Continuing on with my overview of the Spanish season. From this point, I have to confess my knowledge of the clubs begins to vary a bit, so some of these will be shorter.
Things looked so promising for Racing halfway through the season, when their little and large strike partnership of Munitis and Zigic were on fire and they looked on course for an UEFA Cup place. They're a very long-ball team in terms of playing style, leading to mixed feelings from some about the prospect of seeing them representing the not-quite-best of La Liga in Europe. (Kind of like the moaning I saw about the prospect of Bolton in the Champions League earlier in the season.) Racing's season really collapsed towards the end, though, and they ended up with nothing.
Still, compared to previous seasons, the lack of a relegation battle has to be a big plus, and they've got a platform to build on for next season, provided they don't lose any of their better players.
Ah, our city rivals. A decent season for Espanyol, and it will be a shame not having them in European competition next season, considering their impressive achievements this season in the UEFA Cup, only just losing the final to Sevilla on penalties after playing with a man down for almost half the game. They beat some damn good teams on the way to the final, too.
Considering the circumstances of their European qualification last season, which was through winning the Copa del Rey while fighting relegation in La Liga, the relatively smooth waters of this year's mid-table league finish must come as a relief. Plus, they played a crucial part in denying Barca the title, which must be fairly satisfying. (Note: I'm not blaming anybody but ourselves, but Espanyol played very well in both Barcelona derbies this season, and they deserve credit for that.)
Espanyol have already identified 3 positions in which they need strengthening for next season and started signing players. The first of these is Argentine full-back Clemente Rodriguez, previously of Spartak Moscow, who has just won the Copa Libertadores with Boca (more on which later).
As Tim over at La Liga Loca has pointed out before, the Mallorca of the past 3 seasons has seemingly become one of those clubs who perpetually hover about in mid-table, playing stifling, defensive football and not doing anything particularly interesting. I say past 3 seasons because before that they had the services of one Samuel Eto'o for several seasons, during which they won the Copa del Rey and conjured up several famous defeats of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, including the rather unbelievable 1-5 thrashing they administered in the 02-03 season.
Those days would seem to be past, and while Mallorca has had a pretty uneventful season at least they spent most of it not having to worry about relegation, unlike the clubs in my next and last round-up post.
Deportivo La Coruna
Oh dear. (But a different 'oh dear' to Atletico Madrid.) Anybody remember the time when Depor were regularly challenging for the title and a force in the Champions League? Teams used to fear going to the Riazor. Seems rather far away when you see the Depor of today, but it was only about 5 years ago. Now they're facing bankruptcy without an investor to bail them out, and were perilously close to getting dragged into a relegation battle at times during this season.
To be fair, a lot of Depor's problems are the result of careless spending in those glory years, and now the current management have inherited an aging squad that desperately needs renewal and a whole mountain of debt. They started the painful process of renewing the squad at the end of last season, bringing in lots of young players from other clubs' youth systems and attempting to construct a dynamic young team from scratch. It has worked about as well as you'd expect, with the result that coach Joaquin Caparros is expected to move on.
Depor may not have been relegated, but the hole they find themselves in both financially and in a sporting sense is almost as bad, pending some kind of bail-out from a wealthy investor.
A disappointing result when their spectacular 4th place finish last season is taken into account. However, like other one season wonders, they were never likely to repeat their amazing feat, especially given the departure of their coach Javier Aguirre at the beginning of the season.
The Champions League was always a big ask for a club with the kind of budget that Osasuna have, and a team who mostly relied on grit, organisation and some crunching fouls to achieve their results. They were knocked out in the qualifying round by Hamburg, which was a mixed blessing, really, in that it deprived them of the revenue offered by the group stages of the Champions League, but enabled them to embark on an impressive UEFA Cup run which only ended with them going down to Sevilla in the semi-final.
So not a bad season, all things considered, although in my opinion Osasuna will find it difficult to work their way back into European competition in their present state.
Next up: those who fought relegation successfully and those who didn't