Sheep Dogs & Jon Snow: 5 Things to Look Out for in LaLiga

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By Tim Stannard

1) Sevilla to out-Atletico Madrid, Atletico Madrid

 Step back Diego Simeone, as there is a new Diego Simeone in town!

That man is also an Argentinean with a penchant for prowling and scowling on the touchlines. Fans of South American football will be more than familiar with Jorge Sampaoli, the genius football figure who masterminded the rise of Chile to be Copa America champions and the tattooed, ankle-snapping outfit that has twice frustrated his native country in finals to cause Leo Messi to blub like a baby.

Sampaoli is now in charge of Sevilla and beginning a project that will see a team known for its grace, elegance and sometimes mental and physical fragility turn into attack dogs from the planet fire. Not unlike the job undertaken by Simeone at the Vicente Calderon.

2) Valencia’s fight against relegation

 For Valencia to flourish each season, then the summer at this most addled of clubs only has to be mildly disturbing. And this particular off-season was miles away from even achieving that standard.

A whole host of key players from Alvaro Negredo to Andre Gomes have been sold and more might be out the door with strong transfer stories floating around the heads of Shkodran Mustafi, Paco Alcacer and Diego Alves due to a failure to qualify for the Champions League last season.

There was also a major fallout with Dani Parejo over a turned-down transfer request. All this occurred with the backdrop of notoriously rebellious supporters not really trusting the club’s owners nor rating coach, Pako Ayestaran, with the Spaniard’s only plus point being that he is not Gary Neville. The season could be a traumatic one for this most topsy-turvy of clubs.

3) The return of Osasuna’s very non-warm welcomes

 Obviously, everyone wishes for goodwill and grace across the sporting world with no prejudice or provocation to anyone. Actually, Osasuna are given a bypass to this otherwise admirable rule.

One of the joys of this Pamplona outfit that has returned to the top-flight after a two-year absence is that is that they are uniformly unfriendly and hostile to any visitor to their stadium, whether it be Barcelona or Real Madrid. Politics and history have no bearing.

In football terms, it is akin to taking on a particularly feisty version of the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones, with Osasuna’s El Sadar ground tucked away amongst misty hills and industrial estates, to make any visiting player wobble a little with fear and trepidation. It’s a welcome spine of insecurity in the closeted, giant headphone-wearing lives of La Primera’s prima donnas.

 4) Getafe back in La Primera in disguise

Cloning is largely frowned upon in the world of sport. However, there will certainly be suspicions of it in La Liga, but not simply because of the plethora of identical Gareth Bale topknots that are due to spread around squads to combat premature baldness.

Getafe might also be accused of having simply copied themselves under the guise of ‘Leganes’ – a supposed new recruit to La Liga – to get back into a league where they dropped out of last season. Let’s look at the evidence: both clubs are from nondescript, rather gray satellite towns of Madrid peppered with Costco’s and Ikea’s and both have rather unglamorous grounds that they will be unable to fill. If the Spanish police don’t have a clone division, then they should invent one now.

5) Sheep dogs in the stands

Rather than attempting other crazy concepts such as more affordable ticket prices and kick-off times that are not heading towards midnight on a Thursday, the brilliant bigwigs of La Liga have decided to give the impression that stadiums are full, rather than striving to actually have them full instead. Which would probably involve considerably more hard work and consideration.

A ruling comes into force this season that decrees that if the stand opposite the main TV camera during televised games is not full to 75% capacity, then fines will be winging their way to the offending club. Do not be surprised to see some enterprising institutions hiring shepherds and sheep dogs to harass stray supporters into place whether they like it or not to make sure that the new rule is enforced.