Grading Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid's summer transfer business

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Zinedine Zidane, Diego Simeone and Ernesto Valverde

Real Madrid and Barcelona are bound by opposing aims, and the two La Liga rivals weaponised the transfer market with similar tactics – by spending the defence budget of a small nation.

Barca are desperate for Champions League success and Real desire another La Liga crown as the two El Clasico rivals underwent major squad renovations over the summer.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid were forced into changes of their own.

With the Spanish transfer window shut and the summer of whispers now quiet, we grade the business of the top three La Liga sides.

All transfer figures and spends have been collated from


Expenditures = €305.5m

Income = €130m

Key Arrivals = Eden Hazard (€100m – Chelsea), Luka Jovic (€60m – Eintracht Frankfurt), Eder Militao (€50m – Porto), Ferland Mendy (€48m – Lyon), Rodrygo (€45m – Santos), Alphonse Areola (Loan fee €2m – PSG)

Key Departures = Mateo Kovacic (€45m – Chelsea), Marcos Llorente (€30m – Atletico Madrid), Raul de Tomas (€20m – Benfica), Theo Hernandez (€20m – AC Milan), Keylor Navas (€15m – PSG)

EdenHazardRealMadrid (1)

What they needed to do

The club famed for its Galactico squads crashed to earth last season, and major surgery was required to rebuild their own version of The Six Million Dollar Man.

Zinedine Zidane was convinced of a return by the promise of big departures and even bigger arrivals.

Their midfield had grown stale in 2018/19 with the dwindling creation from Toni Kroos and Luka Modric making that a key area for investment.

Karim Benzema needed genuine competition up front and ultimately a long-term replacement with the same strategy required across the defence.

The club’s pivot away from acquiring the best young players to simply the best players period was the thread Zidane wanted to weave into his new approach. Sales were necessary to balance the books with the Frenchman desperate to offload unwanted assets like Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.

What they got done

Real Madrid’s summer spree was a bit like buying a tailored Zegna suit and then pairing it up with used Reebok Classics.

At eye level, everything looks dashing, but then the whole ensemble was ruined when taken in full view.

For this analogy, attackers Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic provided all the stylish verve of a jacket and tie, while defenders Eder Militao and Ferland Mendy were the shirt and trousers of the operation. It was all coming together nicely.

For the first phase of the transfer window, Real were wheeling out the runway at the Bernabeu virtually every day to parade their dapper acquisitions.

To their credit, all seemed good. Hazard filled the Galatico-shaped hole left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, Jovic finally represented genuine competition to Benzema, Militao likewise can challenge Raphael Varane and Mendy replaces Marcelo’s defensive negligence.

Only one piece remained – a creative talent in midfield. Paul Pogba was Zidane’s No1 choice and so we waited. And waited. And waited. It seemed a move for the Manchester United man hinged on the sales of Bale and James, neither left, resulting in Zidane being stuck with two players he categorically didn’t want and without the one man he did.

Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek were both linked, but nothing was concrete and so Real have sashayed into the new season on the same tired feet.

In fact, through the exits of Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos and Mateo Kovacic, they ended up severely weakened in midfield with Zidane one injury away from careering off track.

Strongest 2019/20 line-up

4-3-3 Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Ferland Mendy; Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard


Expenditures = €243.5m

Income = €313.1m

Key Arrivals = Joao Felix (€126m – Benfica), Marcos Llorente (€30m – Real Madrid), Mario Hermoso (€25m – Espanyol), Kieran Trippier (€22m – Tottenham), Felipe (€20m – Porto), Renan Lodi (€20m – Athletico Paranaense)

Key Departures = Antoine Griezmann (€120m – Barcelona), Lucas Hernandez (€80m – Bayern Munich), Rodri (€70m – Manchester City), Gelson Martins (€30m – Monaco), Luciano Vietto (€7.5m – Sporting), Diego Godin (Free – Inter Milan), Filipe Luis (Free – Flamengo), Juanfran (Free – Sao Paulo)

Joao Felix

What they needed to do

As much as six players were ripped out of Atletico’s first XI and it wasn’t just that they were losing bodies, but players who formed a rich part of Diego Simeone’s philosophy.

Essentially, Atleti’s identity was taken away and piecing that back together was always going to be a herculean task.

Indeed, it’s fair to say Simeone had the biggest job on his hands from the trio of Spanish clubs, with virtually his entire defence in bits after Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Juanfran all left on a free.

Antoine Griezmann made his desire to leave clear with the sale of Lucas Hernandez was agreed in January, heralding a new and unknown era. Manchester City poaching Rodri left Atleti spineless and it was always going to be impossible to find clones in terms of both playing attributes and mentality.

