MADRID ( Associated Press) — After a disappointing season following their first Spanish league title in nearly a decade, Atletico Madrid are at the forefront of challengers to traditional powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Just behind is Sevilla, who were consistently on top last season. Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Real Betis are among the outsiders.
Atletico’s poor season after winning the title in 2021 resulted in an unusually high amount of criticism against coach Diego Simeone, who will be under pressure to keep the team competitive.
There were no high-profile signings for Atletico in the transfer window, with coaches relying on the likes of young Portugal forward Joao Felix and veteran Antoine Griezmann, who will enter the second and final year of his loan from Barcelona.
The club would be without veteran striker Luis Suarez, who did not renew his contract after a season in which he played sparingly. अलlvaro Morata returned from his stint with Juventus to help make up for Suarez’s departure.
The midfield, anchored by Coke Resurreción and Thomas Lemar, will be boosted by the addition of Belgium international Axel Vitsel and the return of Saul Siguez after his one-year stint on loan with Chelsea.
Defense has been one of Atletico’s main forces since Simeone’s arrival, but it struggled last season and the team remained far from top of goals. Most of the regular starters will return, including central defender Jose María Jiménez and goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who has renewed his contracts with the club.
Vitsel has been used as a central defender in the preseason and is a substitute for Simeone in the back row.
“Simone is delighted with this group of players,” said Atletico club president Enrique Cerezo. “We have great players and a great coach.”
Atlético opened their season in the Spanish League on 15 August at Getafe.
Sevilla has been a club close to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético in recent years.
The previous season was particularly good for the Andalusian team as it finished in the top three of the standings until the final round.
It will now finally attempt to secure its first top-three finish since 2008–09, retaining the base from the previous season but being decimated by the departures of Diego Carlos and Jules Conde, the pillars of the team’s defence.
There were doubts whether coach Julen Lopetegui would return for another season, but the former Spain coach remains in the position.
There will be many teams trying to score a run and compete for a place in at least one European competition.
Sevilla rivals Real Betis are also coming off a good season, finishing fifth in the league and winning the Copa del Rey. The team, coached by Manuel Pellegrini, lost defender Hector Bellerin but will rely on striker Willian Jose and veteran Joaquín Sánchez, the 41-year-old midfielder who had put his retirement on hold.
Real Sociedad, sixth last season, lost Willian Jose, but brought on young Japanese player Takefusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid. Sociedad’s Basque Country rival Athletic Bilbao, who missed out on a European spot last season, will be promoted by new coach Ernesto Valverde, who has returned without a club since ending his stint with Barcelona in 2020. .
Valencia are another team with a new squad, with Gennaro Gattuso taking over a squad whose owner, Peter Lim, has been under attack from fans over their policies. Villarreal, who secured a Conference League spot after their remarkable semi-final run in the Champions League, are keeping most of their squad under coach Unai Emery.
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