Long Reads

Griezmann, Hazard and Joao Felix: three marquee signings who could decide La Liga title

Griezmann, Hazard and Joao Felix
Credit: Getty Images

It was a rather busy summer for LaLiga’s three powerhouses. Barcelona were desperate to find the piece missing to lift the much-coveted Champions League trophy. Real Madrid, in the meantime, went out shopping to let the 2018/19 campaign slip from memory and achieve the ‘revolution’ that Zidane opts for.

Atletico Madrid, on their part, invested a record €243.5 million to rebuild their team, as the majority of their defensive pillars departed the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano in July.

Between them, the three clubs spent as many as €827.7 million in transfers, aiming to return to the European pinnacle and first and foremost clinch the domestic league.

To make their dreams come true, however, they will need their summer marquee signings Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard and Joao Felix to deliver as soon as possible.

Eight games into the season so far and Real Madrid top the LaLiga table, with Barcelona a couple of points behind Los Blancos and Atletico trailing the Blaugrana by a single point.

Real Madrid in search of a Galactico

It may take years for Los Blancos to fill the void created by Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus. Real Madrid attempted to hand Gareth Bale the mantle of the team’s leader, but the Welshman failed to deliver.

Karim Benzema stepped up last season, but that wasn’t enough for a team which were tossed out of all three competitions by early March.

Zinedine Zidane returned to the club and last campaign’s Europa League final MVP, Eden Hazard, joined from Chelsea.

Upon his arrival, the Belgian insisted that he is anything but a Galactico “yet” and he went on to attest to that statement with his performances in the first stretch of the season.

A hamstring injury prevented him from debuting with his new team until September 14 in a 3-2 home victory against Levante and he didn’t manage to find the back of the net before October 5, in Madrid’s 4-2 win to Granada.

Following his team’s 2-2 draw in the Champions League against Club Brugge, Zidane asked the fans to stick up for the Belgium international.

“I know [Hazard] is going to succeed here,” said the French coach.

“I’m not going to give him any advice on how to play; he knows what we want from him and we know the player he is. We all have to remain calm, I’m not worried at all.

“He needs more time, we have to be calm with the players who have just arrived.

“He’s going to be fine and fans have to back him.”

The scenario of a third successive year without a league title is far from an ideal scenario for Real Madrid and their president Florentino Perez.

Barcelona’s domestic domination won’t end in a day or two, but Los Blancos are determined to knock the Blaugrana off their perch and Hazard’s contribution will be crucial in their attempt to return to LaLiga’s pinnacle.

Griezmann has a point to prove

In June 14, 2018, Antoine Griezmann announced in the most melodramatic way his décision to turn down Barcelona and stay at Atletico Madrid.

Several Blaugrana players were reportedly unhappy by the Frenchman snubbing the LaLiga reigning champions and they didn’t take kindly to his signing for the Catalan side one year later.

Barcelona spent – what seems like a – bargain €120 million to lure him out of Los Rojiblancos, while some of the dressing room leaders had expressed their desire to see Neymar return at the club.

After several episodes of this summer’s transfer soap opera, the Brazilian stayed at Paris Saint-Germain and Lionel Messi openly questioned the board’s effort to sign the 27-year-old forward, indicating that he was unsure whether “Barca did everything possible to get him back.”

Griezmann started all Barcelona’s first nine official games in all competitions, but he has yet to stand out, although his three goals and two assists is anything but a devastating return for a new signing.

Injuries to Messi and Luis Suarez meant that Ernesto Valverde would have to wait until the 2-0 defeat at the hands of Granada to see the Frenchman alongside the aforementioned two upfront.

Including the game at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, the three forwards have coincided for less than 200 minutes on the pitch, with Messi setting up Griezmann’s goal in a 2-1 win against Villarreal.

After Barcelona’s 2-1 comeback victory over Inter at the Camp Nou, Marca produced a graphic showing that the two players combined just five times in 66 minutes.

“[Messi] is not someone that speaks a lot, neither am I, so it’s difficult for us to talk,” Griezmann noted before the game against the Nerazzurri.

Valverde called for his player to “get more involved” after their LaLiga opener which ended in a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Club and the 2018 World Cup winner seems to understand that he will need to adapt to his new role.

He can relieve the weight of being the team leader he was at Atletico Madrid off his shoulders and unfold his talent on the pitch to help Barcelona to a much-desired treble.

Atletico’s all-time record signing aged 19

Los Rojiblancos’, meanwhile, didn’t wait long to find Griezmann’s successor and they invested the money they earned from his move to Barcelona in signing Benfica’s wonderkid Joao Felix.

Following the busiest transfer window in the club’s history, Diego Simeone has undertaken the challenge to make all the new pieces of the puzzle fit together and create his Altetico Madrid 2.0.

Several key players departed in summer including Griezmann, Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Juanfran and Felipe Luis, with more than half of Atleti’s regular starters this season being summer arrivals.

Felix is one of those who have secured a spot in the first eleven since the first official game of the season and he has started in all their 10 games in LaLiga and the Champions League.

Although he has contributed three goals and one assist, the 19-year-old has yet to live up to his €126 million price tag.

Atletico Madrid have scored seven goals in LaLiga – just one more than one of the league’s pichichis and Real Betis’ forward Loren Moron – and they have dropped six points after eight games.

Carrying a team like Atleti on his shoulders at the age of 19 may prove to be too tough of a task for the Portuguese, but should he manage to step up, he will provide his side with a huge boost of confidence.

“[Felix] has a lot of personality. It’s not easy to be 19 and have the pressure of what has been paid for him,” stressed his captain, Koke.

“You have to give him some time. If he plays two bad games, you can’t kill him.”

First deliver, first served

In modern football, however, a €100-million transfer would be expected to deliver straight away.

Zidane, Valverde and Simeone have all called for patience over their new stars, but in the back of their mind they are well aware that the margins are pretty fine.

This season’s title race may be decided in small details and whoever, between Griezmann, Hazard and Joao Felix, kickstarts his career at his club first, he may instantly give them a great advantage over the rest of the contenders.

All three have the potential to lead their teams all the way to the trophy and patience may serve to build a long-term plan.

In a season, however, that none of the three clubs have managed to stand out yet, all they need is a small push to clinch the silverware.

And who’s better to deliver it than their summer marquee signings?

About the author

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Panos Kostopoulos

Born in Greece, studied journalism in Preston (yes Preston, England) and lives in Madrid. Addicted to football and Liverpool FC.

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