Replacing one of the two best players in the world is difficult, especially when you don't bother trying. Last year, Real Madrid sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus for $ 117 million and barely invested that money in the team. Somehow, there was wisdom in the club that they could withstand the loss of five-time Ballon d & # 39; winner Or – as it turns out, they were wrong. Real Madrid finished third in La Liga last season – 19 points behind Barcelona and eight points behind second place Atlético Madrid – and left the Champions League in round 16. They went through three managers: Julen Lopetegui, then Santiago Solari, and finally Zinedine Zidane who returned as a Real Madrid coach in March after a sudden resignation at the end of the 2017-18 season. The upheaval of the coaching staff and the disappointing season underline how much Real Madrid misjudged the impact of Ronaldo's loss and spent the summer trying to fix this mistake.
In Barcelona, meanwhile, there is no illusion about the meaning of their superstar Lionel Messi. They've won two league championships in a row – and four of the last five – and the idea that any player can somehow replace Messi is treated as sacrilege at Camp Nou. Barcelona will rely on the 32-year-old if he is physically fit. Messi is increasingly asked to eliminate the cracks in the aging Barcelona team. It operated in La Liga but was unable to prevent Barcelona's spectacular breakdown in the Champions League over the past two seasons. Barcelona tried to adjust the course by adding the dynamic young star of the Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong from Ajax, as well as a superstar in her biggest role in Antoine Griezmann from Atlético Madrid.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have made significant changes to their line-up this season – Barcelona starting the match against Athletic Bilbao on Friday; Real Madrid plays Celta Vigo on Saturday – and even more potential changes will occur before the closing of the Spanish transfer window on September 2 (including the prospect of Neymar's return to La Liga through an unexpected move to Barcelona or possibly to Real Madrid).
Let's start with the reconstruction of Real Madrid. The following table shows the differences between the team from the 2017-18 season (marked in red) – the last of Ronaldo – and the team from last season (marked in blue). As you can see, last year's unit was simply worse in everything.
Real Madrid made less of each type of shot in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18: less explicit shots (shots taken without a defender between the attacking player and the goal), fewer counterattacking shots and fewer shots generated from high press. They also scored worse because their expected goals per shot also dropped.
To solve the problem, Real Madrid has so far spent $ 348 million on players in the transfer window (which was offset by $ 131 million of sales). The biggest ticket was Eden Hazard, a 28-year-old Chelsea winger, though he does not necessarily solve their main problem. Gambling stands out on the wing, pushing the ball up the field and placing others to score.
His impressive goal score is largely due to the number of penalties he takes, not his ability to create opportunities.
Gambling is the kind of world-class player Real Madrid needs – and Zidane has long been an admirer of Belgium – but they are looking for the next signing of big money to secure their goals. Luka Jovic, 21-year-old Serbian, arrives from Eintracht Frankfurt for USD 68.4 million. He is a pure striker and shooting monster – he is good with his head and both feet, and is built to jump in the field and score goals at home.
But Zidane's work is more complicated than during the last full season, when he managed to largely just put his best players on the pitch and get out of the way.
We'll see if Jovic and Real Madrid have long been gone. 9 Karim Benzema can play together, especially when Hazard needs team integration. Hazard's preferred position is on the left wing, which displaced Madrid's only bright spot from last season, 19-year-old Vinícius Júnior, who moved to the right in the preseason. And there is Gareth Bale, whom Zidane desperately tries to specter, despite the apparent pressure of Real Madrid owner Florentino Pérez to maintain the Welsh wingman.
Defending left defender Ferland Mendy and middle defender Éder Militão came for north fees of $ 50 million. Summer spent chasing Paul Pogba did not reach Manchester United midfielder (at least not yet), but Real Madid sent promising young midfielders such as Dani Ceballos to Arsenal, and Marcos Llorente to Atlético, while Mateo Kovacic moved to Chelsea permanent. If the contract for the helper does not come to fruition before closing the transfer window – Christian Eriksen from Tottenham Hotspur has long been rumors, and Donny van de Beek Ajaxa has also been linked – Real Madrid will be shorthand and relied on stalwarts Luce Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos.
