La Liga: Club by Club Review of the Season 2007/08

Season 2007/2008 was not a vintage season for La Liga. In the end Real Madrid gained a record breaking 85 points, but most Madridistas would agree that their team was far from perfect. They were helped by the demise of their rivals Barcelona whose fantasticos followed the miserable path that Madrid’s Galacticos had taken a few seasons before. Sevilla were also below par as they struggled to get over the tragedy of Antonio Puerta’s death and the loss of Juande Ramos to the Premiership.

In fact, the success of the Premiership is possibly one of the reasons for the decline in La Liga as the big clubs look jealously at the money-making capacity of the Premiership. The fact that Liga de Futbol Profesional (LFP) and the Real Federacion Española de Futbol (RFEF) are so poorly run does not help the situation. The clubs allow the TV companies to dictate to them, and not announcing kick-off times until a week before the games take place does little to help the product.

There were some positives to the season: Villarreal again showed how far a small club can go if it is well run, to finish ten points above Barcelona was a truly tremendous achievement, while Racing Santander finishing sixth was also highly praiseworthy. Compared to the Premiership it is healthy to see a less predictable league. It is also nice to see younger players being given more chances; twenty years ago it was rare for a teenager to get a debut in La Liga, this season we have seen the progression of 17-year-old Bojan Krkic as well as future stars like Nacho Camacho and Dani Aquino who are both also only seventeen.

There now follows a brief review of each team’s season:

Real Madrid: 1st 85 pts. By far the best team in the league. Got off to a tremendous start by taking 53 points in the first 21 games of the season. Suffered a slump in February and March but finished strongly taking 19 points from the last 7 games. The Spanish players formed the core of the team with Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Guti and Raul all having excellent seasons. In fact Bernd Schuster’s decision to play Raul closer to goal was a key to their success. Robinho performed well in the first half of the season and when his form dropped Robben came in and did well. The most consistent of the new signings was Sneijder, though Pepe paid back his massive transfer fee with a superb performance in the 0-1 win at Camp Nou.

Villarreal: 2nd 77 pts. Fantastic season from the yellow submarine. Even though they now don’t have Riquelme or Forlan coach Manuel Pellegrini has shown that a great team can be constructed with little money and few star players. From Diego Lopez in goal right through to top scorer Nihat the team has performed well but special mention should go to Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and of course, Nihat who scored 18 goals.

Barcelona: 3rd 67 pts. Very disappointing season from the blaugrana. Ronaldinho disappeared from the map early on, while star signing Thierry Henry struggled to fit in. The failure to take advantage of Madrid’s slip-ups in February and March led to a dramatic drop in confidence and team unity fell apart by the end of the season leading to Frank Rijkaard’s departure. Injuries to Samuel Eto’o and Leo Messi didn’t help the situation but at least it gave a chance for rising stars Bojan Krkic and Giovani dos Santos. There will be a lot of transfer activity this summer.

Atletico Madrid: 4th 64 pts. A fine season for Atleti who gained a Champions League spot for the first time in ten years. An excellent front pairing of Kun Agüero and Diego Forlan helped the fans to forget the departure of Fernando Torres. The front two were supported well by Simao Sabrosa and Maxi Rodriguez and only a leaky defence prevented them from finishing higher. The Calderon was treated to some thrilling high scoring games including a 6-3 win over Almeria, two 4-3 wins over Sevilla and Valladolid, a 3-4 defeat to Villarreal and the excellent 4-2 win over Barcelona.

Sevilla: 5th 64 pts. Sevilla’s season was marked by the tragic death of Antonio Puerta at the end of August. This was followed by four successive league defeats and the departure of coach Juande Ramos. Manolo Jimenez did a great job to turn the season around and they only missed out on a top four spot on goal difference. Luis Fabiano finished the season with 24 goals.

Racing: 6th 60 pts. Excellent season from the Cantabrian team who go into Europe for the first time next season. Started slowly, only taking 5 points from the first five games but despite not beating any of the five teams above them consistantly beat the teams below them. Another small team with few stars, though the Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay has been rewarded for a good campaign with a move to Real Madrid.

