Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid or Barcelona: Assessing Each of the La Liga Title Favourites

?With the transfer window slowly drawing to a close, the squads of each of La Liga’s big three, Atletico, Real and Barcelona, are beginning to take shape.

Both of the clubs located in capital are in transitional phases, and this has been reflected in an extremely active transfer window for both Atletico and Real. 

Current champions Barcelona on the other hand have been more reserved, saving themselves for a number of marquee signings to compliment their already strong squad.   

Which of these approaches will prove to be the most effective, and most importantly which of these sides is placed to win ?La Liga this season?


Atletico Madrid

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?Strengths

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Though perhaps not possessing the strongest squad of the three teams on paper, ?Atletico probably possess the best manager and the clearest tactical plan. 

A master-tactician, adept at getting the most out of his players by deploying a stringent counter-attacking system, Diego Simeone continues to be Atletico’s biggest asset. ?

In the transfer market, the Los Rojiblancos manager has operated diligently, ensuring that each of his new signings will be able to fit seamlessly into his footballing philosophy. 

Former FC Porto centre-back Felipe, will benefit from the Argentine’s elite defensive coaching, whilst already possessing the ability to instigate counter-attacks with his long-range passing will benefit his team greatly.

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His likely defensive partner Mario Hermaso will also help in this regard. Hermaso, which means beautiful in Spanish, was signed from Espanyol, and  he’s fully expected to live up to his surname this season. Blessed, much like Felipe, with incredible long passing, Hermaso will also aid Atletico attempts to start their attacks when in transition. 

The singing of ?Kieran Trippier for a very reasonable fee of around £20m, is also an inspired one. The England international’s delivery from set pieces will provide Atletico with a potent offensive weapon that may be able to mask some of their offensive vulnerabilities

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And then we come to the main event: the signing of Benfica starlet ?João Félix for a club record €126m. 

The 19-year-old Portuguese international has been receiving significant plaudits for Atletico in pre-season and Simeone will need the diminutive attacking-midfielder to be in excellent form if his side has any hope of prying the La Liga trophy away from Catalonia. 

Felix’s job will be to act as the team’s unpredictable creative force in the final third. He will also be expected to relieve some of his side’s goal-scoring burden from strikers ?Alvaro Morata and ?Diego Costa.

Weaknesses

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In ?Antoine Griezmann, Atletico have not just lost their top scorer, and the only player to even get ?into double figures last season, but also the source of their attacking impetus. 

Though the Frenchman’s goals were of course vital, the 28-year-old has also performed a key creative role over the past five season, accruing 68 assists in the process. 

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Simeone will be desperately hoping that 19-year-old Felix lives up to his hype, but replacing a player as accomplished as the World Cup winning Griezmann may be too much of an ask for the teenager. 

The Frenchman has not been the only high-profile departure from the Wanda Metropolitano this summer. Club stalwarts Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Rodri and Juanfran, have all followed their talisman out of the door. 

This has the potential to create a leadership void in the dressing room and Simeone will need other long-serving players such as Koke and Saúl Ñíguez to help his new signings settle in quickly. 

Rodri

Perhaps, the biggest area for concern at Atletico though, is their misfiring front line. 

Striker Diego Costa has been plagued with discipline issues over the past few years, whilst new signing Alvaro Morata joins the squad after having a torrid time at Chelsea in the first half of last season.

The pair managed just 20 goals between them in all competitions last campaign. That number will need to seriously increase if Atletico are to have any chance of lifting the La Liga trophy in May.


Real Madrid

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?Strengths

Mariano Diaz

Whilst Atletico have had a number of their more seasoned players depart this transfer window, ?Real continue to posses one of the most ?experienced squads in football. 

Los Blancos have a pair of World Cup winners in their squad in ?Sergio Ramos and ?Toni Kroos, whilst many of the members of Real’s Champions League triumphs over the past few years, remain at the club. 

This experience is always invaluable in a title race, and could prove to be a decisive factor should the side find themselves in a close battle for the La Liga trophy. 

Marcelo,Rodrygo Silvadegoes,Daniel Carvajal,Luka Modric,Sergio Ramos,Toni Kroos,Raphael Varane,Karim Benzema,Eden Hazard,Lucas Vazquez,Keylor Navas

In Luka Modric, ?Casemiro and Kroos, Real can also boast one of the best midfield triumvirates in world football. 

