MADRID ( Associated Press) — After a disappointing campaign following their first Spanish La Liga title in nearly a decade, Atletico Madrid top the list of challengers from two traditional powerhouses, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
One step down is Sevilla, who flirted with the top of the table during the last campaign. Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Real Betis will come next with fewer chances.
Atleti’s gray season after winning the title in 2021 sparked an unusual wave of criticism against Argentina coach Diego Simeone, who will now face more pressure to keep the team competitive.
The Colconero team had no outstanding signings in the transfer period. The coach will rely on good performances based on players such as young Portuguese striker Joo Felix and French veteran Antoine Griezmann, who begins his second and final year on loan given by Barcelona.
The veteran striker moved to Luis Suarez, whose contract was not renewed after a season in which he played on and off. lvaro Morata returned from his stay with Juventus to compensate slightly for Uruguay’s departure.
The midfield, backed by Kok Resurekian and Thomas Lemar, will be strengthened by Belgium international Axel Vitsel and the return of Saul Siguez, after a year-long stay on loan with Chelsea.
Defense has been one of Atletico’s main strengths since Simeone’s arrival. However, the team suffered last season and remained far from being the best in terms of goals given.
A good chunk of starters will return, including central defender Jose María Jiménez and goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who have renewed their contracts with the club.
Vitsel is appointed as the central defender in the pre-season, and is a substitute for Simone.
Simeone “are very happy, happy with the players. We all want more, but face the vice of asking, not wanting to give”, said Atletico president Enrique Cerezo. “We have some sensational players and a great manager. We have everything, what more can we ask for?
Atlético de Madrid opens its Spanish La Liga season on 15 August at the Getafe Stadium.
Another attempt from Sevilla
Sevilla has been a frequent club close to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético in recent years.
The previous season was particularly good for the Andalusian team, who were one of the first three in the table until the closing dates.
Now he will finally try to finish in the top three, which he has not achieved since the 2008-2009 campaign. His squad forms the basis of the previous campaign but could suffer the departure of the pillars of defense Diego Carlos and Jules Conde.
There were doubts about whether coach Julen Lopetegui would return for a second campaign. The former Spain coach has decided to remain on the bench.
There will be a few teams that would like to compete for at least a spot in European tournaments.
Sevilla’s local rival Real Betis is having a good season. He finished fifth in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey.
The Chilean Manuel Pellegrini-led side lost defender Hector Bellerin, but they will have striker Willian Jose and veteran Joaquín Sanchez, a 41-year-old midfielder who has postponed his retirement.
Real Sociedad, who finished sixth last season, lost Willian Jose but recruited young Japanese Takefusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid.
Athletic Bilbao, Real’s Basque rivals who missed a European berth last season, will improve under new manager Ernesto Valverde, who returns to Barcelona in 2020 after being left without a club.
Valencia is another team with a new team. Italian Gennaro Gattuso has taken over the reins of a club whose owner Peter Lim is being criticized by fans for his policies.
Villarreal, who received a Conference League ticket after a surprise advance to the Champions League semi-finals, retained a good portion of their squad under Unai Emery’s command.