A look at La Liga

The La Liga season kicks off on Friday evening when Getafe travel to the Mestalla to take on Valencia. The start of the post Lionel Messi era, just like the post Cristiano Ronaldo era before, the show will go on.

Reigning champions Atletico Madrid start the defence of their title away to Celta Vigo on Sunday. Los Colchoneros have strengthened their squad by signing Copa America winning Argentinian midfielder Rodrigo de Paul from Udinese and 20-year-old Brazilian winger Marcos Paulo from Fluminese. Further signings are a possibility particularly with Kieran Trippier being linked with a move back to the Premier League. Diego Simeone has a relatively full squad to pick from as the season begins, exceptions being centre-back Felipe who has a ligament problem and Joao Felix who is out with a fractured ankle.

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Real Madrid will begin the season without the central defensive pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, assuming the French defenders transfer to Manchester United is completed. Two World Cup winners who won three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, four Club World Cups and a Copa del Rey as a partnership. David Alaba has been signed from Bayern Munich and while Los Blancos have not spent much this window, so far, they welcome back players from loan of the quality of Gareth Bale, Martin Odegaard, Dani Ceballos, Luka Jovic and Jesus Vallejo from Granada.

This may not appease the Madridistas however and Kylian Mbappé is a target, whether it comes to pass is a question of whether the funds are available or whether Mbappé fancies leaving Paris now that Lionel Messi is in the door. Carlo Ancelotti must initially plan without the injured Eden Hazard, Toni Kroos, Ferland Mendy, Dani Carvajal and Dani Ceballos for now. They travel to the Estadio de Mendizorrotza in the Basque Country to take on Alavés on Saturday evening.

Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia have all signed for Barcelona on free transfers while right-back Emerson Royal was bought for 9 million euro from Real Betis. The Catalans’ well documented financial problems has seen Ronald Koeman look to bring in players from Barcelona B with goalkeeper Iñaki Peña and midfielder Alex Collado signed this window.

Allied to the loss of Messi, Blaugrana have Frenkie de Jong, Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Sergio Aguero, Clement Lenglet and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen presently injured as they start their season in the Camp Nou against Real Sociedad on Sunday evening. With Pedri just returning from the Olympic Games this week, it may be a challenging start to the season for Barca.

Sevilla having finished fourth last season may look forward to the season with optimism and as an opportunity to break into the top three considering the instability at Barcelona. Erik Lamela has arrived from Tottenham with Bryan Gil going the opposite way. Sevilla also received 25 million euro for the deal. Goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic has also been brought in from Eibar in what has been an otherwise quiet window so far. Jules Koundé has been linked with a move away from the Ramón Sanchez Pizjuan and if that materialises funds may be made available to strengthen before the end of the window.

Julen Lopetegui, after winning the Europa League in 2019-20 will be looking to push on in his third year in charge and with attacking players like Lucas Ocampos, Papu Gomez, Munir, Youssef En-Nesyri, Luuk de Jong and Ivan Rakitic in midfield, Sevilla look to be in a healthy position going into the season. They also have no major injury concerns before Sunday night’s home game against newly promoted Rayo Vallecano.

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As you look to the other sides with European ambitions, reigning Europa League Champions Villarreal have brought in Argentinian defender Juan Foyth from Tottenham and Senegalese centre forward Boulaye Dia from French club Stade de Reims. Those are the standout signings for Unai Emery´s side, whether Pau Torres continues at the Estadio de la Ceramica remains to be seen. With Real Madrid still relatively weak compared to last season at central defence, Carlo Ancelotti or more significantly Florentino Perez may look to sign the 24-year-old Spanish international in the coming weeks.

Athletic Bilbao have signed centre-forward Iñaki William`s brother Nico who plays on the right wing along with three more players from Bilbao Athletic or Athletic Bilbao B along with free signing Alex Petxa from Real Sociedad.

Fellow Basque side Real Sociedad look strong this season with centre-forward Willian José returning from Wolves. They have also signed Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan from Brighton and significantly still have Swedish striker Alexander Isak at the club, a player who impressed at Euro 2020. How long he stays at the Estadio Anoeta remains to be seen.

Imanol Alguacil´s side started last season very well, finished in fifth and also won the delayed Copa del Rey of 2019 against Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao, so they can look ahead to the season with optimism.

Real Betis have signed three players on a free transfer, goalkeeper Rui Silva, Juan Miranda from Barcelona and defender Youssef Sabaly from Bordeaux. Manuel Pellegrini`s side will be captained by Joaquín who celebrated his 40th birthday recently.

Former Getafe manager Pepe Bordalás begins life at the Mestalla as the latest to lead Peter Lim´s Valencia. Bordalás experienced great success at Getafe and style wise it will be interesting to see how he sets his side up and how they play tactically. Getafe were spirited and punched well above their weight with Bordalás as manager and if supported in the transfer market, Valencia may do well. They have made no signings so far this window with the exception of the loan signing of Paraguayan centre-back Omar Alderete from Hertha Berlin.

The three promoted sides from the Segunda are Espanyol, Mallorca and Rayo Vallecano. Espanyol look best placed to consolidate their position in the top division as they have been able to invest in players over the last couple of seasons. They are owned by the Chinese Rastar Group who made money available for the signing of Raúl de Tomás from Benfica in January 2020.

The Spanish striker scored 23 times last season in the Segunda ensuring Espanyol returned to the Primera as champions after their relegation in the 2019-20 season. Vicente Moreno, the Barcelona based sides head coach has added to his squad already this summer and can approach the season with confidence.

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Mallorca took the second automatic promotion spot behind Segunda winners Espanyol and head coach Luis García has seen a number of players go either way this off-season. Croatian striker Ante Budimir left for Osasuna while Angel Rodriguez has come in on a free from Getafe. Takefusa Kubo of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid forward Victor Mollejo have also been signed on loan. Mallorca like Espanyol are returning to the top division after one season in the Segunda.

Rayo Vallecano won promotion back to the Primera after a two-year absence by winning a promotion playoff with Girona. The Madrid based side have young Spanish coach Andoni Iraola in charge since the beginning of last season and promotion back to the Primera was a major achievement. Standout signing this Summer for Los Franjirojos has been Spanish left-back Fran García from Real Madrid Castilla. Luca Zidane is goalkeeper and Bebe offers a goal threat up front for the side who play at the Estadio de Vallecas.

What stands out about the comings and goings in the transfer market in La Liga so far in this summer window is the large number of players signed on loan deals. Perhaps the economic consequences of the pandemic have left clubs and their owners in the situation where this is their only real viable option to get players in. That being said, clubs and management teams will have had a full preseason to prepare their squads for the upcoming season which was not the case this time last year.

There are lots of questions to think about as the action nears.

Can Atletico Madrid retain the League title for the first time since they achieved this in the 1950-51 season? Can Ronald Koeman mould a team capable of competing for the title without Lionel Messi? Will the selling of Messi see others step up and perform to their best now that leadership is required, namely Antoine Griezmann, a fit Ousmane Dembele or Memphis Depay? How will Carlo Ancelotti manage at the Bernabeu second time round, never go back they said. Who can come from the pack and put pressure on the big three?

In what has been a difficult week for La Liga with its prized asset and best player moving on, as a new season begins, players, coaches and clubs will all aspire to reach their goals and achieve their targets because sport moves on, quickly.

As Oscar Wilde put it:

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

The Author

John Dillon

Twitter handle @dillo10

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