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…
What: MLS All-Star Game
When: July 31st 8pm ET
Who: MLS All-Stars vs Atlético Madrid
The 2019 MLS All-Star Game is tonight!
The game takes place at Exploria Stadium in Orlando at 8pm ET and will air on FS1. MLS’ best will take on La Liga side Atlético Madrid.
About Atlético Madrid
Atlético Madrid is a perennial fixture in La Liga’s top 4 and the Champions League. They have performed well in their pre-season friendlies. Their 7-3 smashing of Real Madrid the past week grabbed global soccer headlines.
For US fans unfamiliar with the squad, Atléti are more recently known for their impenetrable defense. However, they’ve added some new attacking pieces that are transforming the team.
Their record-setting purchase of 19 year-old João Félix is already looking like a smart buy. Expect him and fellow forward Diego Costa to provide a couple of “wow” moments.
US soccer fans may be familiar with England international (and former Tottenham Hotspur) Kieran Trippier as well. The recent right-back transfer will help build from the back and provide some offensive spark.
Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak is regarded as among the best in the world.
Many US fans would’ve be familiar with French striker Antoine Griezmann. He recently transferred from Atléti to Barcelona.
Regardless, even without Griezmann, Atléti is consistently one of the best 10-12 clubs in the world. Their new players are meshing well early. They’ll play entertaining soccer tonight.
MLS All-Star Game Odds
You can legally bet online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on the MLS All-Star Game. DraftKings Sportsbook NJ has Atlético Madrid as the odds-on favorite.
If needed, for a refresher, visit how to bet on soccer.
|MLS All-Stars +245||Draw +330||Atlético Madrid -118|
Oddsmakers expect this to be a relatively low-scoring game for a friendly/exhibition. While over 3.5 goals is the favored outcome at -117, it’s not a heavy favorite. Under 3.5 is priced at -105.
However, it’s important to note that the last time a MLS All-Star Game produced 4 goals was in 2013 (with AS Roma as the opponent). These are historically low-scoring affairs.
So this is mostly a gut call, but we’re due for a more open game. With the new talent trying to earn minutes at Atlético, don’t be surprised to see 4-5 total goals in this one. If you’re feeling really adventurous, look at the 5.5 over at +440.
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: Antoine Griezmann
From Where: Atlético Madrid
To Where: Barcelona
For How Much: €120 million (with a €800 million release clause)
Grade for Barcelona: A
Grade for Atlético Madrid: A
Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona Overview
Finally, the wait is over.
But not without plenty of drama and intrigue.
As soon as Antoine Griezmann announced in mid-May that he was out the door at Atleti, Barcelona became the immediate favorite to land the Frenchman. Griezmann is one of the best forwards in the world, and at 28, he’s squarely in his prime.
He’s also a great fit on a team that probably would have won the Champions League if not for a meltdown in the second leg of the semifinals.
If there was one thing Barcelona was missing the last two seasons without Neymar, it was a consistently reliable third option up top alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Ousmane Dembélé has not been able to stay on the field. Philippe Coutinho (as we’ve mentioned here on High Press Soccer once or twice) did not fill that role. None of Barcelona’s young forward prospects appear ready for such a role, either. As good as Suárez remains, he is 32 and beginning to show signs of his age.
Who is he?
Griezmann needs no introduction at this point. He’s been the best-known player in La Liga outside Barcelona and Real Madrid for some time now.
With at least 15 goals and eight assists in each of the last three seasons, he’s carried a bigger share of a top European team’s offensive load than anyone other than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. His success the last few years is particularly head-turning considering the lack of help he’s had up top at defensive-minded Atleti. It’s a scary thought to consider what Griezmann is capable of alongside Messi and Suarez – does Barcelona once again boast the world’s best attacking trio?
He’s also a proven commodity for the reigning World Cup champs. In terms of hype, Griezmann (and everyone else in the tournament) took a backseat to Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba in Russia. Griezmann, however, still scored four goals (tied for the second-most behind Harry Kane’s six) and tallied two assists for the champs.
At Euro 2016, Griezmann piled up six goals to win the Golden Boot and added two assists. He and Eden Hazard will — barring something completely unforeseen — be the best players to change teams this summer.
Is the price fair?
OK fine, I’ll put it in different words, but the same logic holds true whether you’re talking about Hazard, Griezmann or any other star in their prime.
Yes, the €120 million fee is exorbitant at first glance (and shield your eyes from the €800 million release clause!). But no, it’s not unreasonable.
Consider that similar, if not more, will be spent on players like Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus?) and has been spent on Atléti’s new #7 João Félix. Any team would be thrilled if those players become even 70-80% as productive as Griezmann.
The only two possible red flags with a 28-year-old making a move after so much time in one place are injuries and fit. The former is hardly a concern with a player as durable as Griezmann over the years. And in terms of fit, he’s upgrading his surroundings, dramatically, by moving to one of the best offensive teams in Europe. It doesn’t hurt that he’s linking up with the greatest player we’ve ever seen.
Is anyone in soccer in a better spot than Griezmann, who will be playing alongside Messi for his club and Mbappe for his country for the next phase of his career?
What impact should we expect?
With Hazard as the exception, for most of the players we’ve graded, this section has been where we wonder how much playing time they’ll get.
With Griezmann, the question is whether he’s the difference for his new team between an embarrassing UCL flameout and a European trophy. Griezmann alone does not make Barcelona the favorite to win its first Champions League title since ‘15. However, he’s a massive addition at his team’s biggest position of need. He also adds the athleticism that an aging roster needs more of this upcoming season.
No need to over-complicate this. Barcelona gets an A for getting a potentially transformational player in his prime. He’s the perfect player to lead the transition from Suárez and pair with Messi as he begins to age (if he ever does actually age).
From Atlético’s perspective, they got the full post-July 1st €120m and have already wisely re-invested it on Griezmann’s replacement. They earn a long, drawn-out, painful A as well.
Who: João Félix
From Where: Benfica
To Where: Atlético Madrid
For How Much: €126 million ($142.1M USD)
Grade for Atlético Madrid: A
Grade for Benfica: B+
João Félix to Atlético Madrid Overview
While Tottenham waited 517 days in between signings, this one just felt like it took 517 days to complete. But alas, it’s finally done.
The 19 year-old rising Portuguese star has been labeled “The Next Ronaldo.” However, that doesn’t do much justice to his overall game or moral compass.
As we’ll do for each major signing this summer, below is High Press Soccer’s breakdown of the transaction.
Who is he?
Félix was inarguably the most sought after young talent in Europe this summer.
In 26 domestic games for Primeira Liga champs Benfica last season, Félix tallied 15 goals and 7 assists. He also had that hat trick in the Europa League semis.
While often compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s got a creative flair for facilitating that CR7 never possessed. Félix finds through balls and serves key passes at an elite clip.
And yes, he can score too. Maybe not in the same predatory way Ronaldo does, but who in the history of soccer has?
His 7.5 WhoScored rating was a seasonal best among Primeira Liga forwards. Did we mention he’s just 19?
Is the price fair?
The total cost of €126 million is steep. Regardless, this is becoming a popular refrain here: that’s just the modern market.
If Félix delivers on the majority of his potential for Atleti, this is a bargain. They’re buying him before his prime years even hit. Let’s say Félix gives Atleti a Griezmann-lite 4-5 years of production and gets them consistently in the UCL knockout rounds. Nobody in the Spanish capital will complain about that €126 million.
