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Top six free signings in La Liga

Sports Mole picks out what we believe to be the top six free signings in La Liga this summer.

While the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have no problem splashing the cash when needed, the same cannot be said for the so-called smaller teams in La Liga.

It is often said that there is no longer any value in what is an inflated transfer market, but gems can be found in the right places. Atletico's transfer business this summer has perhaps caught the imagination, but a number of players have arrived in La Liga somewhat under the radar.

Aside from the obvious financial positives of a free transfer, the idea of beating off a number of clubs for a particular player is also another big carrot for the teams involved.

Here, Sports Mole has picked out what we believe to be the top six free transfers that have landed in Spain's top flight this summer.

1. Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburger SV to Real Betis)

A player that needs no introduction, Rafael van der Vaart left Hamburger SV this summer following the expiration of his contract to join newly-promoted La Liga side Real Betis.

The 32-year-old has been in the professional game since 2000, when he made his debut for Ajax. The Dutchman won two league titles during his time in Amsterdam, before moving onto Hamburg, where he spent three seasons. Real Madrid came calling in 2008, but he spent just two years in Spain before making the move to Tottenham Hotspur, where he enjoyed an impressive spell.

In 2012, Van der Vaart returned to Hamburg for his second spell, spending a further three seasons with the German outfit – finding the back of the net 16 times in 78 league games. A player of such experience and quality, the fact that Betis managed to acquire him on a free transfer this summer is credit to the powers-that-be at the Spanish club.

Van der Vaart knows what it takes to play in Spain having represented Real Madrid on almost 60 occasions in Spain's top flight, while it is expected that his role in the final third will require the least amount of running, which is perfect for a player that has never been blessed with the greatest of pace.

Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart celebrates after scoring during the friendly football match between Japan and Netherlands at the Fenix Stadium, on November 16, 2013 in Genk© AFP

2. John Guidetti (Manchester City to Celta Vigo)

One thing is for certain, Celta Vigo had to beat off a host of competition to land John Guidetti from Manchester City this summer. The Swede arrived in the Premier League back in 2008, but struggled to make the breakthrough in Manchester and subsequently had five separate loan spells.

Last season, the 23-year-old scored eight league goals in 24 games for Celtic, but his best return in terms of goals came in the 2011-12 season, when he netted 20 times in 23 games for Feyenoord. The forward also has a very respectable goal record at Under-21 level for his country – finding the back of the net 12 times in 23 appearances.

Injury problems have harmed Guidetti's development, but the raw talent that Manchester City identified seven years ago is still very much there. With La Liga clubs not exactly flush with cash, signing a 23-year-old international footballer on a free transfer is fantastic business, especially when taking into account that he has penned a five-year deal with the club.

Celta will hope to push for a top-seven finish in the season ahead and having also brought Iago Aspas back to the club, there is rightly excitement about the new campaign. If Guidetti can stay injury free, then there is no reason why he will not find the back of the net on a regular basis this term.

Sweden's John Guidetti prepares to shoot the ball during the friendly football match between Croatia and Sweden in Zagreb on February 29, 2012© Getty Images

3. Cani (Villarreal to Deportivo La Coruna)

Cani might now be 34 years of age, but those that are students of Spanish football will know all about his quality and just what he achieved at Villarreal. The Spaniard joined the Yellow Submarine from Real Zaragoza in 2006 and went on to spend almost 10 years with the club – enjoying the highs of Champions League action and the lows of Segunda football.

He played 259 league games for Villarreal between 2006 and 2015, but after suffering an injury in the early stages of last season, he fell out of favour with head coach Marcelino. Still, reigning champions Atletico Madrid knew enough about what he could offer to bring him to the club on loan in January 2015.

It did not quite happen for Cani at Atletico, but being in and out of the team and occupying a number of different positions is not what the midfielder required during a spell where he was in desperate need of a regular run in the team. When fit, Cani is one of the most technically gifted midfielders in Spain, which is some credit.

Cani's contract with Deportivo will last until just next summer, but that gives both parties an incentive in the season ahead. The Spaniard is the wrong side of 30 and certainly approaching the latter stages of his career, but Depor will need all of the experience they can get in the new season and the arrival of such a talented player must go down as one of the signings of the window.