Mallorca: 7th 59pts. A great run of six wins in six games at the end of the season was almost enough to get Mallorca into the Uefa Cup. Led by “Pichichi” Dani Güiza who scored an impressive 27 goals, Mallorca won at Sevilla and at Camp Nou and also knocked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey.

Almeria: 8th 52pts. Newly promoted Almeria surprised everyone not just because they finished so high in the table, but because they played some decent football along the way. Thirty-six-year-old coach Unai Emery will be a name to watch for in the future. His team were capable of beating Real Madrid 2-0 at the start of February, and they also won 1-4 at Sevilla.

Deportivo: 9th 52pts. Struggled for the first half of the season in and around the relegation zone. The introduction of Angel Lafita and Christian Wilhelmsson to the team in February transformed things as they went on a run taking 31 points from just 12 games, beating Sevilla, Real Madrid and Barcelona along the way.

Valencia: 10th 51 pts. Started the season fighting for a Champions League spot but president Juan Soler wasn’t satisfied so he sacked coach Quique Flores to bring in Ronald Koeman. The move was almost catastrophic as Koeman tried to instil his law with the players and the players rebelled. The result was that Valencia plummeted down the table and were flirting with relegation after winning only four games in twenty-two. Koeman managed to win the Copa del Rey but was sacked a few days later. New coach Voro came in and Valencia won four of their last five games to finish in mid-table.

Athletic Bilbao: 11th 50pts. An improvement after last season’s fight against relegation. Coach Joaquin Caparros maintained the tradition of only playing Basque players and Athletic continue to produce exciting youngsters such as midfielder Markel Susaeta. Athletic maintained a reasonably stable mid-table position throughout the season.

Espanyol: 12th 48 pts: Began the season promisingly and were third at the start of January thanks to some fine performances from the likes of Luis Garcia and Albert Reira. However, they lost striker Raul Tamudo with a fractured arm and goalkeeper Carlos Kameni to the African Cup and the season just fell apart including a run of 11 defeats in fourteen games. Even when Kameni and Tamudo returned things did not improve and the team took just three points from the last ten games.

Betis: 13th 47 pts. Spent most of the season in relegation trouble but a good run between February and April of six wins in ten games including victories over Real Madrid and Barcelona was enough to pull them out of trouble.

Getafe: 14th 47 pts. Took only two points from the first seven games as the players struggled to adapt to new coach Michael Laudrup, but once the team started to click they played some excellent football. They reached the final of the Copa del Rey and also had an excellent run in the Uefa Cup which only finished in the quarter-finals when Bayern Munich made an amazing late comeback in extra time. Good season from Ruben De La Red in midfield.

Valladolid: 15th 45pts. Failure to win a game in September and October meant the season was a hard slog for the newly promoted team. However, they were difficult to beat at home and managed five wins on their travels. Joseba Llorente played a big part in their survival with 15 goals.

Recreativo: 16th 44 pts. Slightly disappointing season having finished 8th in 2006/7 but they will be relieved to stay up. They were in the bottom three after a 7-1 defeat at Mallorca in March but they managed to recover, taking 15 points from the last eleven games to survive.

Osasuna: 17th 43 pts. Looked like finishing in mid-table: with ten games remaining they were level on points with Deportivo and Mallorca. However a poor finish with five defeats in the last six games left them hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Zaragoza: 18th 42 pts. Incredible that a team can be relegated with players of the quality of Pablo Aimar, Diego Milito, Roberto Ayala and Sergio Garcia. Zaragoza got through four coaches in the season and none of them were capable of turning it around as things went from bad to worse. After 22 games they were 10th with 29 points, but taking only 13 points from the last 16 games doomed them to the second division. Only won one away game all season.

Murcia: 19th 30 pts. Having just scraped promotion the previous season they began reasonably well taking 12 points in the first 9 games. However, they then fell apart. Will have to content themselves with memories of beating Espanyol 4-0 and a 1-4 win at Valladolid.

Levante: 20th 26 pts. Took only one point from the first ten games and never recovered. The fact that the players were not paid all season didn’t help and this led to threats of strike action at the end of the season but eventually they played all their games.

Nicholas Aldam writes on FCB News.

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