Sack Race La Liga Preview 2019/20: Could Zinedine Zidane be first out the door?by Colin Millar / 15 August 2019, 09:08Tweet
This weekend sees the return of La Liga with an upcoming campaign which promises to be more entertaining than ever.
Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona won the league title – their fourth in five years – at a canter last season, but lost the Copa del Rey final to Valencia and once again missed out on European glory.
Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann are the star arrivals at the Camp Nou this summer for the side who are once more title favourites, with Neymar possibly returning from Paris Saint-Germain too.
Real Madrid welcome over €300m worth of new signings but of the arrivals only Eden Hazard is seriously expected to be a first-team regular, meaning many of last season’s problems may continue.
A disappointing pre-season coincided with an unsuccessful pursuit of Paul Pogba and there is a sense that Madrid may once again miss out on a top-two spot this season.
Their city rivals Atletico have undergone mass change this summer - a series of stars have departed but a new legion of arrivals are now under Diego Simeone’s orders, including Portuguese teenage star Joao Felix - who cost a club record €126m.
English eyes will be on Kieran Trippier while Marcos Llorente made the move across the Spanish capital and Rodrigo Moreno comes from Valencia.
Los Che will once again be challenging for a top-four spot alongside Sevilla - who have signed 11 new players and are now coached by Julen Lopetegui - while Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Athletic Club Bilbao are all worth keeping an eye on.
Below we take a look at the main managerial talking points ahead of the new La Liga season:
First Managerial Casualty – Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid)
This is a big call, but all the signs are there that the Frenchman may not be in the hot seat at Los Blancos much longer. His return to the club in March this year was a surprise due to the club’s alarming decline but fractures have shown in his relationship with club president Florentino Perez.
Zidane is said to have been promised full control of the club’s transfer policy but Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez have not been sold, against his wishes, while the club failed in their attempts to land Pogba from Manchester United - their prime summer target.
With the starting line-up largely unaltered from last season’s catastrophe and with many of the same problems repeating themselves in pre-season matches - including an embarrassing 7-3 loss to Atleti - there is a real chance Zidane and Madrid may part company in double quick time.
Title Winning Manager – Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
They may have finished a whopping 11 points behind Barca last season but there is genuine hope that Atleti will lift this season’s title. There has been a changing of the guard at the club - veterans Diego Godin, Juanfran Torres and Filipe Luis have all gone, as have star players Rodri and Antoine Griezmann. Yet the recruitment has been heralded as the best in the division.
Joao Felix is said to be the world’s most exciting young player and appears destined for stardom, Porto duo Hector Herrera and Filipe Monteiro have arrived along with new defenders Renan Lodi, Kieran Trippier and Mario Hermoso. Marcos Llorente will look to fulfil his promise having left Real Madrid while Rodrigo Moreno is sure to add potency to the side’s attack.
There are also a number of players with a point to prove - Diego Costa appears to have re-found his hunger as he netted four in the rout of Madrid (before, typically, being sent-off for starting a brawl) while in Jan Oblak, Josema Gimenez and Saul Niguez - they still have the spine of their side.
A vibrant, youthful and fresh Atleti may pip Barca - whose priority this season surely is to finally land success in Europe - to the league title.
Surprise Package - Rubi (Real Betis)
Real Betis only secured a top-half finish courtesy of a final day win at Real Madrid. It followed their triumph at the Camp Nou earlier in the campaign alongside their defeat of Atletico Madrid. Yet consistency alluded Los Verdiblancos all season as they stuttered to a disappointing finish. That heralded the exit of Quique Setien, with Rubi stepping into the breach.
Rubi guided Espanyol to European qualification for the first time since a penalty shootout denied them victory in the 2007 Europa League final. It was a superb achievement and the previous campaign he guided Huesca to promotion. He was viewed as a worthy successor to the dogmatic Setien as he embodies similar progressive ideas of a playing style but with an element of pragmatism added.
He has brought with him star striker Borja Iglesias - prolific last season for Espanyol with 17 league goals - along with Lyon captain Nabil Fekir. Stars have departed including Junior Firpo and Giovani Lo Celso but Betis now appear to be a more balanced squad with more ruthlessness. With no European distractions this season, they could easily break back into the top six in the division.