Cani of Villarreal reacts as he fails to score during the La Liga match between Elche CF and Villarreal CF at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero on November 4, 2013© Getty Images

4. Patrick Ebert (Spartak Moscow to Rayo Vallecano)

The story of 28-year-old German Patrick Ebert is an interesting one. After joining Real Valladolid from Hertha BSC in 2012, the midfielder quickly became one of the most consistent performers in La Liga – finding the back of the net nine times in 36 appearances.

Ebert's time at Valladolid came to an end in February 2014, but it was a messy departure, with the Spanish club opening legal proceedings after claiming that he had simply walked away to join Spartak Moscow. Valladolid eventually dropped their case for breach of contract in March 2014, however, when Spartak paid a fee for an early release.

Ebert found it difficult to settle at Spartak, however, failing to score in 23 league appearances for the Russian outfit and largely struggling to produce his best form. A number of clubs were linked with his services this summer, but Rayo managed to convince the winger to return to Spain's top flight.

A player of brilliant quality and with the ability to play on either wing, if Ebert can rediscover his form from his time in Spain, which led to talk of a move to Atletico Madrid, then Rayo will have secured one of the best free signings of the transfer window.

Patrick Ebert of Real Valladolid CF reacts during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Valladolid CF at Camp Nou on October 5, 2013© Getty Images

5. Yevhen Konoplyanka (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to Sevilla)

When it became clear that Yevhen Konoplyanka would be leaving Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk following the expiration of his contract, a scramble for the 25-year-old's services commenced. A player with 45 Ukraine caps entering the twilight of his career was a target for a number of European clubs.

Sevilla's ability to offer Champions League football after winning the Europa League was reportedly a big part of their selling point to the Ukrainian attacker, who made more than 150 league appearances for Dnipro after breaking into the first team in 2007.

Over the last two seasons, Konoplyanka scored 21 goals for Dnipro, while he played a key role in their progression to the Europa League final last season, where they were beaten by Sevilla. He has been playing regular first-team football since 2008, which made him perhaps the most in-demand free transfer of the whole European transfer window.

On July 2, it was confirmed that Sevilla had won the race to sign the attacker, who underwent a medical before signing a four-year contract at the Estadio Ramon. It will be fascinating to see just how quickly he can adapt to the rigours of Spanish football.

Dnipro's Yevhen Konoplyanka celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Fiorentina during their Europa League group match on December 12, 2013© AFP

6. Zakaria Bakkali (PSV Eindhoven to Valencia)

One of the most talented young players in European football, Zakaria Bakkali actually moved to Valencia on a free transfer this summer. PSV Eindhoven failed to tie the attacker to a new long-term contract and in the middle of 2014, he seemed set for a move to Atletico Madrid.

The expected transfer to Atletico for £1.5m fell through, however, while interest from the Premier League failed to produce an official bid. Bakkali was banished from the first team as PSV agreed to sell in January 2015, but a transfer bid from Celtic was turned down on deadline day, with Bakkali remaining at PSV until the end of the season.

Last month, it was confirmed that Valencia had beaten off a host of interest to sign the teenager to a five-year contract. He has only made 16 first-team appearances for PSV, but has already made his international debut for Belgium and is expected to play a key role in their future.

The teenager, who will not be 20 until next year, is also the youngest Eredivisie player of all time to score a hat-trick, with his treble coming at the age of just 17 and 196 days.

PSV's Zakaria Bakkali celebrates after scoring a goal during the return leg of the third qualifying round match of the Champions League between Belgian First Division football team Zulte Waregem and Dutch team PSV Eindhoven at the Constant Vanden Stock st© Getty Images

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Patrick Ebert of Real Valladolid CF reacts during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Valladolid CF at Camp Nou on October 5, 2013
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Atletico MadridAtletico1714213372644
2Real Madrid18114330151537
3Barcelona18104437172034
4Villarreal198922819933
5Sevilla1810352316733
6Real Sociedad1986529161330
7Granada198472331-828
8Real Betis198292432-826
9CadizCadiz196671724-724
10Levante195862728-123
11Celta Vigo196582330-723
12Getafe186571618-223
13Athletic Bilbao186392122-121
14Valencia194872526-120
15Real Valladolid204882029-920
16EibarEibar194781620-419
17AlavesAlaves194691725-818
18ElcheElche173861623-717
19Osasuna193791628-1216
20Huesca191991429-1512

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