Relegated Ballers: La Liga

Relegated Ballers: La Liga 2023/24

With the transfer window is fast approaching, clubs around the world will be looking to strengthen their squads in preparation for the next campaign, and as far as getting good deals is concerned, there are few better places to look than relegated clubs. Using Smarterscout’s league benchmarking models and advanced metrics, we will pick out some such players in this series.

La Liga finds itself in an interesting place as far as relegation battles are concerned because there is a growing cluster of relatively low-quality sides which leads to a huge dogfight at the end of every season and leaves a big gap to the rest. In 2022/23, for example, three points separated 13th-placed Celta Vigo from the drop zone. Last term, the popular 40-point safety mark was actually good enough for 15th place.

This presents a golden opportunity for newly promoted teams to consolidate their top-flight status, which Las Palmas and Alavés took with both hands last term. At the same time, though, the quality of the teams and squads that go down is not quite as high as in, say, the English Premier League. Still, there are a few cut-price signings other sides should be looking to make from the squads of Granada, Almería and Cádiz, so here are five players who could fit that bill:

Ricard Sánchez (RB, 2000, Granada)

Although Granada had a terrible campaign as they finished last with just 21 points, young Ricard Sánchez impressed in his first full La Liga season.

Our model expected him to go well after impressing on loan with Lugo and then with Granada in the Segunda División, and he did just that. His attacking output understandably dropped off in a relegation-battling side, but his defending quality got a tad better if anything. On the ball, his dribbling was quite good and he popped up in the box well, scoring all three of his goals from open play.

There has not been a lot of noise made around a potential transfer for Sánchez yet, though one report has suggested Luton Town may be interested in him. Our model certainly thinks he should stay in a top-five league, and with just a year left on his contract with Granada, a transfer seems the best outcome for all involved.

Marc Pubill (RB, 2003, Almería)

Almería endured an especially shocking season and looked on course to go winless at one point. Like Granada, they too ended up on 21 points and had an impressive young right back in Marc Pubill.

This was his first full La Liga campaign as well, and he did well enough to attract interest from the likes of Liverpool, Inter, Milan and Benfica. His standout attribute was his progressive ball-carrying and dribbling, which he used well to get forward and went on to pose a decent shooting threat.

Pubill is strong in the air, holds his own in defensive duels on the ground and puts in a good shift, so he is quite handy without the ball too. Clearly, the 21-year-old defender already is quite well-rounded, so it should be easy to see why so many top clubs are in for him.

Gerard Gumbau (CM, 1994, Granada)

Gerard Gumbau’s first season with Granada certainly did not go as he would have liked, and it may well be his last because he only signed a one-year contract.

He suffered his second consecutive La Liga relegation having joined the club from Elche last summer, though he did little to hurt his sides’ campaigns with his performances. The experienced midfielder did his defensive duties as required but certainly stood out on the ball, producing good attacking output as well as offering excellent progressive passing.

Gumbau has done his bit to show that he could be a very good deep-lying playmaker for a more established La Liga side, so a good few teams should be making offers to him in the free agent market.

Sergio Arribas (CAM/RW, 2001, Almería)

Sergio Arribas’ move to Almería attracted a good deal of attention as they paid €6 million to sign the Real Madrid academy graduate, and that already looks like money well spent despite their relegation.

Transfermarkt now rate his value at €10 million on the back of an impressive La Liga season in which he scored 9 goals and assisted 4 others. He mainly likes to play in a central attacking position where he shows good positional understanding and uses his excellent close control to operate in tight spaces, but he also has enough pace to do a job out wide.

Putting up such impressive attacking output numbers for a relegated team is no mean feat, so Arribas will not be short of suitors this summer. Real Madrid still own 50% of his rights so they could well use him in a swap deal, but a straightforward transfer is not off the cards either with clubs such as Bayer Leverkusen said to be closely watching him.

Chris Ramos (ST/SS, 1997, Cádiz)

Cádiz put up the toughest fight out of the three relegated teams, but their squad has the fewest players other La Liga-level clubs should be interested in according to our model. One clear exception is Chris Ramos, even if his return of 5 goals and one assist might not look too outstanding.

That was enough to make him the club’s top scorer but he could well have doubled that return having accumulated an xG tally of over 10 in the season. Quite clearly, he has work to do on his finishing, but the fact that he could get on the end of such quality chances for a team that created precious little can also be seen as a positive.

Besides that, Ramos rarely involved himself in his team’s attacking moves but worked hard up front and showed his aerial prowess both in open play and set-pieces at either end of the pitch. Interestingly, his movement looked much more impactful as a second striker.

Given his finishing woes, signing Ramos would certainly be a risk for any side, but his overall qualities suggest he has everything to lead the attack of a team with a very direct style of play. His reported €10 million release clause is sure to put off any suitors, so he could well end up staying unless Cádiz are open to negotiations.


By Neel Shelat

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