Because of the recent pandemic, the world of sports has been shaken and turned upside down. Football was no different, and after three months of no sports, the beautiful game finally returned in late May and early June. As all leagues in Europe were postponed, the summer transfer window was subject to the same fate. But now, as all the leagues wrap up, the transfer window will open as usual and the money will start to flow.
In particular, the transfer window in Spain opened July 18 following the end to the La Liga season. While this window will be different as Europe’s top clubs still look forward to the Champions League, many teams have already begun doing business. In order to ensure their respective success next year in both domestic and continental competitions, all of Spain’s top three best clubs — Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid — all have some important business they must do this window.
Of the three teams here, Real Madrid is the one team who could survive without purchasing any new players this summer. As the reigning champions of Spain, Real Madrid possess one of the most balanced and well-rounded squads in the world — a squad that will inevitably get better as Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic shake off their injuries and get more acclimated to life in Spain.
What Real Madrid needs to do most this summer is sell the deadwood: let go of the players who rarely play, yet take up as much space on the wage bill as they do on the bench. If you couldn’t guess already, I am referring to Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. Both are great players, but it just didn’t work out for them at the Santiago Bernabeu, and they clearly are not part of Zinedine Zidane’s plans. Both are still in the prime years of their careers and could be sold for big money (admittedly at a large pay cut to each player).
Even without Bale and James, Real Madrid has incredible squad depth with numerous attackers, who (though less popular) can do as good a job consistently over the course of a season. Some of these players are Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior, Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio and several others; therefore, Los Blancos don’t need to buy a replacement for Bale and James. Long gone is the famous Galactico Era of Real Madrid. Besides Sergio Ramos and Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid’s best players this season weren’t the flashy big-money signings, but rather the industrious, hard-working players like Casemiro and Fede Valverde. Zidane has proved his system works, and he should continue it.
This team doesn’t need any record-breaking, big-name transfers this summer, as the squad is already filled with strong-enough substitutes. Sure, Luka Modric’s and Toni Kroos’ legs are going, but that just opens up space for Isco and Fede Valverde, for example. The only potential issue is the position of fullbacks. Dani Carvajal continues to be a worthy servant to the club, but other than him, there is no other right-back besides center-back Eder Militao, who can occasionally fill in. Real Madrid should sign a backup, and recalling Alvaro Odriozola from loan at Bayern Munich might be the best option. As for left-back, letting Achraf Hakimi go to Inter and leaving Sergio Reguilon on loan at Sevilla might not be the best idea given their talent, but Ferland Mendy has proved to be a good left-back, and of course Marcelo is an experienced veteran and club legend.
Optimal 2020/21 XI:
CB: Ramos (c)
LW: Vinicius Jr.
Well, where do we start? Of the three teams here, FC Barcelona most needs a major overhaul. Simply put, the biggest problem with the Barcelona squad right now is that it is too old. But the biggest problem at the club isn’t the median age of the squad, but rather the current board and their infamous incompetence.
The obvious elephant in the room is the whole Neymar Jr. transfer saga, which seems to never end. Besides fans of the other two clubs mentioned in this list and, of course, PSG, most football fans who love the game would want to see Neymar back in Blaugrana colors. Beyond viewing pleasure, Barcelona would greatly benefit from having Neymar back, both in attacking terms and in bringing back the club’s identity and team morale. There is one big problem with this proposal: Barcelona simply don’t have the funds to purchase Neymar. Barcelona have holes all over the squad, and not enough to money to fill all of them while also buying back Neymar. But, in my opinion, bringing Neymar back to the Camp Nou should be the top priority. As a result, the money going to Neymar’s transfer will have an effect on the rest of Barcelona’s transfer window.
As said before, the most important goal is signing Neymar, but in order to generate the funds, Barcelona need to cut the deadwood from the squad and the wage bill, much like Real Madrid. Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele are the first names to come up, as they both cost hundreds of millions and came with a lot of potential, but ultimately ended up as failures. Dembele only scored one goal this season and Coutinho spent the whole season on loan at Bayern. Of course, it hasn’t been all bad over the years for these two, but the cost of keeping them on the wage bill — and the high prices Barcelona could still sell them at — outweigh the reasons for them to stay. Another player that should go is Ivan Rakitic. Rakitic has been great in his six years at the club, but his age is really starting to show, and the club needs to open up space in the midfield for younger upcoming players. With the funds from selling these three, Barcelona show be able to sign Neymar.
