Soccer

Big Changes for Real Madrid and Barcelona

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Spain’s “Silly Season” has seen its share of drama: on-again, off-again signings, big transfers and complete fire sales.

Most of the news, as always, has centered around the two-headed cartel of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Barcelona signed David Villa with money it didn’t have, and were about to get Cesc Fabregas with even more money it didn’t have. Only, they didn’t. But then they were about to until Arsene Wenger put his foot down and said, “No.” So we have another summer of Cesc drama to look forward to next year.

Yawn.

Barca did sign Adriano, though – the average one who has plied his trade for Sevilla the last few years, not the big oaf who used to amble about for Inter and is now back in Italy with Roma. Meanwhile, the two-time defending league champions sold Dmytro Chygrynskiy for 15 million euros to Shakhtar Donetsk – the same club they bought the defender for to the tune of 25 million just a year earlier. Yaya Toure was also deemed surplus to requirements – even though he’s better than the incumbent, Sergio Busquets – and is now part of the Manchester City circus.

Not to be outdone, Real Madrid signed winger Angel di Maria before the World Cup and German dynamo Sami Khedira after it. Jose Mourinho also recently reunited himself with Ricardo Carvalho and signed Pedro Leon, just in case Kaka, Rafael Van der Vaart and Sergio Canales weren’t enough in-the-hole, attacking midfielder types. Well, Kaka is out until December with a knee injury, so Real Madrid went out and signed Mesut Ozil.

Oh, no, wait, they haven’t. But club representatives are in Bremen to get it done! It’s done! Until today’s news, which tells us it isn’t done.

Blah, blah, blah.

There are 18 other teams in La Liga, and a few of them have been active, too. Here are some of the highlights from “The Other League”:

Atletico de Madrid: Spain’s ultimate enigma, Atletico qualified for the Champions League two years ago only to crash back down to ninth last year. And yet, they made two Cup finals, winning the Europa League over Fulham and falling in the Copa del Rey to Sevilla. So, what to make of Atleti?

Well, we know they couldn’t defend last year – Real Zaragoza was the only non-relegated team to concede more than Atletico’s 61 goals against in La Liga. Atletico made big strides to solve that problem with the signings of Diego Godin from Villarreal and Filipe Luis from Deportivo la Coruna. The rojiblancos also added Fran Merida to its midfield and welcome Tiago back on loan from Juventus. Nobody is quite sure how, but Atletico has managed to do all of this without selling its most prized asset, Sergio Aguero.

Add it all up, and Atletico might just win The Other League. Somebody has to do it, since we know it won’t be…

Valencia: At long last, it happened. After years of crippling debt, the big exodus finally happened, with Villa, David Silva, Carlos Marchena, Nikola Zigic and Ruben Baraja (among others) all leaving the Mestalla. The first two commanded sums that will give the club a temporary reprieve from the banks, but a decent run in the Champions League will be needed to raise some still desperately needed funds.

New signings Roberto Saldado and Aritz Aduriz will be looked upon to replace some of the firepower that left with the sales of Villa and Silva. That’s not exactly like-for-like in terms of quality, and the ever capable Unai Emery has a job on his hands to keep this team in contention for a European spot.

Malaga: Yes, really. It’s hard to believe, but there’s a lower-tier La Liga club that actually has a little money to spend. Qatari sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani bought the club in June, and while its several signings since then haven’t exactly sent shock waves through Spain, the fact that a club that barely survived last season is spending any money at all is a refreshing change.

The most important change may be on the bench, where Jesualdo Ferreira takes over after four successful seasons at Porto. Ferreira won three Portuguese league titles and two Portuguese Cups at Porto, but surviving relatively comfortably is all that will be asked of him this year at Malaga. On the pitch, Eliseu and Jose Salomon Rondon – signed from Zaragoza and Las Palmas, respectively – will aim to add punch to an attack that was often dreadful last term.

Real Sociedad: After three years in the Segunda, it’s good to see the club from San Sebastian back in the top flight. There will be the return of the Basque derby with Athletic Bilbao, and after 40 successive seasons in La Liga prior to its relegation in 2007, Real Sociedad will be looking for another lengthy stay.

The club has signed two veteran strikers in an attempt to stay up this season: Raul Tamudo from Espanyol and Joseba Llorente from Villarreal. It will be strange to see Tamudo in a different blue-and-white uniform after 14 years of distinguished service for los periquitos. Llorente – who scored 24 goals in two seasons with the Yellow Submarine – returns to the club that brought him along in its youth ranks and gave him his La Liga debut in the 1999-2000 season.

Both are now in their 30s, but if they have anything left to offer, Real Sociedad can expect at least a second season in La Liga.

Sergio Garcia: After a year in the Segunda with Real Betis, the former Barcelona youth product returns to La Liga with Espanyol, who will hope to avoid the fate of the last three first division clubs to have employed him. After playing for Levante on loan in 2004-05, only for the club to be relegated, Garcia joined Zaragoza. In his third season there, they went down. Garcia then signed with Betis for the 2008-09 campaign, one that saw the team from Seville – yup – relegated.

Garcia is a versatile attacking player with talent – enough that he was on Spain’s 2008 Euro-winning side (for real, look it up). And Espanyol can do with plenty of that after scoring a paltry, league-low 29 goals last season.

With two weeks still to go, there’s still plenty of time for more to come on the transfer market. And, who knows, maybe Ozil will finally… Oh, forget it.

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