Zinedine Zidane says there will "always be pessimism" at Real Madrid and he is unconcerned by Los Blancos' patchy showings in pre-season.

Even before a ball was kicked in LaLiga this term, the circus was seemingly in town at the Santiago Bernabeu amid rumours in Spain of growing tension at the club.

Madrid limped to a third-place finish last term and the returning Zidane saw the club fork out large sums to revamp the squad with Eden Hazard, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Luka Jovic all arriving – although rumours suggest the latter may already be headed for the exit door on loan.

But Madrid have thus far been unsuccessful in rumoured pursuits of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, while their warm-up games have offered little cause for optimism.

Madrid have suffered defeats to Bayern Munich, Tottenham and Atletico Madrid – the latter a 7-3 rout – while they shipped three in a victory over Fenerbahce and only defeated Salzburg 1-0.

Coach Zidane, though, was a figure of calm when assessing Madrid's chances of success this season, with their campaign starting at Celta Vigo on Saturday.

"There will always be pessimists. Real Madrid will always have these things. Whether there are good results or not, people will always argue about things," he said.

"We need our fans to be with us, as they always are. We will try to make things exciting for the fans by playing good football. That's all we can do.

"We want to start and here we are. We've had our final training session and we want to get this league started. We are very happy to begin and we're ready.

"I want to play well and get results. That's what I'm most worried about. The most important thing for me is what we do on the pitch.

"We try to do things well as a team together. If we do that, we will win as a team. I prefer it if we play well because it's important to do that at Real Madrid."

As well as seemingly missing out on potential incomings, Madrid have also failed to find new homes for Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez who at one stage appeared certain to leave.

Zidane insists he is happy with the make-up of his squad, though.

"I'm happy with what I've got. We have all sat down and spoke about this. This is what we have, the players that we have. I'm interested and ready to work with these players," he added.

"We can't talk about other things we can't affect. You can talk about other players if you like but I'm going to focus on tomorrow. I am what I am. Sometimes we all have changes of mood when things don't go right, but I'm not going to waste time. I'm smiling, I'm happy because we love football. We are very lucky to do this.

"I don't think about the past, what we have won, because football is about what is coming up in the future.

"If I had to think coming back was a risk, it would not be an easy thing to do. I don't think about the criticism, it's all part of the job. It's part of life of a coach.

"I know where I'm going and what I want from my players, I know what I want on the pitch. We have to be competitive, win matches and win titles. We have to do that throughout the season."

Zinedine Zidane is surprised Gareth Bale remains a Real Madrid player but has vowed to use the Welshman regularly this season.

Bale saw a move to Chinese club Jiangsu Suning collapse in July and looks set to stay at the Bernabeu, despite tenuous links to Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain refusing to go away.

With the European transfer window still open and amid rumours of a falling-out with Zidane, the 30-year-old forward missed Madrid's previous three friendlies before coming on as a substitute in last weekend's defeat on penalties to Roma.

Ahead of Saturday's LaLiga opener with Celta Vigo, Zidane gave Bale his backing and challenged the forward to "make things difficult" for him in terms of his squad selection.

"It seemed that he was going, but now he is with us," the Frenchman said at his pre-match news conference on Friday.

"Things change and now I will be using him as much as the other players in the squad. I'm going to use all the players I've got.

"He is registered with us and he is a good player. I hope all the players here want to make things difficult for me."

James Rodriguez is another player facing an uncertain future in the Spanish capital, having yet to feature for Madrid since returning from a two-year loan spell with Bayern Munich.

Like Bale, though, Zidane will give rumoured Napoli and Atletico Madrid target James an opportunity to prove himself.

"James is fit and we are happy to have him in the squad," Zidane said. "I'll repeat what I said before - I have a big squad and I'll use all the players. They're all happy to be here."

Zidane was brought back to the Bernabeu for a second spell in charge in March and has been heavily backed during the close season with the arrivals of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Eder Militao and Ferland Mendy.

The transfer window remains open for Spanish clubs until September 2 and there are continued links with Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar.

But Zidane was in no mood to entertain speculation regarding further incoming players.

"Neymar is not a Real Madrid player," he said. "The important thing is the players that are here.

"Paul is a player who plays for Manchester United, you must respect that.

"I'm happy with the players I've got. I'm just focused on the game tomorrow, nothing else.

"We are ready and want to play a good game. I've got the best players, I've always said that. All I'm worried about is what we are going to do tomorrow."

Paul Pogba could still join Real Madrid but he is not worth the reported €200million asking price, according to the Manchester United midfielder's brother.