Building in an absurd €350m buy-out clause indicates they expect him to be around for a few years and the market for marquee talent to escalate. That kind of cash is Mbappe-terrority.
If transfer market values continue to climb and he performs, they’ll be able to sell him and recoup all of that and more–or resign him for what would be his actual prime year. Even if he ends up being just OK but helps keep Atleti competitive in the UCL, the the economics are probably a wash.
This really only becomes a bad investment if Félix bombs. Given the investment and resources that will be put towards his success, the odds of
Félix being a total bust seem low.
What impact should we expect?
Make no mistake, this is a HUGE win for Atlético Madrid.
Félix’s arrival is already prompting discussions around changing Atléti’s style of play. Along with the signing of Marcos Llorente, Atléti are bringing in youth and dynamism that at times seemed lacking in recent campaigns.
Atlético Madrid should–and likely will–build the offense completely around
Félix. He’s a shape-shifter and can give Diego Simeone options on how to best deploy him.
The good news for Simeone is Félix’s best statistical position is center forward. His WhoScored rating as a #9 was 7.68. While La Liga and the
Primeira aren’t apples-to-apples as far as competition, this does out-score Griezmann.
Félix will provide a comparable same set-piece threat as Griezmann, but with better finishing as he doesn’t bomb as many long range shots as the Frenchman. In theory, this should help convert more opportunities for a traditionally offensive-needy team
Atlético Madrid: When you consider how dire their outlook was just a few weeks ago, nabbing Félix is a game changer for the club. It resets their expectations for next season and over the long-haul. The A is well deserved. Sure, they paid full price. They didn’t have to loan him back to Benfica for a year though. And not nabbing a premium talent to replace Griezmann would’ve set the club back both to the fans and the organization at large.
Benfica: The Portuguese champs ideal situation would’ve been the Manchester City bid–get the full price, but get Félix back on a one year loan. They had the leverage. Regardless, this is the kind of sale that could reap long-term rewards for the club if the money is properly re-invested. They were always going to be a top table team domestically, but they can build squad depth to make some noise in Europe now too.
Few teams among this year’s Champions League are quarterfinalists will lose more than Atlético Madrid.
Antoine Griezmann, the team’s top offensive threat in recent years, has confirmed his departure, which is a massive loss (you’re welcome for the newsflash). If it seems like he produced a disproportionate share of his team’s offense in each of his five seasons with Atletico Madrid, it’s because he did. Below is a quick look at his production in domestic play since ‘14-15:
2014-15: 22 goals, 1 assist
2015-16: 22 goals, 5 assists
2016-17: 16 goals, 8 assists
2017-18: 19 goals, 9 assists
2018-19: 15 goals, 9 assists
As if the loss of Griezmann were not enough, the club will also lose Juanfran, Diego Godín and Lucas Hernández. The loss of those players, one year after Gabi walked away, means that Koke will be one of the few staples of the last several years who is still around next season
To continue with the tough reading for Atleti supporters, now keeper Jan Oblak is reportedly interested in a move. We should also mention here that Filipe Luís has an uncertain future with the club as well.
The good news (not there’s truly a positive way to spin this) is that Atleti is going to have some money to spend for a change. Though his former team, Real Sociedad, will get a percentage of the release clause for Griezmann, Atlético should still be left with nearly €100M from his exit. Hernández also left for a hefty fee that should help his former team restock the cupboard.
Despite all the revenue the team has made the last few years as its standing both on and off the pitch has improved, it has not become a destination for elite talent. That’s going to have to change this summer, though.
Without some significant additions to offset the loss of Griezmann — not that he’s someone you should expect to “replace” — it’s hard to see Diego Simeone’s team making much noise in La Liga, much less the Champions League. Here’s to hoping Los Rojiblancos can work some transfer magic and prevent La Liga from reverting back to a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Let’s Go Shopping: Atlético Madrid
Tyler: Let’s transition from the hand-wringing to the shopping part of this feature. Few players, regardless of position, are more highly-sought than Benfica’s João Félix. Atleti, along with Manchester United and Manchester City, is among the teams that have been mentioned the most as Félix’s next home. Could he choose to become the next Portuguese star to score his goals in the Spanish capital?
Chops: I don’t think that Atleti is Félix’s ultimate home, although I get the thinking about him wanting more first team minutes there vs. a situation like City.
In general, I think Atleti have a major problem: if you’re a top-tier offensive talent, why would you want to go there? Yes, Griezmann found success in the system, but it’s not one that makes Madrid a top destination for first-tier young talent.
Tyler: I won’t rule this out, but based on Los Rojiblancos’ history (not only their unwillingness to spend, but also their lack of appeal to top strikers), I’d certainly be surprised. However, you can’t overlook the first team playing time issue. Atléti can build their offense around Félix. City can’t.
Chops: The type of players Atlético should target–and ultimately the only ones I think they could get–are the second-tier offensive creators. They should look at once-productive stars who are languishing with teams now.
Romelo Lukaku would be interesting for them. Had this been two years ago, a good two-way midfielder like Naby Keita would’ve made sense. While too dainty to be the kind of stout defender who would excel at Atleti, a reclamation project like Philippe Coutinho would be a huge boost in helping them break down defenses (assuming the old Coutinho is still in there, somewhere).
Tyler: I like the idea of Lukaku. Maybe I’m just excessively impressed/traumatized by what he did to the U.S. in the World Cup five (!) years ago, but I’ve always believed in Lukaku. I’ve been puzzled (admittedly from afar) by his relatively unsuccessful stint with Manchester United, but let’s remember that he’s still only 26. He remains a talented scorer and seems like a player whose physicality would fit in well with Atleti. Could he be had for around €50M or less?
Chops: Agree about his physicality being a fit. If you add €10M, then the price you mention I actually think is in the ballpark of what United could fetch (although it’s a far cry from what he’s theoretically valued). He just seems like the right kind of player for Atlético.
The other types of players Atlético should target are the talents left standing in the musical chairs shuffling from top teams. If Manchester City is ready to move on from Leroy Sané, he’s the right age and has the right goal-scoring mentality that would help lessen the blow from losing Griezmann. If Real Madrid can’t find the right price on Christian Eriksen, he’s actually a great fit for their midfield.
On one hand, Atlético Madrid is absolutely an elite top-tier club. On the other, in the context of offensive players, they’re a notch well below the more attractive open systems played by Liverpool, City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and others.
Tyler: I think you’re all over it re: talented players that top teams like City, RM and Barca are forced to sell to afford their outlays for the Eden Hazards of the world.
I think Eriksen will end up either staying at Tottenham or joining RM. Coutinho is an interesting possibility. Speaking of him, it will be fascinating to see how much anyone is willing to spend on him. Though he’s just one year removed from being an elite producer in the more grueling Premier League, he’s coming off a disaster of a season and I have no clue how much Barcelona will be able to get for him.
Chops: Just as an aside–has anyone had a worse transfer ever in the history of soccer than Coutinho? Like, that has to damage his psyche forever, right? You whine your way out of a great situation at Anfield, go to Barcelona and get booed off the pitch every game. You watch your former club get much better after you leave, then go on to lose a Champions League game in the most epic of spectacular meltdowns in front of the home crowd you spurned. And your former team goes on to win the biggest soccer competition in the world after embarrassing you on your old home field. It’s like he dumped a girl, but that girl became a super model overnight and dated the world’s biggest celebrity who is also hung like an elephant and then you were forced to watch them have sex right in front of you while her family stood behind you and laughed at you the whole time.
