Atletico Madrid broke their transfer record and Real Madrid spent a huge amount to freshen up their squad, but Barcelona will still be the team to beat in LaLiga's title tussle.

Barca have finished top in eight of the last 11 years, including the past two, and they head into the 2019-20 season as favourites to retain their crown.

The reigning champions accrued 11 points more than runners-up Atletico last time out and have strengthened during the close season with the additions of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Junior Firpo.

But with Zinedine Zidane at the Madrid helm and long-term target Eden Hazard in place, not to mention the signings of Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo Goes, there is hope Madrid can bridge the 19-point gap from last season.

Across the city at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico replaced Griezmann with €126million sensation Joao Felix and refreshed some key areas in the squad following the exits of Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran and several others.

Ahead of the new season commencing on Friday, we used Opta data to look at which records and landmarks LaLiga's three heavyweights are targeting over the next nine months.

The #PrimeraIberdrola gets underway on September 8th!

Who will be the 2019/20 champions? pic.twitter.com/FyzvJxjEps

— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 14, 2019

 

Messi has more records in sight at Barcelona

⦁ With Cristiano Ronaldo no longer in the picture, Lionel Messi is closing in on the ex-Madrid forward's hat-tricks record in the Spanish top flight. One more treble will draw him level with Ronaldo on 34; two more will take him outright top.

⦁ Messi, unsurprisingly, leads the way at the top of Barca's all-time scoring charts in LaLiga with 419 goals to his name. Team-mate Luis Suarez has the chance to move up to third in the list, requiring one more goal to overtake Ladislao Kubala (131).

⦁ Barcelona could become the second team to score more than 6,100 goals in LaLiga history. They go into the season on 6,089, 15 fewer than Real Madrid.

⦁ Messi is also high on the list of the Catalan giants' all-time appearance-makers, featuring 684 times in all competitions to leave him second to Xavi Hernandez (767). Gerard Pique has some catching up to do, but he has a landmark in sight, as he is two outings short of 500 in a Barca shirt.

⦁ In the dugout, Ernesto Valverde is on course to become the 10th manager to reach 450 LaLiga games. The Spaniard, whose future was called into question during the close season, is 26 matches short of that impressive figure.

 

Simeone closing in on milestone Atletico victory

⦁ Retaining the services of boss Diego Simeone was key for Atletico during the close season. The Argentine coach remains and he could become the second manager to reach 200 LaLiga wins with a single team after Miguel Munoz for Real Madrid (257). He heads into the weekend on 180.

⦁ Since Radamel Falcao got the Simeone era up and running with goal number one in 2012, Atletico have gone on to add another 484 in LaLiga, meaning the 500 landmark is within touching distance.

⦁ Atletico have become more synonymous with the defensive side of the game under Simeone and boast one of the world's best goalkeepers in Jan Oblak. The Slovenia international is on 88 LaLiga clean sheets and is aiming to become the third keeper to reach triple figures in the 21st century after Victor Valdes (171) and Iker Casillas (160).

⦁ In new signing Joao Felix, Atletico boast one of the hottest properties in world football. Aged 19, he could become one of the youngest players to score for the club - a record held by Ignacio Camacho (17 years and 364 days when he scored against Recreativo Huelva in 2008).

⦁ Joao Felix will hope to have a long and prosperous career at the Wanda Metropolitano, much in the way team-mate Koke has. The academy product has made 285 league appearances for Atletico and will expected to become only the sixth player to reach 300 this term.

 

 Numancia
 Chivas
 Real Madrid
 MLS All-Stars
 @AtletideSanLuis
 Juventus

 100% win rate in pre-season! #AúpaAtleti #AtletiSummerTour pic.twitter.com/k007cDdLQk

— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) August 10, 2019

 

Familiar faces out to make history for Madrid

⦁ They may have fallen well off the pace last season, but no team has won more matches in LaLiga than Real Madrid's 1690 victories, 55 more than next best Barca. They could therefore become the first team to reach 1,700 victories in the competition.

⦁ Karim Benzema hit a good patch of form towards the end of last season to go sixth on the club's list of all-time leading scorers in all competitions with 222 goals. That leaves him just 20 short of fifth-place Ferenc Puskas, but still a whopping 228 adrift of leading marksman Ronaldo.

