With a thunderous final day result to clinch it, Atletico Madrid achieved a feat that, in modern football, is all but reserved for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
When Los Colchoneros last hoisted the trophy, in 2014, Barcelona finished second and returned to nab it in 2015, with Madrid improving to nudge Atletico down to a more familiar third-place finish. Over this summer, last year’s runners-up have been working to reassert their dominance, while Atletico look to return with much of the same.
Barcelona raid the free agency but could potentially lose their captain and talisman
Most football fans either consider Lionel Messi to be alongside Cristiano Ronaldo or ahead of the Portuguese forward as the best footballer in the world.
Neymar would go one further, billing him as the biggest and best in history in this piece from ESPN. Last season, the Argentine begrudgingly stayed at Camp Nou, and as of July 1st 2021, he officially became a free agent.
Seeing this coming, Barcelona went big in the free agency to bolster the attack. Not only did they get Manchester City’s record goalscorer, Sergio Aguero, but the Blaugrana also landed Memphis Depay for free. While neither of them would be able to replace the incomparable Messi, both provide goals and creativity.
At the time of writing, Messi is officially a free agent, and so Barcelona’s attack looks to be shaping up as Antoine Griezmann, Memphis, Ousmane Dembele and Aguero.
Still a menacing unit, this is one of the reasons why betting on sites like Space Casino show Barcelona as the favourites at 7/5. It should be noted, though, that they’re only narrowly the favourites, which is likely a reflection of a lacklustre defence.
Competitors in the capital
Essentially, the biggest change to Atletico came by way of Diego Simeone’s tactical change-up. Last season, he ditched his staple formation of 4-4-2, which had offered his teams a trademark defensive solidity for years.
In its place, Simeone found success with three-at-the-back setups, which football outlets like the BBC note increased possession statistics and goal outputs.
Many of the greatest managers of modern football always speak to a need for personnel rotation and tweaks to the squad to keep the team competitive.
Atletico have brought in the exciting left winger Marcos Paulo from Fluminense, but Simeone looks set to offer something different by way of strategies again. He deployed 3-5-2, 3-4-2-1, and 3-1-4-2 successfully last season, which worked very well and made it difficult to play against.
Madrid, dethroned champions and runners-up, have taken a somewhat different approach. Not only have Los Blancos let their captain, Sergio Ramos, depart for free, but they’ve also switched managers. Carlo Ancelotti has returned, with Goal indicating that the shift back to the Italian will likely stifle the renewal process and that Zinedine Zidane left due to a lack of long-term vision.
So, this would indicate that Ancelotti is there because he’s a trusted winner of silverware at the Santiago Bernabeu, and that the higher-ups want trophies now.
It’s understandable, with Atletico set to be the underdogs despite being reigning champions and Barcelona potentially being in turmoil without the player on whom their identity is pinned.
As has been the case in La Liga for several years, Atletico aren’t expected to claim the crown, Barcelona are the narrow favourites, and Madrid are tipped to be their prime challengers. Still, a new boss at the Bernabeu and the potential loss of a superstar at Camp Nou could tip the balance further towards Atletico.