Anyway, where were we?
Tyler: Wow, that escalated, and is going to be tough to follow. At this point, I honestly have no idea where we were. But to answer your first question, no, I can’t think of a transfer that has gone worse, and after you put it the way you did, it’s hard to imagine any move from one elite team to another working out any worse. To wrap up the Coutinho portion of this piece, I don’t see him as a fit on a team that places so much emphasis on physical toughness.
To leave your beloved Coutinho alone, for now … until very recently, Oblak’s future at the club seemed secure. However, he has said this week that he wants out — apparently he’s hoping for a move to Manchester United. Considering all the other players on the way out, the loss of Oblak would be huge. No Simeone-coached team is going to become a sieve in one offseason, but replacing so many veteran defenders and Oblak would be a hell of a task, to make the understatement of the summer.
One possible GK target for Atleti would be Keylor Navas, who is likely leaving Real Madrid. Staying in Spain — and sticking with the idea of a former rival joining Simeone’s side — Jasper Cillessen is expected to leave Barcelona. Could he join Atlético? Chops, are there any keepers from the EPL who are on the move?
Chops: First, if Oblak leaves, that’s another massive blow. It’s crazy to think a team that just finished second in La Liga and consistently plays Champions League football isn’t more desirable for in-house talent. If you’re Oblak, why would you leave Madrid for Manchester United? What’s the draw? To play in worse weather on a rebuilding mess of a squad?
The only Premier League goalie who comes to mind as a getable option is Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge. He was the best statistical GK in the Premier League the last month of the season, and Liverpool has shown us the benefits of mining unearthed gems from relegated teams. At 29, he’s on the older side of his prime curve, but could serve as a one- to two-season stop-gap while they find the next great keeper.
Tyler: For what it’s worth, apparently Oblak’s upset about the team’s inability to keep its top players other than him. But I’m with you, it makes no sense to leave Atleti because it’s losing defenders, especially when your apparent preference is to go play for a Manchester United side that struggled mightily in the back end this year.
Let’s wrap this up by talking about some under-the-radar signings this team could make. Hector Herrera is a player the Spanish papers expect to join the fold at some point this summer. The Mexican midfielder, 29, currently plays for Porto. A few other names I’ve seen linked to this club are Eintracht Frankfurt forward Ante Rebic and Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur.
Both are intriguing possibilities, especially the 21-year-old Bentancur, who could look to become the next Uruguayan to hold down Atleti’s back line after Godín’s long tenure in Madrid. Two other options are 20-year-old midfielder Exequiel Palacios from Argentina’s River Plate and Real Madrid’s Mariano, who was not a factor in his first season at RM.
Chops: I like where your head is at with Palacios. That’s one that would make some sense to grow up.
One target I like for them is midfielder José Campaña from Levante. He is right in his prime (26), plays strong and aggressively defensively (12 yellow cards last year), and services through balls well (9 assists). At €15m, he doesn’t break the bank but is a good building piece for whoever your next striker is.
Tyler: Based on this team’s history, Atlético is not going to be adding any household names. Throughout their run, they’ve kept winning despite quiet summers, but they’ve never experienced roster attrition like this. They’re not the highest-profile team in Europe, but to me, they have the most interesting summer ahead of anyone.
Before transfer season officially takes over La Liga, let’s look at what the biggest storylines in Spain will be this summer and going into ’19-20.
The initial plan was to cover Barcelona and their top competitors in one piece, but it quickly became apparent that Barça warranted a story of their own.
It’s unclear at this point what Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will look like next season, but we can rule out either team running it back. We’ll also look at Valencia, and whether they can play the way they did the second half of this year – and in the Copa del Rey — for all of ’19-20.
New-Look Los Blancos
The second RM was eliminated from the Champions League by Ajax in the round of 16 in March, the wheels were already turning on an offseason overhaul. Throughout this entire season, Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence was beyond glaring. Other than one brief stretch in February, it was hard to believe this team had won the Champions League the last three (!) seasons.
Zinedine Zidane will likely revamp this roster from top to bottom, and there’s a good chance next year’s primary starting XI will barely resemble this year’s. Before getting into the “rampant transfer speculation” portion of this piece, it’s worth pointing out that Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos will all be back.
Let’s start with the players on the way out. We have seen the last of Gareth Bale in Madrid, right? Zidane made it clear he’s unimpressed, giving Bale few opportunities even after the team was locked into third place in La Liga. The problem is that offloading a player with a contract like Bale’s is going to be extremely difficult.
The list of players whose RM tenures are likely over (including a few on loan this season) also features James Rodriguez (on loan at Bayern Munich), Mateo Kovacic (on loan at Chelsea), Marcos Llorente and Dani Ceballos.
RM are going to need all the money they can get from the sales of those players. Eden Hazard’s move to Madrid is all but a formality, and he could be just one of several splashy additions. Speculation linking Paul Pogba to this team has yet to be put to rest. Rather than list every star who has been “linked” to Los Blancos the last month or two, though, let’s mention the all-but-done deals for Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic and Porto’s Eder Militao (that contract has already been signed) and move on.
On a scale of 1-10 (10 being second half at Anfield in the UCL semis-worried), how threatened should Barcelona feel?
Maybe a 6???
Hazard is among the best players in the world, and his impact will be massive. However, this team was too flawed in the midfield and defensively for one attack-minded player – not that Hazard will be the only key addition — to make this group 20-some points better in La Liga.
I can see Zidane getting the players he wants this offseason and righting the ship. Regardless, Los Blancos should not be a major threat to Barcelona until ’20-21.
Atlético enters a new era
Already gone are Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godín (who is expected to sign with Inter Milan). Few players on this roster have played bigger roles for one of the toughest teams in Europe over the last several years. In fact, of Atleti’s four captains this year – Griezmann, Godin, Koke and Juanfran – only Koke is expected to be back. Defender Lucas Hernandez is already out the door as well.
Atlético will surely spend more than usual this summer. That being said, Diego Simeone will almost certainly be working with a less talented group than the one he’s had the last few years. As long as Simeone is the coach, I’d suspect this team will be hard to score on. That will mean they are likely to win more than they lose and remain an opponent nobody wants to face.
However, unless they add some serious star power this summer, it’s hard to imagine Los Rojiblancos challenging Barcelona or making another deep run in the Champions League.
On a scale of 1-10, how threatened should Barcelona feel?
I’ll say 4.
It’s hard to even guess what this roster will look like since Atleti is not nearly as widely discussed as its rivals, but it’s tough to imagine this team bringing in more than it lost. For a group that never really was on Barcelona’s heels this year after February, I’d imagine third or fourth place is more likely than first or second in ’19-20.
Is Valencia quietly the team Barcelona should be most afraid of?
If we go by head-to-head results this year, then yes.
In three games against the Catalans this year, Valencia recorded two draws in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey final — as predicted here. They remain under the radar for most fans, but their goals allowed – just 35 in 38 La Liga matches – makes them a bit of an Atleti-lite, at least at first glance.
On a scale of 1-10, how threatened should Barcelona feel?
