La Liga looks wide open ahead of 'austerity' new season
The 2021/22 La Liga season kicks off next weekend with plenty of questions still to be answered as Atletico Madrid look to retain their title while Real Madrid, Barcelona and perhaps Sevilla look to claim the top spot.
MADRID: The 2021/22 La Liga season kicks off next weekend with plenty of questions still to be answered as Atletico Madrid look to retain their title while Real Madrid, Barcelona and perhaps Sevilla look to claim the top spot.
The first La Liga season to start without Leo Messi in 18 years will no doubt start under the shadow of the genius after Barca's failure to fit his contract into the wage structure imposed by La Liga, but it would be unfair to view Barca as the victims in this, with their financial situation down to years of financial mismanagement and only given a 'coup de grace' by the effects of the pandemic.
This is going to be an austerity season for all of the clubs in Spain and Barcelona are just one of many whose planning and squad have been affected by the economic problems in the game.
Although Messi has gone and the effects on Barca's self-esteem could be important, the club have actually signed quite well, with Kun Aguero, Memphis Depay, Emerson Royal and Eric Garcia all arriving on free transfers, although the ongoing contract dispute with promising youngster Ilaix Moriba could be a problem for coach Ronald Koeman with Ilaix currently relegated to the B-team after failing to agree new terms.
Despite ongoing rumours about Kylian Mbappe, Real Madrid's only new arrival this season is coach Carlo Ancelotti, who returns for a second spell after Zinedine Zidane stepped down at the start of the summer.
Ancelotti returns to the Bernabeu after underwhelming spells at Napoli and Everton and inherits a squad that has signed the impressive and versatile David Alaba on a free transfer but lost Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.
Toni Kroos is also sidelined for an unspecified amount of time with a groin injury and much will depend on whether the Brazilian duo of Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo can turn promise into assists and goals and whether Gareth Bale (who returns from loan) is fit and motivated and can help Karim Benzema with the supply of goals.
Dani Ceballos and Martin Odegaard also have the chance to stake a claim after two years away on loan, but on paper at least Real Madrid look no stronger than last season.
Atletico Madrid were worthy winners of the 2020-21 league title and the arrival of midfielder Rodrigo de Paul from Udinese should add creativity and goals to a midfield, which will still rely on players such as Koke and Marcos Llorente.
Although the future of Kieran Trippier is still uncertain, Atletico can be relied on to keep things tight at the back and the key for Diego Simeone's side is whether Luis Suarez can repeat his feats of last season.
Suarez's 21 goals were the key to Atletico's title, but with the Uruguayan due to celebrate his 35th birthday in December, Simeone knows he will have to treat his striker with care and ration his efforts.
Although the club have signed young Brazilian forward Marcos Paulo, they really need another striker as backup, with Rafa Mir the favorite to join after his successful season at Huelva.
It would be unfair to forget Sevilla's title hopes after they kept in the race last season until the penultima game of the season and the addition of Erik Lamela will give them more options in the midfield.
Sevilla are another side who perhaps need to add a striker to their squad, but much of their hopes for the coming campaign will rest on keeping central defender Jules Kounde away from the clutches of the Premier League.
Below the top four, there are several sides who will hope to threaten and assure at least a place in Europe. Villarreal, with the addition of Aissa Mandi and Boulaye Dia, will hope playing the Champions League doesn't derail their league hopes. IANS
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