⦁ The Frenchman will hope to retain his place up top this term, especially with Hazard now providing the ammunition from out wide. The Belgian is looking to become the eighth current player to reach 100 assists in the top five European leagues. He goes into the season on 89 from his time with Lille and Chelsea.

⦁ Zidane was brought back to Madrid in March, 10 months after stepping down, and he is closing in on 200 games for Los Blancos. The 47-year-old has taken charge of 160 matches in all competitions, leaving him behind five others, including Jose Mourinho (178).

⦁ Players and managers come and go but one thing remains constant - Sergio Ramos marshalling the Madrid defence. The Spanish skipper has made 419 LaLiga appearances in the famous white strip, although he is only seventh on the list of record appearances makers, with Paco Gento (427) the next player in his sights.

Zinedine Zidane must have anticipated problems when he returned as Real Madrid coach in March, but whether he predicted the shambles that has since come to envelop the club is unclear.

Poor pre-season form, rumours of a power struggle with the president emanating from a farcical handling of Gareth Bale's future, uncertainty over new signings – these are all issues on Zidane's plate heading into the 2019-20 LaLiga season.

Madrid finished a whopping 19 points adrift of Barca last season, and the champions certainly don't appear any weaker. Even Atletico Madrid, amid a major rebuild, look better prepared than their neighbours.

Although few will be surprised if Los Blancos fall apart again as they did last term, this season there is at least a little uncertainty surrounding their rivals – could Antoine Griezmann be a disruptive influence at Barca? Will Atletico cope with so much upheaval?

 

Power struggle engulfing a disorganised Real Madrid

Madrid and their fans were supposed to be reinvigorated during the close season, with the transfer business expected to see the squad boosted, deadwood offloaded and supporters excited.

While Eden Hazard will surely thrill, little certainty can be garnered from the rest of their signings. Ferland Mendy has struggled with injury, Eder Militao and Rodrygo are inexperienced and Luka Jovic is reported to have already left Zidane underwhelmed, sparking rumours of a loan exit.

Furthermore, Madrid's outgoings raise questions about their vision. Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos, Jesus Vallejo, Borja Mayoral, Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Raul de Tomas – all young, all Spanish and all gone.

James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale remain, however, with the latter reportedly at the centre of a power struggle. Zidane wants him out, president Perez doesn't.

How much of an impact the growing tension has on the season remains to be seen, but it cannot help ease the pressure Zidane is under following disappointing pre-season results and winning just 45 per cent of his matches in charge last term.

Compared to Santiago Solari's win percentage of 69, it's fair to say Zidane hasn't been a positive force of change yet. He might not be given the time to turn things around.

 

Simeone's Atletico 2.0

Rarely under Diego Simeone have Atletico been a thrill to watch in the conventional sense, mostly shirking all-out attacking tendencies and relying on a stable, full-blooded defence.

Don't expect that to change despite the most significant overhaul in Simeone's time at the helm, with Griezmann, Diego Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Lucas Hernandez and Rodri all moving on.

Simeone accepts things will be slightly different given the sheer scale of the changes, but he is not sparing newcomers of his exhaustive methods.

"We must be realistic," he told La Nacion recently. "It will be a moment of renewal. We are going to have to reinvent ourselves, so we have to think only of the day-to-day.

"Perhaps over time that [attitude] has faded, so now we will have to redouble our philosophy."

Atletico's dealings have generally been quite shrewd, if we ignore the somewhat risky signing of the inexperienced – albeit hugely talented – Joao Felix for €126m.

Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi are very much in the mould of the full-backs they've replaced; Marcos Llorente and Hector Herrera offer a typical Simeone blend of tenacity and technique; Felipe is experienced, and Mario Hermoso was one of LaLiga's best centre-backs last term.

Early indications are encouraging, particularly after that 7-3 pre-season drubbing of Madrid.

 

'La Decision', the sequel

If you didn't get enough of the Antoine Griezmann soap opera last year, by now you're surely sick of the sight of him.

The contrived and ill-conceived 'La Decision' video documenting his agonising over a choice between Atletico or Barca just before the World Cup did little to endear him to either set of supporters, even though he opted to remain in Madrid for another season.

