Who: Barcelona vs Valencia
When: Saturday, September 14th @ 03:00 pm ET
Line: Barcelona -240 | Draw +360 | Valencia +650
Whether he’s in the lineup or not, Lionel Messi is the biggest topic of conversation when it comes to Barcelona and La Liga.
Unfortunately for the Catalans, it’s been the latter for the first three games of the season. Messi will be absent again Saturday when the team hosts Valencia at Camp Nou at 3 p.m. Eastern. Barcelona (-240) is nevertheless a heavy favorite against the league leader in dysfunction, Valencia (+650). We’ll get to that matchup in a bit, but first, let’s talk more about the impact of the Argentine’s absence.
Two different teams
Last year, when the Argentine was at his best, Barcelona was unstoppable. The question was whether his team could win a Champions League title without an ideal supporting cast for him. He/they were not.
Coming into this year, Barcelona appeared to have improved Messi’s supporting cast by signing Frenchman Antoine Griezmann from Atlético Madrid and Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong from Ajax. Both those players have shown (especially Griezmann in the 5-2 win over Real Betis on August 25) why they were considered pivotal additions, but the Argentine’s lingering calf injury changes everything.
Messi was initially expected to only miss the first three games, with a return expected after last weekend’s international break. His absence this weekend, and uncertain status for next Tuesday’s game at Borussia Dortmund in the UCL, is the biggest story in Spain right now.
Losses or draws his team have suffered without him have been somewhat easy to dismiss when we’ve known he’d be back the next week. But that does not appear to be the case here. And the surprisingly poor play without him – four points from three games, with a loss to Athletic Bilbao and a draw vs. Osasuna – makes the problem that much more significant.
With Atlético (nine points through three impressive games) seemingly potent enough offensively to continue playing at a high level all season, Barcelona cannot afford to drop more points over the next week or two.
Big shoes to fill
Pivoting away from the most important calf in Spain, why has a team with plenty of other stars already dropped five points? Unfortunately, Messi’s injury is not the only one this team is dealing with. Ousmane Dembélé is in the midst of (another) extended absence, and Luis Suárez has missed time as well. No one was expecting this team’s starting front three to be (left to right) Rafinha, Antoine Griezmann and Carles Pérez at any point, but that’s what Barcelona has had to roll with the last 180 minutes. That doesn’t explain, however, why a team that was stout defensively last year has given up five goals through three games.
The good news is that things might look very different just a week from now. Suárez is expected to return to the pitch this weekend, and his return will be welcome. If he’s fit and can stay that way and Messi is back next week, all the concerns we just discussed will might feel like distant memories. But those are bigger hypotheticals than any Barça fans want to be thinking about in September.
As for Saturday vs. Valencia, Barcelona faces a team in an absolute world of turmoil. Owner Peter Lim this week decided to ignore Marcelino’s impressive work and strong relationship with his players and sack him in favor of unproven Albert Celades. It will be fascinating to see how Valencia performs in these circumstances, especially considering they’re already limping along, with just four points through three games. And they’ll have Barcelona’s full attention after upsetting them in last year’s Copa del Rey final. Don’t count on another surprise here.
Elsewhere in La Liga
The top three are likely to continue their winning ways, as Atleti (+114) travels to Real Sociedad (+275), second-place Athletic Bilbao (+128) is at Mallorca (+265) and Sevilla (-107) takes on Alavés (+320).
Real Madrid is dealing with even more injuries than Barcelona, but is a massive favorite (-420) at home vs. Levante (+950). The visitors are not getting a bit of respect from the oddsmakers despite having six points through three games, compared to RM’s five. If there’s a bet to be made on any of the games we just mentioned, it’s worth a shot to take Levante at those odds or bet on a draw (+550).
Valencia just picked a hell of a time to fire its coach.
With the club off to a shaky start to the season – 10th place in La Liga on 4 points through three games – now does not seem like the ideal time to push out a successful manager in favor of an unproven one.
Quite the gamble
But by sacking Manager Marcelino and replacing him with Albert Celades, who has never been a head coach of a La Liga club, Valencia owner Peter Lim is, uh, rolling the dice in a big way – or unnecessarily dismantling a stable operation because of a disagreement with an employee, however you want to look at it.
Valencia’s next two games are a pivotal trip to Camp Nou to face Barcelona in La Liga (Sept. 14) and a UCL match at Chelsea (Sept. 17). If you’re Peter Lim, do you really believe Celades improves your chances at upsetting Barcelona or getting off to a strong start in the Champions League?
We’ll patiently await his response, but in the meantime, this is a total head-scratcher. Or maybe this is just how power struggles with an owner — we’ll review what happened this summer a little later in this piece — go?
What’s best for the team?
The closer you look at Celades’ credentials, the more confusing this gets. The 43-year-old has previously coached Spain’s U21s and briefly worked as an assistant at Real Madrid under Julen Lopetegui, but did we mention Celades has no experience managing a La Liga club??
Now, let’s look at Marcelino’s body of work. In his first year with the club, ’17-18, Valencia finished in fourth place in Spain with an impressive 73 points. It was quite a turnaround for a team that, without him, finished in 12th in La Liga in both ’15-16 and ’16-17. And then his ’18-19 season included another 4th-place finish domestically, as well as a run to the Europa League semifinals, a Copa del Rey trophy and, last but not least, a 7-wins-in-10-games flurry down the stretch in La Liga.
A quick look back
So you can be forgiven for wondering what Lim is thinking. The best answer to that question requires a review of this past summer.
As recently as a few weeks ago, this team was on the verge of losing Marcelino and/or Sporting Director/GM Mateu Alemany due to their differences, mostly over transfer moves, with Lim. And then peace was made, or so we thought. On Tuesday, however, Spanish press reported on Alemany flying to Singapore to meet with Lim. In most circumstances, that would have seemed relatively innocuous. But their meeting must have struck informed Valencia fans as anything but. And sure enough, Wednesday morning (evening in Spain), the club released a statement confirming Marcelino was out.
The biggest thing to keep an eye on is what this means for Alemany, who seemed more likely to leave than Marcelino a few short weeks ago. Who knows whether he’ll stick around, but for now let’s pivot to what’s immediately ahead for Valencia.
In the short term, the trip to Barcelona screams “disaster” – and yes, I’m aware Messi is unlikely to suit up. If Valencia remains stuck on 4 points after 4 games in La Liga, it’s going to have a tremendous uphill climb ahead. In other words, stay tuned, because if this is how Lim reacts to a minor speed bump (we’re three games into a 38-game season) in the grand scheme of things, who knows what lies ahead if the on-field struggles continue.
Good news for Ajax, Chelsea and Lille
What does this mean for Valencia’s chances to make it out of its Champions League group? I won’t rule Valencia out, but I can’t imagine the firing of a manager who was popular with his players — they are reportedly weighing a protest of the Marcelino sacking — improving their play. We viewed Group H as one of the most wide-open groups in the UCL before the Marcelino news, and things figure to be even more unpredictable now. We’re talking about four teams with as many questions as answers, so if there’s one group worth watching, it’s Group H, and not just because of our infatuation with Ajax.
After that group, you have a handful of teams including Atlético Madrid — who we would argue is as good as the teams in that first group – Juventus, and Real Madrid who, on paper and reputation, could make a deep run.
But who are the relative unknowns (the possible ’19-20 versions of Ajax*) worth checking out in group play?
This year’s Champions League title favorites are in order: Man City, Barcelona, Liverpool, Real Madrid (huh??), Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG, Atleti, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Before we move on, should Spurs (+2300) and Chelsea (+2700) be seen as more likely to win the UCL than Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Napoli and Inter Milan? Based on how those teams have looked in the opening weeks of the EPL season, the odds on Spurs and Chelsea seem more like a nod to the strength of their brands than anything else. Name recognition also must be why Real Madrid (+1000) is favored ahead of Bayern Munich (+1100), Juventus (+1100), PSG (+1100) and Atleti (+2100).
Three teams to watch this Champions League: RB Leipzig, Valencia, Atalanta
Without further ado, let’s talk Bundesliga side RB Leipzig (+5000), La Liga side Valencia (+8000) and Serie A’s Atalanta (+10000).
These teams we believe are worth watching (as we talked about in our Champions League predictions feature) because of their style of play and potential to cause damage to the favorites.
RB Leipzig (+5000, 12th-best odds)
This team might be the “underdog” that is most likely to reach the knockout rounds. And it definitely jumps off the page as one of the strongest Pot 4 teams.
First of all, Group G’s Pot 1 team is Zenit St. Petersburg, which is not exactly a perennial fixture in the latter stages of the UCL. At least they have a sense of humor about it.
I’m not exactly going out on a limb by expressing some confidence in the German club’s chances. And their chances only look better when you remember that this group’s Pot 2 team, Benfica, is missing João Félix, who might be sliiightly difficult to replace.
Second, and more importantly, RB Leipzig are currently first in the Bundesliga. Yes, it’s early, but a goal differential of +7 in a good league is a sign these guys are for real. They have nine goals through just three games (in the Bundesliga, only Bayern has more), and they’ve also given up just two. RB Leipzig’s three wins are over Union Berlin (4-0), Eintracht Frankfurt (2-1) and Borussia Moenchengladbach (3-1).
So who are the names to watch? The biggest is 23-year-old German Timo Werner, who scored a hat trick in his team’s last Bundesliga match, a 3-1 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Aug. 30, and has already scored five goals this year. Both Werner, who had 16 goals and seven assists in the Bundesliga last year, and 25-year-old Austrian Marcel Sabitzer (1 goal, 3 assists so far this year) currently boast impressive WhoScored ratings over 8.0.