But one advantage is that Simeone’s brand of football is distinctive, and so effectively Atleti were buying traits to extenuate their philosophy.

What they got done

Despite the massive turnover, Atleti reinvested wisely, bringing in players to fill key positions but also ones that offered something a little bit different.

Of course, Simeone was likely going to stick with his favoured 4-4-2 formation in some guise, which relies on supreme defensive organisation and work-rate throughout the side.

But in smashing their club-record transfer fee to sign Joao Felix, Atleti possess a player of pure flair who operates in between the lines to create and score goals. As opposed to bludgeoning opponents, Felix gives Simeone a feathered dagger and a fresh approach to scoring goals.

There’s a similar thinking with Kieran Trippier, a signing which is peculiar given his defensive deficiencies but makes sense given how high Simeone wants his full-backs this season.

Mario Hermoso has a lot of potential and versatility across the backline, Renan Lodi is an exciting young left-back who relieves Saul of the need to play there and Felipe provides competition at centre-back.

Their buy for midfield is a quintessential Simeone player. Marcos Llorente is a real smart signing, bringing a lot of energy and sharp passing into the middle.

But the signing which makes them one of the biggest winners this summer is Felix, who is already showing that the enormous transfer fee could be justified, something even this humbled author didn’t expect to see.

Strongest 2019/20 line-up

4-4-2: Jan Oblak; Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savic, Jose Gimenez, Renan Lodi; Saul, Marcos Llorente, Thomas Lemar, Koke; Joao Felix, Alvaro Morata


Expenditures = €255m

Income = €156.4m

Key Arrivals = Antoine Griezmann (€120m – Atletico Madrid), Frenkie de Jong (€75m – Ajax), Neto (€26m – Valencia), Junior Firpo (€18m – Real Betis)

Key Departures = Malcom (€40m – Zenit St. Petersburg), Jasper Cillessen (€35m – Valencia), Andre Gomes (€25m – Everton), Paco Alcacer (€21m – Borussia Dortmund), Denis Suarez (€12.9m – Celta Vigo), Philippe Coutinho (Loan fee €8.5m – Bayern Munich), Rafinha (Loan fee €1.5m – Celta Vigo)

AntoineGriezmannBarcelona (1)

What they needed to do

Fresh faces detached from the embarrassing nature of Barca’s last two Champions League exits.

Their ambition is clear and winning Europe’s top honour necessitated for premier players to be signed.

Metronome Sergio Busquets is now entering his physical decline, making more passing errors last season than ever before, and so adding more legs in midfield was crucial, especially given how Liverpool’s greater athleticism railroaded them last season.

Luis Suarez will be 33 in January and there is no other recognised No9 ready to step up and ultimately take his place in the long-term.

While the team is built around Lionel Messi, alleviating the massive creative burden from his shoulders was undoubtedly a significant aim because whenever he’s not in the side, Barca struggle immensely.

Competition at left-back was also another position to recruit for, but otherwise the defence was well stocked. Philippe Coutinho proved to be a massive dud and so moving him off the wage bill was paramount to their ability to bring in big names.

What they got done

Neymar was supposed to be the one left in the shadow as opposed to casting one, but his specter loomed over Barcelona all summer.

In the end, the club never had the funds available to meet PSG’s asking price which was to recoup most of their world-record €220 million outlay.

Having signed Griezmann, it was never realistic they could sign both in the same window without selling off their major assets and with Coutinho only interesting Bayern, and only on loan, that was one man of value a big chunk of cash couldn’t be scraped from.

However, as hard as that is, ignore Neymar and the rest of Barca’s business made a lot of sense.

The deal to take Frenkie de Jong from Ajax was agreed in January and in the Dutchman, Barca have one of the finest young midfield talents in their ranks.

His flexibility to play multiple roles is a bonus but ultimately he will serve as the long-term successor to Busquets, bringing a more athletic personality to the No6 role, as well his signature press-resistant style and pristine progressive passing.

Griezmann at 28 years old is a prime force and given Ousmane Dembele’s struggles in a Barca shirt, having him play off the left and Messi on the right means Ernesto Valverde has plenty of ingenuity going forward.

Junior Firpo is one of the most enterprising full-backs in Europe and is a shrewd capture to support Jordi Alba.

Now, the big negative is not finding an adequate No9. The club scouted Luka Jovic and failed to convince him of a move to Camp Nou and there didn’t seem to be any alternatives.

Griezmann is an awkward fit and so Valverde is left dreadfully short up front, something he’s painfully come to realise now Suarez is already injured.

Strongest 2019/20 line-up

4-3-3: Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic; Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann

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