I’ll go with a 5. Because of the strong defense they played all season and their solid finish – they played as well as anyone other than Barcelona the last half of the year – Valencia could enter ’19-20 as a dark horse candidate to break up the Barcelona-RM-Atleti trio atop the La Liga table.
I’ll believe that when I see it, though. For one thing, even if they play the way they did over their final 19 games this season, they’re going to have to become much better in the final third. It’s impressive that they won as many games as they did without a go-to scorer, but you’re not going to compete with Barcelona (and probably won’t keep up with RM or ATM, either) if you score just 51 goals in 38 games and your leading scorer (Dani Parejo) only finds the net nine times.
I certainly think, however, that Valencia have a shot to stay near the top of the table. A hard-fought, three-way battle featuring Valencia and the Madrid powerhouses for second, third and fourth place seems likely.
Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have some drama at the top of the La Liga table after all.
We also have a race for fourth place (and Champions League qualification) that grows more interesting every day. Five teams are now in the mix, with Valencia (46 points) breathing down the neck of fourth-place Getafe (47). Behind Valencia but very much alive are Sevilla (46), Alavés (44) and Athletic Bilbao (43).
But let’s start with Atlético Madrid’s bid to track down Barcelona.
Can Atlético Close the Gap?
Barça finally faltered on Tuesday, settling for one point in a seesaw 4-4 draw at Villarreal. That result, combined with Atlético Madrid’s 2-0 win over Girona, means that “only” eight points separate first-place Barcelona and Atleti.
Los Rojiblancos could cut the lead to five with a victory when the teams meet on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. Eastern at Camp Nou. If it wins that game, Atlético would still need Barcelona to drop another five points over its seven remaining games in La Liga. While unlikely, that’s at least feasible, especially if Barcelona continues to rest key players in domestic matches to keep them fresh for the UCL. For now, though, FiveThirtyEight believes the Catalans have a 98 percent chance to win the league, while Atleti has just a 2 percent chance. Would that number jump to more than 10 percent with a win this weekend? Speaking of the analytics site, it says that Lionel Messi (who is having a season solidifying his GOAT status) and Co. have a 62 percent chance to win Saturday, which seems a little high.
How Barcelona managed not to lose to Villarreal despite giving up four unanswered goals at one point is anyone’s guess. It was the latest example in recent months of their tendency to follow a stretch of apparent vulnerability with a flash of brilliance. Whether you’re convinced this team should be the Champions League favorite or afraid their inconsistency will be their undoing, you saw something on Tuesday that reinforced how you feel.
Personally, I’m not terribly concerned about what this means for them. I can’t imagine the Catalans would have had any issues with Villarreal if they hadn’t been resting Messi, Gerard Piqué and Ivan Rakitc to start the game. While I’ll admit Barcelona play with fire more often than they should, the bad news for the rest of La Liga – and Europe – is that having Messi and Luis Suárez means they can get away with it. This is as good a place as any to point out that Barcelona’s last La Liga loss was in November.
As for Saturday’s game, expect to see Atlético play with even more physicality and intensity than usual, as this is their last chance to salvage their season. Diego Simeone’s team has emphatically answered questions of whether it might go into the tank after the UCL heartbreaker to Juventus on March 12 and the subsequent 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao.
Based on the 4-0 win over Alavés and the Girona win since the loss to Athletic, this team still believes it is alive in La Liga, which makes it dangerous for at least another 90 minutes. Atleti could be without forward Álvaro Morata, who suffered an ankle injury on Tuesday and would be sorely missed. It’s also unclear whether Diego Costa will be available. Both players, however, practiced Friday, meaning Antoine Griezmann may have more help generating offense than he expected to earlier this week, when the status of Morata and Costa appeared doubtful.
Should Valencia be the Favorite for La Liga’s Fourth Champions League Spot?
Valencia’s last two games, a 1-0 win at Sevilla and a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid at home, make them the most impressive of the bunch at the moment. Those results are both impressive in and of themselves.
And they look even better compared to what Getafe (2-0 loss to Leganes, draw vs. Espanyol), Sevilla (the loss to Valencia, 2-0 win over Alavés) and Alavés (back-to-back losses to Atlético and Sevilla by a combined score of 6-0) have accomplished over the past week. FiveThirtyEight has noticed, ranking Valencia (35%), Sevilla (34%), Getafe (22%) and Athletic Bilbao (4%) as the teams most likely to finish fourth. Valencia’s upcoming schedule is also favorable, as its next five are against Rayo Vallecano, Levante, Real Betis, Atlético and Eibar. The only two teams in that group in the top half of the table are Atleti and 10th-place Real Betis.
The MLS has announced what top-flight European club will face its All-Star squad this July: Atlético Madrid.
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) April 1, 2019
MLS All-Star Game Details
The 2019 MLS All-Star game takes place on July 31st at Orlando City Stadium.
Atlético Madrid, who will be in the middle of their 2019 ICC schedule, should provide very challenging match for the All-Stars. Atléti playing at anything near their full defensive capabilities will make it impossible for the MLS squad to score. And while Atléti aren’t quite the global brand as their La Liga peers Barcelona and Real Madrid, they still have plenty of star power, including striker Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Koke, Diego Costa, Álvaro Morata, and Saúl Ñíguez if Manchester City don’t buy him first.
Last year’s game against Juventus (sans Ronaldo) in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium drew a record crowd of 72,317.
The International Champions Cup (ICC) announced their 2019 summer schedule this week.
The ICC has been growing in popularity and relevance every year. Put on by Relevant Sports, the exhibition competition consists of pre-season friendlies from (mostly) top European and North American (Mexico) teams.
This year, games will take place in the US (LA, Chicago, New York, Washington DC, New Jersey, Foxborough, San Francisco, Charlotte, Kansas City, Houston, Arlington), Singapore, Wales, London, Sweden, and China.
2019 ICC Teams
This year’s participating ICC clubs are:
- Real Madrid
- Chivas Guadalajara
- Bayern Munich
- Manchester United
- Inter Milan
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Atlético Madrid
- AC Milan
2019 ICC Soccer Schedule
Games, dates, and times are as follows:
Tuesday, July 16:
- Roma vs. Chivas Guadalajara — Chicago, SeatGeek Stadium
Wednesday, July 17:
- Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich — Los Angeles, Dignity Health Sports Park
Saturday, July 20
- Manchester United vs. Inter — Singapore, National Stadium
- Arsenal vs. Roma — Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium
- Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid — Houston, NRG Stadium
- Benfica vs. Chivas Guadalajara — Bay Area, Levi’s Stadium
Sunday, July 21
- Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Singapore, National Stadium
Tuesday, July 23
- Real Madrid vs. Arsenal — Washington, D.C., FedEx Field
- Bayern Munich vs. AC Milan — Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium
- Chivas Guadalajara vs. Atletico Madrid — Arlington, Texas, Globe Life Park in Arlington
Wednesday, July 24
- Juventus vs. Inter — China, Location TBD
- Roma vs. Benfica — Harrison, New Jersey, Red Bull Arena
Thursday, July 25
- Tottenham vs. Manchester United — Shanghai, Hongkou Football Stadium
Friday, July 26
- Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid — East Rutherford, New Jersey, MetLife Stadium
Sunday, July 28
- AC Milan vs. Benfica — Foxborough, Gillette Stadium
Saturday, Aug. 3
- Manchester United vs. AC Milan — Cardiff, Principality Stadium
Sunday, Aug. 4
- Tottenham vs. Inter — London, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Saturday, Aug. 10
- Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus — Stockholm, Friends Arena
As game odds are released, we’ll post them here.