After finally getting the move he reportedly desired in 2018, the pressure couldn't be greater for Griezmann. By all accounts, he had an underwhelming final campaign at the Wanda Metropolitano, with 15 goals in 37 LaLiga games.

A few poor games and Barca supporters – who were widely reticent to the idea of Griezmann signing after last year's debacle – will be straight on his back.

A cursory glance at their treatment of Philippe Coutinho shows what could be in store for him.

But either way, Griezmann does add further depth to an already star-studded line-up of attackers and such a move may provide the jolt he needs to again elevate himself to the level of the world's best.

Despite his relative lack of experience compared to Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong looks more of a ready-made success and will surely take LaLiga by storm following his move from Ajax.

Champions Barcelona play Athletic Bilbao when the 2019-20 LaLiga campaign begins on Friday.

Barcelona have won the title in the last two seasons and head into the new campaign as favourites again, having bolstered their squad with the additions of Antoine Griezmann, Junior Firpo and Frenkie de Jong.

Real Madrid have spent heavily during the close season in an attempt to close the gap on their bitter rivals, with Eden Hazard among those to arrive, and last term's runners-up Atletico Madrid also broke their transfer record by bringing in Joao Felix from Benfica.

There has been smart business right the way down the division, setting up what should be another thrilling year of Spanish top-flight action.

The transfer window does not shut until September 2 but, ahead of the opening round of fixtures, we look at the five best signings made by LaLiga clubs.

#LaLigaSantander is back this week! pic.twitter.com/kW0MWRSne0

— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 12, 2019

5. Marc Cucurella (Getafe)

Young Cucurella was one of the best left-sided players in LaLiga last season at Eibar and looked entirely capable of being an asset to Barcelona's first-team squad.

However, after triggering their buy-back option on him, Barcelona have since sent him out on loan to Getafe, who can make the deal permanent for €6million.

Given his impact in 2018-19, it looks immensely shrewd business by Los Azulones.

4. Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)

Isak has had to live with comparisons to another Swedish scoring sensation in Zlatan Ibrahimovic since breaking through at AIK three years ago.

Borussia Dortmund saw enough potential to snap him up in 2017 and, after a handful of Bundesliga appearances, he was sent on loan to Willem II last term and blossomed when used regularly.

Thirteen goals in 16 Eredivisie appearances, followed up by one for Sweden 11 minutes after being brought on in June's Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta, led to reported interest from the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Sociedad, somewhat surprisingly, won the race for his signature and the €7m fee will be considered a bargain should Isak provide goals for one of last season's lowest-scoring sides in LaLiga.

 

¡Doblete de @alex_isak !  #RealSociedad #AurreraReala pic.twitter.com/sBhAasI2Yw

— Real Sociedad Fútbol (@RealSociedad) July 27, 2019

3. Hector Herrera (Atletico Madrid)

The loss of Rodri to Manchester City leaves a void to be filled at Atletico this season, but in Herrera they have a player capable of thriving under Diego Simeone, albeit in a slightly different role.

Herrera, signed on a free after his contract at Porto expired, will be expected to offer more of a goal threat, having scored 26 times in his six seasons at Estadio do Dragao.

A Primeira Liga title winner and a player boasting plenty of Champions League experience, Simeone will hope the tenacious 29-year-old's best years are still to come.

2. Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)

Fekir was on the brink of joining Liverpool in a £52m deal last year, only for the move to collapse late on, reportedly due to concerns flagged by his medical.

Liverpool's loss is now Betis' gain, with the Andalusian side reaching an agreement with Lyon for an initial €19.75m.

The France international's goal tally may have halved last term - dropping from 18 in 2017-18 to nine in 2018-19 - but he could thrive as the focal point in Rubi's attack.

 

1. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Barcelona agreed the €75million signing of De Jong in January, seeing off competition from a number of rivals to ensure one of the hottest properties in world football would join them this summer.

Griezmann may add to Ernesto Valverde's attacking options and Firpo will provide long-term cover for Jordi Alba at left-back, but De Jong - allowed to stay on at Ajax for the second half of last season - looks like the most exciting of the Spanish champions' new recruits so far.

After starring for the Dutch champions in their run to the Champions League semi-finals, knocking out Real Madrid and Juventus along the way, there is no reason the versatile midfielder cannot make a similar impact in his new Camp Nou surroundings.

Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain.

Where will Inter outcast Mauro Icardi end up before the transfer window shuts on September 2?

The Ligue 1 champions are reportedly interested in the former Inter captain.

 

TOP STORY – PSG WANT ICARDI IF NEYMAR LEAVES

According to journalist Tancredi Palmeri, Paris Saint-Germain are interested in signing Inter forward Icardi.

Icardi is not wanted at Inter, where he has been deemed surplus to requirements by head coach Antonio Conte.

And Icardi has reportedly been offered to PSG by Inter, who apparently want to block Paulo Dybala moving to Paris from Juventus.

Palmeri's column for Tuttomercatoweb insists Icardi's transfer to PSG depends on Neymar's departure, with Barcelona and Real Madrid eyeing the Brazilian.

 

ROUND-UP 

- The Neymar saga is ongoing as Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona try to strike a deal. Barca reportedly offered €80million plus Philippe Coutinho to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou, two years after his €222m departure. According to ESPN FC, Barca are willing to part with Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic as well as a fee.

Alexis Sanchez could be sent to Manchester United's reserves if he is not sold before the European window's closure, claims The Sun. United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reportedly desperate to move on Sanchez, who has been linked to Roma.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter and Juventus will go head-to-head to sign Fiorentina and Italy star Federico Chiesa at the end of 2019-20. Chiesa is a wanted man but new Viola owner Rocco Commisso is unwilling to sell his prized €70m asset.

Roma are preparing a bid to bring in Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi. That is according to Sky Sport Italia, regardless of whether Edin Dzeko is sold to Inter. Batshuayi spent time on loan with Valencia and Crystal Palace last season.

Monaco have approached Juventus defender Daniele Rugani, claims Goal. Roma have also been linked to Rugani, however, reports in England say Liverpool's Dejan Lovren is the Giallorossi's first choice.

- According to Marca, Valencia want AC Milan striker Andre Silva to replace outgoing forward Rodrigo Moreno. Rodrigo is poised to join LaLiga rivals Atletico Madrid and Silva is behind Krzysztof Piatek and Rafael Leao in Milan's pecking order. It comes as Milan try to wrap up a deal for Atletico forward Angel Correa.

Jose Mourinho believes Joao Felix's huge price tag means he must produce the goods at Atletico Madrid despite his tender years.

The 19-year-old forward joined Diego Simeone's Atletico from Benfica in a €126million move last month and has turned in some dazzling pre-season displays.

As such, his famed Portuguese compatriot Mourinho believes there will be a demand for instant results.

"He has a challenge due to the extent of his talent and because of the investment the club have made on him," Mourinho told the Portuguese Football Federation's (FPF) television channel, Canal 11.

"I believe that he can't escape this responsibility. It doesn't matter if he's 18, 20 or 25.

"What matters is his talent and the responsibility he has."

That responsibility extends to spearheading a challenge for the top honours in Spain and Europe, according to Mourinho.

Despite losing Lucas Hernandez, Rodri, Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann - the France star's long-anticipated move to Barcelona eventually coming to fruition – Atletico have reinforced impressively.

Kieran Trippier, Marcos Llorente and Hector Herrera are among those to have bolstered Simeone's squad and Mourinho feels they must now look to match Spain's heavyweight duo.

"Atletico Madrid's level of investment leaves them with responsibility to fight for the Champions League and LaLiga," he said.

"It's clear that Barcelona and Real Madrid have to be there because of their power, financial capability, culture and quality.

"Atletico in recent years have been without this responsibility, but the level of investment they've made is incredible.

"It's time to say, 'We're here, we're big, we want to be big and we are here to win'." 

Atletico begin their LaLiga campaign at home to Getafe on Sunday.

Diego Simeone praised Joao Felix after the teenager's impressive start at Atletico Madrid continued against Juventus on Saturday.

Joao Felix scored one and set up the other as Atletico completed a perfect pre-season with a 2-1 International Champions Cup victory over Juve in Stockholm.

The 19-year-old arrived at the LaLiga giants from Benfica for a reported €126million in July and has scored three goals and provided four assists in five pre-season games.