Casemiro as the dogged enforcer,  Kroos as the metronome and Modric as the creative genius, all three of these players will need to be on top form this season. Especially considering that Mateo Kovacic will not be there to assist them this season, after he made his loan move to Chelsea a permanent one. 

Sergi Guardiola,Luka Modric,Casemiro

Of course, we cannot discuss Real’s chances without mentioning the signing of a certain Belgian attacker. 

The arrival of ?Eden Hazard for a sizeable fee of over £100m, was an important statement to other clubs: “last season’s failures were not acceptable, and we are back with a vengeance.” Hazard could finally be the man to fill the void left by ?Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018.

Weaknesses

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?One of the major areas of weakness for Real Madrid is the inexperience of their front line. 

Though Vinicius Junior is an extremely exciting prospect, as is new signing Luka Jovic, both of them are still in the preliminary stages of their careers. 

Their tender ages are bound to breed inconsistent performances, something that Real can ill afford if they want to sustain a serious title challenge.  

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Another of Los Blancos long-term issues that has reared its ugly head again this off-season, is the propensity of key figures at the club to engage in damaging public arguments. 

The two most recent perpetrators of this bickering have been returning manager Zinedine Zidane, and winger ?Gareth Bale. Zidane and Bale’s agent have been exchanging insults in the press all summer long, though in the past Sergio Ramos and club president Florentino Peréz, have also been guilty of this behaviour. Maybe there’s something in the water at the Bernabéu?

Whatever it is that makes everyone at Real argue with each other – it’s got to stop. A happy club is a successful club and more harmonious relations are essential if Los Blancos want to win La Liga. 


Barcelona

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??Strengths

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Barcelona’s main strength lies in one man, and one man alone: ?Lionel Messi. He’s probably still the best player in the world, and as their first leg against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final showed, whilst ?Barca have Messi, they have a good chance of winning ANY game. 

Though he has just celebrated his 32nd birthday, Messi shows no signs of letting up any time soon. The Argentine scored 51, yes you read that right, 51 goals last campaign, also chipping in with 21 assists. 

Keeping La Pulga fit during the upcoming season may even be enough on its own to reclaim the La Liga title. 

Lionel Messi

It is not just the Messi show at the Camp Nou this season though. The arrival of Antoine Griezmann for €120m was a smart signing. Not only has Ernesto Valverde received one of the world’s best attackers, he has also considerably weakened Barca’s main rivals for the La Liga trophy in the process. 

Let’s also not forgot the Dutch wonder kid Frenkie de Jong. His arrival from Champions League semi-finalists Ajax, will give the Catalan giants a much needed injection of youthful exuberance into their ageing midfield, as well as providing another source of creativity. 

Weaknesses

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It may seem a crazy thing to say about a man who has won back-to-back league titles, but in Ernesto Valverde Barcelona probably have the weakest manager out of La Liga’s top sides. 

Barca’s repeated failures in the Champions League, under his premiership are indicative of Valverde’s occasional tactical naivety in big game situations. 

Should the title race go down to the wire, you must question whether he is the man able to orchestrate Barcelona’s success under pressure. 

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It could also be argued that Barcelona’s ageing squad has the potential to cause them some problems this campaign. 

First-teamers such as Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal are all coming towards the end of their respective careers and may require significant rotation in order to keep all of them fit. 

If Valverde chooses to prioritise Europe in the latter stages of the season, it could leave Barca short of some of their older star names for some La Liga games. 


Conclusion

Lionel Messi

?It’s obvious isn’t it? Barcelona are without doubt in the best shape to win La Liga this season. The continued brilliance of Lionel Messi, combined with a number of very impressive signings during the summer gives Ernesto Valverde a brilliant chance to secure his third La Liga title.

Atletico Madrid will need record signing? João Félix to have a good first La Liga season if they have any hope of filling the void left by a number of high profile departures.

Their city rivals also have little chance of unseating the Catalan giants. Whilst they do have a lot of exciting young players, Real will probably struggle for consistency this season owing to a lack of experience and off-field squabbling. 


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