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La Liga preview: Three-peat for Barcelona?

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As we close out the decade, Barcelona has been far and away the best team in Spain, and possibly Europe, over the last ten years. This summer, they may have gotten even stronger.

The La Liga season kicks off on Friday, with Barcelona going for its third-straight league title and eighth in the last ten years. Barcelona won the 2019 title by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and a stunning 19 points over rivals Real Madrid. Now, as Barca gets set to face Athletic Bilbao in the season opener, it’s upgraded at key positions that could give Barcelona what it needs to win the league again, and even potentially the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Barcelona this summer signed France World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann, French defender Jean-Clair Todibo and Spanish defender Junior Firpo. But the crown jewel could be central midfielder Frenkie de Jong. The former Ajax star has trained in the Dutch possession model for the last two years, which Barcelona bears a strong resemblance to.

As such, de Jong has seamlessly transitioned to the Barcelona squad, and could make Barcelona the team to beat in Europe for many years to come. Imagine de Jong spraying passes to Lionel 2Messi, and Barcelona could start winning matches 4-1, 5-0, on a consistent basis.

Nipping on Barcelona’s heels this coming season will likely be Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone, in his ninth season in charge, has probably had the best transfer window of any team in La Liga. Despite losing veterans like Griezmann, Diego Godin, Juanfran, Felipe Luis and young stars like Rodri (Man City) and Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Simeone and the Atletico board have brought in some of the brightest stars that can light up La Liga.

The star of the bunch is Joao Felix. The 19-year-old has started life incredibly with Atletico as he’s scored three goals and dished out four assists in preseason action. Atleti also added former Tottenham right back Kieran Trippier and brought untested but talented midfielder Marcos Llorente over from Real Madrid. The new improvements have helped make Atleti an even better attacking team. That may seem against Simeone’s principals, but perhaps with Diego Costa leading the line this season and Felix on the left, we could see an Atleti squad outscoring its opponents, rather than grinding out low-scoring games.

On the other side of Madrid is Real Madrid, and at the moment, it’s not looking good. Los Blancos had plenty of hope last spring, when Zinedine Zidane returned to take over as coach and Real fans hoped for a big change this summer.

Instead, it’s been just more of the same. Yes, Real Madrid has brought in Eden Hazard, Eder Militao and Luka Jovic among others. But according to reports, the one player Zidane wanted Real Madrid to sign the most was Paul Pogba. Unless something drastic changes at Old Trafford, that won’t happen.

Meanwhile, the backline has hardly changed. Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Nacho are still around, and while Militao and Ferland Mendy bring some youth to the backline, it’s still not a world-class unit. Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro struggled at times during the season, and while Vinicius Jr. is a talent, Hazard’s arrival means there’s less playing time for the Brazilian.

Plus, there’s the distraction of James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale still in the squad, plus Marco Asensio’s season-ending injury. It may be a somewhat tough year in the center of Madrid this year.

Spurs defender Kieran Trippier officially joins Atletico Madrid

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A transfer that only became legitimately rumored one day ago has come to fruition as Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier completed a move to Atletico Madrid, the two clubs confirmed.

The move is for a reported transfer fee of about $25 million plus add-ons and sees Trippier become Atletico Madrid’s first English player in over 90 years.

The 28-year-old signed a team-friendly three-year deal with Atleti, keeping him tied to the Spanish side through the summere of 2022. Trippier will hope to replace the retired Juanfran, and will no doubt benefit from the coaching of Diego Simeone, but it will be interesting to see a player with some defensive deficiencies look to earn a place in the starting lineup of such a defensively stout team.

Trippier leaves Tottenham after a four-year spell where he made 114 appearances for the club across all competitions after joining from Burnley in 2015. However, he began to lose his consistent starting place at Spurs over the past year after a dip in form this past season. While he started the Champions League final, Juan Foyth began to take Trippier’s place as the third center-back in Mauricio Pochettino‘s three-at-the-back system, and both Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters began to challenge for the traditional right-back role.

There is a lot of risk for the England international in this move. With such a short contract, he could be shopped by Atletico Madrid if he does not lock down a first-team place in his first year, with clubs often looking to cash in on players with two years left on their deal before market value dips. He also will need playing time to earn his place on the England national team, having played a starting role for the country at the 2018 World Cup but with plenty of competition at his place. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, and the versatile Joe Gomez all made the England squad over Trippier for the recent Nations League semifinals and finals.

Reports: Kieran Trippier flies to Spain for Atletico Madrid medical

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According to a host of reports across England including Sky Sports, The Telegraph, and The Guardian, Tottenham defender Kieran Trippier is flying to Spain for a medical ahead of a move to Atletico Madrid.