Simeone has been impressed with what he has seen from Joao Felix, who netted 20 times in 42 games in all competitions for Benfica last season.

"Joao has many capabilities. He is adapting very quickly to what the team needs," the Atletico coach told a news conference.

"He has a vision that allows him to adapt to many positions and is in a process of adaptation and the best thing he has is that, I said from the first day, his desire to learn.

"He wants to learn and with that the adaptation process will be shorter. Talent is innate, but the desire to learn is the shortest path that a player has to perform."

Atletico have gone through a rebuild in the close season, the likes of Joao Felix, Marcos Llorente and Kieran Trippier joining, while Antoine Griezmann, Rodri, Lucas Hernandez, Diego Godin, Juanfran and Filipe Luis are among those to have left.

Argentina forward Angel Correa is also linked with a move to AC Milan, but Simeone expects the 24-year-old to stay at Atletico.

"We are open to everything that can happen, transfer wise. There is nothing that can surprise us because obviously there is always something happening until the end so we have to be prepared for that," he said.

"Angel Correa is training in an extraordinary way since he arrived back and there's not any situation that leads me to think about him leaving the team."

Maurizio Sarri remains unclear on the future of Paulo Dybala and has branded Juventus' transfer policy "embarrassing" for leaving him with a bloated squad.

Argentina forward Dybala was tipped to join Manchester United in a part-exchange deal involving Romelu Lukaku this month, only for talks to break down.

It then looked as though he would move to Tottenham on the Premier League's transfer deadline day on Thursday, but that deal also failed to materialise.

Juve are in an awkward situation ahead of the new season, with Sarri aware the squad must be trimmed following the arrivals of Matthijs de Ligt, Danilo, Luca Pellegrini, Merih Demiral, Adrien Rabiot, Aaron Ramsey and Gianluigi Buffon.

The head coach is concerned the club could be forced simply to leave several senior players off their 25-man 'List A' for the Champions League group stage if they are unable to sell them.

Sarri is therefore unsure of Dybala's future and appeared to call into question a transfer process led by sporting director Fabio Paratici that has brought them to this point.

Interrupting a question about transfers after his side lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup on Saturday, he said: "I sometimes wonder when I read things: Sarri's decisions, Paratici's decisions…

"We have to cut six players from the Champions League squad. I've not read this anywhere. If we don't, the choices we have are crazy.

"The last 20 days of the market will be difficult for us. It's a difficult, embarrassing situation, because we risk leaving top players out of the squad list.

"It's a situation we have to resolve, and it's not strictly connected to the choices of the coach or club.

"All the assessments on Dybala are premature. He did two training sessions; he did half an hour today. He clearly can't be in top physical condition and this also affects what he can do as a false nine. I think he has the attributes and the goals to play in that role.

"I can talk, but the market goes in a certain direction and what I say counts for zero. Six have to be cut, depending on the market. I'd like to keep them all; our problem is we don't have enough home-grown players, so our squad for the Champions League will be 22 players, plus three goalkeepers, and this puts us in difficulty because the market will perhaps lead us to make choices we don't want to make."

Joao Felix showed why Atletico Madrid were happy to pay €126million to sign him with a hand in both goals as the Rojiblancos beat Juventus 2-1 in the International Champions Cup.

In a repeat of last season's thrilling Champions League round-of-16 tie that Juventus won 3-2 on aggregate, Atletico took a measure of revenge in an entertaining encounter at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, where Thomas Lemar turned Joao Felix's volley into the net to give Diego Simeone's men the lead.

The pair combined again for Atleti's second, which was scored by teenage sensation Joao Felix, whose performance full of energy and flair will have delighted his coach.

The result rounded off a satisfying pre-season for Atletico, who beat rivals Real Madrid 7-3 earlier in the ICC, while Juve coach Maurizio Sarri gave Paulo Dybala a run out after his mooted move away from the club failed to transpire.

Giorgio Chiellini's close-range volley was turned over the bar by Jan Oblak, who got down well to make a one-handed save, and Cristiano Ronaldo fired over the crossbar from the edge of the box as Juventus enjoyed a positive start.

But Atletico punished the Bianconeri's wastefulness after 23 minutes when Joao Felix met Kieran Trippier's cross with a side-footed volley that deflected off Lemar's thigh on its way past Wojciech Szczesny and into the net.

