Real Madrid enjoyed a brilliant season, winning LaLiga comfortably before also being crown champions of Europe by beating Liverpool in Paris.
That 1-0 win at the Stade de France capped a remarkable run in the Champions League, with Los Blancos having instigated great escapes against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City.
It’s difficult to recall any team enduring a tougher run to Champions League success, and yet Carlo Ancelotti – who was seen as a steady if slightly underwhelming appointment – managed to mastermind arguably his greatest triumph as a coach.
There’s no sign of Madrid standing still, either. While the Spanish giants may have missed out on Kylian Mbappe, the fact that they were in the hunt for him is evidence enough they are in a strong financial situation, perhaps unsurprising given their generally modest – by Santiago Bernabeu standards – outlay in the transfer market over the past couple of years.
Antonio Rudiger was signed up for next season nice and early, Aurelien Tchouameni’s reported €100million signing was confirmed on Saturday, and the departures of Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco will give Madrid plenty of room for manoeuvre when it comes to wages.
Either way, there’s nothing to suggest the LaLiga champions aren’t going to be stronger in the 2022-23 campaign, meaning the chasing pack – namely Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla – have work to do, given how far behind they finished this term .
Out with the old, in with the Nou
After a rocky start to 2021-22 that ultimately led to Ronald Koeman’s dismissal, Xavi got Barca back on track and eventually secured second place, which was impressive given the top four looked beyond them for a while.
In addition, their form did tail off a little in the final five or six weeks of the season, losing four of the final nine matches across all competitions.
Barca’s season in general vindicated the decision to ditch Koeman for the inexperienced but well-regarded Xavi. It also proved the potential in the Blaugrana squad, as well as a degree of mental weakness at the business end.
Of course, it would be much easier for the club to build on the positives of this season were they not in a financial quagmire equivalent to over €1billion in debt.
As such, reports suggest Barca will largely be relying on free transfers, two of which are said to have already concluded. Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen have apparently agreed to join, while Cesar Azpilicueta may follow the latter from Chelsea.
But the big question mark hangs over Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich talisman has made no secret of his desire to leave the Bundesliga, and Camp Nou is where he sees himself next – but Die Roten are playing hardball, and who can blame them?
A whole raft of players are expected to depart Barca, however, with Ousmane Dembele seemingly destined for Chelsea and the likes of Clement Lenglet, Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti, Oscar Mingueza, Riqui Puig, Martin Braithwaite and Sergi Roberto all expected to leave permanently. On top of that, Adama Traore and Luuk de Jong are highly likely to have their loan deposit renewed, while Frenkie de Jong appears the most likely to some serious money in the coffers, given Manchester United’s interest.
But such upheaval will be difficult to contend with. Even if Lewandowski signs, it’ll take something spectacular for Barca to be champions this time next year.
Finally Joao Felix’s time to shine?
Diego Simeone’s side were dethroned with little more than a whimper. Their title defense looked over before it ever really got started.
It was a disappointing season given many felt Atletico’s squad was strengthened significantly last year. Griezmann, Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul provided extra spark, creativity and goal threat, though arguably none of them quite reached expectations, even if the Brazi forward did prove a dependable option off the bench.
The departure of Luis Suarez means a new striker is likely to arrive, and early indications are Alvaro Morata may be returning – granted, that may not be enough to get Atletico fans excited.
Either way, fans and neutrals alike will once again be hoping Simeone can finally find a way to get the best out of his more creative players.
Joao Felix is still yet to shine on a consistent basis, with 2021-22 a tricky campaign in which injuries, illness and suspension contributed to him making only 24 league appearances; just 13 of those were as a starter.
His 12 goal engagements came at roughly one every 100 minutes, which is a decent return, but there is clearly an element of Simeone not completely trusting him yet, otherwise he’d surely have started more frequently.
The exit of Suarez might allow for Joao Felix to take on a little more responsibility in attack, and who’s to say that won’t be the making of him?
No one doubts the talent’s there; he just needs to show he can be Atletico’s talisman on a regular basis. If he can, Atletico may again be the most likely to stop Los Blancos.
A Sevilla summer of upheaval
Sevilla fans are accustomed to seeing most of their squad replaced over the course of a transfer window – it’s just what Monchi does.
While their rebuild may not be quite as extensive this year as in past windows, expect to see plenty of ins and outs; in fact, there’s already been one key departure.
Diego Carlos has joined Aston Villa in a move that begins the dismantling of Julen Lopetegui’s bedrock of a defence. In 2021-22, no team in LaLiga conceded fewer than Sevilla (30 goals), while only Manchester City (57) and Madrid (52) kept more clean sheets than Julen Lopetegui’s side (51) across the top five leagues during the Brazilian’s time at the club.
His center-back partner Jules Kounde is widely expected to leave as well, with long-term admirers Chelsea once again able to flex their financial muscle now they’re no longer sanctioned.
But while Sevilla boasted the best defense in LaLiga, it’s easy to forget that for a while they looked to be the only team capable of challenging Madrid for the title.
In the end, they scraped fourth place, with their form between February 1 and the season’s conclusion seeing them seventh rank with 24 points; Barca led the way with 38 in that period, while Madrid took 36.
Sevilla’s biggest issue was scoring goals. Only Rafa Mir (10) reached double figures in LaLiga, with Lucas Ocampos (six) the one other to net more than five.
That – and centre-back – would appear to be where Monchi’s focus will lie over the coming months, particularly now it seems Lopetegui will be staying.
But Monchi’s got his work cut out keeping the team as competitive given the likely upheaval and small gap between themselves and bitter rivals Real Betis in fifth.
A title challenge like that of 2020-21 would be an impressive feat, but if Sevilla could limit the break-up of their defense and sign a reliable striker, it would become more realistic.