Real Madrid - the favorite of the championship race in La Liga. And what are the chances of Barcelona and Atletico?
On the eve of the start of the new season of the Spanish championship, we analyze the possibilities of contenders for the title.
Real Madrid (odds for winning La Liga - 2.05)
Pros. All the summer achievements of the Madrid team may pale if Kylian Mbappe waves at them again. With the Frenchman, the counterattacking model that Carlo Ancelotti implements in the offseason will significantly retain its effectiveness. The departure of Benzema will allow the wingers like Rodrigo and Vinicius to take more initiative. However, it's not up to 33-year-old Jese to compete head-on with Barca and haunt opponents in the Champions League. Yet, the transfer of Kylian seems inevitable. The only question is, where to find the money?
Eduardo Camavinga has finally started showing his outstanding skills in the midfield and the holding zone. The expensive (€103 million) newcomer Jude Bellingham looks great, who didn't need time to get up to speed. The competition in the midfield is now incredibly high, as the young players will have to fight with contract-extended veterans like Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. In a friendly match against Barcelona (0:3) in the USA, Ancelotti used a diamond-shaped formation in the center - and although Real Madrid lost, the setup looked promising. "For the first time in my memory, we hit the post five times in one match," the coach pleasantly exclaimed.
It's also important to note that the Santiago Bernabeu reconstruction is in its final stages. The super-technological stadium will be fully operational in December - which will increase not only attendance but also the motivation of the players.
Cons. Real Madrid consistently came out ahead in transfers in the last three seasons, but now it will fail to work out. The club spent €128.5 million this summer but only sold players for €4 million. If Mbappe does end up in Madrid, the expenses will reach astronomical levels or even surpass them. If the Madrid team had been more foresighted with the contracts of Benzema, Asensio, and Diaz, who left Real Madrid as free agents, they could have earned at least €50 million.
Young Brazilians are shooting for Real Madrid. Still, for some reason, it doesn't work out with other talents, especially from Europe. This summer, they recruited 20-year-old midfielder Arda Guler from Fenerbahce for €20+10 million, and he got injured just a couple of weeks later - possibly needing surgery on his right knee meniscus. And he hasn't even debuted for the team yet!
The scariest thing is that goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois tore his cruciate ligaments in training. It's impossible to imagine "Real Madrid" without the Belgian. Who will replace the star goalkeeper? David de Gea? Or someone else?
Prediction. Last year, Madrid needed more squad depth, meaning there were no proper replacements for the leaders. While Ancelotti has addressed this issue in the midfield, problems could arise with defense and attack. And now something needs to be done about the goalkeeper. Nonetheless, Madridistas are rightfully considered favorites in the championship race, considering the difficulties with Barcelona.
Barcelona (odds for winning La Liga - 2.25)
Pros. Barcelona forward Robert Lewandowski recently admitted that the team's main problem is the insufficient creation of goal-scoring opportunities. For this reason, since January, Xavi has switched to a system with four midfielders. Still, things only started to improve in the summer off-season. In matches against Arsenal (3:5), "Real Madrid" (3:0), and Tottenham (4:2), the Catalans faced few problems, thanks in part to newcomer Oriol Romeu. The club's academy product is an ideal replacement for Busquets, effectively controlling the attack's tempo. With the return of Gundogan, who is recovering from a knee ligament injury, the partnership should become very promising.
A pleasant surprise for fans and the coach was the successful performance of Ferran Torres, who scored two goals. However, the product of "La Masia," Fermin Lopez, was also a standout in the match against Real Madrid. His balance and creativity in the final third are exactly what Xavi was looking for when he was eager to sign Bernardo Silva.
Negatives. There are far more negative aspects. If the Catalans managed to conduct a successful transfer campaign last year, recruiting several strong players both for money and as free agents, now the situation is much more complex. Gathering funds for player purchases is possible, but they will need more than the salary cap to allow them to register. As of the beginning of August, only 13 (!) players were reported for Barcelona. Sales of players who don't fit the coach's requirements, like Lenglet and Dest (Kessié has already been sold), could improve the situation, but they are still on the team.
Until the end of the transfer window, Xavi's priority is to acquire a right-back. However, this is a tough task – the transfer fee for João Cancelo is beyond what the Catalans can afford. There aren't many other qualified candidates. Adding to the problems on the right flank, Dembélé might also be lost. Last year, Usman signed a contract leaving the club with almost nothing (PSG is ready to buy out his transfer) – especially considering the €140 million spent on him in 2017.
The necessity to play away from the under-reconstruction Camp Nou won't benefit the Catalans – at best, the team will return to their home stadium only in two years.
Prediction. In the new season, the main focus of the Catalan leadership will be on the Champions League – only this tournament can improve Barcelona's dire financial situation. Therefore, it's doubtful that the blue and garnet will be able to defend the championship title.
Atlético Madrid (odds for winning La Liga - 11.00)
Positives. In the previous season, Atlético finished third, just one point behind Real, who secured second place. They could have even competed for the championship but stumbled in the first round due to Diego Simeone's experiments. The coach used one strategy in the domestic league and another in the Champions League, resulting in confusion. After their exit from European competitions, the Madrid team revived and stabilized their performance. Now, the main question for the season is whether Atlético can perform well on two fronts.
The key players were retained, and a rotation player, Matheus Cunha, was sold to Wolverhampton for €50 million. Atlético didn't make expensive transfers, but signing the long-time Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta as a free agent is a significant success. Given the impending sale of the club, cost-cutting is an essential factor for its survival. "All attempts to reduce the club's €750 million debt have failed. Moreover, the debt is growing. Therefore, the sale of the club for around €1.5 billion is expected. It's a matter of time," claims Marca.
Fans also consider the return of the old emblem important – the rebranding happened in 2016. Since then, many fans refused to buy the merchandise. Nearly 80 thousand club members participated in the vote, with 89% of respondents voting for the old logo.
Negatives. A significant role in Atlético's massive debt of €127.2 million is played by the amount paid to Benfica for the transfer of attacking midfielder João Félix. The situation turned into a failure as Simeone didn't rely on the player – Félix never managed to shine in Madrid under the Argentine. The loan of the Portuguese to Chelsea also ended without much success – now the player's future is entirely unclear. During the off-season, he's just training, and according to The Athletic, the player and the coach don't even greet each other. Another major problem for Atlético is Félix's contract's duration– until 2027!
Simeone and the team are undoubtedly feeling the pressure, as the coach's contract ends in a year. Diego earns more than anyone else – €39.9 million per year. Pep Guardiola receives €22.6 million per season at Manchester City, while Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool gets €17.9 million.
Prediction. Atlético will only have a chance if Real and Barca simultaneously struggle with problems and underestimate the competition. Therefore, the smoothness of "the Indians" progress in the first round will be crucial.
Who will become the champion of Spain in the 2023/2024 season?