Valencia (+8000, tied with Ajax for the 16th-best odds)
Another team we’ve written about quite a bit, Valencia is the reigning Copa del Rey champ after finishing ’19-20 on a tear. They also reached the semifinals of the Europa League. They had a weird, tumultuous summer, even by Spanish standards. And they’re off to another slow start in La Liga. They opened the season by drawing Real Sociedad before losing to Celta Vigo and finally getting three points over promoted side Mallorca.
A year ago, it was an inability to score, especially early, that held them back. With just three goals through three games this year, we don’t yet know whether Valencia solved that problem over the summer. The good news is that Rodrigo Moreno did not leave, after he appeared for weeks to be headed to Atleti. We’ll know a lot more about this team this weekend, when they travel to Camp Nou to face Barcelona.
Though there are certainly questions, Valencia is worth a look based on A) how they played the last couple months of ’18-19 and B) the fact that no one else in Group H (Chelsea, Ajax and Lille) screams “untouchable” at the moment.
Atalanta (+10000, 18th-best odds)
Let’s start with this team’s group: Man City is a lock to advance, but Atalanta is a popular pick to join Pep Guardiola’s team instead of Shakhtar Donetsk or Dinamo Zagreb.
Through two games in Serie A (how much more could you possibly need to see to have a strong opinion??), there’s been some good and bad for this club: scoring five goals is extremely impressive. There’s just one minor issue: they’ve also given up that many.
Still, expect this team, which led Serie A with 77 (!) goals a year ago, to push for a spot in the knockout rounds, and maybe more if they can tighten up defensively.
Their top scorer a year ago was Colombian Duván Zapata (23 goals, 7 assists in Serie A). He has two goals through two games this year in domestic play. Another player to watch is Slovenian Josip Ilicic, who had 12 goals and 7 assists in Serie A in ’18-19.
Where to Bet Premier League in the US
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Three weeks into the ’19-20 La Liga season, we’ve focused most of our attention on Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. There’s a reason those teams get all the attention they do, but they often overshadow their league rivals. This year is no different.
While Barcelona lost its season opener to Athletic Bilbao and RM suffered a disappointing 1-1 draw against Valladolid last Saturday on Matchday 2, the two teams with six points are Sevilla and Atleti. And Sevilla, whose goal differential is currently +3, ahead of Los Rojiblancos’ +2, is the surprise league leader after about 180 minutes.
So before digging into the latest surrounding Spain’s big three, let’s address the burning question: is Sevilla Manager Julen Lopetegui’s team for real?
A promising, if not entirely convincing, start
This squad has opened the season by beating Espanyol 2-0 and shutting out promoted side Granada 1-0. For now, the best answer to the “are they for real” question is “maybe.” And with Sevilla’s next two games coming against Celta Vigo (Friday) and Alavés (Sept. 15), Lopetegui and Co. should be no worse than tied for first place when they host Real Madrid on Sept. 22.
For this weekend, expect another victory, as it’s hard to imagine Sevilla (-190) losing to Celta Vigo (+510). Longer-term, oddsmakers are not overwhelmed by the team’s start, as they are +10,000 to win the league.
Los Blancos on the ropes
As for Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane’s team needs a win as bad as anyone in Europe after last weekend’s slip-up. Through two games, we’ve seen two different versions of RM. All looked well as they routed Celta Vigo 3-1 to open the season. But last week’s draw to a Valladolid side that is probably more likely to be relegated than qualify for Europe in ’20-21 caused many to ask the same questions of RM that haunted them throughout the summer.
Karim Benzema is following a quietly great ’18-19 with a strong start to ’19-20 – he has two goals and an assist after two games – but who else is going to step up and erase the memory of a disastrous ’18-19?
For this early in the season, Madridistas are coping with far more injured players than they should be. James Rodriguez’s recent injury will confine him to a crowded sideline as Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy and Isco, among others, work their way back from injuries. When Gareth Bale, of all people is one of your most reliable pieces health-wise, you’re in trouble. Despite the injury issues, RM (-114) is favored against Villarreal (+270) on Saturday, but not prohibitively so.
Barcelona, Atleti expected to cruise
Consensus league favorite Barcelona and HPS darling Atlético Madrid are getting less attention than usual in this piece because their Matchday 3 opponents appear completely over-matched. Barcelona (-278) takes on Osasuna (+850), the rare opposing side that won’t give the Catalans a scare regardless of whether Lionel Messi is in action or not. With that in mind, will Messi miss a third consecutive game to start the year? … Maybe there’s a reason to tune in to this one after all.
Atleti (-245) should also beat Eibar (+950) comfortably. The most interesting thing for Los Rojiblancos will be how Diego Simeone chooses his XI if Diego Costa is fit. To me, the logical move (in case Atleti wants my opinion) is to play João Félix as an attacking midfielder, with Costa and Álvaro Morata as the strikers. Again, the biggest reason to tune in might be to see who plays where for Atleti, and whether that results in a deviation from the team’s “1-0 win, with no decent opportunities for the opposition” routine.
Copa del Rey final rematch
And there is good news on the way for those who understandably have been underwhelmed with the match-ups through the first three matchdays. After a week off next weekend for international matches, we’ll get to see Barcelona host Valencia at Camp Nou in a rematch of last year’s Copa del Rey final on Saturday, September 14.
For around 30 minutes on Wednesday afternoon, Ajax dominated possession, but struggled to create quality looks against Apoel. It was (extremely) early, but I have to admit to wondering whether the darlings of the ’18-19 Champions League were going to need extra time to reach the group stage of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League.
Those concerns were misguided, as it turned out, though Ajax clearly missed attacking midfielder Donny van de Beek, who was out with a leg injury.
Ajax won Wednesday’s second leg 2-0, prevailing despite some early struggles against an Apoel club that packed it in deep in their own end.
Ajax joins the ’19-20 Champions League group stage – Thursday’s draw is scheduled for noon Eastern – after holding on 2-0 over two legs, as Manager Erik ten Hag’s club survived a poor performance in a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
The Dutch club’s massive possession advantage – Ajax held the ball for 74% of the first half – finally started translating into legitimate threats against Apoel keeper Vid Belec around the 30-minute mark.
Ajax’s Dusan Tadic had a great opportunity to open the scoring in the 41st, but was unable to put it away. The Dutch side finally netted what seemed like an inevitable opener moments later. Hakim Ziyech served up a beautiful cross into the box on a set piece, and Mexican midfielder Edson Álvarez headed the ball home to make it 1-0.
Right after halftime, it appeared to be – and should have been — 2-0 after another set piece that was poorly defended by Apoel, but a shocking offsides ruling by VAR took Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s goal off the board.
“Which part of who is offside?”
VAR takes a goal away from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ajax
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) August 28, 2019
For a brief moment, Apoel appeared to equalize on the other end in what would have been a shocking turn of events. But the Cypriot club was clearly offsides, and order was restored at Johan Cruyff Arena.
Ajax continued to control the game for the rest of the second half, and Tadic sealed the deal with a beautiful strike past Belec in the 80th.
Dusan Tadic gets the goal that allowed Ajax to breathe easier. 2-0 and a place in the #UCL group stage is in the grasp
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) August 28, 2019
Before we go any further, here are the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League Title Odds.
Time for an encore?
Now that Ajax has avoided what would have been a monumental upset, the question is whether they can once again make it out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds. If they reach that stage, they would be one of the last teams anyone would want to see.
Running it back?
While this is clearly not the team that dominated headlines last year, almost all their key pieces are back, with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt the obvious exceptions. In fact, Ajax lost little offensive firepower from a year ago. Goals aren’t everything, but it’s still a huge deal that no one among ’18-19 leading scorers Tadic (28 goals in domestic play last year), Ziyech (16), Huntelaar (16), Kasper Dolberg (11), van de Beek (9) and David Neres (8) left this summer.
Breaking down this team’s chances in its UCL group will be much easier to do once we, you know, are aware of who’s in it, but let’s address a couple quick questions based on the team’s performances against PAOK and Apoel. Against PAOK, Ajax earned a draw in the first leg, 2-2, before winning Leg 2 at home, 3-2 (5-4 aggregate).
Are the draws in the first leg of both rounds of group stage qualifiers an issue?
Not really. It’s not as if this team was ever truly on the ropes, especially not against Apoel. This is no knock on the Cypriot side, but the only reason the aggregate score was 0-0 for over 120 minutes was because Ajax failed to score against a team bunkering down and hoping for a pair of goalless draws. Over the two legs, Ajax attempted 42 shots (15 on goal), while allowing just 13 (3 on goal) and holding possession for about 70% of the 180 or so minutes.
It is worth noting, though, that in last year’s group stage qualifiers, this team’s aggregate victories over two legs were 5-1 over Austrian side Sturm Graz, 5-2 over Belgium’s Standard Liege and 3-1 over Dynamo Kiev.
More importantly, what is the status of van de Beek?
Group stage play begins September 17-18. It is unclear how long van de Beek will be unavailable, but his recovery is going to be vital for his team’s chances. Ziyech was excellent vs. Apoel. And Tadic, as well as Neres, are going to create headaches for opponents, but it’s hard to imagine this team making it out of group play without van de Beek. With him at his best, though, it’s easy to see Ajax among the last 16.
For at least 90 minutes on Sunday against Real Betis, Barcelona looked potent offensively without Lionel Messi. This is a development that can’t be overstated.
