Remember when Barcelona and Real Madrid were the most feared clubs in all of Europe? Real Madrid were the ‘Galacticos’; if you had a world-class player, you should have expected a swift ‘hola’ from the Spanish giants before a sum of money is sent your way. Meanwhile, Barcelona were like a footballing orchestra with each note perfectly in tune. But what about now, as we preview the forthcoming La Liga campaign?
La Liga 2021/22 Preview
Stars Leaving Real Madrid at a Worrying Rate
Now, the stars don’t seem to always arrive by the click of their fingers to the Bernabeu. Instead, worryingly enough, the stars have began to depart. Sergio Ramos, the last departure you’d expect, swapped sunny Spain for romantic Paris. His partner in crime, Raphael Varane, then left what now seems the theatre of nightmares to the Theatre of Dreams at Manchester United.
But surely this was part of a grand plan? Surely Florentino Perez would sit back, produce an evil laugh before showing off his blueprints for the future? Not exactly. In fact, that laugh is likely more of a whimper with Madrid yet to sign anyone other than David Alaba, potentially leaving them a lot worse off than last season.
Their strength was their backline throughout the last campaign. Now the heart of that is gone, however, every single ounce of reliance may fall on the shoulders of Karim Benzema because, let’s face it, Eden Hazard is far from consistent enough availability-wise these days. And that could become a season-defining problem. If Benzema has an off day, the likelihood is that the Madrid side of the scoresheet will remain blank. This is stating the obvious, but you won’t get anywhere near the title without various sources of goals.
Bartomeu-Created Problems Still Remain at Messi-Less Barcelona
As for Barcelona, hats off to them, their recruitment has been smart whilst still remaining ambitious. For the majority of the summer, they looked to have done good business given their situation; it almost looked too good to be true. And then the penny dropped. The news emerged that they were not able to register Lionel Messi with La Liga, resulting in a failure to tie the Argentine down to a new contract.
The reason for this is the salary cap. The Catalan club’s wage bill is simply too high and does not meet the La Liga regulation. In a desperate situation, they attempted rearrange the wages and overseee an exodus of fringe players before the campaign began. It did not work, however. Lionel Messi is no longer a Barcelona player. The panic button has well and truly been slammed; Barcelona are without their shining light.
They thought they got rid of the Bartomeu-stench surrounding the Nou Camp, but it still very-much lingers, almost haunting the place.
Heading into the season, admittedly, the Barcelona squad does look stronger, but they must silence the noise coming from problems off the pitch. Do that, and they may just compete for the title once again. We’ve seen stranger things happen than a Messi-less Barcelona win trophies.
Atletico Madrid in Best Position Than Ever to Retain Title
If you look at the teams around them, particularly Barcelona and Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid look more likely than ever for a back-to-back title swoop. They’re the only side out of the big three to face zero issues this summer. In fact, they have improved even further with the signing of Rodrigo de Paul, who will add a new dimension to the midfield.
Their only worry will be the age of lead talisman Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan will turn 35 in January and hasn’t been known for maintaining his fitness when it comes to time off in recent years. The worry is that, if Suarez’s goals dry up, there will not be another player to take the responsibility. Joao Felix, still only 21, has shown glimpses of potential, but never enough to convince onlookers that he can replace the aforementioned Suarez.
It’s a minor problem compared the Barcelona and Real Madrid issues, but one Diego Simeone may be forced to fix. Whether that fix comes through another player or a tweak in the system to somehow take an even more defensive approach is anyone’s guess at this moment in time.
Either way, the La Liga title race looks set to be decided on who has the least amount of problems on and off the pitch, as sad as it may sound. And, right now, that’s Atletico Madrid.
La Liga Preview: European Places
Unless the unthinkable occurs, all of the big three will be in the Champions League places, leaving just one position for the best of the rest to take. And that’s where things could heat up. Last season, it was Sevilla who convincingly took that fourth spot, by 15 points to be exact, but, it must be said, Real Sociedad impressed throughout.
Meanwhile, Real Betis and Villarreal followed in the Europa League spots with Villarreal securing Champions League football courtesy of their Europa League win over Manchester United. The standings last season create interesting questions regarding the forthcoming campaign.
Expect the same teams to be in and around the European places, but perhaps in a different order. Real Sociedad, in particular, could send shockwaves through Spain by reaching the top four, especially if Alexander Isak continues his meteoric rise at just 21-years-old. Add onto that the man who ages like fine wine in David Silva, and they look a strong side.
Sevilla have the experience, yes, but Sociedad may just have that extra desire to secure a place at Europe’s top table for the first time since 2013. Following closely behind Sevilla and Sociedad is likely to be Europa League winners Villarreal who, under Unai Emery, look a side ready to reach new heights in La Liga. In the final European place, finishing a step below last season, will likely be Real Betis.
Relegation battles are always difficult to predict; any team can endure a calamity big enough for the drop with the wrong manager, just ask Gary Neville and Valencia who looked a side ready to drop before the thankful sacking 16 games in.
Looking at the sides heading into the season, you can’t look past Elche as a relegation candidate. They just about survived last season, finishing just two points above the drop, but their good fortune can’t last forever. Following them in the drop will likely be Rayo Vallecano at rock bottom, with Getafe creating the shock of the season with an 18th placed finish.
It’s a bold prediction and preview, yes, but, if they lose key players such as Cucurella, anything could happen during the La Liga season, especially under new manager Jose Bordalas.
The 2021/22 La Liga campaign looks set to be one of the most interesting seasons in a while, with the potential for more shocks than ever before.
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