Joao Felix fuels hype with a top performance in Atletico Madrid's 2-1 win over Juventus

Sooraj Kamath - Writer 00:01 11/08/2019
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Atletico Madrid maintained their 100 per cent win record in pre-season with a 2-1 triumph over Juventus in the International Champions Cup.

New-signing Joao Felix scored either side of Sami Khedira’s goal to help his team edge the champions of Italy.

Both teams made good use of their last friendly by testing many combinations and using most of the players at their disposal.

We take a look at the talking points from the closely contested affair.

New look Atletico Madrid, same old Diego Simeone

Atleti

There is probably no top club in Europe that has experienced a bigger overhaul than Atletico Madrid this summer. Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Rodri and Lucas Hernandez were some of the key players who left the club this transfer window. Joao Felix, Mario Hermoso, Marcos Llorente and Kieran Trippier were bought as replacements in their respective positions.

This big change was expected to trigger a change in their style of play too, given the new signings do not exactly mirror the profile of the players that departed. But manager Diego Simeone ensured Atletico won the game in the most Atletico way possible. Los Rojiblancos soaked up pressure and made the most of whatever little chances they created.

Atletico scored two goals from two shots on target out of a total seven. They enjoyed very little of the ball but struck hard in counters. In fact, both their goals arrived against the run of play. In contrast, five of Juventus’ 14 shots were on target and they scored just one goal. The resilience of Atletico’s defence and Jan Oblak’s heroics in goal were on display yet again.

This points to an encouraging find for Los Rojiblancos. While teams like Manchester United and Barcelona usually go through a transitional phase, it appears that Simeone’s philosophy can be incorporated immediately by the new set of players. The capital club is hence bound to be a threat in the league despite experiencing a massive reshuffle in the squad.

Douglas Costa – One to watch

Douglas Costa was Juventus’ best player on the field. The winger lit up the play and was a constant threat on the right wing. The most important aspect of his game was that his dribbles and clever runs usually contained an end product. This, paired with good decision-making, ensured the Brazilian had a good outing against Atletico.

It will be interesting to see what the new season has in store for the 28-year-old. He missed most of last season due to injuries but has finally recovered to full fitness. His dazzling runs on the right combined with Cristiano Ronaldo playing the fox in the box could produce many goals this season.

Costa’s tendency to cut in and have a go at goal himself makes him a dangerous player against a team that likes to defend deep. He was unlucky on a couple of occasions to find Atletico bodies in the trajectory of his shot but he could be the key for Juve should they encounter a defence they fail to unlock.

Maurizio Sarri heavily favoured Willian at Chelsea and Costa is a player with a very similar profile. This means that the Brazilian is one to watch out for as he is likely to play a major role at the club this season.

Joao Felix is magic

This performance will contribute to the immense hype that is surrounding Atletico’s record signing Felix. The Portugal international possesses high potential and his price tag of €126 million, though steep, may not prove to be so exorbitant a couple of years from now.

The promise of a bright future aside, Felix showed that he is already a top player who could immediately assume the throne left vacant by Griezmann. Traits such as the striker’s instinct and positional awareness can only get better with time and Felix is already at a very good level.

His first goal was a well-taken half-volley that was perfectly placed beyond Wojciech Szczesny’s reach. The second was a trademark striker’s goal where he got ahead of Matthijs de Ligt to slot home Thomas Lemar’s cross with his first touch.

A top performance against a top defence warrants more hype and Felix is very likely to live up to it.

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La Liga's top 10 transfers of last 10 years - have they hit the spot or missed the mark?

Matt Jones - Editor 07:20 08/08/2019
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Ah, the summer. For football fans it can be the best and worst time. The transfer window can either fill the void left by meaningful games, or it becomes an unwanted distraction as the constant scheming, planning and rumour-mongering tumbles out of an incessant transfer market which never seems to end.

And yet, there’s something so captivating when your club signs a new player – be it someone the manager has coveted for a while, a surprise coup who has been stolen away from under the nose of a rival or an up-and-coming talent.

Of course, that excitement can rise or fall depending on how well the player performs in the ensuing season and how much money is forked over.

When shelling out big bucks, returns are naturally expected. But as you can see below, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Here, we take a look at the 10 most expensive La Liga signings in each of the last 10 summers, and deliver a verdict on whether they’ve flourished or flopped.

2018/19 | THOMAS LEMAR | £63m | Monaco to Atletico Madrid

Thomas Lemar 1

Was Lemar’s disappointing debut campaign in Spain a simple case of adjusting to higher climes, or has he simply been found out at the elite level?

Like the man signed a summer before him, time will tell, but Lemar certainly found La Liga a big leap after leaving the comforts of Ligue 1.