Elsewhere in Spain, Real Madrid settled for a 1-1 draw against Valladolid. And following an offseason overhaul, this year’s Atlético Madrid appears to be a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
After two games, Los Rojiblancos are one of just two undefeated squads in Spain’s 20-team top flight. *Sevilla is currently in first place (thanks to a +3 goal differential compared to +2 for Atleti) after opening the season with a 2-0 win over Espanyol and a 1-0 defeat of Granada on Friday.
Plenty to talk about for Barcelona
But let’s start with the reigning league champs, which looked like a different team than the one we saw lose the season opener 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao. The Catalans fell behind 1-0 in the 15th minute at Camp Nou, but responded with five unanswered goals as Antoine Griezmann led a young XI to an impressive blowout.
First of all, no, this was not a starting lineup we should get used to seeing. But it was still interesting to see Barcelona’s front three of Antoine Griezmann, with Rafinha to his left and 21-year-old Carles Pérez to his right. And the subs that Ernesto Valverde chose for Rafinha (23-year-old Júnior Firpo) and Pérez (16-year-old Ansummane Fati) showed the manager’s interest in seeing what the next generation of Barcelona players can do.
Griezmann enjoys his Camp Nou debut
It was Griezmann, however, who stole the show. He scored twice and added an assist, looking like the best player on the pitch in a welcome sight for Barcelona fans.
Messi’s track record tells us he’s unlikely to miss many games, but we’ve learned over the last few months that the Argentine alone is not going to be enough for Barcelona to reach its goals. Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé are nice complements to Messi when healthy, but another dominant (and durable) striker is a necessity for this team, and Griezmann is exactly that. And if his Lebron James-esque celebration of his second goal – but with confetti instead of chalk – was any indication, he appears to be right at home under the Camp Nou spotlight.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 26, 2019
Sunday night may have also given us a glimpse of Barcelona’s latest teenage prodigy. Fati, who will likely spend most of the season playing for Barcelona’s B team, came on for the last 15 minutes and did not look the least bit intimidated. The teenager, who became the second-youngest player in club history to play in a La Liga match, nearly scored in the 86th, but his shot was just wide.
There was one notable absence, though: Sunday marked Ivan Rakitic’s second straight game as a sub. The Croatian did not play at all this week after coming on at halftime last week. There are rumblings his days in Catalonia could be numbered, with Juventus reportedly interested. Rakitic is still widely considered a quality player, even if he’s divisive among Barcelona supporters, so his situation is worth monitoring.
Real Madrid falters
Los Blancos are not exactly right back in the panic mode after drawing Valladolid 1-1, but it was a disappointing result for Zidane’s club. The biggest headline before the match was that not only was Gareth Bale starting again, but that he was joined by James Rodríguez. The Colombian’s potential impact on this year’s team was set to be the biggest storyline of this weekend. However, Monday morning news broke that he suffered a calf injury. We’ll know more on how long he’s out soon, but after 825 days between appearances for RM, his injury made Saturday’s game a bittersweet return.
Atleti remains stout defensively, but where’s the offense?
Another week, another 1-0 win for Diego Simeone and Co. We’ve seen that this is obviously a winning formula for this club, but those who thought João Félix (*looks in mirror*) was going to turn this team into an offensive juggernaut overnight will need some patience. It was the 19-year-old who created the only goal his team needed, feeding Vitolo in the 71st for the game-winner.
*We’ll touch on whether Sevilla can continue its strong start later this week.
A look at La Liga futures
It’s worth noting that Atleti’s title odds keep getting better and better (or worse and worse, if you wanted to grab them at +1400). Oddsmakers see this is a three-team race. Don’t expect that to change for awhile.
|2019-20 La Liga Title Favorites|
|Barcelona -150||Real Madrid +200||Atletico Madrid +600|
We talked earlier this week about the notable developments that Matchday 1 in Spain brought for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. We’re going to get to whether any of those three should be on upset alert this weekend.
Can the promoted clubs make another splash?
But first, how about the season openers by Mallorca, Osasuna and Granada, who made their La Liga “debuts” last week? If 90 minutes are anything to go by – which is admittedly a big “if” – these teams have a great shot to not only extend their stay in the top flight, but possibly make some noise in ’19-20.
Let’s start with Mallorca, who got here in thrilling fashion and have an ownership group with as much star power and U.S. relevance as any club in Spain. The club is owned by Phoenix Suns Owner Robert Sarver. Steve Nash, the Basketball Hall of Famer and avid soccer fan (and Bleacher Report analyst) is on Mallorca’s board of directors, and former U.S. internationals Kyle Martino and Stu Holden are minority stakeholders.
Because of their famous ownership group, Mallorca were going to be an interesting team to watch regardless of what happened on the field. They all the more intriguing after handling Eibar 2-1 in the La Liga opener last weekend thanks in large part to a strong start: Mallorca were up 1-0 before the five-minute mark thanks to an early goal by Dani Rodríguez.
And it didn’t take long for Mallorca to make a notable personnel move, either, as they signed a one-year loan deal for Real Madrid 18-year-old Takefusa Kubo on Thursday. The Japanese attacking midfielder generated significant buzz with a couple of strong performances for Real Madrid during their summer friendlies. This team has deep enough pockets to make another move or two before La Liga’s transfer window closes on Sept. 2, and if they’re exceeding expectations by January, they could be a team to keep an eye on during the winter window.
Osasuna also won its season opener, beating Leganés 1-0. And while Granada only got one point, they’re another team to keep an eye on after earning a draw in a thrilling 4-4 shootout against Villarreal.
This weekend, all three of these teams are at home. Granada (+295) has a tough match-up on Friday vs. Sevilla (-107), while Osasuna (+155) is a slight favorite vs. Eibar (+200) on Saturday and Mallorca is a slight underdog (+200) against Real Sociedad (+145) on Sunday.
Will Barcelona bounce back?
The Catalans are off to a rough start. In addition to a rare domestic loss in their season opener at Athletic Bilbao, Luis Suárez, Ousmane Dembélé and Lionel Messi are all injured. (Otherwise, Barcelona are totally healthy after one of 38 La Liga games). But while Suárez and Dembélé will miss several games, Messi practiced on Thursday and is expected to be available to come off the bench, but not start, Sunday vs. Real Betis at Camp Nou.
Considering the level of expectations for this team, Barça need to win — and look good in the process — as badly as any team in Europe. For the reigning league champs, Sunday would be a great time for Antoine Griezmann to have his first big game in a Barcelona shirt. The oddsmakers are not worried at all, as Barcelona (-400) is heavily favored over Real Betis (+950). At that price, betting on either a win by the visitors or a draw (+510) might be worth a shot.
Can Real Madrid and Atleti build on their strong starts?
Neither of these teams had much of an issue with their Matchday 1 opponent, especially not RM, which whipped Celta Vigo 3-1 last weekend. Los Blancos (-500) should handle Valladolid (+1,100) without a problem at the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday. Another easy win would be a big step toward healing the various wounds with which this team entered the season after a dramatic summer.
Despite all the offensive flair João Félix and Los Rojiblancos showed during preseason, their 1-0 win over Getafe last weekend was classic Diego Simeone soccer: they took an early lead and stifled their opponent the rest of the way. It will be interesting to see Atleti’s approach at Leganés (+440) on Sunday, where they will not exactly be a massive favorite (-129).
It’s probably too early in the season to say forget what you thought you knew about La Liga, but man, what a weekend in Spain. And if now isn’t a good time for a knee-jerk reaction or two, then when is??
First, preseason runaway favorite Barcelona fails to score without Lionel Messi and loses at Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Friday.
Then, Real Madrid enjoys what seems like its first drama-free afternoon in an eternity, blowing out Celta Vigo 3-1 on Saturday.
On Sunday, João Félix shows in one ultimately fruitless run down the right side of the pitch what the buzz is about. New-look Atletico Madrid wins 1-0, but maybe Los Rojiblancos aren’t as “new-look” as we think.
We’ll get to Barcelona’s shocking loss and our first look at Atleti after their summer overhaul, but we have to start with Los Blancos.
Real Madrid, as it turns out, still has a few quality pieces
I maintain that the hand-wringing about this team’s ’18-19 season and tumultuous (despite several quality signings) offseason was justified. But that’s not the point right now.
After a summer his club spent trying to move him, Gareth Bale quickly reminded us that when on the field, healthy and engaged, he’s a huge asset. He assisted Karim Benzema in the 12th for his team’s first goal of the season. His place in the starting lineup and strong performance – WhoScored gave him a 7.84 for his 75 minutes – make you wonder if all of a sudden, things between him and Zinedine Zidane are copacetic??
Anyone who hasn’t seen Toni Kroos’ long-distance strike in the 61st to make it 2-0 missed a beauty.
His stunner, along with what we saw from Bale and Benzema, bring me to something we might be repeating throughout the upcoming season: RM was a team full of historically good players who did not play well a year ago. There’s a big difference between having talent and underachieving and simply lacking top players. Fortunately for Madridistas, their case clearly falls into the former category, as evidenced by them leading 3-0 until an extra time goal by Celta Vigo. By winning that comfortably despite playing with 10 men for a significant stretch – Luka Modric was sent off in the 56thh – Real Madrid sent a message.
We’ll close the RM portion of this piece with a reminder that Celta Vigo finished last season in 17th place in La Liga and is not expected to be a contender this season either.
Is Barcelona in trouble?
The logical reaction to the Catalans’ season-opening loss would be to shrug it off as a fluke result directly related to Lionel Messi’s absence due to a calf injury. But this team has too many weapons to be shut out, regardless of who’s available.