From there on, that leads us to Barcelona’s next problem. To stay on an elite level in Europe, Barcelona must go back to what brought them here in the first place: youth development and upholding their identity as a club that values attractive football. The Board has shown their general incompetence already by selling Arthur Melo and signing Miralem Pjanic in a swap deal in order to balance the books. As good as Pjanic has been in his career, he is already 30 and his age has taken a toll on his physicality, whereas Melo was arguably Barcelona’s most promising midfielder. Even with limited funds, Barcelona can still fix this issue. With the majority of the transfer budget going to signing Neymar, Barcelona will have to look inward to reinforce the squad. Lucky for them, the Catalans still possess one of the best youth programs in the world with La Masia. While La Masia isn’t pumping out Xavis and Iniestas every year, there are still numerous talents. Unfortunately, the board, in all their infinite wisdom, has loaned out or sold many of these talented players, and they should obviously stop this practice.
First off, Barcelona should permanently promote Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Inaki Pena and Ronald Araujo from Barcelona B and possibly call back Carles Perez from loan at Roma. Then, they should definitely recall Moussa Wague, Jean-Clair Todibo, Carles Alena and maybe even Rafinha from loan before resigning Marc Cucurella from Getafe. By doing this, Barcelona will bolster their attack, midfield, defense and even goalkeeper position without splashing major cash — all while going back to the roots of promoting youth development. All the club needs to do now is decide whether or not to stick with Quique Setien as head coach.
Optimal 2020/21 XI:
GK: ter Stegen
CM: de Jong
RW: Messi (c)
LW: Neymar Jr.
Surprisingly, Atletico Madrid are a team with a very solid and promising squad despite the mass exodus they experienced last summer. The 2019 summer transfer window saw the leaving of their top scorer and star player, Antoine Griezmann, and club veterans like Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Juanfran, along with promising players like Rodri and Lucas Hernandez. However, Atleti have seemed to invest intelligently in a new crop of gifted players who look to get even better as the years go on, such as Joao Felix, Renan Lodi, Marcos Llorente and Mario Hermoso, as well as experienced players, like Felipe, Hector Herrera and Kieran Trippier. As a result, Atletico Madrid certainly do not lack depth, and there exist only a few issues that need fixing this summer.
The first issue they need to address is actually a result of their squad depth. Because they have so many options, there are a few players who can be let go to clear up the wage bill and open opportunities for other players. The first player Atletico Madrid need to sell is Thomas Lemar. Lemar was a big-money signing in 2018, but he was unfortunately never able to reach his potential. This past season he has scored zero goals and recorded zero assists in league play. Lemar clearly has talent; it just did not work out for him in Madrid, so Atletico can no doubt find a suitable buyer. After dealing with that, Atletico Madrid need to look at the right-back position, where they have a surplus of options with Kieran Trippier, Santiago Arias and Sime Vrsaljko all contracted to the club. Trippier is the best of the three and has already nailed down the starting spot, so Atletico should look to sell either Arias or Vrsaljko. Arias has played more last season, but Vrsaljko also had a previous stint at the club and therefore has more experience with the team overall. Personally, I would prefer to sell Vrsaljko, but both are reliable backup fullbacks who can be sold for decent prices.
After clearing up the squad of excess players, the next thing Atletico Madrid need to do is purchase a world-class striker. For the better part of the past two decades, Atletico Madrid have been one of the few teams that employ the two-striker system, a system which Diego Simeone has adopted and perfected to a maximum degree. Whether it be Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero in 2010, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa in 2013 or Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres in 2016, Los Colchoneros have almost always relied on two elite strikers to score the majority of their goals while the rest of the team is frigid and defensive.
This season, Joao Felix has a lot of potential, but he has not reached it yet as he is only 20 years old, not to mention that he isn’t really a striker but more of an attacking midfielder or winger. Diego Costa is a club legend, but he is 31 and injuries have been catching up to him, causing him to miss many games. Atletico’s top scorer this season was Alvaro Morata with 16 goals in all competitions, a far cry from Falcao’s 36 in 2011-12 or even Griezmann’s 29 in 2017-18. Morata is not a bad striker by any means, but he thrives in a system in which he is either an impact sub, like he was at Real Madrid, or the understudy to a more prolific striker, like he was to Carlos Tevez at Juventus. Morata is simply not cut out to be the main striker, and Atletico Madrid need a guy leading the line who can score a minimum of 20 to 25 goals a season.
That is why I think that Atletico should really put effort into signing Edinson Cavani, who is currently a free agent after leaving PSG at the end of his contract. Yes, Cavani is 33, but even at this age, he is one of the best strikers in world football. He would perfectly fit into this team up top with whoever his strike partner may be. Not to mention that since he is a free agent, it would be at no cost to bring in Cavani. Atletico actually already tried to sign Cavani in the January transfer window but negotiations fell through. Now that the season is over and he is a free agent, the Uruguayan’s signature should be the top of Atletico’s priorities. If not Cavani, there are a plethora of possible signings that Atletico Madrid could make, though none as good as Cavani. For example, they could look to buy Alexandre Lacazette from Arsenal, Rodrigo from Valencia, Wissam Ben Yedder from Monaco or Duvan Zapata from Atalanta.
Optimal 2020/21 XI:
LM: Koke (c)