Robbie Dunne reports from Spain on what 2017 might hold for La Liga
With the Spanish league enjoying a winter break, our man in Spain takes a look at some predictions as we head into 2017.
Luis Enrique does not see out the year
Many of the feelings about Luis Enrique are ambivalent at best. He doesn’t endear himself to the media and has a weak repertoire with journalists - just the way he seems to like it.
This is fine when your team are winning, but hit a difficult patch and former grudges come back up and you get it right in the neck. Add to that how well Real Madrid are doing and the pressure will increase come the end of the season.
Luis Enrique recently said that if his future is not at Barcelona then it is not anywhere. There is a sense that he wouldn’t be too sad to wind down his managerial career and forget about the press conferences along with the pre and post-match interviews.
Jorge Sampaoli cements Sevilla as proper European heavyweights
Much like Diego Simeone did at Atlético Madrid, I am predicting Sampaoli will infiltrate Europe’s elite and show them how it’s done this season, causing some major upsets on the way. They could finish the season in the top four and playing a Champions League final in the Argentine’s first season in charge at the club.
They play los blancos twice in the new year, and this could derail Zidane’s season. They have shown how good they are against the better sides, beating Atlético and losing narrowly in a gutsy performance against Barcelona.
If Sampaoli buys one or maybe two players in January - with Anthony Martial linked - he will have a squad that can get him to a Champions League final and one that could break Real and Barcelona’s grip on first and second place in the league.
Real Madrid win the treble or nothing
Real's best chance is probably La Liga, but this confuses things greatly. Do they focus on the Champions League, a competition they have won twice in three years, or do they put all their eggs into their La Liga basket - a competition Barcelona have dominated for some time?
This is going to take some expert squad management and rotation by Zinedine Zidane as noise continues to grow from a concerned James Rodriguez and, less so, Isco.
Real Madrid still have plenty of doubters, and either they take that doubt with them as fuel until May, winning as they go, or they capitulate in the face of an increasing schedule of games, fatigue and questions marks over their manager.
Yannick Carrasco finishes the season with more goals than Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann seems to be angling for a blockbuster summer move, but his form for Atlético has been very poor. Meanwhile, Carrasco has stepped up when Griezmann has floundered. At what point then does Carrasco become the team’s talisman?
If he can score another eight to ten goals between the Copa del Rey, La Liga and the Champions League, he will be there or there abouts as the top scorer of team, meaning perhaps Atlético fans won’t mind losing Griezmann as much when the summer rolls around and Jose comes knocking.
Valencia get relegated
Not really that bold a prediction when you consider the state the club is in, but this would be huge and many still think they are too big to go down. The recent trouble that team captain Dani Parejo found himself in when he was pictured out at a local nightclub will not do much to alleviate the pressure on the squad.
Dani Parejo jugando al bingo. Me muero. Es más grande que el Valencia. pic.twitter.com/7HFFSDeyVQ— ️ㅤ (@FinallyPablo) January 1, 2017
Parejo enjoying a much more casual night of bingo to kick off 2017
Valencia fans are considered to be some of the most demanding in Europe, and with every week that goes by that they don’t separate themselves from the rest of the relegation scrapers, the unhappier the fans will get. This is a very interesting situation to keep an eye on over the next five months.
Atlético finish completely outside of the European places
Atlético are stuck between the sword and the wall. Attack and come undone, or defend and settle for draws when they need wins. Jan Oblak is out now for a couple of months and the team are undergoing an identity crisis. Unable to sign players this January, a lot will depend on what tactic Simeone opts for going forward, but there are plenty of reputations on the line - Simeone, Griezmann, Koke, Saul and Nico Gaitan all have something to prove.
Neither Ronaldo or Messi finish as the top scorer
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have not gone two years without winning the Pichichi trophy for top scorer since the pair starting competing against each other in La Liga.
However, Luis Suarez won the award last year in what was considered an out of the ordinary occurrence. The Uruguayan has not started the season in particularly good form, but he is even with his Barcelona teammate on 12 goals.
Willian Jose has scored nine for a much improved Real Sociedad and Iago Aspas has ten, which is good enough for 40% of all of Celta Vigo’s goals. With both players vying for the Ballon d’Or on an annual basis now, this could be the first sign of them losing their grip on the award.
Iago Aspas gets a big summer move
Aspas tried it before when he moved to Liverpool, and it did not work out. He is 29 now, and another move at this stage may be his last chance. However, depending on where Celta finish, Aspas might feel the urge to play in Europe to put the ghosts of that failed Anfield move behind him, once and for all.
Given he's in contention for the Pichichi, if he keeps scoring finishes ahead of either Messi or Ronaldo, you know he will have no shortage of admirers from near and far.
Valencia end up with more managers than wins in the second half of the season
Cesare Prandelli was summoned to Singapore after Valencia’s most recent loss to Real Sociedad, and a few days later his seat in the dugout at the Mestalla was empty.
He has questioned his side’s mental fortitude and almost goaded Valencia’s hierarchy into making the move, which means they are onto their third manager this season. Given their track record, a fourth and even a fifth are not out of the question.
Gary Neville had a short and remarkably unsuccessful spell at Valencia last season as one of a series of managers the club tried
Theo Hernández leaves Atlético Madrid for the Premier League
There was talk recently of a move by Manchester City for the French defender, who has been a sensation on loan at Alavés this season.
While my initial bold prediction was that he would not finish the season at Alavés, I think a summer move is both more likely and just as bold. He is going to continue to be linked with teams during the summer and given his excellent athleticism, not to mention Jose Mourinho's and Jurgen Klopp’s need for a left-back (provided Luke Shaw remains out of the picture), you can expect the two foes to go to battle for his signature over the summer months.