Mathias Pogba, who plays in the fourth tier of Spanish football, thinks his younger sibling might yet leave Old Trafford despite United's apparent insistence on a huge sum.

The Premier League club reportedly want close to the world-record €222m fee that saw Neymar move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

United would not be able to sign a replacement as the transfer window has closed to English clubs, but Mathias advised Madrid to listen to the desires of head coach Zinedine Zidane.

"Zidane is one of the greats and I think that if the club give him what he wants he won't have a problem," Mathias told El Chiringuito.

"But if they don't give it to him, he's going to have a hard time because what he wants is not going to happen.

"Zidane is missing my brother and another midfielder on top of that, I think.

"Of course, Florentino [Perez, club president] can still bring him to Madrid, nothing is impossible. Until September 2, anything can happen."

However, he added: "My brother isn't worth €200m, but that's just the way the transfer market is these days.

"Manchester United are going to ask for a lot of money, I'm sure, but he's not worth €200m."

Madrid commence their LaLiga campaign away to Celta Vigo on Saturday.

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.

Manchester United were made to wait but they got their man in Harry Maguire, who left Leicester City in an £80million deal.

The focus on the huge fee was then eased by the defender's excellent debut in a 4-0 win over Chelsea.

And United fans will be even more delighted to read reports Maguire turned down their city rivals and a massive contract offer in order to head to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – CITY OFFERED MAGUIRE CONTRACT WORTH £70M

The Premier League transfer window has closed but the talk does not stop.

According to the Daily Star, England defender Maguire was offered £278,000 per week by City – worth £70m over five years – but opted instead to sign for United.

The deal would have made the former Leicester man the best paid defender in world football, whereas his contract at Old Trafford is said to be worth almost £100,000 less per week.

Maguire reportedly rejected the deal because he had already decided to join United – news that will only further endear him to Red Devils supporters.

ROUND-UP 

- United may not have needed to match City's Maguire offer, but the Daily Mail report Alexis Sanchez is on £560,000 per week, having opted for the red half of Manchester. These wages explain just why United have not been able to get rid of the Chilean in this transfer window. Neither Juventus, Inter nor Napoli can afford Sanchez.

- Meanwhile, details continue to emerge from Barcelona's meeting with Paris Saint-Germain regarding Neymar. According to Le Parisien, Arturo Vidal formed part of the Blaugrana's offer - but PSG were not impressed by a package including the former Bayern Munich man, Philippe Coutinho and less than €60m.

 

- While some of Europe's top clubs could yet make late moves, it appears Nice will be one of the busier outfits. L'Equipe believe they are looking to bring in both Jean-Kevin Augustin from RB Leipzig and Adam Ounas from Napoli. The former would cost €20m, while the latter deal would be a loan with an option for the same amount.

Neymar has not been removed from the Paris Saint-Germain squad and is "completely healed", according to the club's sporting director Leonardo.

The Brazil international, who missed the Copa America due to injury, was absent for last week's Ligue 1 opener against Nimes, during which some supporters protested against the forward.

Neymar reported late for pre-season training and Leonardo has previously confirmed the 27-year-old wants to leave Paris, two years after he joined from Barcelona for a world-record €222million.

A return to Camp Nou has been mooted for Neymar, although Barca coach Ernesto Valverde was unwilling to discuss the prospect at a news conference on Thursday.

And Leonardo has denied reports Neymar remains injured and has been left out of Thomas Tuchel's group as a result.

"Things are simple," Leonardo said to RMC Sport.

"Neymar was monitored by several great doctors and surgeons early in the season and his fracture line is fully consolidated at the fifth metatarsal. Neymar's injury is completely healed.

"It's false. He is not removed from the group. He follows his personalised rehabilitation programme."

Neymar's future remains unresolved, though, with Barca and Real Madrid having reportedly failed with offers, and Leonardo has suggested the attacker may miss Sunday's trip to Rennes.

"He is a player of Paris Saint-Germain, there is still three years of his contract in Paris, we must not forget," Leonardo added.

"We must analyse everything, we must fix everything before he can play again.

"Neymar made mistakes. You know, I didn't know him. As the days go by, I get to know him.

"And I honestly think he's a good boy with a very good background. And on the pitch, he's an amazing player.

"There are discussions for his future, as you know it today, but nothing advanced."

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.

Six players who were due to miss the opening round of LaLiga fixtures this weekend through suspension will be pardoned by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), provided the Higher Sports Council (CSD) approves the move.