Speaking of availability, by late Monday, we’d learned that Ousmane Dembélé will be out a month or more with a hamstring injury. Is the talented Frenchman ever going to be fit enough to stay on the field? He’s still young, but it’s already a question worth asking.
Luis Suárez, who came off before halftime, is likely out until after the September international break with a calf issue of his own.
Messi (who could play this weekend) plus Antoine Griezmann plus whoever joins them up top is not exactly a limited trio. But the season is one game old, and three of the Catalans’ top four players are already dealing with health issues. It’s (way, way) too early to doubt this team, but Ernesto Valverde must be concerned that injuries are a legit topic of conversation this early on.
One player who won’t be the answer if Barcelona’s top options are unavailable for long is Philippe Coutinho, whose ill-fated move to Catalonia ended (for now) with his loan to Bayern Munich.
Before moving on, a little love for the team that beat Barcelona on Friday. Check out the game-winner by Athletic Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz in the 91st. Not a bad bicycle kick for a 38 (!)-year-old who came on as a sub in the game’s waning minutes. (The highlight starts at around :39).
João Félix shines for Atlético Madrid
On the surface, Atlético winning 1-0 over defensive-minded Getafe was about as predictable and unremarkable as any result in Europe this weekend.
But if one game, and one run in particular, was any indication, Atleti is must-see TV thanks to their 19-year-old Portuguese phenom. Hopefully, the next penalty he draws will end up in the back of the net (Álvaro Morata missed the PK that was awarded on this one).
🔥Joao Felix lit up his @atletienglish debut with a run reminiscent of a certain @LaLigaEN legend 👀@gary_bailey1, @KaylynKyle & @TRongen break down biggest moments from Atleti’s win in today’s Coach’s Corner.— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) August 18, 2019
🎥 Full video: https://t.co/m0aMrBfXrH pic.twitter.com/vNh6Va4aeG
We see a couple things here. First of all, holy shit, what speed, control, etc. Also, as if we didn’t know this already, this kid is going to get roughed up as the season rolls along. It might already be foolish to question whether he’s talented enough to make an impact right away. It will be interesting, however, to see how he holds up against the physical pounding he’ll continue to absorb from frustrated defenders.
One other takeaway from Atleti’s win: Yes, this team appears more capable than ever of winning an open, high-scoring battle. But if Diego Simeone‘s club goes up 1-0, it’s more than happy to rely on its defense the rest of the way, which appears stout again. Getafe did not register one shot on target on Sunday.
Brandi Chastain tells her story of growing up obsessed with the sport despite the lack of opportunities. In addition to Chastain, USWNT stars past and present including Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Briana Scurry also appear.
We hear a similar, but even more extreme — in terms of the lack of opportunities — account from Japanese former player and current coach Asako Takakura. She is one of a number of Japanese women’s stars who appear in this episode.
Tough act to follow
While “Belief” was not quite as captivating as “Redemption,” the Rwanda Liverpool Reds tale of episode 1, it still provided an interesting look at two stories. Many U.S. fans know the 99ers and the teams that followed well. The story of how Japan came to be a women’s soccer power — and the 2011 WWC champ — was one that viewers Stateside probably did not know nearly as well.
Early in the episode, we learn about the scarcity of opportunities for players — and interest from fans — prior to the 1999 World Cup.
A strong finish
The second half of the episode is much more compelling, as we learn about the impact that Chastain and Co.’s success in ’99 had on young Japanese players, including Homare Sawa. Before later becoming captain of the 2011 Japan team that beat none other than the U.S. in that year’s final, Sawa – inspired by the 99ers – came to the U.S. to play for the Atlanta Beat of the Women’s United Soccer Association.
The episode wraps up by focusing on Japan’s run in ’11, which took place not long after the Great East Japan Earthquake that March. Both the footage of the disaster and the Japanese players’ accounts of taking the field in those circumstances make for a powerful conclusion to “Belief.”
And without spoiling anything, Solo’s recollection of a moment after the U.S.’s heartbreaking loss to Japan in the final gives this series its second extremely moving conclusion in as many episodes.
An interesting decision
While I wouldn’t call this episode a letdown by any means, it’s in an unenviable position as the follow-up to the Rwanda story.
That brings up an interesting question: I wonder how the order of these was decided by Amazon/the filmmakers themselves, writer and co-creator John Carlin and creative director James Erskine. On one hand, it makes sense to grab viewers by starting with what has to be the most powerful episode of the six.
The flip side is the “hangover effect” for anyone who goes directly from “Redemption” to “Belief.” It’s also possible that these are not meant to be watched in any particular order. Either way, the first two episodes of “This Is Football” are both worth a look, regardless of how tough it will be to top the first one.
The top four in the final La Liga standings of ’17-18 were, in order: Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia.
Last year, despite how upside down things got at the Bernabéu, the final four was the exact same.
With their be any late-season intrigue to who secures UCL spots this go around? Oddsmakers understandably expect Barça, Atleti and RM to maintain their collective stranglehold on the top three. It’s not hard to see why: no team outside that trio has finished in the top two since Villarreal in ’07-08.
And if ever there were a year for someone outside that trio to step up, it was ’18-19. Despite their catastrophe of a season – one in which they fired two managers – Los Blancos (with 68 points) still finished seven points ahead of Valencia (61). To put that in perspective, the Spanish top-flight’s third-place teams in ’17-18 (Real Madrid, 76 points) and ’16-17 (Atleti, 78) were both substantially more successful.
But enough about last year.
Should Barcelona (off the board), RM (-10,000) and ATM (-835) be this heavily-favored to finish in the top 4? Based on recent history – of those three and of everyone else in the league – I can’t see why not.
The race for fourth
If odds are anything to go by, it’s a – stop me if you’ve heard this before — two-horse race between Valencia and Sevilla for fourth place.
Valencia (+10,000 to win the league, +150 to finish top-four) is a slight favorite over Sevilla (+15,000, +250). The team with the next-shortest odds is Athletic Bilbao, but they’re a massive long shot at +50,000 to win and +650 to finish top-four. Valencia is my pick, mostly because Sevilla seemingly didn’t do enough this offseason to make a massive jump after last year’s underwhelming total of 59 points.
Valencia has finished fourth in three of the past five seasons (’14-15, ’17-18 and ’18-19). There are a few big questions for the reigning Copa del Rey champs. Will they be the team that finished so strong a year ago, or the one couldn’t score enough to win in October, November and December? I think it’s more likely that they continue their form from late last year, when they also advanced to the Europa League semifinals before falling to Arsenal.
The bigger issue for me is whether this team can play well domestically while also pursuing European glory in the Champions League. I don’t think they have the firepower to make it out of UCL group play, but if they do, balancing Champions League knockout play with the Spanish league will be a big challenge.
It’s also going to be fascinating to see what happens if this team encounters significant adversity. The relationship between Manager Marcelino and Sporting Dir Mateu Alemany – who are on the same page — and Owner Peter Lim is not great, to put it lightly. Could a swoon or slow start result in a coaching change?
Also, what the hell is going with Rodrigo Moreno? The forward is one of his team’s best offensive pieces, but his days with the club appear to be numbered, as he is seemingly headed to Atleti. Unless he isn’t. The latest, from Marca, tells us that not even Marcelino is sure what’s going on. That’s another situation to keep an eye on. As his coach readily admitted, Rodrigo’s exit would complicate things for a team that is already limited offensively.
In the end, I think we’re looking at a third straight year with the same final four in La Liga, but I think it will be Atleti in second, followed by RM, then Valencia.
For our full take on the top three, check out the 2019-20 La Liga Title Odds. The takeaway, though, if you’re feeling lazy, is that Atlético at +1,400 (which makes no sense based on this summer) is a great bet.
The 2019 summer transfer window is not yet closed in every league. However, with Premier League teams unable to sign anyone else, let’s go ahead and look at three of the biggest winners of the offseason in Europe, as well as three teams (and/or leagues) that experienced a summer to forget.
Everett: For me, the three winners are Arsenal, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid.
Arsenal: This team added one of the most sought-after players on the market in Nicolas Pepe. He is now part of a dangerous attacking trio — Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette combined for 73 goals and 33 assists in all competitions last season — that could (emphasis on “could”) rival Liverpool’s and Manchester City’s as the EPL’s best.
But scoring has not been Arsenal’s problem. Defense has been the issue for the Gunners, who also addressed that area by picking up David Luiz from Chelsea and Kieran Tierney from Celtic just before the deadline.
Barcelona: Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong are two of the biggest additions to any team that was in legit Champions League contention a year ago. The Catalans’ general lack of athleticism and balance in the attack — for the rare games when an opponent keeps Lionel Messi in check — were the two things that kept Barcelona from reaching/winning the Champions League final. They’ve checked both those boxes in a huge way.
Atlético Madrid: Despite all they lost — and there was a massive exodus, which we discussed in our piece grading the Kieran Trippier signing — getting João Félix was a coup that can’t be overstated. They’ve looked amazing in preseason and seem like a much better bet than their crosstown rivals to prevent Barcelona from winning the league for the 9th time in 12 seasons this year.
And if as they hadn’t restocked enough, earlier this week, they paid around €60M/$67M for Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno. He adds attacking depth, and perhaps more importantly, is a big loss for the La Liga team team with the best shot at breaking into the top three.
Chops: Picking three winners this period is tough. A lot of teams deserve recognition. But since Tyler is one of those hardasses that doesn’t believe every kid should get a medal, I’ll narrow it down and say Ajax, Atlético and *cringes* Manchester City.