What to Watch for at this year’s ICC
For the most part, the ICC are just fan friendly affairs with little intrigue other than, “Will [fill in the star] play this game?” or “Will [this new transfer] make the trip?”
This year has a few extra storylines to follow:
- Juventus: Um, so, given the sordid charges he’s facing in Las Vegas, is Ronaldo going to make the trip to the US? Bet on: no freaking way.
- Chivas: Will they go all out against Atlético Madrid and Benfica to show where they truly stand on the global stage? Bet on: hell yes.
- Real Madrid: After a likely heavy summer spending spree, will they showcase their new stars? Bet on: yes.
- Tottenham: Will the Spurs successfully defend their 2018 ICC trophy, since it’s probably the only trophy they’ll see in the next decade? Bet on: yes.
Despite first-place Barcelona’s commanding lead, there’s plenty of intrigue in La Liga with 10 games to play.
The most compelling match of the weekend is Atlético Madrid’s match at Alavés on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. Eastern. It’s a crucial contest for the home underdogs, who are just two points behind fourth-place Getafe, which would qualify for next year’s Champions League if the season ended today.
Alavés getting little respect
|Alavés +420||Draw +230||Atlético Madrid -135|
Despite being in good shape in the standings – they could move into fourth place if they beat Atleti and Getafe loses to Leganes on Saturday – Alavés has just a 9% chance at UCL qualification, per FiveThirtyEight. A big reason the analytics site is so down on them is their uninspiring goal differential of 0. In addition to what it would mean for their spot in the table, a win over Diego Simeone’s club would turn a lot of heads.
It promises to be a low-scoring affair, as Alavés is fifth in Spain in goals allowed (31) and is facing a notoriously tough Atlético Madrid defense that has allowed by far the fewest goals in La Liga this year (19) – through 28 games!
Still, Alavés finds themselves as a huge underdog at home (+420!) to odds-on favorite Atleti.
Atleti not exactly top of the world right now
Los Rojiblancos enter this match-up at a crossroads. It would be a stretch to say Simeone’s side is reeling – they are, after all, still well-positioned to finish in second place in the league and have won four of five in domestic play. But Atleti’s coming off a brutal UCL loss to Juventus on March 12th and an inexplicable 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao four days later. The news that Lucas Hernández will leave the club this summer for an 80-million euro contract with Bayern Munich is the latest disappointment for a team that is surely ready for this month to be over.
The biggest question is whether this team has put the nightmare in Turin behind it. It would be somewhat understandable, but nevertheless a shame, if Atleti allowed its shocking elimination from the Champions League to completely derail the rest of the season.
FiveThirtyEight gives Atlético a 37% chance to win, while pegging Alavés’ chance at an upset at 34% (meaning that +420 is a great price if you like Alavés), and the site would not be surprised by a draw (29%) either. I think Atleti will get back on the right track in a narrow victory, but a 0-0 snoozer would be no surprise.
In other news…
Elsewhere in La Liga, Sevilla needs a victory at home against Valencia on Sunday at 10:15 a.m. Eastern to stay in the Champions League picture, as it is three points from UCL qualification. These teams will be tied for sixth place with 43 points if Valencia wins.
And although Barcelona-Espanyol at Camp Nou is not exactly a toss-up, it will be worth watching how Lionel Messi and Co. fare offensively with Ousmane Dembélé out and Luis Suárez possibly unavailable as well. Messi himself is not at 100% following a groin injury in Argentina’s loss to Venezuela in a friendly last Friday.
With just one Spanish club left in the Champions League Quarterfinals, now seems like a good time to ask: Can Atlético Madrid win La Liga?
Mathematically, Diego Simeone‘s side absolutely could pull it off. On paper, a seven-point deficit with 11 games to play is far from insurmountable. But there’s a reason FiveThirtyEight currently gives Los Rojiblancos just a 3% chance to take home the La Liga crown. Anyone who’s seen Barcelona’s recent form probably agrees with FiveThirtyEight’s assessment.
Nobody’s calling this race a toss-up, but can we at least expect it to remain compelling until the season wraps up on May 19? Unfortunately, no. Anyone hoping for drama as the domestic season wraps up is going to be disappointed.
It’s not that Atlético is likely to falter in league play, although it will be interesting to see how this team responds following Tuesday’s disastrous capitulation against longtime nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. The good news is they should be ready for Barcelona on April 6th considering their opponents before then are 12th-place Athletic Bilbao, fifth-place Alavés and 14th-place Girona.
Barcelona Just Too Good
It’s much more a matter of Barcelona’s current form, as well as the quality of their remaining La Liga opponents, that make a cruise to the finish line for the Catalans the most likely outcome. Even if Atleti can beat Barça, it’s hard to imagine the Madrid club making up the other four points that would be separating these teams without any other losses.
Barcelona is 19-6-2 in La Liga and they made a statement in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Lyon in the Champions League. While this team has looked beatable in recent weeks, the bad news for Atleti is that the “swoon” appears to be a thing of the past.
For the first three weeks of February, Barcelona was out of sorts offensively, scoring just four goals in six games from Feb. 2-19. None of their opponents made them pay, though, and that’s why it’s going to take somewhat of a collapse by Ernesto Valverde’s men for Atlético to move into first. What happened in Turin on Tuesday will obviously be the low point of the year for Los Rojiblancos, but the losses to Real Betis on Feb. 3 and Real Madrid on Feb. 9 were catastrophic results that quietly ruined their chances in La Liga.
Barça recorded just one win but scratched out five draws during that stretch. Now that the thigh injury that hobbled Lionel Messi (to varying degrees) from when he suffered it Feb. 2 against Valencia until his hat trick on Feb. 23 against Sevilla is in the rear-view mirror, Barcelona is humming again. Including the blowout of Lyon, the Catalans have scored an impressive 16 goals in their last five games.
Luis Suárez, who has recently looked anything but washed up, and Messi are as dangerous as ever right now. Against Lyon, the 32-year-old Uruguayan was as impressive as the Argentine – who had two goals and two assists – even if the stat sheet didn’t show it. Those two are playing so well that the loss of Ousmane Dembélé to injury for about a month appears unlikely to be a major issue. And if Philippe Coutinho’s goal vs. Lyon proves to be the spark he needs to get going, it’s really not going to matter how well Atlético plays the rest of the season.
Barcelona’s defense has been rock-solid all year, allowing just 26 goals in 27 league games, so now that the offense is back on track, a double – the Copa del Rey and La Liga are both Barcelona’s to lose – seems like all but a foregone conclusion.
The real question is whether this team should be thinking treble. Oddsmakers think a treble will be a challenge, dropping Barcelona to third favorite in the Champions League after Friday’s pairings were annouced. We’ll tackle that conversation in a separate piece.
After last week’s thrilling upsets, surely FiveThirtyEight‘s probability models would hold this week, right?
Juventus, given only a 12% shot of advancing to the Champions League Quarterfinals, did just that, throttling Atlético Madrid 3-0 on a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick. They advance 3-2 on aggregate.
This is the first time Juventus has overcome an 0-2 deficit to advance in European championship soccer.
