We begin our weeklong preview of the upcoming La Liga season with a look at the teams that could find themselves fighting to avoid relegation come next May.
It's a borderline miracle that Espnayol are still in the Primera Division after their horrible start to last season's campaign. Mexican head coach Javier Aguirre did an astounding job after taking over the club in November getting the team organized and rocketing from 20th all the way up to 13th by the season's close. Now comes the hard part for Aguirre as he must guide the team through an entire season and try to stay out of the relegation fray.
If Espanyol can again have a strong defense -- a big part of their recovery last season -- and stay organized there's no reason they can't stay out of the bottom three. The challenge will be generating goals and overcoming the loss of Joan Verdu, who was easily their best player and leading scorer, to Betis. Pizzi arrives and will be tasked as filling the creative midfield position left open by Verdu.
New head coach Luis Enrique has a tough task ahead of him this season with Celta. The Celestes only managed to score 37 league goals last season and the departure of leading scorer and assist man Iago Aspas doesn't appear to make things any easier. The arrival of Barcelona prospect Rafinha and the signing of Charles and Nolito should help replace Aspas' production, but that's a lot to ask. If things go right, Celta should be safe, especially with weaker teams around them.
Almeria won promotion via the playoff route, easily beating Girona to earn their third season in the top flight. The team has made several loan signings in the summer, including defender Marco Torsiglieri from Metalist Kharkiv and midfielder Suso from Liverpool. The real question surrounding Almeria and their hopes of survival will be how they replace Brazilian striker Charles, who was sold to Celta Vigo. Charles was the team's leading scorer, and 35-year-old new head coach Francisco Rodríguez will have to find a way to replace lost production if they have any hope of staying up.
Newly promoted Elche are one of the favorites to make a quick return back to the Segunda Division next season. Despite an impressive campaign that saw them finish first and earn automatic promotion, there were still plenty of issues that will likely only become more apparent in the top flight. Elche were average on the road and they'll be traveling to such far more formidable places this season. Elche have brought in several players with top flight experience, including a new goalkeeper, and an entirely re-built back line, including David Lomban, who paid €50,000 out of his own pocket to make the move. If Fran Escribá's team can get some breaks and be strong at home, anything is possible, but it's hard to see them surviving.
The biggest question for Osasuna this season is where will the goals come from. Leading scorer Kike Sola was sold to Athletic Bilbao, and for a team that already struggled to score goals to lose his production, concerns are natural. Paraguayan striker Ariel Núñez was brought in on loan for Libertad and he'll be under pressure to fill in the gap up front. If he can produce and Osasuna can defend effectively -- their defense was the fifth best in La Liga last season in terms of goals allowed -- they should be able to escape relegation.
Goalkeeper Andrés Fernández was reportedly being eyed by bigger clubs but he'll remain for at least another year with Los Rojillos, giving them a massive boost at the back.
When your head coach is already talking about his concerns in the preseason, you know you might be in for a relegation battle. Lucas Alcaraz has not been pleased with his team's performance so far this summer, but there's no reason to panic yet. The arrival of Piti, Riki and Manual Iturra -- three experienced players -- on free transfers should bring some stability and leadership to the club. Granada will have to have things go very wrong to be in serious relegation threat, but all it takes is some injuries or a string of bad results for something like that to happen.