, that is still far from certain just days before the season begins.

Key player: Isco

It is going to be fascinating to see how Isco does. The former Real Madrid midfielder left Betis’ rivals Sevilla last December and feels he has a point to prove after being out of the game for six months. Still only 31, he has plenty of football left in him.

Will their manager last the season?

Betis have never finished lower than sixth under Manuel Pellegrini, who is about to embark on his fourth season in charge of the club. With a Copa del Rey win in 2022 under his belt, his legendary status at the club is secured, and he should last the campaign. — Marsden


– Transfers in: MF Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), DF Fran Garcia (Rayo Vallecano), FW Joselu (Espanyol), FW Brahim Diaz (AC Milan), MF Arda Guler (Fenerbahce)
– Transfers out: FW Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad), FW Eden Hazard (unattached), FW Marco Asensio (Paris Saint-Germain), FW Mariano Diaz (unattached), DF Jesus Vallejo (Granada), DF Rafa Marin (Alaves), MF Antonio Blanco (Alaves)
– Last season: LaLiga (second), Copa del Rey (winners)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Better. Last season’s LaLiga campaign was underwhelming, Madrid’s challenge to Barcelona fizzled out much too early, finishing ten points behind the champions. Yes, Benzema — the team’s attacking pivot for a decade — has gone, but for much of last season, he looked a player in a slow decline. Bellingham is the signing of the summer and at the time of writing, we still don’t know if Kylian Mbappe will join him.

An element of uncertainty comes with coach Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to ditch Madrid’s well-oiled 4-3-3 in favour of a new 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, reacting to Benzema’s departure and Bellingham’s arrival. In Madrid’s preseason friendlies the system has looked fine offensively — although Vinicius Junior has to adapt to a more central role — but struggled defensively, shipping six goals in two games against Barcelona and Juventus. Still, if Ancelotti gets the balance right, Madrid’s strength in depth is unrivalled.

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Gundogan looking foward to facing ‘impressive’ Bellingham

Barcelona’s Ilkay Gundogan speaks on how “impressive” Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham is and how he looks forward to competing against the England star.

Key player: Jude Bellingham

With all the headlines around the pursuit of Mbappe, the €103m signing of Europe’s most exciting, all-round modern midfielder has almost gone under the radar. Bellingham, 20, impressed from the moment he touched down in Madrid with a word-perfect introductory news conference, and he hasn’t put a foot wrong since.

Will their manager last the season?

Carlo Ancelotti begins the season in a highly unusual situation, with everybody assuming that he’ll be leaving to take charge of the Brazil national team in June 2024. The charismatic Italian is hugely popular in Madrid after winning the 2014 Champions League in his first spell, and then going one better with a historic 2022 Double, but he’ll have to be careful to make absolutely clear where his focus lies.

It’s a sign of Madrid’s high standards that last season’s second place in LaLiga, a Champions League semifinal and winning the Copa del Rey was seen as being not good enough. Regardless, Ancelotti should get one last full season at the Bernabeu. Only things completely falling apart would see him leave before then. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: DF Hamari Traore (Rennes), FW Andre Silva (RB Leipzig, loan)
– Transfers out: MF David Silva (retired), FW Portu (Getafe), MF Asier Illarramendi (Dallas)
– Last season: LaLiga (4th), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals), Europa League (last 16)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Real Sociedad have constantly improved under Imanol Alguacil, finishing 6th, 5th, 5th and then eventually scaling the top four to reach the Champions League last season. The next task is slightly harder: competing in Europe’s elite competition while also maintaining their place at the top of LaLiga. The loss of David Silva, forced to retire due to injury, is huge in that sense, and they haven’t really added a lot of depth to help them compete on various fronts. Asier Illarramendi and Alexander Sorloth have also moved on, although La Real have successfully used their B team under Imanol.

Key player: Take Kubo

Kubo had an excellent first season at the club and the Japan international, still just 22, now has the chance to showcase his talent in the Champions League. Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Zubimendi are two exceptional homegrown players to track as well.

Will their manager last the season?

Never say never in football, but Imanol rightly holds one of the safest jobs in Spain. He has worked wonders at Anoeta. — Marsden


– Transfers in: DF Loic Bade (Rennes), DF Adria Pedrosa (Sevilla)
– Transfers out: DF Karim Rekik (Al Jazira), DF Jose Angel Carmona (Getafe), FW Rony Lopes (Braga)
– Last season: LaLiga (12th), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals)

Will they be better or worse this season?

How do you begin to sum up Sevilla last season? It was, frankly, a bit of a mess. Julen Lopetegui was fired in October when he should have gone months earlier. Replacement Jorge Sampaoli was the wrong man, flirting with relegation before an unlikely saviour appeared in Jose Luis Mendilibar, who eventually took Sevilla to a seventh Europa League title, beating Manchester United, Juventus and Roma.