Ajax: They haven’t (to date) been totally picked apart. As Tyler wrote, keeping Donny van de Beek will be huge. They also extended David Neres through ‘23, a key indicator that Ajax may be looking to retain and build on what they have.
Also, can we stop with the “poor little Ajax” narrative now? Their squad is worth $433M USD. That puts them on par with Leicester City in the EPL. They made a net profit of $140Mish this summer. It’s not like they just sold players. They spent too. Quincy Promes in particular could shine. The Dutch international struggled at Sevilla last year, but he tore it up at Spartak Moscow the previous few years.
Everett: Can’t let there be any mention of Ajax without me chiming in. Edson Alvarez, a 21-year-old Mexican defender with the versatility to play multiple positions, was another nice pickup for this team. Alvarez has already seen significant minutes with the Mexican national team and while he’s hardly a household name, his signing was widely viewed as yet another smart move by Ajax.
Atleti: I agree with Tyler on Atleti. They make the list in part to the degree of difficulty they operated under. Losing key pieces Antoine Griezmann and Rodri should’ve sank them. But they reloaded with a more attack-oriented team featuring 19 year-old phenom Felix. Early preseason results look impressive and as we all know, PRESEASON MEANS EVERYTHING.
Seriously though, things could’ve crumbled at Wanda Metro and they didn’t. That alone is a win.
Manchester City: Fuck them. Moving on.
Everett: My first loser would be Real Madrid. Though they certainly added quality, especially Eden Hazard, they are a hot mess going into the season opener this weekend.
This could be its own lengthy piece, but Zinedine Zidane presumably returned to the Spanish capital last spring under the impression he could jettison Gareth Bale and any other players he didn’t care for. About that. Bale is still around after coming as close as you can to exiting without actually heading out the door. So is James Rodriguez, for now — the window doesn’t close in Spain until Monday, September 2.
To cap a summer of dysfunction, RM is now trying to acquire Neymar. At this exact moment, could there be a worse match of star and manager in the entire soccer world than Neymar and Zidane??
Chops: I agree with you on Real Madrid there. Zidane feels like Mourinho 2.0 right now.
Everett: *speaking of…deletes what I had written about Manchester United after they blitzed Chelsea in their opener*
I was going to rip this squad for overpaying significantly for Harry Maguire and letting Romelu Lukaku walk without replacing him, but if last Sunday was any indication, this might have been my worst take of the summer.
Chops: The biggest loser to me, especially if it leads to their relegation, is Newcastle. They didn’t buy who Rafa Benitez wanted (or at the price he wanted), and he left. Rafa was the kind of quality manager who Newcastle should’ve done anything — and I mean anything — to keep. Now he’s gone, and so is their likely stay in the top division.
I also think Ligue 1 is a huge loser. They’re already the weakest of the “big 5” domestic leagues. They’re basically a 1 club division. The also-rans lost all of their best players, mostly to the Premier League. One club (PSG) has ambition. And they’re in disarray. The rest just dump their promising players and have no chance at competing for a domestic title. Ligue 1 is a joke. Give me the Eredivisie all day long over them.
Everett: I’ll get to Liverpool in a second as my third “loser,” but if anyone thought Ligue 1 was uninteresting last year, they realllly won’t want to watch this league this season. Second-place Lille (with 75 points, 16 behind PSG’s 91) and third-place Lyon were the closest thing PSG had to “competition” a year ago. Lille lost Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal, while Lyon lost captain Nabil Fekir (Real Betis) and rising stars Tanguy Ndombele (Spurs) and Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid). So with or without Neymar, expect PSG to wrap up another Ligue 1 trophy with five or six games to play.
Ok, back to Liverpool. Klopp made it clear that continuity would be his priority (aka no big names were going to be added), but Reds fans have to be frustrated at how little this team did this summer. You had to imagine that at some point, a key piece or two would have been signed to improve depth. It never happened. With Man City in a similar spot as far as a lack of weaknesses in the starting XI, they still added Rodrigo in the midfield and João Cancelo in the back.
Chops, I’ll go out on a limb and say you have something to add here?
Chops: I mean, I’m not going to call Liverpool a “loser” of the summer necessarily, but seriously what the hell.
On one hand, as I’ve said before, Klopp and Liverpool have earned a Belichick / Patriots level of trust and doubt-benefits given. If Klopp believes team chemistry and continuity takes precedence over depth, I’ll drink that Kool-Aid.
On the other hand, BUY ERRRRRYBODY.
In preseason posts and podcasts, I’ve spoken to the fortunate health Liverpool has enjoyed the past two seasons. What happens during game 1? Their irreplaceable goalkeeper Alisson goes down with a calf injury.
Liverpool is competing for 7 total trophies this campaign. When they inevitably play Long Melford or Kirkley & Pakefield (that’s a club, not a law firm) in the FA Cup, it’d be nice to rest all of the top XI and field a team we have 100% certainty will win.
Ok, that’s an extreme example, but if they’re serious about getting “greedy” for more trophies, that requires a top notch squad against a Watford-type club in the Carabao Cup semis, you know?
I think I speak for all Liverpool fans in saying we’d really, really like to win the Premier League this season. And that it’s going to be really, really hard since Manchester City added even more world-class depth to their squad. Now if karma exists, then a FFP violating club owned essentially by a sovereign constitutional monarchy that suppresses human rights (and particularly those of women) shouldn’t win a third straight Premier League title.
But life isn’t always fair.
My hunch is that Liverpool is going to learn very quickly that losing any of their key pieces for any period of time is going to cause some points to be dropped. And as we learned last year, you basically can’t drop any points if you want to overcome City for the Premier League title.
Liverpool had the financial resources and clout to pull in some major signings this offseason. They didn’t. They may still win a trophy or two, but they’ll feel the pain domestically come Spring.
Everett: I knew I shouldn’t have opened that Pandora’s box…
Editor’s Note: This is the introduction to Amazon’s new docuseries This Is Football as well as the first in an episode-by-episode review.
The first episode of a new docuseries offers a fascinating look at the impact soccer* has had in Rwanda, particularly over the last three decades.
*Football, for the rest of this piece.
Amazon’s This Is Football – Episode 1 Review
In ’94, Rwanda was rocked by a mass-scale genocide. An estimated total of 1 million people of the minority Tutsis were killed by the majority Hutus in a brutal clash between the ethnic groups.
“This is Football,” available on Amazon, looks at the role the beautiful game played in the country’s healing process. The hour-long piece is a must-watch for not only football fans in general and particularly Liverpool fans, but anyone who downplays the importance of sports.
“This is Football” is the latest soccer docuseries to be released on a streaming platform like Netflix or Prime Video. But if the first episode, “Redemption,” is anything to go by, it’s a far cry from anything viewers could expect to see in behind-the-scenes shows like “Hard Knocks” or “All or Nothing.”
That’s no knock on either of those – I enjoy the access to the sideline banter we wouldn’t otherwise hear as much as the next person. The story of what happened in Rwanda, though, is far more compelling than any pregame speech or highlight, for several reasons.
A powerful story
For one, it tells a story that is probably unfamiliar to most viewers, which is a huge asset at a time when so many of the same topics in this sport are covered incessantly.
The way the information is presented heightens the intrigue. First, we are introduced to a group of Liverpool fans known as the Rwanda Reds, who eat, sleep and breathe Liverpool football. Then, we learn the gut-wrenching story of what happened to vast numbers of Tutsis.
By the show’s final 20 minutes or so, chills, if not tears, are inevitable. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the episode’s “final act” might be the most powerful thing any Liverpool fan watches this year. And yes, I am aware of what happened at Anfield in Leg 2 of the Champions League semis against Barcelona.
It’s not just the subject matter that blew me away, though. It immediately becomes obvious that no expense was spared in the production and shooting of this piece. We’re treated to stunning aerial footage that shows off Rwanda’s natural beauty throughout the episode. Each installment of this series covers a completely different theme and subject, but based on “Redemption,” they’ll all be gorgeous looks at football.
The other five episodes in “This is Football” are titled “Belief,” “Chance,” “Pride,” “Love” and “Wonder.”
“Belief” covers the growth in the women’s game. “Chance” looks at a couple examples of luck’s outsized role in football. “Pride” looks at the sport’s standing in Iceland. “Love” shows the myriad versions of the game worldwide and “Wonder” offers a look at Lionel Messi.
Ajax odds to win Eredivisie: -155
Ajax odds to win Champions League: +6600
A year after taking the Champions League by storm, is Ajax back under the radar ahead of the ’19-20 season?
As expected, Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus) and Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) are out of the mix. So what should we expect from this team without them? I’m bullish on their chances to once again make noise in the UCL in March and April, if not May and June, for several reasons.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about whether Donny van de Beek will be back.
It was reasonable to expect Dusan Tadic to return at the age of 30. After signing an extension through ’23, he’s not going anywhere. But at the beginning of the summer, it seemed distinctly unlikely that Tadic, Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, and van de Beek would all return for ’19-20. Barring a last-minute, surprise move for Ziyech or Neres by a top team, those two will be back.
Van de Beek, however, appeared set for a move to Real Madrid as of last Friday. No deal has been signed yet, though. The 22-year-old played in his team’s Eredivise season opener on Saturday. He also played in Tuesday’s Champions League qualifying match against Greek club PAOK.
Tying the opener 2-2 away at PAOK certainly helps their chances of advancing–and maybe keeping van de Beek around longer.
This summer has reminded us, again, that transfers come together and fall apart in the blink of an eye. However, van de Beek’s activity the last few days does not exactly scream “off to Madrid any day now.”
