Four things to look out for as La Liga kicks off in Spain

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PUMA match ball
PUMA match ball

There may be no Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico or Sevilla taking part in the first round of matches in La Liga this weekend, but after a late end to last season and a short and disrupted summer, there are still plenty of things to look out for as football returns to Spain this weekend.

1. How will Valencia react after nightmare summer?

Although it could be hard to imagine a worse summer than FC Barcelona, Valencia fans will argue that no matter how bad things got at the Camp Nou, they are a lot worse at their Mestalla Stadium.

Last season ended with failure to qualify for Europe and that saw the club begin a major clear out. Central defender Ezequiel Garay became a free agent, while Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin were sold at a bargain price to nearby Villarreal and Spain internationals Ferran Torres and Rodrigo Moreno joined Manchester City and Leeds United, with Torres going for much less than most believe he is worth.

Other players such as Piccini and Florenzi have also moved on and with no new faces other than returning loanees, new coach Javi Garcia much be wondering what he has got himself into.

Garcia will be expected to get results but with a squad that looks much weaker than last season that looks difficult; what the former Watford boss desperately needs is a positive start in Sunday’s derby at home to Levante.

2. Things look good in Villarreal

While Valencia look to be crisis, 50 kilometers up the road in Villarreal everything is a lot more positive. Although some may think sacking coach Javier Calleja after finishing fifth was a harsh decision, Unai Emery is an excellent replacement.

Emery will have been sad to see Santi Cazorla move on, but the club has moved well in the transfer market to poach Parejo and Coquelin, while Take Kubo, who arrives on loan from Real Madrid, showed what a threat he can pose while at Mallorca.

Huesca did tremendously well under coach Michel to bounce back to the top-flight at the first attempt last season and newly promoted sides often start with a surprise, but on paper Villarreal should be much too strong for them.

3. Important to start well for Eibar and Celta

Last season saw both Eibar and Celta involved in the struggle to avoid relegation and worryingly both sides look weaker than they did a year ago, with Eibar losing players such as veteran striker Charles, as well as winger Fabian Orellana and midfielders Gorka Escalante and Di Blasis. Jose Recio can do a battling job in midfield, but at the moment Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side still needs new faces

Celta were even closer to the drop than Eibar and have waved goodbye to important loanees Rafinha and Jeison Murillo, while Fiodor Smolov and Pione Sisto have also left.

Even though it is only the first game of the campaign, both teams will be desperate to kick off with three points.
4. Starting where they finished in Granada

Granada ended last season with a 4-0 win at home to Athletic Club to qualify for Europe for the first time in the club’s history and fate has decided that the same two sides will meet again in the Los Carmines Stadium to open the new campaign. The kick-off was changed from Friday to Saturday late on Wednesday night, which should allow another 24 hours for players such as Inigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche and Inaki Williams more time to reach match fitness after picking up injuries and Covid-19 in pre-season.

However, Athletic will no doubt be worried by the naming of Mateu Lahoz as matchday referee. Lahoz has refereed Athletic 34 times in La Liga and the Basque side have won just six of those matches, drawn seven and lost 21- numbers hard to explain for a side that is usually in the top half of the table.

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