This transfer has expedited extremely rapidly over the last 12 to 24 hours, with nearly all reports connecting the two parties coming out today.

According to the reports, a base fee of $25 million has been agreed upon with add-ons on top of that, as Atletico Madrid looks to replace the retiring Juanfran. The medical seems to be a preemptive measure, with work seemingly still to do on the transfer, as Sky says the deal could be completed “by the weekend.”

Trippier, a 28-year-old England international who started for his country at the World Cup last summer, has three years left on his Tottenham contract. Trippier’s emergence saw him mentioned alongside the best right-backs in the league, but at times last season defensive flaws were exposed despite the club’s title chase and run to the Champions League final. Towards the end of last season, young Juan Foyth at times was preferred in the back-three.

All the reports state that Trippier is not expected to travel with the team to Singapore on Wednesday for the club’s preseason tour.

Tottenham still has Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters to take over at Trippier’s right-back position, but there would be some work needed in that regard. Trippier was molded from a natural right-back into a center-back option as part of a back-three both at the club and international level, and it doesn’t seem like the two remaining options would be able to fit that role. Aurier is a marauding wing-back with more attacking ability than defensive, while Walker-Peters is a 22-year-old who can dribble but has shown inconsistent defensive abilities and at this point struggles in the air and crossing.

Instead, should Pochettino stay with a three-CB formation, Foyth would likely start over either those two at the back given his versatility and sharp rise through both the club and international ranks. Foyth impressed enough this summer at the Copa America that he could even get looks at center-back or right-back in a traditional defensive setup.

Man City activates release clause of Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodrigo

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It’s been a busy day – and summer – at the Wanda Metripolitano.

After sealing the arrival of midfielder Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid confirmed on Wednesday that Manchester City activated the release clause of 23-year-old Rodrigo, leaving the club no choice but to ship the youngster to the Premier League side. The release clause totaled $79 million, setting a new transfer record at Man City.

Rodrigo joined the club just last summer from Villareal for $25 million, representing a significant return on investment for Atletico Madrid in just one season. He played a heavy role last campaign as Atleti finished second in the La Liga table, appearing 34 times in league play and scoring three goals. He racked up 3,675 minutes during the season across all competitions, fourth-most on the entire squad and more than fellow midfielders Koke and Thomas Partey.

A defensive midfielder, Rodrigo represents an important acquisition for Manchester City. The club’s biggest struggles over the last two title-winning seasons have come during spells without Fernandinho, who has been sidelined at times by knee and thigh problems. With the Brazilian now 34 years old, securing a young, starting-caliber defensive midfielder is a smart investment at a thin position.

Their previous transfer record was the $75 million acquisition of Riyad Mahrez last summer, which itself topped the $72 million purchase of Aymeric Laporte and the $68 million for Kevin De Bruyne.

It has been a summer of change at Atletico Madrid, with club fixtures Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, and Juanfran all leaving for various reasons plus the big-money departures of Rodrigo, Lucas Hernandez, and Gelson Martins. Marcos Llorente, Felipe, and Herrera have arrived with the hopes of filling the void, and there are likely more incoming transfers to be secured.

Godin confirms Atletico Madrid departure this summer

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Diego Godin has officially confirmed that he will leave Atletico Madrid this summer after nine seasons at the club, and Sunday’s La Liga match against Sevilla will be his last home match.

The 33-year-old defender will see his contract expire at the end of the season, and confirmed in a special press conference that the two sides could not come to an agreement on an extension.

“I’m more nervous than for any game, it’s the truth,” Godin said in an emotional open to his press conference, fighting back tears. “These are going to be my last days at Atletico Madrid.”

While he was mum on the details of the contract dispute, Godin had nothing but wonderful things to say of his time in the Spanish capital. “As a kid I dreamed of playing football, playing for Uruguay, playing in Europe, be a big player, but never thought I’d be at a stadium like this with the people cheering your name. There is nothing nicer than that.”

Godin refused to be drawn in on the details of the disagreement between the two parties other than confirming there was a failure to come to an agreement. “To be simple, I am captain of the team, have been here many years,” Godin said. “We have not reached an agreement to continue, so my stage here is over, the nicest of my career and my life.” There is speculation that at his age, the club did not want to commit to a two-year contract, and he received another offer from elsewhere that was more attractive.

Atletico Madrid is in a state of serious flux this summer. Longtime players Felipe Luis and Juanfran are also out of contract and their future has not been decided yet. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak is the subject of rumors mainly in the Premier League with a number of top English teams looking for a stellar goalkeeper in his prime. Manager Diego Simeone has received interest from across Europe for a number of years, and it’s possible this summer he decides for a new challenge.