Whether he’s in the fold for his team is a huge deal. There’s a reason RM is – or at least it hopes so — on the verge of acquiring him for around €60M ($67M). It’s not just his numbers a year ago, which were pretty astonishing for any player, especially a midfielder, his age: nine goals and 10 assists domestically, plus three goals and two assists in the Champions League.
He also more than passed the eye test, particularly against Juventus in the UCL quarterfinals and Tottenham in the semis. In Leg 2 of the quarters vs. Juve, he provided a massive equalizer in the 34th after Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in the 28th. He also scored the only goal of the 1-0 win over Spurs in Leg 1 of the semis.
Casual fans might think Los Blancos are settling for him (if they get him) after seemingly striking out on Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba. On one hand, that’s understandable, as those players are far more proven, and in Pogba’s case, flashy. But van de Beek is a quality young player who stood out on the sport’s brightest stage three months ago. If his days in Amsterdam are indeed numbered, it would be a huge loss for a team that generated a ton of offense thanks to his and de Jong’s work in the midfield.
No shortage of scoring
With or without van de Beek, the optimistic outlook on the upcoming season starts with where the goals will (continue to) come from. Last year, the club’s top five scorers in the Champions League were Tadic (6 goals), van de Beek (3), Hakim Ziyech (3), Nicolás Tagliafico (3) and David Neres (2).
Ajax’s top eight scorers in Eredivisie play last year included all but Tagliafico from those five, plus Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Kasper Dolberg, Daley Blind and Lasse Schone. Schone is the only one on that list who left this summer, joining Serie A side Geona. Even if van de Beek exits as well, the return of six of your top eight scorers is good reason to be pretty confident in your ability to score.
More than the staggering number of goals – a ridiculous 119 in 34 Eredivisie games (3.5 per game) last year – it was this team’s balance that jumped off the page/screen. Tadic’s 28 goals were massive, but he was just one of six (!) players with at least eight goals in domestic play – Ziyech and Huntelaar finished with 16 apiece, Dolberg chipped in 11, van de Beek added 9 and Neres had 8. Depending on what happens with van de Beek, all six of those players could be back.
The bottom line
In addition to the variety of scoring options, there are a couple other factors that make Ajax a good bet to upend another European power or two this season.
For one thing, they’ll have the motivation of being doubted and dismissed as a two-man team a year ago.
The experience they gained in last season’s run should also prove invaluable. These guys were the furthest thing from intimidated on the road at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, the Santiago Bernabéu, Juventus Stadium or Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Ajax’s core will only be that much more comfortable if they make it to this year’s knockout stage.
And last but not least, you have to hope they’ve learned valuable lessons about how to close out/kill off a game after their heartbreaking meltdown in the second half of Leg 2 of last year’s semifinal vs. Spurs.
Ajax are the odds-on favorites to win the Eredivisie at -155. While they haven’t yet qualified for the Group Stage, oddsmakers are giving Ajax proper respect pricing their 2019-20 UEFA Champions League title odds at +6600.
If it seems like La Liga has belonged to Lionel Messi and Barcelona for a while now, it’s because it has.
Last season the Catalans finished 11 points clear of second-place Atlético Madrid, marking the team’s eighth (!) league title in the last 11 years.
That level of dominance would be remarkable in any league (even Ligue 1). It’s especially impressive considering Real Madrid was good enough to win four of five Champions League trophies (’14, ’16, ’17 and ’18) in that time. Atleti has also been among Europe’s top clubs nearly every season since ’14 — and made it to the UCL Final in ’14 and ’16.
In (not at all) shocking news, it’s been a fascinating summer in Barcelona and the Spanish capital. Even if we ignore the never-ending drama surrounding Neymar’s possible return to Barcelona and Gareth Bale’s status at Real Madrid, all three of Spain’s top clubs have been busy this summer.
A quick look back
Note: Emphasis on “quick” here — this is a look at top players that moved to or from these clubs. All three had a number of other signings and departures. Also, if you haven’t already, check out any summer episodes of the High Press Pod, which is now available on iTunes, for our thoughts on the moves below.
Atlético Madrid: Had the biggest offseason overhaul of any team in Europe. Added João Félix, Kieran Trippier, Marcos Llorente, Mario Hermoso and several others. Lost Griezmann, Rodri (Manchester City), Lucas Hernández (Bayern Munich), Diego Godín (Inter Milan), Filipe Luis (Flamengo) and Juanfran (unsigned).
2019-20 La Liga Title Odds
The following are 2019-20 La Liga Title Odds. What stands out is how similar the La Liga odds are like the 2019-20 Premier League title odds. You have two clear favorites and a distant third (although Atlético isn’t as long as Tottenham).
We will continue to update this page as odds change throughout the year.
2019-20 La Liga League Odds (August 3rd, 2019)
Where to Bet on La Liga in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Can anyone top Barcelona and win La Liga?
At this point, Barcelona is a known commodity. With Griezmann and de Jong added to the mix, Barcelona is not only the clear favorite to win the league (-200), but also the second-heaviest ’19-20 Champions League favorite at +600, behind only Man City at +450.
Atlético absolutely has a shot to upend Messi and Co. What we’ve seen from Los Rojiblancos this summer is admittedly a small sample size — and we should also mention, again, that these games do not matter — but still, they’ve been extremely impressive.
If it were ever possible to say such a thing after a couple of exhibition matches, Félix appears poised to live up to the hype and the price tag. He has already scored twice and tallied three assists in just over 100 minutes of action. More importantly, for this piece at least, Félix’s decision appears to have been a wise one, as he’s joined a team that looks as potent offensively as it has in a long time. It’s been astonishing to see how cohesive this team already looks considering all the new faces.
Diego Simeone’s squad finished second in La Liga each of the past two years with a very average offense (58 goals in 38 games in ’17-18, which dropped to 55 last season). If the defense remains anywhere near as stout as it’s been for what seems like forever at this point — and that is a big if considering the amount of roster turnover — their odds to win the league (+1,100) make them an excellent bet.
Speaking of odds to win the league, Real Madrid is currently a much bigger favorite, at +175, than their crosstown rival, which seems ridiculous. Yes, RM added some serious firepower this offseason. But does it make it any sense to expect a team whose ’18-19 finish (68 points) had it closer to fourth-place Valencia (61) than second-place Atleti (76) to close the gap on Barcelona?
And have the oddsmakers paid any attention to the on-field and off-field disaster that is Zinedine Zidane’s squad at the moment??? Friendly or not, Atleti appeared to be a much better team in the 7-3 blowout on July 26.
How in the world is a team on the wrong end of such a massive beatdown seen as a better bet than the club that delivered that beating? And despite the success in Europe in ’18, now is a good time to point out that Atleti — not Los Blancos — has finished second behind Barcelona the last two years.
UPDATE: Mateu Alemany will remain the club’s sporting director for the foreseeable future after all. Following a meeting with owner Peter Lim in Singapore on Friday, apparently, everything’s OK, per a club statement.
In fact, by the end of this week, even Madridistas and Blaugrana supporters might be impressed by the drama at Valencia.
As the reigning Copa del Rey champ and one of four La Liga clubs that punched a ticket to the 2019-20 Champions League, Valencia should be entering the upcoming season on a roll. We’re talking about a team that last season won seven of its last 10 in La Liga and made it to the Europa League semifinals (not to mention beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final).
But the momentum from that late-season surge and an until-now solid summer could be long gone by the end of the week.
The club’s sporting director, Mateu Alemany, his right-hand man, Pablo Longoria, and Manager Marcelino are all reportedly on the verge of leaving the club over a dispute with Singaporean owner Peter Lim.
Alemany, Lim clash over transfers
According to Libertad Digital, the clash dates back to an urgent meeting attended by Lim, Alemany and club President Anil Murthy on July 19 in Singapore. That’s when Lim unilaterally decided that the club would not be making any more signings this summer.
Alemany strongly disagreed, to the point that there were widespread reports in Spain on Monday that he was on his way out. And the expectation in some corners was that Longoria and Marcelino would side with him and follow him out the door if he were to leave.
A meeting between Alemany, Longoria and Murthy – who is seemingly acting on Lim’s wishes — lasted all day Monday. The two continued the conversation, which began over the weekend, today.
For what it’s worth, according to As, Alemany said on his way out of the team HQ on Monday after a five-hour discussion, “We are talking. I have always seen myself here and wanted to be in Valencia. It is positive that there is dialogue and things are being discussed and we are searching for solutions to the problems, but they have to be resolved.”
As if Monday’s talks were lacking for intrigue, a crowd of fans gathered outside the site of the meeting chanting about their preference that Alemany stay.
Could José Mourinho get involved?
If that weren’t enough, on Tuesday morning, some began to wonder whether none other than Jose (the Special One) Mourinho would be Marcelino’s replacement if – and this remains a big if – one is needed.
It goes without saying that Mourinho would bring juust a bit more spice to an already explosive situation. This is a good place to point out that Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is a partner in Lim’s private investment company, Meriton Holdings, and has had *a number of clients sign with the club over the years.
Not so fast
But by Tuesday afternoon, despite Valencia not releasing an official statement on the matter, the storm appeared (emphasis on appeared) to be blowing over, with Alemany returning to work. Even if Alemany, Longoria and Marcelino stay put, it will be fascinating to monitor what’s left of the club’s summer.
It’s hard to say what the coming weeks hold for Valencia. But a team with this much going for it on the field — and one that is in the Champions League for the second year in a row — should never have any reason to be concerned about sporting director and coaching vacancies two weeks before the season starts. The drama over the weekend – and the fact that so much of it played out so publicly – is the latest reminder of the unfortunately volatile nature of the club’s situation at the highest level.
