La Liga preview: Can Barcelona challenge Real Madrid after post-Lionel Messi revamp?

Drastic measures have been taken in an attempt to start balancing the books, including a sellout of players, the reduction of team wages and, most damning of all, leaving Lionel Messi – the greatest player in history. from the club – leave the club. free.

Despite these efforts, last season the Catalan giants still had to reduce the team’s wage bill in order to register one of their new signings.

Most predicted that this summer the club would have to remain thrifty to continue disentangling themselves from these financial constraints entirely on their own initiative, but that has not been the case.

Barcelona have now spent around $160 million on player transfers and signed some of the most coveted players in European football, including Robert Lewandowski, Jules Koundé and Raphinha.

As Bayern Munich boss Julien Nagelsmann recently described: “[Barcelona] is the only club in the world that has no money, but then buys all the players they want. I don’t know how they do it. It’s a little strange, a little crazy.”

However, in the short side at least, fears around the club’s inability to register their new stars have been eased slightly by the activation of several economic ‘levers’, in the words of Barcelona president Joan Laporta.

The levers in question relate to the sale of 25% of its La Liga television rights for the next 25 years to the American company Sixth Street Investment, for around 530 million dollars, and 24.5% of the club’s stake in Barça Studios. to for 100 million euros ($102.1 million).

The club would have other economic levers at their fingertips if they find that La Liga disagree with their accounting and refuse to allow registration of Barca’s new talent glut.

“We are doing our homework to be able to register players,” Laporta told ESPN. “We made these financial operations to save the club and sign new players. I hope we won’t have anything more to do.

“It’s a controlled risk. If we have to recover the plan of [selling further club assets]we will weigh it, but we believe that we can register the new signings with this agreement.

“First of all we have to register the players we have signed and resolve the future of the players who are not in the manager’s plans. [before signing more players]”, added Laporta. “After that, we will see what we can do. The coach wants more reinforcements.”

However, earlier this week the Spanish press began reporting that Barcelona are still around $40m short of registering all of their new signings, meaning it is now likely the club will need to activate their fourth.” lever”, the sale of another 24.5. % of the club’s participation in the Barça studios.
Jules Kounde was one of the most sought after players in Europe.

Talent galore

It remains to be seen what impact these financial injections will have on the Blaugrana in the long run, but for now it should allow the club to field, at least on paper, a competitive squad that could perhaps close the gap to reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid.

However, to catch Los Blancos and eradicating the 13-point difference that separated the two teams at the end of last season seems like a tall order.

Not only have Real retained all the key players involved in last season’s La Liga and Champions League double, but midfield starlet Aurélien Tchouaméni and defensive anchor Antonio Rüdiger have added two of the most wanted from Europe.

With the addition of these stars to an already talented squad – notably rising teenage sensation Eduardo Camavinga – Real’s Brazilian midfielder Casemiro believes the team can challenge for trophies on all fronts this coming season.

“Last year, Camavinga showed he could do very well, and I think Tchouaméni and Rüdiger are players who can come and help the team,” Casemiro told CNN en Español. “They are important players for us.

“Of course, every time a player of this level arrives, he will help us win trophies because we know that to win competitions you have to have a group, not just a team. I think we have to have a lot good players and every time players arrive with this quality, it always helps us.

Antonio Rüdiger was Real Madrid's star this summer.

“The last few years we’ve had a good dressing room with good people, they’re friendly. It’s a very quiet dressing room and it’s very easy to be with the players. I’m sure from day one, they will feel very comfortable, they will feel that everyone is very friendly and that the dressing room is very, very quiet.”

Moreover, there is one player in Real Madrid’s ranks who 2022 Champions League final hero Thibaut Courtois believes can be something of a secret weapon this season.

Since his $130million move to the Spanish capital in 2019, Eden Hazard has been plagued by injuries and has made just 66 appearances during that time. However, after spending several training sessions with his Belgian team-mate during pre-season, Courtois is confident Real fans will now see the Hazard of yesteryear.

“It depends on where the coach is playing him – Chelsea’s Hazard has played wide and Belgium’s Hazard is playing in a 3-4-3 as an inside and not as a striker,” he said. he told reporters during Real’s pre-season tour of the United States. . “But I think he’s fine and also only had a week of training, but I’m sure he can help the team a lot.

“We will have to see when Karim [Benzema] comes back how we can play with Eden, but these are questions for the coach. I trust him [Hazard]he’s feeling good, he’s done well this week in a lot of training and held on physically, so his injuries are a thing of the past.

“The other day Rodrygo gave her a good kick in training,” laughed Courtois, “and Eden got up quickly. So I think there are no more problems.”

After the best individual season of his career, in which he scored 44 goals in 46 games, Benzema continued to prove how important he is to this team, scoring two goals in two games on his return to the squad. in pre-season.

The Frenchman then scored another goal in Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday to lift the UEFA Super Cup, his 324th goal for the 14-time European champions, putting him second on the club’s all-time goalscoring list behind only Cristiano Ronaldo. .

Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup to claim their first trophy of the season.

The best of the rest

Real rivals Atlético, who finished third behind struggling Barça last season, have yet to find a reliable replacement for veteran striker Luis Suárez, who has returned home to Uruguay to play for the club. Nacional childhood team.

Álvaro Morata returns to the club after his season-long loan from Juventus, but based on his previous performances for the club, it seems unlikely that the Spaniard will be the answer to Atleti’s attacking woes.

Nahuel Molina comes from Udinese to replace stalwart Šime Vrsaljko at right-back and Saúl Ñíguez returns from a totally unsuccessful season on loan at Chelsea, but a Champions League place is probably all Atlético can hope for this season.

Among other usual La Liga suspects, Sevilla – despite adding Real Madrid’s Isco and Manchester United’s Alex Telles – look considerably weaker than last season after losing their first-choice centre-back to Kounde and Diego Carlos.

New centre-back Marcao, signed from Galatasaray, certainly has big shoes to fill and will need to play immediately if Sevilla are to challenge for the top four again.

Last season’s Copa del Rey winners Real Betis, who linked that success with a fifth-place finish in La Liga, retained most of their key squad elements, losing only Hector Bellerin to Arsenal after his spell ended. loan.

The squad is also bolstered by the additions of centre-back Luiz Felipe and exciting Brazilian prospect Luiz Henrique, who reportedly wowed his new club in pre-season training.

But with a stable squad, exciting signings and no off-field distractions, Real Madrid already look like the team to beat in La Liga this season.


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