With the new La Liga season kicking off last weekend, today we will be taking a closer look at Spain’s big three; Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and what we can expect from each side in the campaign ahead.
Current league champions Barca will be looking for another successful season, with trophies targeted in all competitions. The Catalan club have already bagged the Spanish Super Cup defeating Sevilla 2-1 earlier in the month and opened their title defence with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Alaves at the Camp Nou over the weekend.
Newly appointed club captain and star man Lionel Messi has already vowed that his side will do everything possible to return the Champions League trophy to the club, the first time since 2014-15 season. Last year’s shock exit at the hands of Italian side Roma slightly over shadowed an otherwise successful domestic campaign.
In order to achieve their desired goals, Barca have made a couple of high profile signings to boost an already illustrious first team squad.
Brazilian attacker Malcom arrived in rather controversial circumstances in a £40 million move from French side Bordeaux. The player had been set to sign for last year’s nemesis Roma and had flown to the Italian capital, however a last second hijack bid from the Spaniards was enough to secure the signing. Malcom, 21, is seen as a top prospect, with his pace, trickery and eye for goal sure to make him a successful addition.
Arturo Vidal is another player sure to play a key role this season. The ex-Bayern Munich midfielder had seemingly fallen out of favour at the Allianz Arena and has thus sought a new challenge. Vidal, who has the ability to control a game with his wide range of passing, box to box running and tough tackling, could be a real steal for the Catalan’s with a transfer fee of just £18 million.
One player who will not be gracing the hallowed turf this season however is Andreas Iniesta. The midfielder leaves Barcelona after 22 magical years, following his progression through the academy to club captain and international icon. Iniesta, a World Cup winner with Spain, won nine La Liga titles, four Champions League’s six Copa del Rey crowns during his time.
Real Madrid begin the new season with many questions still looming following a summer of high profile exits. Ex-player and manager Zinedine Zidane’s decision to step down from his role at the club despite leading Madrid to a record third-successive UEFA Champions League was a shock. This news was overshadowed, however, by the news that star forward Cristiano Ronaldo would also be leaving the Santiago Bernabéu. The five-time Ballon D’or winner moved to Juventus in a £105 million deal, leaving many Madrid fans fearing the worst after losing arguably the world’s best player over the past decade. The Portuguese captain departs following nine years in the Spanish capital and an array of on-field success including four Champion’s League successes, leaving very big boots to fill.
While Madrid have so far failed to sign a recognised replacement for Ronaldo, they have made a few additions to the side.
Their hunt for a new first choice goalkeeper was finally completed with the arrival of Chelsea shot stopper Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian, previously of rivals Atletico Madrid, signed a six-year deal following a fee of around £35 million. Madrid, who had previously been linked with Manchester United keeper De Gea, turned their attention to Courtois once it was made clear the Spaniard would not be allowed to leave Old Trafford.
Another player who has arrived at Madrid this summer is Vinicius Junior. The young Brazilian forward will finally link up with his team mates after agreeing to join the club last season in a delayed £40 million transfer from Flamengo. Perceived as a potential long-term replacement for the departing Ronaldo, the youngster may have to step up to the plate quicker than anticipated to fill the vacant void. With stars such as Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Isco around him however, Vinicius should have the perfect platform to develop into a top talent.
Another team hoping to compete for silverware this season is Atletico Madrid. Often overshadowed by rivals Real, Atleti will hope to pounce on the uncertainty surrounding the Bernabéu. Unlike Real though, Diego Simeone has been able to keep hold of his star men, something as valuable as any new signing. Frenchman Antoine Griezmann has been subject of continuous speculation over the past few years with some of the worlds biggest clubs including Barcelona and Manchester United interested in the forward. Defender Diego Godin was another key member of the team also heavily linked with a move away from the Wanda Metropolitano however, along with Griezmann, both have committed their futures to the club with the signing of new contracts.
As well as retaining current players, Atletico Madrid have also strengthened in key areas with the aim of competing with both Spain, and Europe’s best.
One area clearly identified by Simeone requiring improvement was on the wings, with two of Europe’s highest rated wide men joining the club over the summer break. Firstly, Thomas Lemar joined from Monaco, fresh of the back of winning the world cup with France. Another graduate of the highly established Monaco development system, Lemar had been linked with moves to most of the continents biggest sides. However, it was Atleti’s offer of £70 million that secured his services on a five-year deal.
The second winger to arrive was Portuguese midfielder Gelson Martins Following a club incident last season, Martins became on of a number of high-profile Sporting Lisbon players to have their contracts terminated upon request. Alert to the situation, Atletico were quick to pounce, signing the pacey international on a free transfer.