In conclusion – and we should probably end every article related to offseason player/coaching news in Spain this way – stay tuned.
UPDATE: Speaking of the uncertainty here, Valencian publication Super Deporte’s latest report, as of 5:20 p.m. Eastern, claimed that Alemany is set to fly to Singapore to discuss the matter with Lim personally.
So seriously, stay tuned.
*For an in-depth look at Mendes’ perceived influence on Valencia, check out this breakdown from 2015 by BBC and Sport360 writer Andy West.
07/28/19 10:00am ET UPDATE: Or maybe it’s not imminent. What a mess.
Real Madrid and Gareth Bale just finished one of the most eventful preseason tours of all time.
While many teams struggle to capture the attention of even their most passionate fans during July exhibition games, Madridistas were hit with one big news story after another over the last seven days.
It all culminated late Friday afternoon (Eastern), when reports from Spain indicated Gareth Bale is headed to the Chinese Super League. If Marca (among others) is to be believed, by the end of the day Saturday, Bale will be the newest member of Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning, who will reportedly pay him €22M ($24.5M) per year for the next three seasons.
Before reflecting on a fittingly strange conclusion to the former Tottenham star’s “disappointing” (we’ll examine whether that’s the best way to describe his RM tenure later), stint in the Spanish capital, here’s a look back at the past seven days:
The wild week that was
- Saturday: Bale is surprisingly benched for his team’s game against Bayern Munich in Houston. It’s not the first time Zinedine Zidane has benched Bale, but his comments after – “The club is working on his departure and that’s why he didn’t play” – turned heads. Zidane added, “Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that it happens soon.” Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, was quick to respond: “Zidane is a disgrace to speak like that about someone who has done so much for Real.”
- Tuesday: Bale starts the friendly against Arsenal on the bench, but comes on for the second half and scores in the 56th minute. Later in the match, Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio suffers a torn ACL, meaning he’ll miss most of the season. Could that injury change Zidane’s mind on whether he needs Bale? (Spoiler alert: not even a little bit).
- Friday: Spanish media claim a deal with Jiangsu Suning is imminent. Later that evening, Real Madrid gets absolutely shredded by crosstown rival Atlético Madrid. Los Rojiblancos score twice in the first eight minutes en route to a 7-3 blowout. Bale comes on in the 62nd for what seems like his RM swan song.
While a last-minute surprise can’t be ruled out, for the purposes of this piece, let’s say last night was Bale’s final appearance in a Real Madrid uniform. Because I’ve always gotten my Bale coverage from the Spanish press, I’ve been convinced Bale’s time with RM has been a letdown. But the stats beg to differ.
No shortage of productivity
In six seasons with Real Madrid, Bale started 133 LaLiga matches and scored 78 goals.
He also helped the club win an absurd four Champions League trophies in his six seasons. While Cristiano Ronaldo led those teams, it’s not like Bale failed to deliver on the biggest stage: the Welshman scored three (!) goals in UCL finals – only Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and CR7 have scored more. Two of those (in ’14 vs. Atlético and in ’18 vs. Liverpool) were game-winners. The list of his accomplishments goes on, but for most players, two UCL-clinching strikes would make them immortal, regardless of how much they contributed otherwise.
So why the apparent enmity?
Because he didn’t make much of an effort to learn Spanish? Because he wasn’t Ronaldo? Because his last season was arguably the worst, for both him and his club?
I phrased the possible answers as questions because it’s a tough call.
This year was his worst statistically since he became “Gareth Bale.” However, his overall production — especially when considering he played with space-gobbling CR7 all but one of those RM years — almost any player in the world would envy.
Yes, the expectations were sky-high because he was the most expensive signing ever before the ’13-14 season. But the complaints were often about him being uncommitted rather than overpriced.
Was he the most durable player in Europe? Not at all. But the grief he got for his “frailty” was excessive for a player who missed 72 games due to injury over six seasons. This conversation could drag on and on, but I’ll call his bad rep among many Los Blancos fans head-scratching and move on.
About last night
Speaking of head-scratching, what a statement by Atleti at MetLife Stadium last night. I’ll start by acknowledging that this was a friendly. Regardless of the stakes, though, that was a brutal beatdown.
Star signing João Félix offered a glimpse at what all the fuss was about, and Diego Costa scored a ridiculous four goals. He also earned a late red card for scuffling with Dani Carvajal to cap a quintessential Costa evening. So much for Costa quietly exiting stage left ahead of the upcoming season.
As for Real Madrid, despite the game being meaningless, it’s hard not to come away from that effort extremely concerned about the upcoming season. Giving up seven goals to anyone, no matter the setting, is problematic, especially considering all the defensive issues a year ago.
It is worth nothing, I guess, that the biggest offseason addition to solve the problems in front of the goal, Ferland Mendy, did not play last night due to a thigh injury.
Regardless, 7-3 is a pounding. RM has some work to do before La Liga begins on August 16th.
The man at the top of the list of the disgruntled stars of the summer got his own piece earlier today on High Press Soccer. But Neymar is just one of several high-profile players pining for a change of scenery.
Below is a quick look at three other players who want out.
Paul Pogba transfer updates
If not for Neymar, Pogba would have generated more will-he-or-won’t-he headlines than anyone this summer.
The Frenchman has not been quite as outspoken as the Brazilian, but between him and his superagent, Mino Raiola, Pogba has generated plenty of noise in his own right. Manchester United has the difficult task of trying to sell a world-class player on a season where the most it can realistically aspire to is a Europa League trophy (this club isn’t winning the Premier League). Real Madrid seems to be the most likely destination, but that currently appears like a remote possibility after all the money Los Blancos have already spent this summer.
The “verdict”: At least one more year in Manchester.
Has anyone had a more interesting last few seasons than Bale? While he’s had some incredible moments, particularly in the Champions League, Bale has rarely, if at all, been prominently featured at RM.
This is not the first, or even the second, summer when Bale has sought an exit, but his age (30) and contract situation (he’s scheduled to make €17M/$19.1M per year for three more years) have limited his suitors.
Saturday, when RM Manager Zinedine Zidane benched him for a friendly against Bayern Munich because, in Zidane’s words, Bale “is very close to leaving,” it was the first time all summer a move appeared truly imminent. As much as I hate to call Zidane a liar, I find it hard to believe that Bale has found a team interested in paying top dollar to a player who has played in 79 of 151 possible games in La Liga the last four years
The “verdict”: At the risk of this being proven wrong in the next 48 hours, I’ll say he’s staying put.
Is it just me, or does it seem like Costa’s 20-goal, seven-assist ’16-17 season for Chelsea happened a lifetime ago? At that point, Costa had scored 20 goals in domestic play in three of four seasons dating back to ’13-14
Two seasons later, it’s unclear how much he has left, as he has made just 27 appearances combined since returning to Atletico Madrid in ’17-18. He also seems likely to take a backseat to Álvaro Morata and João Félix in the years to come. Everton has been mentioned as a possible landing spot, and is not the only EPL club that is reportedly interested.
Costa seems like the likeliest of these three players to make a move. It would not surprise me to see him playing next season for Everton or another second-tier EPL club hoping to unseat one of the league’s big six for a spot in Europe in ’20-21.
The “verdict”: Costa’s disappointing return to Atleti will end sometime in the next month.
The last few weeks have cemented Neymar’s status – as if it wasn’t already secure – as the king of summer transfer drama.
We’ll take a stab at predicting what the future holds for Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale and a few others in a separate piece. For now, let’s take a close look at the Neymar-to-Barcelona speculation.
A familiar face dominates the summer news cycle
In recent weeks, the PSG star has missed practice and said that his favorite memory from his career was the 6-1 Champions League comeback he led Barcelona to (over PSG) in March ’17.
And those are just the most notable/recent developments from the player himself.
At this point, it’s the understatement of the summer to call this an unhappy marriage. The question is whether the divorce comes before or after the ’19-20 season.
Neymar to Barcelona
There’s a new report every day, if not every hour, about Neymar rejoining Barcelona. The biggest problem, for both parties, is the financial aspect.
Barcelona cannot afford to add a contract like Neymar’s without shedding multiple key pieces. PSG, for its part, is (understandably) unwilling to move a player for whom they paid over €220M in ’17 unless they get a ton in return.
It has been widely reported that Barcelona are hoping to pay £90M, plus any two of the following players: Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé, Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo and Malcom. That report follows speculation earlier in the week that Barca wanted to pay a similar sum plus Coutinho and Dembélé, without offering PSG a choice.
The Coutinho-Dembélé proposal – the one where PSG doesn’t choose who it gets – makes sense for Barcelona, but would be a huge gamble for the Parisians.
The value of Coutinho, 27, has to be one of the most divisive topics in Europe considering the contrast between his excellent form as recently as ’18 and his disastrous ’18-19 season.
Dembélé, on the other hand, is 22 and appears to have a tremendous future ahead if he can stay healthy. Unfortunately that’s a massive “if” after injuries have limited him to 20 appearances in La Liga this past season and 12 the year before.
No right answer
PSG is in an incredibly unenviable position. They can A) refuse to release Neymar and hope he keeps his antics to a minimum. Considering his actions both on and off the pitch in recent months, I can’t imagine him keeping the distractions to a minimum.