The versatile midfielder rocketed in 14 goals during 2016/17 season for Monaco – one in which the Principality side ended a 16-year title drought and, briefly, halted the Paris Saint-Germain juggernaut.

His output plummeted the following season, but Atleti were still tempted to part with a then club-record fee for the livewire attacker.

However, another lifeless debut season followed as a paltry three goals were produced from 36 appearances in Rojiblancos colours last term, leaving critics wondering if – like Monaco’s championship-winning campaign – Lemar was a flash in the pan.

Hey, anyone can endure a rocky first season. Especially if you’re moving to a superior league and team. So one underwhelming Spain campaign should not be a stick to lash Lemar with. But another lacklustre campaign and he will likely be leaving the Wanda Metropolitano.

HIT or MISS: MISS

2017/18 | OUSMANE DEMBELE | £112.5m | Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-DEMBELE

It certainly feels a little too early to judge the dynamic Dembele on two, injury-interrupted years at the Camp Nou. But it’s also clear a pivotal season approaches for a precocious talent – who may yet not even be in situ at the Camp Nou come the start of the campaign.

Still only 22, the Frenchman has dealt with sickness and injury issues during his spell in Catalonia, problems that can befall any player. Yet, it also appears as if Dembele is his own worst enemy, with unprofessionalism (he has been late to training and team meetings on numerous occasions), nutrition (not adhering to a healthy diet) and even an apparent video game obsession which impacts his sleep, presenting the feeling Dembele is a self-destructive character sabotaging his career.

He’s been linked with various clubs this summer as a makeweight for the Blaugrana’s reported desire to bring Neymar back to the club, while Antoine Griezmann’s arrival does little to cement his future.

Injured towards the end of last season he still scored 14 goals in 42 appearances so there’s a world-class talent in there somewhere. It seems to be a simple case of does he want to become one or not?

HIT or MISS: MISS

2016/17 | ANDRE GOMES | £33.3m | Valenica to Barcelona

Andre Gomes 2

You may know him as the stylish yet gritty midfielder who dazzled and delighted at Goodison Park while on loan at Everton last season.

But in Spain, Gomes is remembered as a Barcelona flop. Now, we all know Barca and Real Madrid fans tend to be fickle, but when you’re voted the worst signing of the season by readers of Marca, you must have been pretty shocking.

It was a rapid fall from grace for the midfielder, now 26, who arrived in Catalonia on the back of earning a European Championships winners’ medal with Portugal in 2016.

He was signed with plenty of pedigree, having come through the ranks at Benfica and then honing his skills in two years with Valencia. But, as plenty of other players have discovered, coming to the Camp Nou can be daunting.

And Gomes insists his biggest problem was the pressure he put on himself following a €35m move. He consulted a psychologist to help him at Barcelona and admits he needed the loan to Everton to rediscover his self-belief.

He’s now made the permanent switch to Merseyside and is hoping to get stuck in to the Toffees’ attempts to crack the Premier League’s top six.

HIT or MISS: MISS

2015/16 | MATEO KOVACIC | £34.2m | Inter Milan to Real Madrid

MateoKovacic

A man with three Champions League crowns and one La Liga title to his names is a miss, we hear you cry? Well, essentially, yes. Especially when you struggle to break through and convince the manager you’re an essential component.

Real made a tidy profit on Kovacic when he joined Chelsea permanently this summer, and it’s not as if he was a total flop at the Bernabeu. But after a promising debut season under Rafa Benitez in 2015/16 where the versatile midfielder was utilised in different areas, Zinedine Zidane used him increasingly infrequently. He was only a part-time starter when Los Blancos banked the league title the following season and he failed to score a goal during his third campaign.

The problem was, Kovacic was kind of supposed to be the long-term successor to fellow Croatia midfield metronome Luka Modric, yet the student never was able to outsmart the master. In fact, the former Tottenham man was so superior he became the first player to break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi duopoly on the Ballon d’Or in a decade.

Kovacic, meanwhile, slunk off to Chelsea on loan where his solid if unspectacular meandering continued. A permanent £41m transfer was confirmed earlier this summer.

HIT or MISS: MISS

2014/15 | LUIS SUAREZ | £73.55m | Liverpool to Barcelona

Luis Suarez

Love him or loathe him, there’s no mistaking what an utterly sublime striker Luis Suarez is. Lauded and loved at Liverpool, the Uruguayan has been brilliantly breathtaking at Barcelona, even if his form is supposedly sloping recently.

Last season he still managed a sublime 25 goals in 49 games – putting on par with his efforts during his debut 2014/15 campaign.

He teamed up to complete the greatest attacking trio in world football when he came to the Camp Nou in 2014 – linking up with Lionel Messi and Neymar. In fact, linking up is putting it lightly.