The lead lasted just six minutes as Khedira capitalised on some hesitant Atletico defending and sent a low drive into the bottom corner of Oblak's net, with Douglas Costa's step-over helping to distract the goalkeeper.

Lemar returned the favour to Joao Felix just after the half hour, floating a weighted pass into the box where the teenage forward slid in ahead of Matthijs de Ligt to score with a half-volley from 12 yards.

After Costa hit the outside of the post with a low drive early in the second half, Adrien Rabiot went even closer, crashing a thunderous effort against the upright from 20 yards.

Mario Mandzukic played in Dybala for a chance in the box 13 minutes from time but his deflected shot was saved at full stretch by Oblak, meaning Atletico entered the new season on a winning note.

Former Uruguay and Manchester United forward Diego Forlan has announced his retirement from professional football.

Forlan, 40, last played for Kitchee in Hong Kong, with his final appearance coming in May last year.

The forward, who also played for the likes of Inter and Atletico Madrid during a fine career in Europe, confirmed his retirement on Tuesday.

"It hasn't been easy, I didn't want the time to come, but I knew it was going to come," Forlan told Telemundo.

"I have decided to stop playing football professionally."

Forlan started his professional career with Independiente in Argentina before earning a £6.9million move to Manchester United in January 2002.

He won the Premier League with United in 2002-03 and the FA Cup the following season before joining Villarreal in 2004.

Forlan enjoyed a prolific spell in LaLiga, scoring 128 goals in 240 league games for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, while also helping the latter clinch the Europa League in 2009-10.

After a brief spell at Inter, he played for Internacional, Cerezo Osaka, Penarol, Mumbai City and Kitchee before calling time on his career.

Forlan will also be remembered as one of Uruguay's greatest players, having scored 36 goals in 112 appearances for his nation, who won the Copa America in 2011, while he claimed the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup as his country finished fourth.

Luis Suarez, Forlan's former international team-mate, paid tribute to the forward.

"Historic for Uruguayan football. Grateful for all the unforgettable moments you made all Uruguayans live, both in the national team and in all the teams you played," the Barcelona star wrote on Twitter.

"I will always be grateful for what you taught me, both on and off the field, a dream to have played with one of my idols. You will always be a legend in Uruguay. A lot of success in your new challenges, friend."

Manchester United's bid to improve their backline has seen them make Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka two of the world's most-expensive defenders.

England defender Maguire has joined from Leicester City for a reported £80million, surpassing the record set by Liverpool's capture of Virgil van Dijk.

Earlier in this transfer window United spent £50m to acquire right-back Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace as they commenced a substantial rebuild of their squad.

Maguire has not cost United as much as their biggest signing Paul Pogba, who joined from Juventus in 2016 in a then-world record £89.3m deal, but he is the most expensive defender of all time.

Here, we profile the men at the back who have cost a fair whack.


HARRY MAGUIRE – Leicester City to Manchester United, £80m

The reported £80m fee is a serious outlay for a player who was playing for Hull City in the Championship three years ago.

It has been a rapid rise for Maguire, who is now first choice at the back for England alongside Manchester City defender John Stones. United will hope there is even more to come from the 26-year-old.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK – Southampton to Liverpool, £75m

Liverpool tried unsuccessfully to buy Van Dijk in June 2017 and were accused of tapping him up by Southampton, but the defender's absence from several matchday squads thereafter meant a departure was never far away.

The Reds gave their fans a late Christmas gift in December of the same year, confirming the Netherlands international's arrival and he has looked worth every penny since making the switch to Anfield, winning the Professional Footballers' Association Players' Player of the Year last term and helping the club clinch their sixth Champions League title.

LUCAS HERNANDEZ – Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich, £68m

Having featured as France's first-choice left-back in their triumphant 2018 World Cup campaign, it did not take long for other clubs to begin being linked with Hernandez. Bayern were reported to have things tied up with the defender by the end of the year, though it was said they were trying to avoid paying his full release clause.

As it happened, Atletico received the €80m required to trigger Lucas' exit at the end of the 2018-19 season, meaning Bayern secured themselves a player who can cover two positions for the next decade. 