And say what you want about Ronaldo, and there’s plenty to say, but he produces on the biggest stages. This is exactly what Juventus paid for over the summer. Ronaldo’s first goal on a header in the 27th minute in between two defenders was world-class. His second (also on a header) in the 49th was classic Ronaldo. At that point, with the the game leveled at 2-2, the Ronaldo hat-trick felt all but inevitable. He secured it on a penalty kick in the 86th.
Cristiano Ronaldo beats Juanfran to power home the clutch header for Juventus and score on Atletico Madrid … again
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) March 12, 2019
Juventus was -150 to win the match (albeit not by 3 goals), but advancing was still going to be a challenge. That is, unless you have Ronaldo.
Manchester City Obv
In Tuesday’s other game, Manchester City were 99%+ to advance and made Schalke 04 look like a rec team, swatting them away 7-0 to advance a staggering 10-2 on aggregate.
City are rolling at the right time. They had 72% possession, fired off 15 shots on goal (with 11 on target!) compared to Schalke’s 2 (1). Expect them to be odds-on favorites after the Champions League Quarterfinals draw on Friday at 6am ET.
Last week’s Champions League games once again reminded us how unpredictable things can get at this stage of the tournament.
Juventus needs a dominant, if not miraculous, performance, as it’s down 2-0 and (obviously) cannot tally any away goals in Turin. Lyon also has a tough task traveling to Barcelona. Below are breakdowns of what to expect Tuesday at Juve’s Allianz Stadium at 4 p.m. Eastern and Wednesday at Camp Nou at the same time.
Los Rojiblancos were extremely impressive in the first leg in Madrid. Considering the opponent and the way the game played out, Manager Diego Simeone’s side’s 2-0 victory was among the strongest performances of the tournament. The Italians were very fortunate the game remained scoreless until the 78th. At this point, Atleti not giving up scoring opportunities is hardly newsworthy, even against an opponent with a goal scorer like Cristiano Ronaldo. But it was the La Liga club’s offense, particularly on the counter, that turned heads, especially after halftime.
Between their dominance in the first leg and their quiet streak of stellar play – they’re unbeaten since a now-baffling 3-1 loss to RM on February 9 – it’s easy to understand why FiveThirtyEight gives Atleti an 88% chance to advance.
There’s just one very handsome catch, though: CR7. Atleti fans are thrilled that their crosstown rivals were bounced last week, and not just because of the bad blood. Simeone’s men have had plenty of UCL success in recent years, but never against Los Blancos. While they’re now out of the picture, Ronaldo is not, at least not yet.
On one hand, if there’s any team that could advance when all they need to do is hold the opposition in check, it’s likely Atlético. On the other, it’s never wise to count out a team like Juventus, which boasts a dangerous combination of desperation, homefield advantage and a transcendent player in Ronaldo. The opening minutes will be pivotal. If Juventus hasn’t managed to get on the board by halftime, I think the second half will be academic. As we’ve seen plenty of times, though, an early goal by the heavy home underdog could change the tenor of the match in a hurry.
It will be interesting to see how aggressive Atleti will be. Considering the circumstances, parking the bus is not a terrible idea. But spending 90 minutes holding on for dear life is not advisable, either, so Atlético has an intriguing decision to make regarding their approach.
Ultimately, I think the odds are stacked too heavily against Juventus. This, however, remains a must-see match, and betting on a draw (+260) feels like the smart move.
Maybe it was the upsets last week. Or it could be the lingering feeling that Barcelona’s tendency to turn it on and off is going to make them pay sooner than later. Whatever is, this has the feel of the game of the week, and one Barcelona could very well lose. Lyon at +950 is hard to resist in this one, and not just because the first leg ended in a draw.
For Lyon, the most encouraging thing about that game, other than Barcelona failing to get a crucial away goal, was giving themselves a chance with their captain, Nabil Fekir, unavailable. That’s got to be a huge confidence boost for a team that lacks Barcelona’s star power. The Ligue 1 side also caught a break this week in the form of an injury to Ousmane Dembélé, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury. Barcelona is just about unstoppable when the Frenchman is healthy and clicking alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, so that’s a big plus for Lyon, even though Barça remains, well, Barça.
While this game deserves close attention for the reasons above, Barcelona have the luxury of a great defense in addition to their superstars up top. Marc-André ter Stegen is a big reason why they’ve won a number of games this season without being at their best. It’s also hard to imagine another lackluster start, or any prolonged lull by Barcelona, in a game of this magnitude in front of their home fans.
So while Lyon is absolutely worth a flier at +950, I’m going to be boring, but consistent: the favorites in these two games will advance and give La Liga two teams in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Manchester United had a 3% chance to advance. Ajax only had a 25% chance to move on. Porto, despite being at home, were at 44%. All three managed to punch their tickets through to the Champions League Quarterfinals.
Do any of this week’s big underdogs, Schalke 04, Lyon, or Juventus, stand a chance to overcome the odds and advance? How about slight underdog Liverpool, playing at Bayern Munich? Let’s examine.
Manchester City vs. Schalke 04
|Manchester City -750||Draw +750||Schalke 04 +1600|
According to FiveThirtyEight, despite only being up 3-2 on aggregate, Manchester City is 99%+ to advance to the quarters.
As we saw with Ajax and Manchester United last week (or Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati on Sunday), on a game-by-game basis, soccer can be very fluky. A team can dominate possession and fire off more shots on goal, and still lose to a team that converts most of its shots. It happens.
Yes, Manchester City is the best team in the world. Yes, Schalke 04 are decidedly not the best team in the world. And yes, the match is at the Etihad. But should Schalke really be less than a 1% chance to advance?
City is rolling right now. However, they’re less than two months removed from a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace, and 2-1 road loss to Newcastle United. City utterly dominated both of those games in terms of possession (over 70%!) and shots on goal / target (almost quadruple and double, respectively).
Will City advance? Almost certainly. Is there better than a 1% chance that Schalke pulls off an upset? For sure.
Juventus vs. Atletico Madrid
|Juventus -150||Draw +260||Atletico Madrid +450|
Atleti is listed as an 88% chance to advance. While they should certainly be heavily favored, oddsmakers view Juventus as a -150 favorite to win the match. Despite Atleti’s stout defense, Juve have the firepower to overcome a 2-0 deficit against anyone in the world. Ronaldo has spent his entire career breaking hearts.
We’ll have more analysis of this match tomorrow, but if you’re an Atletico fan, prepare for a white-knuckler.
Barcelona vs. Lyon
|Barcelona -450||Draw +550||Lyon +950|
If you’re looking for a, “soccer is fluky, stuff can happen” kind of game, this one has the potential for an upset written all over it.
Barcelona hosts Lyon at Camp Nou, tied with an 0-0 aggregate. FiveThirtyEight has Barca at 76% to advance. Oddsmakers are more optimistic, listing them at -450 (with Lyon as a heavy dog at +950).
If you’re looking for clues in recent form, Barcelona haven’t lost since January 23rd (to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey). Sure, there are a number of draws recently and they’ve had their struggles (although the kind of struggles Barcelona has other clubs will kill for). Lyon lost February 24th to a struggling (though recently mildly resurgent) AS Monaco in Ligue 1.