Or PSG can B) allow him to leave and try to recoup as much money as possible. Regardless of what the club is able to get this summer, if Neymar leaves after two seasons without any Champions League success – with this team’s payroll, losing in the round of 16 in ’17-18 and ’18-19 was an abject failure – his transfer in ’17 will have to go down as one of the worst ever (Coutinho right now is like, “oh yeah, hold my cerveja”)
If there’s one singular takeaway from this summer, it’s that no one has any business trying to predict how this all shakes out. But if I have to make a prediction, I’ll say Neymar ends up playing one more season in Paris.
Not worth the trouble
Barcelona has a wealth of options up top after signing Antoine Griezmann. Forcing yourself to find minutes and opportunities for Griezmann, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez strikes me as a completely unnecessary on-field headache, even if Neymar, Messi and Suarez all meshed well as recently as ’16-17. Adding Neymar for the money he will command would require some serious financial gymnastics by the Catalans. And forgive me for saying it would also create a sliiight chance of locker room drama.
Why risk that if you’re Barcelona? Especially when your squad was in a great position to go to the Champions League final (where it would have been heavily favored against Tottenham) and you have already added two world-class players – Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong — without any significant losses this summer.
However, I’d like to close by clarifying that I don’t think the fact there is a strong case against signing Neymar means it won’t happen.
Who: Kieran Trippier
From Where: Tottenham
To Where: Atlético Madrid
For How Much: €25 million ($28M USD), plus add-ons
Grade for Atlético Madrid: B
Grade for Tottenham: C
Kieran Trippier to Atlético Madrid Overview
Atlético Madrid lost a lot to start this summer. However, they are doing all they can to mitigate the exodus of star Antoine Griezmann and Co.
Atleti are particularly ravaged on the backline. They’ve lost Lucas Hernández (Bayern Munich), Diego Godín (Inter Milan) and Juanfran (unsigned) this summer. Filipe Luis is another longtime Rojiblanco defender who is widely expected to leave the Spanish capital, as his contract is up.
In comes Kieran Trippier from Tottenham on a three-year deal to help shore up what had been a stout defense.
Who is he?
Trippier, 28, started most of the season at right-back for Tottenham, including the Champions League final loss to Liverpool. He also played a big role for the England national team during the Three Lions’ run to the 2018 World Cup semifinal, scoring in the fifth minute of the loss to Croatia in the semis.
As we’ve talked about on this site, defense — for a number of reasons, including injuries — was an issue at times for Tottenham in ’18-19. Those injuries and general lack of depth particularly hurt in the Champions League against Manchester City in the quarters and Ajax in the semis. It’s worth noting, though, that Spurs allowed a respectable 39 goals in 38 EPL games. Those 39 goals tied Chelsea for third best overall for the 2018-19 Premier League season.
Atleti is spending a significant sum on a player in an intriguing place after a tremendous World Cup followed by what many viewed as an underwhelming EPL campaign.
However, was this really a “down” year? Peaking at WhoScored historicals, 2018-19 was more or less in line with who Trippier has been his entire career (save for a stellar World Cup showing).
Top to bottom, he’s moving to a weaker league, if we’re going by the ’18-19 season. He’s squarely in his prime right now. And he’s going to a less demanding league and to a manager known for “coaching up” his defense.
And about that: he’s going to a team with a manager who has molded one of the most consistently reliable defenses in Europe. Will he be able to meet Diego Simeone’s high demands for a defender?
Is the price fair?
The €25M fee strikes me as a very fair price for a player who did not top any of the “players to watch this summer” lists that I saw. I could argue Atleti is lucky to get a proven, world-class defender at that price.
Transfermarkt, for what it’s worth, priced Trippier at €35M ($39.3M) earlier this summer.
What impact should we expect?
Trippier will be expected to replace Juanfran at right-back, who was a key cog for Atleti for a long time before leaving this summer at 34. At this point, it’s hard to predict how he’ll perform on a squad that suddenly has a ton of new faces in the back after maintaining impressive continuity for such a long time.
For so long, you could pencil Atleti in as one of the best defensive teams in both Spain and Europe. That’s been good enough to perennially keep them in the La Liga title picture deep into the season – with the team’s ability to win La Liga or make a serious run in the UCL determined by what it could muster offensively.
So far this offseason, which also saw Rodrigo exit to Manchester City, Trippier is the highest-profile replacement for the team’s outgoing veteran defenders. Atleti has also signed defenders Renan Lodi (21) from Brazil’s Athletico Paranaense and Felipe Monteiro (30) from Porto.
UPDATE (July 18, 10:15 a.m. Eastern): During the press conference to announce the Trippier deal, the club also confirmed it signed Espanyol defender Mario Hermoso. Atleti is reportedly paying (again) around €25M for the 24-year-old, who signed a five-year deal.
Trippier’s potential impact is hard to overstate. Considering the turnover elsewhere in the back four, if the Englishman is not solid at his position, Atleti may not be the brick wall we’ve come to expect it to be. And if he’s great, it will just mean his team is maintaining, not improving, at what it already does best. In other words: no pressure!
Atlético Madrid (B): This is a solid B. Again, they get a proven defender at a position of need at a reasonable cost. If Trippier has just 2-3 more years in his prime at the same production level as his last 2-3, that’s money well-spent.
Tottenham (C): This one is harder to understand from Tottenham’s perspective. Do they have another major signing in the works and need to free up a little cash? Was Trippier a locker room problem? Do they really like what they saw from Juan Foyth that much?
Given the modest sum they received for Trippier, it feels like we’ll learn more about Tottenham’s motivation for moving him in the coming weeks.
Who: Matthijs de Ligt
From Where: Ajax
To Where: Juventus
For How Much: €75M fee, (€150m / year escalating release clause)
Grade for Juventus: A-
Grade for Ajax: B+
Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus Overview
Juventus now has two of the biggest stars on the planet.
Anchoring the defense for the foreseeable future is Matthijs de Ligt, one of the most imposing young center-backs we’ve seen in recent memory. His best days are still long in front of him. Up top is Cristiano Ronaldo. His best days are behind him, but he remains a force.
Physical defensive play and toughness have been two staples of Juve throughout their ongoing reign atop Serie A. De Ligt gives the Italians another physical, fearless presence in the back four. It’s hard to overstate how impressive the Dutch defender was throughout Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinals, regardless of his age.
After looking that comfortable – and more importantly, playing at such a high level – on Europe’s biggest stage at the age of 19, it’s no surprise he’s been so coveted this summer.
Who is he?
Despite playing a position where even the best players are usually somewhat anonymous, the 19 year-old de Ligt turned many heads during this year’s UCL. While we’re talking about center-backs stealing the show, am I the only one wondering if de Ligt and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk are good enough to change the way (and how much) we talk about players at that position?
Back to de Ligt, though. The teenager has already played two-and-a-half full seasons for Ajax’s senior team (he played just shy of 800 minutes in the Eredivisie in ’16-17). And as if his on-field excellence weren’t remarkable enough, de Ligt was also his club’s captain for its memorable ’18-19 season.
Even for a prodigious talent, it’s extremely unusual to have enough command of a locker room to wear the captain’s armband at less than 20 years old.
Is the price fair?
This is another player you pay whatever it takes to sign. We at High Press Soccer, and seemingly everyone else who watched Ajax in the Champions League, have praised de Ligt ad nauseam at this point. For all the reasons mentioned in this piece, the €75M fee is as “reasonable” as such a sum is ever going to be.
One intriguing aspect of de Ligt’s choice of Juventus is who he didn’t choose. Barcelona was considered by many to be his most likely destination, but did not want to pay him €12M per year for the next 10 years, according to Marca.
What impact should we expect?
This is where this signing gets interesting.
When thinking about the missing ingredients that proved the difference between Juventus and the teams that made it further than the quarterfinals of the UCL this year, defense can’t possibly top the list. While Juve’s back line is hardly this team’s weakness, there’s no denying that de Ligt’s athleticism will be an asset for an aging group.
To that point: no matter how talented they are, most 19-year-olds are role players (not fixtures in their team’s starting XI) for their first season with an elite team. De Ligt will almost certainly be the exception. Veteran Juve center-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will remain heavily involved, but expect them to spell de Ligt – as opposed to the other way around – as new Manager Maurizio Sarri gives his young stud as many minutes as anyone on Juve’s roster.
Juventus (A-): The issue with paying top dollar for de Ligt is that this team was almost certainly going to cruise through Serie A with no problem, with or without the Dutch star. Their last coach, Max Allegri, just left (we would assume) because reaching the Champions League quarterfinals was not enough. For a team so dependent on 34-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo carrying the offensive load, will de Ligt make the Bianconeri significantly more likely to reach the UCL semis (or further)? I, for one, don’t really think so.
As discussed in greater detail on the latest High Press Pod, de Ligt-to-Barcelona would have made a ton of sense. And whether it was Barcelona, Man United or someone else in the Premier League or La Liga, it would have been fun to see him push himself in one of Europe’s best domestic leagues. After watching him excel against the continent’s best players, European soccer fans (other than diehard Juventus supporters, of course) have to be disappointed that de Ligt joined a team that is unlikely to be challenged domestically.
Having said that, Juventus got a world-class defender at 19 years old, potentially a good 5-6 years before he even hits his prime.
Ajax (B+): After its UCL run, Ajax’s team was going to be picked apart. Losing de Ligt will hurt. If Harry Maguire does end up transferring to Manchester United, here’s the question: would you rather have Maguire for
€88.9m or de Ligt for €75M?
It’s de Ligt all day long, right?
Ajax maybe could’ve gotten a little more from Juventus, or worked out a loan back deal for a year. Regardless, they are flush with the kind of cash they’ve never had in their storied history. It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to spend it.