MATTHIJS DE LIGT – Ajax to Juventus, £67.5m

United had been strongly linked with De Ligt earlier in the window but it was Juventus who won the race for his much-coveted signature for a fee that, with add-ons, could eventually rise to a sum similar to Van Dijk's price.

Despite still being a teenager, De Ligt's leadership qualities shone through when he was captain of the Ajax team that won a domestic double and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season.

AYMERIC LAPORTE – Athletic Bilbao to Manchester City, £57m

City had been put off by the fee Southampton wanted for Van Dijk but were more willing to part with what was - in January 2018 - a club-record £57m to sign left-sided French centre-back Laporte.

Though he curiously remains without a senior cap for Les Bleus, Laporte has become a key figure under Pep Guardiola and was City's best defender in 2018-19 as they won an unprecedented domestic treble.

BENJAMIN MENDY – Monaco to Manchester City, £51.75m

City broke the record for a defender when they signed Mendy from Monaco in July 2017, the left-back having quickly established himself as one of Europe's most exciting attacking full-backs as his side won the 2016-17 Ligue 1 title and reached that season's Champions League semi-finals.

His arrival was part of a spectacular overhaul of the City backline, which saw them spend close to £165m on three defenders and goalkeeper Ederson, but two serious knee injuries have badly hindered his time in Manchester so far. 

DAVID LUIZ – Chelsea to Paris Saint-Germain, £50m

Paris Saint-Germain paid a whopping fee to sign Brazil international David Luiz from Chelsea in 2014.

He won Ligue 1 in both of his seasons at the Parc des Princes and made it three top-flight titles in a row after he surprisingly returned to Chelsea for £34m in August 2016, claiming his first Premier League winners' medal.

KYLE WALKER – Tottenham to Manchester City, £50m

When Walker joined Spurs from hometown club Sheffield United for £5m in 2009, few would have guessed he would one day become the most expensive English player in history.

Walker, who in June signed a new long-term deal at the Etihad Stadium, quickly established himself as a key component at the back following his July 2017 arrival and he has won two Premier League titles, two EFL Cups and an FA Cup.

AARON WAN-BISSAKA – Crystal Palace to Manchester United, £50m

Walker now has company as his country's most costly player following fellow right-back Wan-Bissaka's arrival on the other side of Manchester.

Wan-Bissaka fits the mould for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who wants young players to spearhead a revival at Old Trafford, and he made 129 tackles last term, more than any other defender across the top five European leagues.

JOHN STONES – Everton to Manchester City, £47.5m

City have certainly shown a willingness to pay large amounts for English talent, with Stones joining the club from Everton in 2016.

The 25-year-old had a difficult first campaign as Guardiola's side under-performed. His displays have since improved considerably, although he largely spent the final weeks of last season among the substitutes. 

(*Prices are as reported at the time of transfers being completed.)

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone bears no ill feeling towards Antoine Griezmann following his move to Barcelona, and is adamant it was better to leave when he did instead of staying and potentially ruining their relationship.

Simeone is overseeing a major rebuild at Atletico this close season, with Griezmann one of several key players to leave the club.

Filipe Luis, Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Rodri and Juanfran have also left, with Atletico bringing in Felipe, Mario Hermoso, Hector Herrera, Renan Lodi, Marcos Llorente and Kieran Trippier as replacements, while Joao Felix is tasked with filling Griezmann's boots.

Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran and Fernando Torres have all received great send-offs from Atletico supporters in the last 14 months, but Griezmann was widely jeered after confirming his intention to leave in May.

Simeone puts the indifference partly down to longevity at the club, while accepting Griezmann probably chose a good time to seek a new challenge.

"Because it wasn't the same time [at the club]," he told La Nacion when asked why Griezmann did not get the same send-off as Godin and Torres.

"His time was significant from a sporting perspective. The others, in another way, have lit up the hearts of Atletico fans.

"The numbers of Antoine are tremendous. In five years, he was among the five top scorers in the history of the club.

"When he came to talk to me about his departure, I already sensed it. I think he looked for the most appropriate moment in his search to keep improving.

"He is young, he has talent, he is an extraordinary boy whom I love very much, and the best way to maintain this affection is from respect.