With PSG eliminated, futures markets have Barcelona solely at second favorite overall to win the Champions League at +430 (Man City is +220). Barcelona should win this match. All it takes is that 10 second burst of brilliance from Lionel Messi. If Lyon wins, it’ll be one of those “park the bus, get a pk in the box in the last 10 minutes” kind of outcomes. Unlikely but not improbable. To paraphrase Lloyd Christmas, “so you’re telling me there is a chance.”
Bayern Munich vs. Liverpool
|Bayern Munich -110||Draw +250||Liverpool +240|
Your guess is as good as mine.
Seriously, who knows.
Oddsmakers and prognosticators don’t. FiveThirtyEight has Bayern at 53% to advance. While Bayern is a favorite to win at -110, books are hedging their own bets, giving Liverpool better futures to win the championship (+900 to Bayern’s +1100).
So much of this match depends on Jurgen Klopp‘s tactical strategy and line-up selection. Does he give a back-in-form Adam Lallana the start as a means to offensively energize Liverpool’s midfield? Or now that Lallana has looked strong, does Klopp ice him like he’s done with Shaqiri and Keita? If Liverpool aren’t breaking down Bayern’s backline in a 4-3-3, does Klopp go to the 4-2-3-1 he’s had success with this year?
Liverpool kept a clean sheet at Anfield despite not having Virgil van Dijk. He’s back this game. Bayern are without Thomas Müller again. Arjen Robben and Kingsley Coman are iffy. The reality is this game will come down to Liverpool’s front three. If Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah look as they did against Burnley this weekend, the Reds will advance. If they are plagued with heavy touches and poor link-up play, they won’t. If there was every a time for Mo Salah’s expected goals to see a regression to the mean, it’s now. Either way, expect this game to be a classic.
All three La Liga teams in the Champions League Round of 16 have good reason to like their chances of advancing to the final eight.
Real Madrid won a tough away match 2-1 against a talented opponent in Ajax. Atlético Madrid turned in one of the best halves of the round to beat Juventus and longtime nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo 2-0 at Wanda Metropolitano. Barcelona will return to Camp Nou with a great chance to advance against Lyon after a 0-0 draw.
Atlético Madrid-Juventus Champions League Leg 2
|Juventus -150||Draw +280||Atlético Madrid +430
Manager Diego Simeone’s side was as impressive as anyone in the Round of 16 on Wednesday against Juventus. Seeing them at +430 here is a bit of a surprise.
The stout defense and intensity that have long been Atleti hallmarks were on full display at Wanda Metropolitano. But it was the suddenly potent offense that gave the La Liga side the look of a team that could play for a Champions League trophy at its home stadium on June 1. Atlético scored both its goals on set pieces, with defenders José Giménez and Diego Godín scoring in the 78th and 83rd, respectively.
Juventus was fortunate it did not lose 4-0 or 5-0, as Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata all had great opportunities. Costa used his speed and physicality to get behind the defense twice. In the first half, he was tripped and earned his team a free kick. Later, he took a perfect pass from Griezmann and beat his man for a one-on-one opportunity against Juve keeper Wojciech Szczesny, but pushed the shot wide of the net in the 49th. Minutes later, Griezmann nearly chipped a beautiful goal over the head of Szczesny, who was able to push the ball to the crossbar with his fingertips. Morata then appeared to score his first goal since joining Atlético earlier this month, but VAR took his header off the board, ruling that he pushed his defender to make space.
Those chances all came on a night when Atleti also stifled CR7, who ripped a free kick that required a great save by Jan Oblak and had a chance at a late header, but was otherwise limited. Simeone and Co. will travel to Turin for the second leg a heavy favorite to reach the quarters. With another performance like Wednesday’s, nothing will seem out of reach for them in this tournament.
Barcelona-Lyon Champions League Leg 2
|Barcelona -440||Draw +550||Lyon +950
The team that fared “worst” of the bunch, Barcelona, needs only a win at home in the second leg. But it might officially be time to worry about the Catalans’ offensive woes. In Barça’s last four games – one in the Copa del Rey, two in La Liga and Tuesday’s CL match – they have scored just twice, and one of those came on a penalty kick by Lionel Messi. Thanks to strong defense and some incredible work by keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, the offensive issues have not produced any losses. Manager Ernesto Valverde’s side is going to have to find some scoring soon, though. Otherwise, it will be another early Champions League exit – at least by Blaugrana standards – after the club bowed out in the quarterfinals a year ago.
The lack of scoring against Lyon was particularly frustrating considering Barcelona took 25 (!) shots, but just five on goal. The recent drought is even more puzzling considering Barcelona has scored 61 goals in 24 La Liga matches this season. It’s hard to imagine a team with this much firepower continuing to struggle to finish in front of the net for long.
The encouraging news for Lyon is that they earned a draw without captain Nabil Fekir, who was suspended for Tuesday’s match. The striker’s return for the March 13 rematch, and the fact that Lyon can advance with a draw as long as they score, are legitimate reasons for optimism.
I wouldn’t bet against Barcelona, though, unless more injuries pile up between now and the second leg. The -440 price is long though.
Real Madrid-Ajax Champions League Leg 2
|Reak Madrid -170||Draw +320||Ajax +450
Los Blancos are in great position to advance thanks to a late goal by Marco Asensio in Amsterdam.
Ajax left this one feeling unlucky after a first-half goal was taken off the board when it was ruled that Dusan Tadic interfered with RM keeper Thibaut Courtois on a goal by Nicolas Tagliafico.
Neither team scored until Karim Benzema gave Real Madrid a 1-0 lead in the 60th after being set up by Vinicius Jr.
This was as evenly played as any round of 16 match-up, and the stats backed that up. Possession ended up exactly 50-50, and Real Madrid narrowly edged Ajax in shots on goal, 8-7. Even fouls (10 for Ajax, 11 for Real Madrid) and corners (three for Ajax, two for RM) were even.
The return leg at the Santiago Bernabéu will likely be another hard-fought battle, but homefield advantage plus the experience factor – not to mention the Spanish side’s edge on the scoreboard – mean the smart money is on RM to go through and give La Liga three teams in the quarterfinals.
Another week of Champions League Round of 16 matches in the books. Here’s what we know:
- F’ing City Aren’t Going Anywhere – For 85 or so minutes, it looked like Schalke 04 was going to pull off a stunner against Manchester City. The Sky Blues were down a man after an Otamendi red card. Then Leroy Sané equailzed in the 85th and Raheem Sterling iced it at 90′. If you’re a Liverpool fan [looking in the mirror], City’s resilience is a bad harbinger for the next few months.
- Liverpool Need to Dig Deeper – For a half, Liverpool looked like the far superior team to Bayern Munich. But then Bayern’s passing through the back, grind it down strategy took the steam out of the Reds attack (and their fans’ enthusiasm). Given City’s resilience in both the Champions League and Premier League, Liverpool need to dig deeper if they expect to land elusive hardware.
- Don’t Sleep on Lyon – Among HPS’ers, we felt there was a chance Barcelona could trip up against Lyon on Tuesday. The 0-0 tie still leaves Barcelona in the driver’s seat, but Lyon aren’t your typical Ligue 1 joke. They’ve beaten PSG recently and have a Champions League draw against Manchester City. Barcelona have tripped up unexpectedly in the UCL (Roma, anyone?). While we think Barcelona advances, if there’s an underdog with a puncher’s chance going into Leg 2, Lyon is worth a look. They keep games tight and low scoring, meaning a lucky break or fluky bounce can alter a seemingly given outcome.