Mendilibar the short-term fix is now in charge for the long haul, and that means improvement feels all but inevitable. The departure of influential sporting director Monchi — the transfer guru who ran the club for over 20 years — will have an impact, but exactly what remains to be seen, with his recent record on signings a little iffy.

Key player: Lucas Ocampos

Sevilla’s squad is not as packed with quality as it once was, but they can still call on the vast experience and quality of Jesus Navas, 37, Fernando, 36, and Ivan Rakitic, 35. Youssef En-Nesyri will score the goals — if Sevilla don’t manage to move him on for a big fee before the transfer window closes — but winger Ocampos is probably their most exciting player, back where he belongs after a misguided six months at Ajax.

Will their manager last the season?

Yes. Having secured First Division survival and won the club’s seventh Europa League, Mendilibar should be given time now, even if he was initially only an emergency short-term appointment, with other alternatives lined up this summer. Mendilibar, 62, is another of LaLiga’s great characters, a fierce critic of modern football who does not suffer fools gladly. This is the biggest job of his career, and he’s enjoying every minute. — Kirkland


– Transfers in: DF Cenk Ozkacar (Lyon), MF Pepelu (Levante)
– Transfers out: MF Yunus Musah (AC Milan), FW Edinson Cavani (Boca Juniors), DF Toni Lato (Mallorca)
– Last season: LaLiga (16th), Copa del Rey (quarterfinals)

Will they be better or worse this season?

Valencia have lost more than they have gained this summer. Yunus Musah has moved to Milan and Edinson Cavani to Boca Juniors, while the loans of Samuel Lino, Justin Kluivert, Nico Gonzalez and Ilaix Moriba have all expired. Samu Castillejo may yet also leave. Ruben Baraja has utilised the academy well since taking charge, but the squad looks too small and too short of top quality as fans call for more investment from the owners in the team. Anything other than an average season would be a surprise, although that may be considered a success at this point.

Key player: Jose Gaya

The youngsters who made such an impact at the end of last season, such as Javi Guerra and Diego Lopez, may yet prove all the preseason predictions wrong, but Valencia’s squad is lacking in star quality. Perhaps Spain left-back Gaya or goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili are the best players on their books.

Will their manager last the season?

Managers rarely last the season at Valencia, who are on to their 12th permanent coach in the last decade. Baraja did brilliantly to guide them away from relegation last season and is a club legend, but, even so, it’s hard to see him lasting the season. The chances of the owners looking for someone else or Baraja walking of his own accord are both high. — Marsden


– Transfers in: FW Alexander Sorloth (RB Leipzig), MF Ramon Terrats (Girona), MF Santi Comesana (Rayo Vallecano), FW Ilias Akhomach (Barcelona), MF Denis Suarez (Celta Vigo), FW Ben Brereton Diaz (Blackburn Rovers), DF Matteo Gabbia (AC Milan, loan)
– Transfers out: FW Nicolas Jackson (Chelsea), DF Pau Torres (Aston Villa), FW Samuel Chukwueze (AC Milan), FW Boulaye Dia (Salernitana), FW Arnaut Danjuma (Everton), MF Manu Morlanes (Mallorca), MF Ivan Martin (Girona), MF Vicente Iborra (Olympiacos), DF Johan Mojica (Osasuna, loan)
– Last season: LaLiga (5th), Copa del Rey (last 16), Europa Conference League (last 16)

Will they be better or worst this season?

There has been a huge turnover of players at Villarreal this summer, which makes if difficult to judge how they will do this year. Nicolas Jackson, Pau Torres and Samuel Chukwueze are all huge losses, but they have proven to be a club who can reinvent themselves when forced to. They have made some interesting signings, especially in attack, and coach Quique Setien, Barcelona blip aside, is one of the most astute tacticians in the league. Replicating last season’s fifth place looks tough given who has left, but they should be among the European shakeup come May.

Key player: Gerard Moreno

For all the departures, there is still plenty of experience around the squad in the form of Raul Albiol and Dani Parejo, but the biggest key to any Villarreal success lies in keeping Moreno fit. The Spain striker has struggled with injuries over the last two years, which is a shame because when at his best there are few at his level in the league. Still only 31, he says he’s “physically strong” ahead of the opening weekend.

Will their manager last the season?

Setien didn’t start well at Villarreal when he replaced Unai Emery last year. There were even suggestions he could lose his job before the World Cup. A couple of good results prior to the tournament kept him in the role, though, and Villarreal were one of the better sides in Spain in the second half of the season. With his position strengthened, he should see the season out. — Marsden



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