A frankly preposterous 2015/16 campaign saw Suarez smash in 59 goals in 53 games. He outscored mercurial Messi (41) by a staggering 18 goals and Neymar (31) by 28 goals – despite only playing four more games than both team-mates.

Condemned for racially abusing Man United’s Patrice Evra while at Liverpool and embroiled in three separate biting incidents during his career, Suarez can often be hard to stomach at times.

But there is no topping his thirst for goals and he has chewed out defences for fun during five years at the Camp Nou, where he has also found silverware to his taste too.

Four La Liga and four Copa del Reys have been hoisted in five years, while he also earned a Champions League-winners’ medal in his first season, scoring in the 3-1 final victory over Juventus as part of 25 goals and 20 assists in all competitions that term.

HIT or MISS: HIT

2013/14 | GARETH BALE | £90m |  Tottenham to Real Madrid

bale

It’s turned ugly for Bale at Real. Zidane is back and trying to force him out, and the majority of the fan base seem to be on board, yet no other top teams appear to want or – more realistically – can afford the Welshman. It’s all making for a rather messy end to his Bernabeu career, but let’s not forget what Bale has brought to Los Blancos.

As has been stated above. There’s nothing more fickle in football than a Real Madrid or Barcelona fan. They’re a demanding, impatient bunch who expect, nay demand, success. Always.

Bale was brought off the bench with the scores 1-1 against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool. Minutes later he scored arguably the tournament’s greatest ever goal, adding a fortuitous third late on to seal a 3-1 win and Madrid’s third straight title and fourth in five years – 13th overall.

And yet, following a fruitless season in which he was admittedly very poor, and the stark reality of Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution was laid bare, the knives have come out.

Forgotten are the mesmerising, crucial goals (remember the speed-induced run from his own half against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final). More remembered are the injuries and insipid periods.

Madrid fans are now quick to speak ill of Bale, but 102 goals in 231 appearances speaks for itself.

HIT or MISS: HIT

2012/13 | LUKA MODRIC | £31.5m | Tottenham to Real Madrid

Luka Modric

Even if Modric’s influence at the Bernabeu has dwindled in the last year or so, there is no doubt he has played a crucial role in the success of Los Blancos – on the continent at least.

While Cristiano Ronaldo has made a mockery of European and domestic defences and plundered goals and trophies – individual and collective – for fun, the diminutive Modric has been the beating heart that has underpinned it all.

His peak came last year, claiming the Ballon d’Or in December – the first man not named Ronaldo or Messi to claim the crown in a decade. OK, so his feats guiding Croatia to the World Cup final played a huge part, but Modric contributed four goals for Madrid in the league – his joint highest since joining, played in his third most games and was joint sixth for assists in La Liga.

And although the 33-year-old (he will turn 34 in September) is certainly at the top of slope looking down on the rest of his career, there is little doubt he remains an integral player for Madrid – for the forthcoming season at least.

A Marca article this week described the trio of Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro as Europe’s “untouchable midfield”. And it’s interesting that in a frenzied summer of activity, the midfield is the only area left untouched by Zidane.

That would obviously change if Madrid could stump up the cash for Paul Pogba, but that doesn’t detract from the fact Modric remains a mercurial presence.

HIT or MISS: HIT

2011/12 | CESC FABREGAS | £30.6m | Arsenal to Barcelona

Barcelona's new player Cesc Fabregas (C)

Fabregas returned to where it all began this time eight years ago, where he enjoyed a glorious homecoming and hoovered up a rich haul of trophies in a glittering three-year spell back at his boyhood club.

Having left the confines of the Camp Nou as a teenager to develop in England, Fabregas doubled his tally of trophies lifted at Arsenal in his first season back in the Blaugrana shirt – winning the Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Copa del Rey. mpionship – to his cabinet a year later and again reached double figures for goals (14) as well as replicating the feat (13) in his third and final season.

As much as Fabregas returning home provided football aficionados with a heart-warming story, in reality it was the player’s longing for sustained success that was intrinsic to the move, having grown frustrated with the Arsenal chapter of his career.

Despite being a key figure during his return to Catalan giants, he was unable to truly force his way past the likes of icons Xavi and Andres Iniesta – a fate which led to his Premier League return with Arsenal’s rivals Chelsea in 2014.

HIT or MISS: HIT

2010/11 | DAVID VILLA | £36m | Valencia to Barcelona

David Villa

An all too brief stint in the Blaugrana colours, but there can be little doubt that Villa’s stay was a vibrant one for both player and club.

It didn’t take long for the power-packed forward to both start earning his keep and endear himself to the Camp Nou faithful, scoring twice during his first El Clasico against Real Madrid in November 2010, as Barca romped to a 5-0 win.

He also sealed the club’s fourth Champions League crown – and third in five years – when he delightfully curled in the third goal as Manchester United were beaten 3-1 at Wembley the following May.

