Real Madrid and Barcelona are, of course, always seen as the favourites for the crown in Spanish football. Ahead of each season, the supporters of the two giants discuss which lot would own the bragging rights in the end, and even neutral football enthusiasts rarely give anyone else a look in that aspect.
But having disrupted this setup in 2014, Atletico Madrid came in and stole the show once more, leaving their city rivals empty-handed and forcing the Catalans to settle for the Copa del Rey trophy.
There is always a narrative around Real and Barcelona, occasionally supported by stars themselves, that every player dreams of playing for either for one or the other at some point in their career. However, it cannot be disputed that these clubs, for all their reputation and glamour, usually sign star players for huge amounts of money, both in terms of transfer fees and wages.
Such an approach needs regular income to exist, and it was therefore with great anxiety that the two megaclubs met the financially devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which came soon after both spent a lot on players who failed to make desired impact on the pitch.
The fees Barcelona spent on the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann have been rightly perceived as too much (close to €400 million combined) considering the contribution they’ve made so far, while the same can be said of Real Madrid’s purchase of Eden Hazard.
The performances and results of both teams consequently suffered this term, as Barcelona still depended largely on the genius that is Lionel Messi and Real relied on the ‘old guard’ of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Sergio Ramos. Points were dropped throughout the campaign, but most importantly towards the end when it seemed that one of them could still prize the top spot away from Atletico.
Atletico almost slip
Halfway through the campaign, Atletico’s lead in the La Liga table was quite considerable, and it seemed they only needed to maintain some kind of form through the second half to secure the title. However, they somehow managed to come from that to nailing in on the final day, and there was even a point right near the end when Real had the race completely in their hands.
But luck and the results of their giant rivals favoured Diego Simeone and his team, and they held out. Real paid the price for failing to beat Getafe, Betis and Sevilla, while Barcelona suffered defeats at the hands of Granada and Celta Vigo, unexpectedly dropping points against Levante as well, all that when it mattered the most.
Never underestimate Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez’s departure from Barcelona last summer was one of the final acts of Josep Maria Bartomeu as the club president. The 58-year-old announced his resignation from the role on October 27th, along with the entire Board of Directors.
Plenty of Barcelona supporters saw the handling of Suarez as disgraceful, in light of everything the brilliant Uruguayan striker had given the club since his arrival from Liverpool in 2014. Apparently, 195 goals and 113 assists in 283 matches weren’t enough to warrant a significant spot in the plans of Ronald Koeman. They obviously should have known better.
At the age of 33, he joined Atletico and showed he still had a lot to give. He played a total of 32 La Liga games, starting 30, coming off the bench twice, and scoring 21 goals, the last of which was the title-clinching winner away to Valladolid.
“FC Barcelona didn’t value me”
Atlético de Madrid took him in and he scored 21 goals in leading them to the title 🏆
Just look at what it means to him 👏
Love him or hate him, Luis Suarez is a born winner #LFC pic.twitter.com/fovaqKsmGh
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) May 22, 2021
Leo says goodbye?
It’s been almost 17 years since Messi made his La Liga debut, and it has become very difficult to imagine any chart regarding the Spanish top flight and individual attacking input without his name on it. The numbers racked up by Suarez at Barcelona are truly fantastic, but they look extremely modest when compared to those of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner – 672 goals and 304 assists in 778 matches.
Love or hate Barcelona, nobody can dispute Lionel Messi as one of the greatest players the world has ever seen, whose set of skills is not only a result of remarkable talent, but also honed by hard work to perfection. Saying that it’s a pleasure to watch him play would be merely echoing the thoughts of 99% percent of the lovers of the game world-wide.
And yet, as things stand at the moment, 2020-21 looks to have been his last season at the Camp Nou. He wanted to leave last year, citing a clause in his contract which enabled him to do so for free each summer, but the club were able to forestall his departure by stating that the clause had expired. They demanded his standard €700m release clause to be paid in full instead, which expectedly resulted in his decision to stay put for another season, rather than take his Barcelona to court.
But the contract is now set to expire. So what happens next?
Messi is reportedly on vacation at the moment, and the talks over a potential new deal haven’t even started yet. Barcelona are obviously hopeful, with the current president Joan Laporta expresing ‘moderate optimism’ over the matter a few days ago.
Apparently, the deal they have in mind includes a few more years of playing at the Camp Nou, an ambassador role through a short stint in the MLS afterwards, and a non-playing position at the club after retirement. In total, he would be committed to Barcelona for 10 more years.
Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain are believed to be waiting, throwing looks and winks from outside and waving various options for his move to the French capital instead.
As for Messi himself, this vacation should be the perfect opportunity to discuss the options and reach a decision together with his family.
Whatever happens, there’s no doubt that Barcelona are in for a major overhaul. A large number of players are expected to be sold, with others arriving on free transfers. The Catalans have already agreed deals with Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and defender Eric Garcia, and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. They’re reportedly close to landing Olympique Lyon forward Memphis Depay as well, and are expected to decide whether to move for AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma soon.
Things have already started unraveling in Madrid. Zinedine Zidane has left the club and it remains to be seen who steps into his shoes. Real were reportedly in talks with Massimiliano Allegri, but the Italian tactician obviously grew impatient with their indecision and accepted an offer to return to Juventus.
Meanwhile, the arrival of defender David Alaba from Bayern Munich on a free transfer has been confirmed, amid growing doubts over the future of captain Sergio Ramos. Like Messi, the Real captain is out of contract and no progress has been made over a new one as of yet.
Los Blancos are reportedly open to offers for Hazard and Gareth Bale, seeking to raise funds and make room in their forward line for the potential arrivals of Kylian Mbappe from PSG and Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. Mbappe and Haaland are without a doubt the two hottest prospects on the planet right now, and if the reports of such plans hold any truth, it remains to be seen if a suitable solution will be found regarding the financial aspects of the plan.
But whatever happens in the transfer market this summer, Atletico’s title and the problems both Real and Barcelona are facing seem to indicate that La Liga may have become far more interesting and less predictable than it has been for a very long time.
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