The RFEF had proposed a new law whereby players who received a fifth yellow card on the final day of a given season will not then be suspended for the first match of the following campaign.

President Luis Rubiales is hopeful the six individuals set to be sidelined will be free to play for their respective clubs.

A statement from the RFEF read: "We want to inform you that, given the information that appears [in the media] in this regard, we have consulted the Higher Sports Council (CSD) on the feasibility and legality of the RFEF president adopting a pardon measure for those players who at the beginning of this season are required to comply with the sanction of a game without playing for the accumulation of five yellow cards in the previous season.

"We inform that if the CSD ratifies us in writing, the viability and legality of said measure and that with the adoption of the same, no disciplinary infraction would be committed, the president of the RFEF will immediately proceed to adopt the pardon agreement for all those players who are in that situation."

Despite the RFEF confirming their plans on Thursday, there remains a degree of uncertainty about whether the CSD will agree to alteration in time for the start of the 2019-20 season, which begins on Friday.

Should the law not be passed in time, Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Jose Luis Gaya, Dani Parejo (both Valencia), Nemanja Maksimovic (Getafe), Diego Llorente and Aritz Elustondo (both Real Sociedad) will miss their teams' fixtures.

Neymar would be a threat to Barcelona's squad harmony if he returned to the club from Paris Saint-Germain, according to Blaugrana great Hristo Stoichkov.

Brazil star Neymar left Barca for PSG in a world-record €222million move in 2017, as the Ligue 1 side paid the forward's release clause.

Neymar's split from Barca was ugly – the club criticising PSG's conduct and disputing the player's loyalty bonus.

But, according to media reports, that has not stopped Neymar and Barca working behind the scenes in recent weeks in order to facilitate a move.

Neymar's position at PSG looks untenable after the club's ultras sang offensive chants about him during their Ligue 1 opener, while Barca are said to have offered multiple players and a transfer fee to secure his return.

But Stoichkov, who spent seven years at Barca across two spells, is adamant Neymar is more trouble than he is worth.

"He would be a bomb inside the locker room," Stoichkov told Univision. "Barcelona don't need Neymar. He would have no space to play because they already have very important players.

"There are [Ousmane] Dembele, [Antoine] Griezmann, [Luis] Suarez, [Lionel] Messi. Where would he play? For my part, I don't want him to come back.

"I'm sure there are players who want to come back and ask the president for his effort, but Barca isn't going to move a single Euro to get him back. Barca doesn't have the money to pay PSG.

"There are [swap] options, but the players Barca is offering to PSG is disrespectful [to the players]. Firstly, because Ivan Rakitic is a great worker, a very humble lad who has never let his guard down and has always defenders the interests of Barcelona.

"And [Philippe] Coutinho cost a lot of money, but he has a lot of ability and I defend him, and hopefully no Barca player leaves."

If Real Madrid want to sign Neymar, they may have to part with one of their young stars.

Neymar wants to leave Paris Saint-Germain and a return to Barcelona has been mooted for the world's most expensive footballer.

Madrid, however, are also eyeing Neymar but PSG have identified one Los Blancos Brazilian to replace their wantaway star.

 

TOP STORY – PSG ASK FOR VINICIUS AS PART OF NEYMAR DEAL

According to Spanish media, Paris Saint-Germain have asked for Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior to be included in any deal to send Neymar to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Neymar has been linked to former club Barcelona and fellow LaLiga giants Madrid as he looks to leave Paris.

PSG and Barca are yet to strike a deal, though talks are ongoing. In the meantime, sporting director Leonardo requested Brazilian youngster Vinicius in a potential deal with Madrid but it was swiftly rejected by Los Blancos, reports AS.

Marca, meanwhile, says PSG are keen for Vinicius and Luka Modric to be involved.

 

ROUND-UP 

- New signing Luka Jovic will not be leaving Real Madrid on loan, Bild says. Reports emerged on Wednesday that Jovic had failed to impress Zinedine Zidane following his €60million arrival from Eintracht Frankfurt. However, the Serbia forward is not set for a short-term move away.

- Inter want €80million for former captain and outcast Mauro Icardi, according to Tuttosport. Icardi has been deemed surplus to requirements at Inter following Romelu Lukaku's club-record arrival and the Argentina striker reportedly wants to join Juventus, while Roma and Napoli are believed to be interested.

- According to the Daily Mail, Alexis Sanchez is ready to quit Manchester United amid interest from Serie A. Having struggled to make an impact since his big-money arrival from Arsenal, Sanchez has been linked to AC Milan, Napoli, Juventus and Napoli.