A broken tibia in the Club World Cup clash with Al Sadd that December curtailed his 2011/12 season, and ruined his chances of being part of a second European Championship-winning Spain squad, but he still found the net nine times in 24 games.

He added 16 goals in 43 mainly substitute appearances during 2012/13 as he claimed a second La Liga title, but his diminished role saw him leave for Atletico Madrid at the end of the season. He notched 48 goals in 119 total games for Barca.

HIT or MISS: HIT

2009/10 | CRISTIANO RONALDO | £84.6m | Manchester United to Real Madrid

Cristiano-Ronaldo-Real-Madrid

Um…really. We don’t really need to write anything here, but we will because…well, it basically writes itself.

Here goes: Real Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer (451), most hat-tricks in La Liga history (34), the fastest player to reach 100, 150 and 300 goals in La Liga history, most goals in the Champions League (126), most goals in the Champions League knockout stages (65), most goals in a single Champions League season (17).

He was the Champions League’s top scorer in 2007/08, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 and, along with Lionel Messi, has the most amount of Balon d’Or trophies – claiming it in 2008 (at Man United), 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Ronaldo won two La Liga titles with Real and two Copa del Reys as well as, of course, playing a significant role in Los Blancos’ brilliant run of three consecutive Champions League wins from 2016-18 and four triumphs in five years.

Did we leave anything out? Probably lots, but it matters little. Along with Messi, Ronaldo is the best player of his generation. The Argentine probably shades it in all honesty, but he’s the more naturally gifted player.

The Portugal powerhouse, meanwhile, has had to slog; developing, honing and working tirelessly to maintain his impeccably high standards and formidable goalscoring record throughout his glittering career.

HIT or MISS: HIT

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Diego Lainez, Adria Pedrosa and other La Liga youngsters who could break out in the 2019/20 season

Sport360 staff 13:56 06/08/2019
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Diego Lainez has shown promise of a high ceiling

Rodri, Maxi Gomez, Dani Ceballos, Junior Firpo, Vinicius Junior, Carles Alena, and Carles Soler were just some of the youngsters tipped for greatness in La Liga in the past couple of years.

While some players managed to get close to the high ceiling that has been predicted for them, others have failed to reach the heights that their potential promised.

Who are the ones to look out for in this campaign? Here are five potential breakout stars …

1. Diego Lainez (Real Betis)

He may only be 19 years of age, but Diego Lainez is already a superstar in Mexico. After making his debut for Club América at 16, he regularly contributed for his side and never seemed fazed to be playing at a stadium as grand as the Azteca in Mexico City. Signed by Real Betis in January, his story in European football is only just beginning. There have been glimpses of his skill and sheer ability during his first few months in Spain and supporters at the club are already getting hyped about the winger.

2. Bryan Gil (Sevilla)

Bryan Gil became the first player born in the 21st century to score a goal in La Liga when he found the back of the net against Rayo Vallecano for Sevilla back in April. The 18-year-old was making an appearance off the bench, something that became more and more of a regular occurrence towards the end of the season. While he’s still raw, it’s clear that he can do magical things with a football and his special left foot will surely be responsible for many more goals over the coming years.

3. Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)

Villarreal came up big at the business end of last season to avoid relegation, thanks in no small part to Samuel Chukwueze. The 19-year-old Nigerian winger made his debut for the Yellow Submarine during their Europa League campaign and quickly gained the trust of the coaching staff, establishing himself as a regular starter in La Liga. Chukwueze repaid that trust scoring crucial goals against relegation rivals Rayo Vallecano and Girona, as well as netting against Barcelona in the thrilling 4-4 draw in April. Chukwueze has shown that he is talented and, luckily for us, that he is a lot of fun to watch. Keep it coming, Samuel!

4. Waldo Rubio (Real Valladolid)

Real Valladolid were able to save themselves from relegation thanks to a strong finish to the 2018/19 season and a major factor during their winning run-in was Waldo Rubio. The 23-year-old winger was only promoted from the club’s B team in March, but he hit the ground running in the top division and scored a memorable and crucial winner against Athletic Club with just a couple of games remaining. Having recently signed a contract extension until 2022, he is just one reason for fans at the José Zorrilla to get excited for this coming season.

5. Adrià Pedrosa (Espanyol)

Last season was one to remember for Adrià Pedrosa. He has long been one of the top prospects in the Espanyol academy and, after performing well with their B team during the first half of last season, was promoted to the senior squad and quickly displaced veteran Didac Vila as the side’s starting left-back. Pedrosa looked at ease playing in La Liga and, in addition to his solid defensive work, showed that he can get forward, scoring a stunning goal against Alaves and setting up another with an 80-metre run against Atletico Madrid. Keep an eye on Pedrosa as Espanyol launch their European campaign this season!

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