"I understand that others also have needs. As long as others have needs that do not alter mine, it is great. If the needs of he who remains alter my needs, we may not end up as friends anymore."

Former Atletico Madrid defender Juanfran has signed for Sao Paulo, just two days after Dani Alves joined the Brazilian club.

Juanfran enjoyed a hugely successful eight-year spell with Atletico, becoming a fan favourite in one of the best periods in the club's history.

The 34-year-old was offered a new deal with Atletico, having signed a one-year extension last year, but he opted to move on after falling out of favour at the Wanda Metropolitano.

He heads to Brazil in a move made even more surprising by the fact fellow right-back and former Barcelona great Alves joined Sao Paulo just a day before.

While Alves signed on until December 2022, Juanfran's contract runs until the end of 2020.

Atletico Madrid came from behind to claim a 2-1 friendly win over their franchise club Atletico San Luis in Mexico.

Diego Costa and Joao Felix were given the chance to build upon their burgeoning attacking partnership as Diego Simeone selected a strong starting XI.

Atleti fell behind in the 11th minute as Nicolas Ibanez converted a rebound when Luis Reyes' shot came back off the post - Jan Oblak having initially failed to deal with an overhit backpass from Felipe.

Costa controlled Joao Felix's sumptuous lofted pass to crash a volley against the crossbar but the hosts remained ahead until Simeone sent on a number of his youngsters.

Two of them combined to equalise in the 72nd minute, 18-year-old forward Sergio Camello powering home Carlos Isaac's cross.

The winner arrived six minutes from time, with Juan Portales putting through his own goal after Manu Sanchez and Rodrigo Riquelme unpicked San Luis.

Simeone's men face Juventus next Saturday in the International Champions Cup before hosting Getafe the following weekend in their LaLiga opener.

Diego Simeone insists his expensively assembled squad must perform the pitch to earn comparisons with former Atletico Madrid sides.

Atletico have undergone a significant transformation since finishing 11 points behind LaLiga champions Barcelona last season.

Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Lucas Hernandez and midfielder Rodri, Manchester City's new record signing, have all left the Wanda Metropolitano.

Among the replacements are Marcos Llorente, Kieran Trippier, Mario Hermoso and Joao Felix, who became the fourth most expensive signing in history when he arrived from Benfica for €126million.

The level of investment, which has brought eight new additions in total, has prompted conjecture about whether the squad could be the strongest assembled under Simeone.

"It's not fair to talk about a team that is yet to start competing," Simeone said.

"We think about now, which is to improve in training, in matches, for each player to fulfil his function.

"When the season ends we will be able to say if this is the best squad or not. You don't win with names. You win with performance and with players who interpret what the team needs."

Another close-season signing, Hector Herrera, is back in his homeland of Mexico for Saturday's friendly against Atletico San Luis.

The former Porto midfielder is "very excited" by the occasion but the thought of a league debut against Getafe on August 18 is providing the real motivation.

"I never imagined playing in LaLiga," Herrera said.

"It was always a dream to be able to reach LaLiga, which is the best league in the world. You have to look for big challenges and [in LaLiga] you are competing with the best."

Atletico Madrid captain Koke is confident highly rated new signing Joao Felix has the character to handle his €126million price tag.

Already a full Portugal international, Joao Felix became the fourth most expensive player in history when he moved from Benfica to Atletico in July.

The teenager hopes "to be like" compatriot and former LaLiga star Cristiano Ronaldo, although Diego Simeone insists comparisons between the pair are shallow.

Strong inner belief does seem to be one shared trait, though, with midfielder Koke a fan of the forward's attitude.

"He has a lot of personality," Koke told El Pais. "It's not easy to be 19 and have the pressure of what has been paid for him.

"He enjoys playing football. He has a lot of quality, but what I like most is the mischief [he creates], the dribbling. He likes to have the ball; he is not afraid to ask for it.

"You have to give him some time. If he plays two bad games, you can't kill him."

Atletico fans might need patience with more than one player following the arrival of seven senior new signings during the close season.

Among them are full-backs Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi, who face a steep learning curve as they come to grips with Simeone's disciplined defensive structure.

"That is no problem because the coach will instil it," Koke said when asked about the attack-minded pair's aptitude at the back.

"If you're good going forward, Cholo makes you good in defence."

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