Real Madrid and Barcelona to reassert dominance over Atlético
22 August ~ Diego Simeone, coach of reigning La Liga champions Atlético Madrid, was in typically sharp form as he spoke this week about Spanish Supercopa opponents Real Madrid. "With €95 million [£76m] we have signed nine players," Simeone said. "Real Madrid have signed two players for €95 million. That is the difference." He had a point, even if his sums were actually wrong. Real's two new galacticos James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos cost a combined €105m, while a further €10m was spent on goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Even that spending has been outdone at Barcelona, who have gone over €150m on Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitic and an assortment of goalkeepers and defenders. That is at the time of writing – with a further outlay likely after FIFA said on Wednesday that the club's 12 month transfer ban will start next January.
Such signings were the (predictable) reaction from La Liga's big two after being beaten to the title by Atlético last season. That phenomenal overachievement had predictable repercussions, with top scorer Diego Costa, left-back Filipe Luís and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois all leaving for Chelsea. Simeone – as his quote suggests – did at least have the resources to replace these players with internationals such as Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann, but refinding the intensity and motivation which drove the side to the title last year looks more difficult.
Meanwhile La Liga's other 17 clubs presumably had little time for "El Cholo" pleading poverty. Once again this summer the best players at the "smaller" clubs have been picked off, including Athletic Bilbao (Ander Herrera), Sevilla (Rakitic), Levante (Costa Rican keeper Navas) and Real Sociedad (Griezmann). Various issues – mostly financial – meant that none of these clubs have spent big on replacements. The other 17 between them have spent only about the price of one Suárez, with the vast majority of deals being either loans or free transfers.
The biggest unknown are Valencia, who have finally been taken over by Singapore businessman Peter Lim. Nobody, except perhaps Lim and Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, knows exactly how much the club has spent on new players, but the incoming quality means Los Che should challenge for fourth. Sevilla will perhaps be their closest rivals if on-loan Barça duo Gerard Deulofeu and Denis Suárez click.
At the other end tiny Eibar – total budget about €20m – could well stay up in their first Primera season ever thanks to clever signings and off-field thinking. Elche should struggle as even the La Liga authorities are worried about their ability to pay the bills, while Levante look in trouble without Navas and experienced departing coach Joaquín Caparrós.
But as usual most of the attention will be focused on the top. As Simeone suggested you can only fend off financial reality for so long, so normal service will be resumed and either Real Madrid or Barcelona will win this season's Primera Division title. Dermot Corrigan