The new La Liga season is upon us once again.
2016/17 was one of ups and downs, comebacks and blowouts, but if the excitement, joy and heartbreak of the coming season exceeds that of the previous one, then La Liga enthusiasts would be glad they were around to watch.
As this is a World Cup year, a lot of players old and young, established and upcoming, will all try to play their way to get a seat on the plane to Russia.
Here at RealSport, we look at the up and coming players most likely to push their established counterparts really hard this season. These are RealSport’s La Liga ones to watch.
1 Mauricio Lemos
Club: Las Palmas
The young Uruguayan, who teamed up with the Canary Islanders from Rubin Kazan, has established himself in the lineup and has been watched frequently by scouts from around Europe.
He was rumoured to be subject of a bid from Barcelona early in the summer, but even though their interest has cooled now it doesn't hide the fact that when he's in the team, he’s one of the players who would help Las Palmas achieve their goals for the season.
He builds up play well from the back, demonstrated by a 22m average pass length and an 83% accuracy, but his primary defensive duties are strong too. Lemos averaged 1.7 interceptions and 0.8 blocks per game last season and won 26 tackles.
He was the scourge of attackers last season and with more experience, he's going to get even better.
2 Marc Roca
The Catalan midfielder has been compared to Xabi Alonso in some quarters, such is his composure on the ball and the ease with which he sprays passes around, which more often than not find its target, is amazing for one so young.
He reads the game intelligently well, not uncommon for a Spaniard and he makes up for his relative lack of pace with such understanding of the game. His average pass length of 20m and completion of 3.3 long balls per game was one of the best in the division last season.
Roca doesn't shirk from his defensive duties either with an interception rate of 0.7 per game, as well as making 27 tackles.
In Quique Sanchez Flores, moreover, he has a manager who's ready to work him hard to improve and with more game time for Los Periquitos, it's only a matter of time before he becomes the next big thing.
3 Federico Valverde
Club: Deportivo de La Coruna (loan from Real Madrid)
This young Uruguayan was voted the Silver Ball winner at the U20 World Cup behind Dominic Solanke and he is a central midfielder who has been compared to Toni Kroos at Valdebebas.
Regular viewers of the academy have been left impressed with his change of pace, his pass accuracy and ability to control a game, which earned him the Kroos comparisons in the first place.
Valverde is a versatile player who brings a dynamic side to the game. He has excellent vision and likes to move with the ball. He stands out for his powerful shot and his ability to arrive at the right time in the area.
He has been loaned to Deportivo to continue the next stage of development akin to Marcos Llorente, and Fede has already hit the ground running by scoring a 50-yard shot on his debut. His development in La Liga will be one to follow this season.
4 Pablo Fornals
Malaga have started to adopt the habit of giving youth a chance and a certain Pablo Fornals is the best example of that, with his stellar performances earning a summer move to Villarreal.
The young attacking midfielder is a highlight reel within himself, producing dazzling pieces of skill and humiliating unsuspecting opponents last season, as well as adding an end product to his game that was lacking earlier in his youth career.
He plays with flair in his game, symptomatic of a player evidently enjoying his football. He created 36 chances and had 34 key passes last season, as well as scoring six goals.
However, he doesn't leave the defensive aspects to the defence alone as his 35 interceptions show. It will be interesting to see how Fornals continues to develop having made the leap to a better side.
5 Mikel Oyarzabal
Club: Real Sociedad
The young winger became known late in the 2015/16 season when he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory against Barçelona. He is the best thing that has come through from Sociedad's academy since a certain Antonine Griezmann graced the Anoeta.
Oyarzabal gets the fans excited by his talent. Many youngsters come through Zubieta boasting great potential, but he could well exceed all. He's already shown his ability to produce the spectacular and the 20-year-old is also starting to find consistency in his game.
Mikel is the one teammates to look out for as an option, despite his age, and La Real’s approach play regularly flows through him. He could be the difference between a Champions League spot and a Europa league spot for the Basque team this campaign.
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