The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, they say. We may be in love with Italian calcio, but there’s more to football than what happens south of the Alps. In our “The Grass Is Greener” column, we discuss what’s up with international football and its trending news.
This past weekend we had the opportunity to watch for the second time the teams that make part of La Liga 2019-2020. Much has been said and analyzed during the past summer weeks, especially when it comes to transfer market gossip. But after two weeks, and looking at the performances and the stats of the teams, we can already come to some first conclusions.
As usual, the Big Three are the main favorites for the title. In my opinion Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid are the only real candidates to lift the trophy. If any other club gets close to these three, it will be a massive surprise. However, let’s not forget that teams like Valencia and Deportivo La Coruña have already won La Liga in the 21st century.
Out of the Big Three, the one that has experienced bigger changes is without any doubt Atlético Madrid. Many senior players who wrote the most beautiful pages in Los Colchoneros’ recent history decided to leave the club, marking the end of an era.
Diego Godín, Filipe Luis, Juanfran, but also some youngsters from the academy like Lucas Hernandez or Rodri, and most notably even the star of the team – Antoine Griezmann – all decided to move on with their careers somewhere else, posing a lot of questions about the club’s future.
Chairman Enrique Cerezo and manager Diego Cholo Simeone had to face a new situation and take important decisions during the recent summer transfer window. The football planet got shocked when Atletico decided to pay 127 million euro for Benfica’s Portuguese youngster Joao Felix. Everyone started to talk about that move and asking themselves questions about such a transfer.
However, those who saw him playing last year, as well as during the pre-season games, would agree that the 18-year-old is worth that money. High expectations and pressure will be placed upon him, but if there is one player capable to make Atletico forget Griezmann, that is definitely Joao Felix.
Other major additions were Kieran Trippier from Tottenham, Marcos Llorente from Real Madrid, Renen Lodi from Atletico Paranaense, Hector Herrera from Porto, Ivan Saponjic also from Benfica, and Mario Hermoso from Espanyol. Boasting a brand-new stadium and having benefited of such big investments, can we still consider Atletico Madrid “the team of the people,” as Diego Simeone likes to say?
Cross-town rivals Real Madrid were also facing a complicated transfer window. With Zinedine Zidane taking control of the team again after some very turbulent months in La Casa Blanca, it was time to decide who was to stay and who was to go. However, the current market session showed Real Madrid that to make such moves is not that simple.
In the first weeks of the summer, chairman Florentino Perez quickly did his homework by recruiting five players to make his fans forget a horrendous past season. Special mention for Eden Hazard, the Belgian star who was designated as the leader expected to guide the team during this transition.
Together with him Luka Jovic, a young Serbian that had an excellent season for Eintracht Frankfurt, came to Madrid to try to solve the low scoring problem that affected Los Blancos’ attack in the past months. Ferland Mendy moved from Olympique Lyon for about 48 million euro to put some pressure on starting left back Marcelo and push him to go back to his top level.
Eder Militao, on the other hand, joined the team to fix some major defensive problems. The Brazilian was paid 50 million euro and is expected to put Raphael Varane’s position in the starting eleven at risk. Also, coming from Brazil, Rodrygo landed at Zidane’s court in what was a very similar transfer to Vinicius’ one last year, hoping to become the new Neymar (they both used to play for Santos…)
Finally, Japanese starlet Takefusa Kubo was stolen at the last minute from Barcelona, making major headlines among the Asian press. He was eventually loaned to Mallorca, but I would still suggest keeping an eye for this Asian sensation: Football fans of La Liga are going to enjoy his performances.
Where Real Madrid failed, however, was in selling players. Zidane was willing to let go people like Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez or Keylos Navas, but as of the last week of August they are still part of his roster. Two of them were even in the starting eleven in the past weekend game against Valladolid.
Barcelona remain the number one favorite to conquer La Liga. The Catalans have won 8 out of the past 11 Spanish leagues, which makes them an absolute powerhouse in the domestic competition. To keep such dominance intact, the current champions hired Antoine Griezmann with a very controversial move, prompting Atletico to go to court to claim a higher price than the 120 million euro initially agreed.
Midfielder Frenkie De Jong was another great signing who perfectly fits into Barcelona’s philosophy. The Dutch playmaker clearly showed what he is capable of during last season by helping Ajax reach the Champions League Semifinals.
Two Brazilians, goalkeeper Neto from Valencia and left back Junior from Betis, also joined to complete a very competitive squad. Neither of them is expected to be a starter anyway, and they will both probably have to wait their opportunity from the bench.
However, the most awaited and expected La Liga transfer is the one that still needs to happen: What everyone has been talking about in the past few days, is which club is Neymar going to join, as the Brazilian outlier is in open conflict with his current squad Paris Saint Germain. Barcelona have made several offers to bring him back, all declined by the French side. Real Madrid are waiting behind the scenes, with Florentino Perez probably hoping to snatch him on the last day of the market window, like he did in the past with Gareth Bale or Ronaldo Nazario da Lima.
An exciting season is ahead of us, and not only because of the traditional Big Three. French World Champion Nabil Fekir joined Real Betis. Super-talented Norwegian youngster Martin Odegaard landed in San Sebastian together with Swede Alexander Isak to join Adnan Januzaj in Real Sociedad’s lethal attack.
Old Spaniard International Roberto Soldado came back to La Liga after playing for Turkish side Fenerbahce, to help newly-promoted Granada. Roque Mesa will put his tiki taka skills in the service of Leganes, while Denis Suarez will try to redeem himself at Celta Vigo after an unsuccessful loan stint with Arsenal. Ukrainian Under-20 World Champion goalkeeper Andrei Lunin will be part of Valladolid’s roster.
So far, only Atletico Madrid have managed to make full score and collect six points in their first two matches. Diego Simeone went back to his personal basics, scoring one goal only per game, and relying on a very solid defense. Real Madrid drew at home against Valladolid, whereas Barcelona even lost his opening game to Athletic Bilbao.
After such an unexpected start, I would strongly recommend staying tuned on our website for more updates on La Liga. Who is your pick for the top Spanish flight?