It's never a good idea to read too much in pre-season matches, but during the summer pre-season list, Zidane mixed, matched, and changed formations at every opportunity. He moved from one striker to two, played flat in the middle of the field and in the trio, and even switched from third to back and fourth to back when he senses his new players. He must find out which of his megastars suits where and how to make the most of everyone if Real Madrid is to use his serious money.
Barcelona is focusing on fine-tuning its spraying team with several tent signatures. Deputy Andrés Iniesta and Neymar were not found, despite spending a lot of money to bring in Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé to fill these voids in the last two years.
The midfielder has become more functional thanks to Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, and often Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto merging to block him when creating Messi. Barcelona moved from the amazing first three to relying on Messi, who mercilessly waved the ball to full support. The table below shows each individual pass that Messi played with the left season Jordi Alba last season.
Two players were brought to fix it. In Atlético Madrid, Griezmann was the attacker in the extremely defensive team Diego Simeone, and now he will be released to participate in a more dynamic, aggressive attack. His ability to play on both wings next to Luis Suárez and Messi, or to spell Suárez as the central striker, is appealing, and we hope he will be able to gel better than Dembélé. Also, as Messi and Suárez get older and push less forward, Griezmann's willingness to sacrifice on the defensive side of the ball will be key. As the defensive map below shows, he cut the tail without the ball, putting pressure on opponents throughout the pitch.
A more important meeting with Barcelona may be Jong's midfielder who led Ajax to a shocking run to the Champions League semi-finals last season. He is a great example of what a modern, dynamic midfielder looks like: an athletic maniac who can cover a huge field in the middle of the field, but whose athleticism is secondary to his ability on the ball. The 22-year-old should be the perfect antidote to a Barcelona midfielder who has grown old.
De Jong combines two things on an absolutely elite level. He is terribly good at getting the ball by his opponents (and in fact he played in the middle phase of Ajax at the beginning of his career) and is extremely skilled at advancing the ball on the pitch alone or with a pass range.
Although it's difficult to see how Real Madrid's talent can connect, De Jong's fit with Barcelona is crystal clear. He will bet on the middle three of Busquets and Rakitic, Arthur, Vidal or Roberto. Instead of signing on Busquets to stop his pass, opposing teams will have to stop de Jong from moving the ball forward, making life for 31-year-old Busquets blissfully easier. Similarly, de Jong will defend Busquets' defensive range while being able to grow on his own.
If everything works, de Jong will allow Messi to leave progression to the middle helpers. It rests very much on the shoulders of the player who starts his first season of competition at the elite level, but after running last season's Champions League it is hard to believe that he will not cope with the task.
It is also worth noting that Barcelona began to calmly prepare for the future, buying a few young full backs. 22-year-old Júnior Firpo, formerly Real Betis, matches the profile of a young, but excellent player Barcelona must aim, especially since Alba hits the wrong direction 30.
It's a great new world in La Liga. The days of Messi and Ronaldo have really passed, and this season will determine what the next chapter will look like. Expect Atlético Madrid, newly renovated, to fight alongside two Spanish giants. Probably no team in Europe has achieved such a high rotation of players as Atlético: Griezmann, Rodri (Manchester City), Lucas Hernández (Bayern Munich) and Diego Godín (Inter Milan) belong to those who left and were replaced by the young Portuguese star João Félix, among many others.
Ultimately, the season will be determined by how well Zidane can integrate all of his new elements in Madrid, how well Griezmann and de Jong fill holes in Barcelona, and if a new-look Atlético can enter the gap, it should break down. Even if the top three players will probably keep their places at the top of the league, how they do it will probably be different than ever before.