Please mind the gap. Or as they say on the Madrid underground: “please take care not to introduce your foot between the train and the platform.” The English version works better when describing La Liga after the latest transfer window.
In brief, and to stick with the trains analogy, Barcelona moved forward about five stations; Madrid maybe two; Atletico Madrid inched forward but barely enough for anyone to notice; and everyone else went backwards – in Valencia’s case almost back into the depot.
Barcelona spent €120 million, rising to €150m with add-ons, bringing in five new players. None of them – with the possible exception of central defender Samuel Umtiti - will be first-team regulars in big games this season. But left-back Lucas Digne, midfielders Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez and forward Paco Alcacer will give Barcelona a stronger bench than they have had in years.
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You could assemble a team of Barca reserves – if you nick Javier Mascherano from the first team - that would probably finish in a Champions League place in Spain. Cillessen; Vidal, Umtiti, Matheiu, Digne; Denis Suarez, Mascherano, Andre Gomes; Rafinha, Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan is their all-star substitutes team.
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Madrid have manoeuvred themselves into a similar position. Their second XI – with a slightly out-of-position Mateo Kovacic, and pretending Fabio Coentrao is fit – would look like this: Casilla; Danilo, Nacho, Varane, Coentrao; James, Kovacic, Isco; Lucas Vazquez, Morata, Asensio. It would also have a chance of squeezing into the top four.
Supporters of the top two can afford to be doing cartwheels, but for the rest the picture is less appealing. Those reserve teams are full of players who not so long ago were strengthening other sides in Spain. Kiko Casilla, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio were all at Espanyol. Denis Suarez was at Villarreal. Gomes and Alcacer were at Valencia and Isco was at Malaga.
The chasing pack will not be doing much chasing this season. Villarreal, already knocked out of the Champions League, lost the quality of Suarez and Eric Bailly and sold €51.3m worth of players. Their net spend was just €3m with €54.3m spent on 13 new faces. Time will tell on how well Italian imports Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone do, but that many new faces in one summer cannot be good.
Sevilla lost €86.5m worth of talent with Gregorz Krychowiak and Kevin Gameiro both leaving; Franco Vazquez for €15m from Palermo was their most expensive recruit. Samir Nasri caused a ripple of excitement on deadline day but overall they look worse off, especially as Unai Emery has gone too.
Valencia spent just €32m and raised – out of necessity – €112m by selling their three best players: Alcacer, Shkodran Mustafi and Gomes. There was a flurry of activity on the last day but it couldn’t cover over another asset-stripping exercise. Celta Vigo – another side who poked the big two’s cage last year - also sold their best player, Nolito, and spent less than they made.
Atletico Madrid did at least manage a net spend but as good as Gameiro and Nicolas Gaitan might be, neither look likely to help them take the next step and sidle up to Madrid and Barca.
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In total only 10 of the league's 20 teams made a net spend. The new television deal will help to even up media revenues over time but it feels as though Spanish football will never have a four-horse title race until a major investor comes in and Sugar-daddys a team to success. Malaga and Valencia have wealthy owners but neither seems really interested in losing fortunes of their private wealth to bankroll the club towards glory.
No matter. It should still be a great season. Madrid’s battle with Barca will be enthralling. Atletico could still crash the party and there will be monumental struggles for fourth place and for the Europa League spots. Athletic Bilbao, who continue to admirably snub the transfer orgy, should have a good season and the battle to stay up will only have been made more lively by the fact that one potential candidate in Las Palmas are currently top after two games.
But more and more it’s not 'La Liga' - it is at least two Ligas, with one man’s XI being no match for the next man’s 22.
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