As the saying goes, you wait ages for a bus then two come along at once. Football is no different. As this month we will see not only the return of the Premier League, but LaLiga and Serie A too.
LaLiga is the first to resume, as the Seville derby gets the league back underway on Thursday evening. Barcelona and Real Madrid are both clear of the pack at the top of the table, yet only two points separate the pair. Barcelona are the league leaders but have the much tougher run-in as Quique Setién looks to win his first trophy in Catalonia.
If you thought the race for Champions League football in the Bundesliga was tight, cast your eyes over to Spain. Atlético Madrid are among those in the dogfight, with just five points separating Sevilla in third and Valencia in seventh.
It is just as tight at the other end of the table with Espanyol trying to avoid being the latest casualties of playing Europa League football. Real Valladolid in 15th are by no means safe, with only a six-point cushion above second-bottom Leganés.
The stars will be on full show, with Lionel Messi and co. coming back out to play. Ahead of LaLiga’s return, we’ve profiled five under-the-radar stars you need to know about…
Real Sociedad have lit up LaLiga this season. With a plethora of youngsters among their ranks, La Real were something of an unknown ahead of the current campaign. Whilst underwhelming prodigies Alexander Isak and Martin Ødegaard have reinvigorated their careers at Sociedad, Mikel Oyarzabal – one of the most coveted young Spanish players around – has seen his career trajectory continue to rise.
With ten goals and seven assists in all competitions, the 23-year-old has once again enjoyed an extremely productive campaign at the club he has been at since the age of 14. Capable of using either foot, the versatile attacker has looked a constant threat all season, on and off the ball.
Oyarzabal can utilise a quick turn of pace to get to the byline or cut inside to create space down the left for former Gunner Nacho Monreal. The winger’s runs off the ball have been equally impressive, as he floats along the opposition’s back-line, demanding the ball at any given opportunity.
His remarkable performances have been instrumental to Sociedad’s march up the table and they currently sit in fourth. There is also a mouth-watering all-Basque Copa del Rey final on the horizon, as La Real look to win their first trophy in more than ten years.
Throughout his rise in the ranks of La Masia, Marc Cucurella drew persistent comparisons to Barcelona legend Carles Puyol. That’s mostly down to the fact they both have curly hair rather than their playing styles. Regardless, Cucurella is well on his way to becoming a household name.
After flourishing during his loan spell at Getafe this season, El Geta showed little hesitation in making the move permanent in March. The high-flying wing-back has starred down the left flank for Jose Bordalas’ side all year, acting as the main outlet for the transition from defence into attack.
The speedy Cucurella can be utilised in a number of roles as he was a winger throughout his tenure at Barcelona. Yet the 21-year-old acts as a wing-back at the Estadio Coliseum Alfonso Pérez and operates even deeper at international level, playing as a left-back for the Spanish youth sides.
It’s no secret Bordalas has an extremely defensive style of play, which triumphs on the art of catching the opposition on the counter. Cucurella has played an integral part in Getafe’s resilient performances all year, with his close-control and tireless running causing LaLiga full-backs constant headaches.
Getafe are fifth in LaLiga and will look to go one better than last year by achieving a top-four finish for the first time in their history. Although, it will be no easy feat with tricky fixtures still to come against Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Sociedad.
Salisu has acted as an impenetrable fort in the Real Valladolid defence all season. The left footed centre-back has attracted a host of admirers with his world-class displays against some of Europe’s top attackers.
The Ghanaian has appeared in all but one game for Valladolid’s this term, as they have conceded the lowest amount of goals out of all of the teams in the bottom half of the table. The 6ft 3in defender is an imposing presence in the Valladolid back-line and was nicknamed ‘the wall’ in El Pais last October.
Salisu has been at Valladolid since 2017 and it took just two years before the 21-year-old was promoted into the first team. Signed from African Talent Football Academy, Salisu was brought to Spain for his composed ability on the ball, a trait which he has exhibited throughout the campaign.
In his first year playing top-flight football, Salisu has emerged as one of the best central defenders in Spain. But with just two years left on his contract and a measly £10million release clause, Salisu is destined to move on this summer with Manchester United and Atlético Madrid both reportedly interested in acquiring the 21-year-old.
Valencia have a knack for developing world-class players. Be it exciting left-backs such as Juan Bernat and José Gayà or silky playmakers like David Silva and Isco, there always seems to be an academy graduate making waves at the Mestalla Stadium.
The latest off the conveyor belt is not to be sniffed at either. Ferran Torres is rumoured to have attracted the interest of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona – and with good reason. Torres made his debut for Los Che at the age of 17 and quickly secured his place in the side. The right-winger is more the industrious type than a bundle of flicks and tricks yet, at just 20, Torres has a big future ahead of him.
By no means wedded to the touchline, Torres often drifts inside looking to play incisive passes in behind opposition defences, as well as creating space out wide for full-back Daniel Wass. He has six goals in all competitions this season, including one in the UEFA Champions League last-16 second-leg defeat to Atalanta.
Valencia have suffered a tumultuous campaign, with much-loved coach Marcelino departing last September. There is still hope of a top-four LaLiga finish and Champions League qualification for the third year on the bounce. Sitting just four points off Real Sociedad in the last Champions League spot, Torres will have to be on top form to aid Los Che’s last-minute surge up the table.
Sitting rock-bottom of the table, Espanyol look set to drop down to the Segunda División for the first time in 26 years after enduring one of their worst seasons yet. The demands of Europa League football have had a huge effect on Abelardo Fernandez’s side.
One player who has shown no signs of regression is central midfielder Marc Roca. The deep-lying playmaker has impressed once again at the base of Espanyol’s midfield and is regularly touted as the heir to Busquets’ role in the Spanish national side once he hangs up his boots.
The 23-year-old announced himself on the big stage after winning the Under-21 European Championships last summer and although Fabián Ruiz and Dani Ceballos received the majority of plaudits, Roca’s performances did not go unnoticed.
Roca snuffs out opposition attacks as he looks to instantly win back possession before making a pass to a team-mate further up the pitch. And whilst it is inevitable Espanyol will be relegated from LaLiga, it is highly unlikely Roca will follow them.