MADRID: Real Madrid are hoping a summer of stability will set them up for a successful defense of the Spanish title when the La Liga season kicks off this weekend, despite some noticeable moves in Barcelona’s transfer market.
Madrid got the ball rolling against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday as they target another trophy-rich season under Carlo Ancelotti after their league-Champions League double last season.
There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu and no indication that a superstar has been signed to bolster the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new deal at Paris Saint-Germain.
Still, there weren’t any significant departures either, as the influence of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo dwindled dramatically before they were all sacked.
That means Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, who turns 37 in September, will remain big influences.
Ancelotti can also expect the influence of players like Vinicius – whose goal won the Champions League final against Liverpool in May – Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga to grow this season.
And two significant signings have arrived.
French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni (22) joins from Monaco for a fee of up to €100m, while German centre-back Antonio Rüdiger (29) joins from Chelsea on a free transfer.
“I think we have two players who are among the best in the world in their roles,” Ancelotti told UEFA.com.
“Their quality enhances the physical and technical capability of the team.”
Real were champions by 13 points over Barcelona and it would have been more if the Catalans hadn’t improved tremendously in the second half of last season.
Xavi Hernandez has already made a big impression as manager at the Camp Nou and a host of new recruits led by Robert Lewandowski could help them close the gap on their bitter rivals.
Leeds United winger Raphinha and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie have also joined, while the defense should be greatly improved with the signings of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen.
The problem is that earlier this week Barca were still unable to register their new recruits because they hadn’t raised enough funds to meet the spending restrictions La Liga imposed on the club.
That’s despite Barcelona’s board of directors selling assets, including 25 percent of Barca Studios, which manage the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for €100m.
25 percent of their domestic television rights for a quarter of a century were sold to the US investment fund Sixth Street for 400 million euros.
Those deals come on top of a sponsorship deal with Spotify and on Tuesday it was reported in Spain that Barcelona would sell another 25 percent of Barca Studios to an investment fund for €100m to keep La Liga happy.
The club have also pressured midfielder Frenkie de Jong to leave in order to dispose of his salary.
There may be concerns about the long-term implications of these deals for a club with a reported debt of €1.3bn, but if they can register the new recruits they could also be a real force to be reckoned with.
“We created a lot of hopeful anticipation. We also have a lot of hope,” admitted Xavi. “Our goal this year is to win titles and play good football.”
If Barcelona can’t close the gap on Real, it’s unlikely anyone else can as Atletico Madrid don’t look significantly stronger than they did last year when they finished third.
Luis Suarez has returned to his native Uruguay and Antoine Griezmann’s form is uncertain, although Axel Witsel will strengthen midfield and Argentina international Nahuel Molina will provide quality at right-back.
On top of that they still have Diego Simeone.
Sevilla finished fourth last season to secure Champions League qualification at the expense of city rivals Real Betis, who won the Copa del Rey.
While Sevilla have signed Isco, they have lost two outstanding centre-backs, with Kounde departing and Diego Carlos joining Aston Villa.
It was notable that the latter preferred to join a Premier League club in midfield rather than stay and play in the Champions League.
That reflected the traction of English football while Goncalo Guedes, Valencia’s top scorer last season, made the move to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Almeria of Saudi Arabia are back in La Liga after seven years, while Real Valladolid and Girona are the other newly promoted sides.