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La Liga Preview: Will Barcelona, Atletico Madrid leave Real Madrid behind?

The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Andreas Iniesta from La Liga has contrasting ramifications for the 2018/19 season. While clouds of uncertainty hang over Real Madrid, Barcelona's astute offseason has them well-positioned for a title repeat.

Runners up in 2017/18, Atletico Madrid will once again look to eclipse their neighbours and repeat their unforgettable 2013/14 title success. Or maybe, just maybe, could we have a different winner from outside the big three for the first time since 2004?

To make sure you know the key news about the title contenders and challenging teams, here is Tribalfootball's 2018/19 La Liga preview:


Barcelona

The feelings around Iniesta's departure from Catalonia are sentimental. Although he was still productive last season, Iniesta is now 34, and like Xavi before him, it was time to say goodbye. Barcelona foresaw this and wisely invested £142m on Philippe Coutinho in January. Now with six months in Spain under his belt, Coutinho can now assume Iniesta's responsibilities. He won't be alone, however. The exciting young additions of Malcom and Arthur ensure Barca have adequately replaced their ageing club legend.

Arturo Vidal has been brought in as Paulinho's replacement and can be the dogged midfielder Ernesto Valverde covets so highly, provided he stays fit. Talented youngster Clement Lenglet is the perfect signing to provide more depth at centre-back. And given the potential he showed at Sevilla, could possibly supplant the ageing Gerard Pique.

After winning the league by 14 points last season, Barcelona were already ahead of their rivals. And having improved with their new signings and Lionel Messi showing no signs of ageing, the Blaugrana are primed for their 26th La Liga title.


Real Madrid

It is a vastly different picture for Barca's fierce rivals. Even if Ronaldo had remained at the Bernabeu, president Florentino Perez would've needed to invest after finishing third last season. The fact he still hasn't after receiving €100m for the Portuguese is perplexing.

Last night's loss to Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup is ominous for Los Blancos, who are now under the leadership of Julen Lopetegui. If Perez can't work any magic over the next two weeks, the former Spain coach has a tough task ahead. Gareth Bale (injury prone) and Karim Benzema (scored 5 league goals last season) are match-winners but are unreliable, while Isco and Marco Asensio are both immensely talented but have never lead a team before.

The additions of Thibaut Courtois and talented whizkid Vinicius Junior are cause for excitement. But after finishing 17 points behind their greatest rivals last season, Real needed a drastic transformation. Keep your head up though Madridistas, there is time.


Atletico Madrid

Across the Spanish capital, Atletico Madrid have done the most important thing they could this summer: retain Antoine Griezmann. Yes, Atleti are keeping a World Cup winner and potential Ballon D'Or candidate for the next few seasons, but the impact of Griezmann's commitment transcends the football field by ensuring Atleti remains a permanent challenger to La Liga's duopoly.

The residual effects have already begun this summer. Thomas Lemar, arguably one of the hottest prospects in world football, has joined from Monaco, citing Griezmann's commitment as inspiration for him joining the club. And with Diego Simeone's leadership, more players are bound to follow.

Along with Griezmann, the retention of Diego Godin, Koke and Saul ensures Atleti have not gone backwards in any aspect this summer. The replacement of Fernando Torres and Sime Vrasjko with Nikola Kalinic and Santiago Arias was also a shrewd piece of business. And the addition of electric winger Gelson Martins is certain to give life to Atleti's at timesstagnant attack.

With a stout defence that conceded just 22 goals last season, Atleti would've been able to compete without all these positives. Add them in though and boy they're dangerous this season.


Best of the rest

The 2017/18 campaign proved to be much more than a three-horse race after Valencia finished just three points behind Real Madrid. Fortunately, that trend looks set to continue this season. Valencia's run surprised many and provided a much needed shake-up to La Liga's well established rhythm. We may very well witness an attacking prowess not seen at the Mestalla since the Silva-Villa-Morientes days this season. Michy Batshuayi and Kevin Gamiero have been added to Los Che's attacking stocks, which already feature Rodrigo Moreno, scorer of 16 league goals last term.

Real Betis should be thereabouts once again the season. Los Verdiblancos certainly made a statement of intent by spending big on Everton and West Ham United target William Carvalho. Betis' neighbours, Sevilla, have appointed Paolo Machin, who helped Girona finish tenth last season, as their new manager. Andre Silva, signed on loan from AC Milan, should help Machin's 3-4-2-1 system fire in attack.

Manchester City's sister club, Girona, will be looking to take another step up after the promoted side shocked everyone with their 2017/18 campaign. The loss of Machin has been offset by the hiring of ex-Real Sociedad manager Eusebio, whose history as a coach at Barcelona means the adjustment period should be seamless. Villarreal have invested heavily on forwards this summer, bringing in Gerardo Martino and Karl Toko Ekambi, as well as adding experience in ex-Arsenal star Santi Cazorla and former Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori.

Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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