La Liga Preview: 20. Girona

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After winning outright promotion by just two points over third placed Getafe on the last day of the Segunda Division season, Girona join Spain’s top flight for the first time in club history. The promotion was a long time coming as the Catalan club finished in the top four in four of the last five seasons. Boasting the second smallest stadium with room for under 10,000 fans, Girona are sure to bring an intimate atmosphere to their inaugural La Liga season. Despite leading the Segunda in goals scored in 2016-17; their status as a small club that is losing several players to loan and free agency means they will have a tough road this season.

Last season: 2nd in Segunda Division, promoted
Predicted finish: 20th
Manager: Pablo Machin (4th season)
Transfers in: GK Gorka Iraizoz, Athletic Bilbao, free
Transfers out: CB Carles Mas, UE Olot, free; CB Kiko Olivas, free agent; CF Felipe Sanchon, free agent; CB Richy, retired; CM Albert Vivancos, free agent
Predicted Starting 11 (5-4-1): GK Gorka Iraizoz, RB Aday, CB Jonas Ramalho, CB Kiko Olivas, CB Pedro Alcala, LB Johan Mojica, RM Felipe, CDM Alex Granell, CAM Eloi, LM Portu, RM Felipe, ST Francisco Sandaza

2016-17: The 2016-17 campaign started rough for Girona as they did not find their second win until week 6 and dipped as low as 15th in the table. However, they started to gain steam in November, winning eight of nine from November 13th to January 22nd. They gained possession of second place in week 15 and never looked back. winning five of six in late February and early March. Despite a three game slide against tough opponents Cadiz, Real Oviedo, and Rayo Vallecano in late March, Girona did not drop in the standings and recovered to rebuild their lead in April. Nevertheless, the season did not end on a high note as they did not win in their last six fixtures. The team certainly spread the ball around as Samuele Longo led the squad in goals with only 14 strikes.

Star player: Joining his 13th club last season at the age of 32, Francisco Sandaza scored nine goals in red and white to lead all returning players. The striker from Toledo has played stints in Scotland, England, and Japan and is in his second stint with Girona after scoring 16 goals for them in 2014-15. As the veteran head of a young attack that led all Segunda teams last season with 65 goals, Sandaza will relish the opportunity to play in the Spanish top flight for the first time.

Transfer window: As such a small club, Girona must rely on loans for several of their players, meaning they will lose top goalscorer Sameule Longo and key defensive players Miguel Cifuentes, Juan Camara and Johan Mojica as they return to their parent clubs. The addition of veteran Gorka Iraizoz who made over 300 appearances for Athletic Bilbao over 10 years with the Basque club could make a huge difference defensively and reduce the 45 goals allowed last season.

Prediction: The second promotion position has been a good one recently as the last five teams to join La Liga from second in the Segunda still remain in Spain’s top flight. However, Leganes, the only club equal in size to Girona, narrowly escaped relegation last season and it looks as if the Albirrojos will not be so lucky. The loss of their top goalscorer and the bulk of their back line means this Catalan team will have a tough road. Their streakiness also means they could easily fall fast into a deep hole that they will have trouble getting out of.

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