- Atlético Madrid Will Advance – After a convincing 2-0 win against Juventus, Atleti’s odds to make the Champions League quarterfinals jumped to 86% on FiveThirtyEight. Keeping a clean sheet is the difference maker here. Juventus definitely wasn’t banking on this when they rolled the Brinks truck up to Ronaldo’s doorstep.
- VAR Is Going to Change Destinies – This is the first year the Champions League has used VAR, and it’s already altering games. VAR was critical in the Atleti-Juve contest, and it’ll change the trajectory of more games to come. VAR is here to stay, and we don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The La Liga table became a whole lot more compelling last weekend. Barcelona’s 2-2 draw against Valencia gave both Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid chances to close the gap. Real Madrid took full advantage, defeating Alavés 3-0. Second-place Atleti, however, suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss to Real Betis.
After those results, Barcelona (50 points) sits just six points clear of Atleti (44), while suddenly red-hot Real Madrid (42) has a chance to move into second place this weekend. All eyes will be on Los Blancos for their trip to Wanda Metropolitano to square off with their crosstown rival Saturday at 10:15 Eastern.
Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid Preview
|FanDuel Match Odds|
|Atlético Madrid +140||Draw +220
||Real Madrid +200|
The oddsmakers expect a close game. As usual, they’re probably right.
Real Madrid was going to enter this one on a tear in league play, regardless of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal first leg at Barcelona.
Following a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou (which we’ll break down at the end of this post), Real Madrid can boast of its strong recent form without anyone being able to attribute their success to “mediocre” opponents. Since a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad on Jan. 6 in league play, Santiago Solari’s men have won four La Liga matches in a row by a combined score of 11-3.
The buzz about the potency of the attack led by Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. will only grow with another strong performance against Diego Simeone’s squad. Benzema has scored three goals in the last two La Liga matches, while Vinicius followed a strong performance against Espanyol on January 27 with a goal in the win over Alavés, which earned him a spot in the starting lineup against Barça.
Álvaro Morata’s debut for the Rojiblancos did not go as planned for the former Real Madrid player or his new team. The loss to Real Betis was Atlético’s first in La Liga since September 1 and just its second of the season. Simeone and Co. are hoping Morata can combine with Antoine Griezmann to give the defensively stout club more scoring punch. Given his history with the opposition and the stage, few players in Europe will be under more scrutiny than Morata on Saturday.
The first meeting of the season between the Madrid rivals ended in a 0-0 draw back in September. That was actually one of the better results for Real Madrid during a brutal start to life without Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid controlled possession for 66% of that match and outshot Atlético, producing six shots on goal while allowing just three.
This promises to be a slugfest, and another low-scoring draw seems as likely as any outcome. It will be interesting to see how Real Madrid looks down the stretch after Wednesday’s clash with Barcelona. This will be the second of three road games in a row for Solari’s team, with Saturday’s clash sandwiched between the trip to Barcelona and next week’s Champions League Round of 16 match at Ajax.
It’s hard to pick against a team with just two losses in La Liga this year, especially one with a homefield advantage like Atlético’s, but I believe Real Madrid will pull off a victory and overtake its rival in second place.
Copa del Rey Takeaways
Barcelona and Real Madrid drew 1-1 in the first semifinal leg of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. Here are some key takeaways from the match.
Barcelona’s star started the game on the bench due to a thigh injury he suffered in the draw against Valencia. He came on for the final 30 minutes, but neither side managed to score during his time on the pitch. Wednesday was the latest example of Barcelona playing well against Real Madrid in Messi’s (partial, in this case) absence. The last two Clásicos Barcelona played without the Argentine were a 4-0 win on November 21, 2015 and the 5-1 romp earlier this season that led to a coaching change for Real Madrid. On Wednesday, it was Malcom, who started in place of Messi, who accounted for Barcelona’s lone goal.
Real Madrid Strikes Fast, Again
A quick goal from Lucas Vázquez, who found the back of the net in the sixth minute, helped subdue the packed house in the early going. It continued a positive recent trend for Real Madrid, which has scored first in five of its last six matches including La Liga and the Copa. Vázquez’s early score also marked the second time in four games that Real Madrid was on the board in less than 10 minutes after Benzema scored in the fourth minute against Espanyol on January 27.
Both teams seemed to come away from Wednesday’s match relatively pleased, apparently confident in their chances in the second leg on February 27. It’s hard to know exactly how meaningful that one will be. If Barcelona has managed to pull further away from the pack in La Liga by that time, one would expect the Copa will take on added importance for Real Madrid. The second leg of the Copa semifinal is scheduled for just a week before the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, which could also affect the managers’ lineup decisions for the match at the Santiago Bernabéu.
With La Liga leader Barcelona five points clear of second-place Atlético Madrid and 10 points clear of third-place Real Madrid, neither of the sides from the Spanish capital can afford anything less than three points this weekend.
The quality of Barcelona’s next three La Liga foes – Girona, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao do not scream murderer’s row, as they’re all currently ninth in the table or lower – makes it that much harder to imagine the Catalan club slipping up anytime soon.
So let’s preview Atlético-Getafe as this weekend’s most important La Liga fixture.
Atlético Madrid vs. Getafe Odds and Analysis
Tomorrow’s 10:15 a.m. ET game sees Atlético -180 to win. Despite placed a respectable 6th in the table, Getafe is a heavy away underdog at +600. The fixture is priced at +250 for a draw.
The first two things most of us associate with Atlético are toughness and defense, which have been Atleti staples since the breakout run in the ’13-14 Champions League. That year, the club took Europe by storm before falling to Real Madrid in the CL final. Ever since, thanks largely to its defense, Atlético has been one of the strongest teams in Spain, if not the continent.
The formula for success this season has not changed much, as Simeone’s side has – surprise, surprise – given up just 13 goals through 20 matches, the fewest in La Liga. Having been scored on just 16 times, Getafe is another defensive-minded club, and boast the second-stingiest defense in the Spanish league. For those looking forward to seeing Antoine Griezmann do his Take the L dance, you might want to tune in another week.
Atlético won the first match-up of the season between the two teams 2-0 back in September thanks to a brace from Thomas Lemar, one in the 14th and one in the 60th. Getafe had to finish that match with 10 men after Iván Alejo was sent off in the 67th minute. Atlético had possession for 59% of the game and converted two of its five shots on goal, while limiting Getafe’s looks, as Atleti keeper Jan Oblak had to make just two saves.
Antoine Griezmann and Co. have been hot lately, outscoring their last five league opponents 9-3 while notching four wins and a draw. Getafe has also played well of late, with three wins, a draw and a 2-1 loss to Barcelona in its last five.
The question on Saturday at Wanda Metropolitano will be whether Getafe Manager José Bordalás‘ team can generate enough scoring chances on the road to make the rematch more compelling down the stretch than the teams’ first meeting. It’s hard to imagine the visitors pulling off the upset, especially on the road. My (admittedly far from bold) prediction for this one is another game where a goal or two is more than enough for Atlético.
This is nevertheless a match-up worth watching. Getafe are currently in the middle of a cluster of teams from fourth through seventh in the table (between 29 and 33 points), and they can move closer to contention for a spot in European competition next season with an inspired performance.