While so much noise has been generated at Barcelona this summer, especially this week as the Catalan club keep activating levers to try to register all their new signings for this weekend’s big kick-off, the other 19 La Liga clubs have been getting on with preparing for the 2022-23 season in relative calm. All has been especially nice and quiet around Real Madrid, where even getting turned down by Kylian Mbappe in May was soon forgotten when they added the Champions League trophy to the La Liga title they had wrapped up a few weeks before. Madrid did their transfer business early, bringing in defender Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer from Chelsea and investing €80million (£67.6m, $82.8m) in 22-year-old French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni. Their squad looks arguably even stronger now, with benchwarmers Gareth Bale, Luka Jovic, Isco and Marcelo jettisoned.
Rudiger may allow David Alaba to move across and play at left-back, while Tchouameni could emerge as a more complete alternative to Casemiro at the base of midfield. There is also an expectation that Rodrygo can follow the example of his fellow young Brazilian Vinicius Junior and emerge as a true world-class attacker. Carlo Ancelotti’s side will kick off as favourites to retain the title, something the Italian has never managed during his two decades coaching in five countries. The biggest barrier would be anything happening to centre-forward Karim Benzema, so sublime last season, but 35 in December and without any real replacement within Madrid’s squad. Atletico Madrid have also had a relatively quiet summer; money is tight at the stadium now called the Civitas Metropolitano after a change of naming partner for the new season.
The rojiblanco hierarchy began the transfer window hopeful of raising funds by selling big earners Alvaro Morata and Saul Niguez, who were returning from loans elsewhere having previously fallen out of favour with coach Diego Simeone. But Saul has settled back in, playing wing-back in pre-season without complaint, while Morata has been the team’s top scorer in friendlies, including a hat-trick against his past (and maybe future) team Juventus last weekend. Simeone’s squad still looks unbalanced. New free signing Axel Witsel has been filling in at centre-half in pre-season and the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder could well start there in Monday’s opener against Getafe, as Jose Maria Gimenez and Felipe both have fitness issues. Thankfully, though, money was found to sign Argentina right-back Nahuel Molina from Udinese for €20million to fill the gap left when Kieran Trippier departed for Newcastle last January.
Atletico should do better this season than their pretty woeful title defence during 2021-22. After a full pre-season under whip-cracking fitness coach Oscar Ortega, Antoine Griezmann cannot but improve on just three La Liga goals last year. Joao Felix also looked fit and sharp when hitting a neatly taken winner in the friendly against Manchester United. Sevilla finished fourth last season to fulfil their main objective for the season, but there were few smiles around the Sanchez Pizjuan during the final months. In January, Julen Lopetegui’s team looked like they might be Madrid’s closest challengers for the title, but then came just five wins in their last 17 La Liga games. Loud criticism of coach Lopetegui’s over-cautious tactics was met by a stirring public defence by sporting director Monchi, but everyone at the club knew the team needed a new attacking spark. Hence the free transfer signing of Isco is interesting.
The 30-year-old is supremely talented but has wasted the last four seasons on the Real Madrid bench. The Andalusian’s attitude annoyed Real team-mates in recent years, but he insists he has the motivation and fitness to return to his best. Lopetegui championed the signing of a player he knows from Madrid and especially the Spain national team — the feeling is now the duo will either succeed or fail together. Monchi has also had to rebuild Sevilla’s defence, with Diego Carlos sold to Aston Villa to balance the books for 2021-22, and his long-term partner Jules Kounde eventually ending up at Barcelona. The successors identified were both at Galatasaray, but neither are likely to face Osasuna in Sevilla’s opener on Monday. Brazilian Marcao was signed early in the window for €12million but Lopetegui said this week: “He arrived injured and is still injured.” Negotiations with the Turkish side over Denmark international Victor Nelsson are still dragging on. It has not been ideal and things might get tricky for Lopetegui if Sevilla have a bad start.
Referees have been told to clamp down on time wasting and add on extra time if needed and (in theory) they should also alter their interpretation of handball in the penalty area, with only clear infractions given as penalties. The first three rounds of matches won’t have midday or mid-afternoon games due to the probability of hot weather and the season kicks off just as temperatures appear to be easing after the hottest summer on record in Spain. There is also some uncertainty over which players will be able to play in the opening weekend, with several clubs (among them FC Barcelona) struggling to meet LaLiga’s tough financial fair play rules and complete the inscription of their new signings. The first game of the season is in Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium where the always solid outfit from Pamplona takes on Sevilla. It will be interesting to see how Sevilla perform after signing attacking midfielder Isco from Real Madrid but losing first-choice central defenders Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde.
Celta Vigo have been one of Spain’s more active teams in the transfer window, although much will still depend on Iago Aspas when they take on Espanyol. The visitors have new coach Diego Martinez in change and signed striker, Joselu from Alaves, although there are big doubts over the future of Spain international Raul de Tomas. Valladolid are back in the elite after a brief hiatus in the second division, but have a tough return when they face Villarreal. Villareal have had a good pre-season and look to be serious candidates for a top-four finish. Big spending FC Barcelona kick off their season at home to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday and at the time of writing it is still uncertain whether new signings Franck Kessie, Robert Lewandowski, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde and Raphinha or Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto will be able to play due to financial restrictions. The club is expected to activate another economic lever (ie sell off more assets) by the weekend to ensure at least some of the seven are available.
Real Madrid get their title defense underway to newly promoted Almeria, and as they showed in the European Supercup win away to Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday, it looks to be business as usual for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, although Ancelotti has announced some changes for the weekend. Sunday’s other matches see Real Sociedad, who have several changes in attack and are still without the injured Mikel Oyarzabal, visit Cadiz, who last season avoided relegation on the last day of the season. Gennaro Gattuso makes his debut as Valencia coach and will hope to have Nico Gonzalez available for the visit of newly promoted Girona, after losing Goncalo Guedes to Wolves. There are also three games on Monday (which is a public holiday in Spain). Ernesto Valverde begins his third tenure at Athletic Club Bilbao at home to Javier Aguirre’s Mallorca – a side unbeaten in pre-season.
There is a derby in the south of Madrid as Atletico Madrid travel to face Gerafe with a slight doubt over whether or not Antoine Griezmann will be available, while the last game of the day sees Betis (another side with some financial fair play issues) at home to Elche, strengthened by the signing of former Levante striker Roger Marti. Sevilla’s city neighbours Real Betis went into the summer delighted after their Copa del Rey triumph, but that happiness ended up thwarting a plan to move out some higher earners. Midfielder William Carvalho and centre-back Marc Bartra are happy to see out the last year of their contracts, while left-back Alex Moreno turned down a move to Nottingham Forest.