The Great Season Preview 1/5: Athletic Bilbao to Betis
Last Season 6th
A change of president at Athletic during the summer produced a change of coach. Argentinian loon Marcelo Bielsa replaces the rather hard-done-by Andalusian loon JoaquÃÂn CaparrÃÂ³s, which is a bit of a shame.
But, there may still be some fun to be had for LLL at BielsaÃ¢ÂÂs expense with the former Argentina and Chile manager bringing his years of managerial experience Ã¢ÂÂ and his Larry Grayson-style old-lady glasses Ã¢ÂÂ back to Spain after the briefest of spells in charge of Espanyol in 1998.
Bielsa has made the enticing promise to Ã¢ÂÂstimulateÃ¢ÂÂ the fans in the stands with high pressure, 4-3-3 attacking football rather than the more physical but nonetheless effective 4-4-2 Ã¢ÂÂHail MaryÃ¢ÂÂ style that has flourished in recent years. The hope must be though that the side doesnÃ¢ÂÂt become too fancy-pants and ruin AthleticÃ¢ÂÂs hard-earned role as la LigaÃ¢ÂÂs version of a wet November night in Stoke.
The arrival of Spain U-21 midfielder Ander Herrera from Zaragoza to support Javi MartÃÂnez, Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente Ã¢ÂÂ whose name has been mercifully absent from the transfer speculation this summer Ã¢ÂÂ should push Athletic to another top six finish.
FFT Travel guide: Athletic Bilbao
Last Season 7th
Whatever LLL predicts will be in store for an erratic AtlÃÂ©tico Madrid, the club tends to do the opposite. The blog was bigging up a solid campaign for the Rojiblancos last year and it turned out to be soggier than a biscuit at David CameronÃ¢ÂÂs prep school.
With David De Gea, Kun AgÃÂ¼ero and TomÃÂ¡s Ujfalusi all departing, AtlÃÂ©tico are weaker than last year. However, the plus side for the club is that although Gregorio Manzano may not be the most excitable of managerial presences either on the bench or in the dressing room, the AtlÃÂ©tico coach is very good at getting the best out of average players Ã¢ÂÂ something that could be useful with former Deportivo striker AdriÃÂ¡n potentially leading the line with Diego ForlÃÂ¡n, if a suitable replacement canÃ¢ÂÂt be found for Kun.
Although Quique SÃÂ¡nchez Flores achieved all that he could at an institutional basket-case of a club, the former boss was a fiery fella, so AtlÃÂ©tico may benefit from the no alarms and no surprises approach of Manzano. However, the players will need to over-perform if they are to make the top six this year, which must surely be the clubÃ¢ÂÂs objective.
FFT Travel guide: Atletico Madrid
Last Season 1st
The three newbies joining PepÃ¢ÂÂs Dream Boys are enough to make competitors in Madrid and Manchester weep with frustration. What was an already brilliant Ã¢ÂÂ if not slightly small Ã¢ÂÂ squad has been enhanced with the arrival of Alexis SÃÂ¡nchez, who may give little Leo MessiÃ¢ÂÂs legs a rest from time to time, and the surprise purchase of Cesc Fabregas with BarÃÂ§a pretty much catching everyone off guard by nicking the midfielder off Arsenal.
The promotion of Thiago from the Ã¢ÂÂBÃ¢ÂÂ team after a fine summer with Spain U21s is another reason to think that BarÃÂ§a will be making it a fourth title win in a row. The same argument could apply to Real Madrid, who have also bought well, but the race this year isnÃ¢ÂÂt really about who is better than the other in a head-to-head to encounter, but which team has the most consistency during the other 36 matches of the season. In this particular department, BarÃÂ§a are still a little bit ahead of Madrid, but itÃ¢ÂÂs going to be mighty close.
Unless itÃ¢ÂÂs a 20-point difference, of course.
FFT Travel guide: Barcelona
Last Season 1st in Segunda
LLL wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be at all surprised if one point separates 17th and 10th this season, so it has lumped Betis in for a finish just above the relegation zone Ã¢ÂÂ simply because there fill probably be four teams worse than the Seville side, who are making a very welcome return to the top flight after a two-year absence.
Betis are still in a huge mess financially and in administration, which is why just two players have so far been brought in for cash. Furthermore the club have chosen to sell influential midfielder Achille EmanÃÂ¡, a footballer who has been hugely important for Betis over the years.
One advantage the club has is its fans, who will love being back in la Primera. Another is the kind fixture list that sees Betis playing Granada, Mallorca and Zaragoza in the first five matches - a fine chance to put some lead in the newly promoted clubÃ¢ÂÂs pencil at the beginning of the campaign.
FFT Travel guide: Real Betis