- Staying at Old Trafford and the Mirror claims Victor Lindelof is set for a massive new Manchester United deal. Linked to Barcelona during the off-season, Lindelof is reportedly in line for a three-year extension. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail says United scouts passed on signing Sporting CP captain Bruno Fernandes.

- The Washington Post claims Mesut Ozil's agent was in Washington to meet with DC United on Wednesday. The MLS side have identified the Arsenal playmaker as a replacement for Wayne Rooney, who has agreed to join Derby County as a player-coach in January.

- AC Milan will resist offers for Suso and Franck Kessie as they want to keep the pair, reports Sky Sport Italia. Suso has been linked to Lyon, Sevilla and Roma, while Kessie rejected a move to Wolves.

Neymar leaving Paris Saint-Germain would not be good for Ligue 1, Marseille head coach Andre Villas-Boas believes.

PSG star Neymar has been linked to former club Barcelona and Real Madrid before the LaLiga transfer window shuts on September 2.

Neymar reportedly wants to return to Barca after his world-record €222million exit in 2017, while Madrid are also an option.

Asked about Brazil international forward Neymar, Villas-Boas said: "This type of player has an important image in football, a bit like when Ronaldinho was here in Paris.

"There's this attractiveness, the football world wants to watch these kinds of players. I don't know what's going to happen, I can't comment on the separation because I'm not the PSG coach.

"He is an important player in the world of football. For me, it was the player who could succeed [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi for the Ballon d'Or. But he did not recover all the qualities he had shown in Barcelona.

"For Ligue 1, it's not good if he leaves. But we have other good players and clubs like OM, with an international reputation, who will always make Ligue 1 attractive."

Neymar has scored 34 goals in 37 Ligue 1 appearances despite both his seasons at PSG being interrupted by serious foot injuries.

In total, Neymar has managed 51 goals in 58 games for PSG – who opened their title defence with a 3-0 win over Nimes in the absence of the 27-year-old.

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.

Real Madrid's preparations ahead of the new season have been dealt a setback after they confirmed forward Rodrygo has suffered a thigh injury.

The Spanish giants are yet to put a timescale on the Brazilian's return, but he will miss Real Madrid Castilla's friendly against Cultural Leonesa on Wednesday.

The 18-year-old is also a significant doubt for Zinedine Zidane's team's opening LaLiga fixture of the new campaign at Celta Vigo on Saturday.

The highly rated youngster arrived at Real during the close season, 12 months after a deal was agreed for him to join from Santos for £40m.

He provided some promising displays during Zidane's team's pre-season tour of the United States but was left at home for the more recent trips to Austria and Italy, instead remaining with Castilla.

Georginio Wijnaldum has given a unique insight into "special" Jurgen Klopp's man-management methods after revealing the Liverpool boss addressed his team ahead of the 2018 Champions League final wearing Cristiano Ronaldo-branded underwear.

The Reds boss has carved a reputation for his jovial antics and, according to midfielder Wijnaldum, the German's pre-match team-talk for the showdown against Real Madrid - for whom then-star player Ronaldo was the chief threat - was no exception after he lightened the mood in his own inimitable style.

"We saw he was wearing the boxer shorts of Cristiano Ronaldo," the Netherlands midfielder told The Athletic. 

"He did the meeting with his shirt stuffed inside his 'CR7' boxers. The whole changing room was on the floor laughing their heads off. That really broke the ice. Usually in those situations, everyone is serious and concentrated. But he was relaxed and made this joke.

"He's done hundreds of jokes likes that. If you see that your manager is really confident and relaxed, it will have an effect on players. He is a father figure in those things for the players. With his jokes and his body language, he takes the pressure off players."

Liverpool ultimately lost the game 3-1 but went one better the following season, defeating Tottenham 2-0 to claim a sixth triumph in Europe's premier competition.

It has cemented Klopp's status as one of the world's leading coaches and Wijnaldum has paid tribute to the German's man-management style.

Wijnaldum said: "He always tries to empathise with the other person, to feel what they're going through. He is a really special man for me. I see him as more than a manager - a really good friend."

He continued: "He is the kind of manager that will be angry about things in the game, or will show emotion during a game, but when it comes to half-time, he speaks with you and gives you confidence. 'You can do it better. You have to do this, have to do that…'

"He is one of the first managers I've had who doesn't get angry when you try to do the things that you are good at. He will never be angry when you try to use your talent or quality. Even if it goes wrong.

"Since I am at Liverpool, he has helped me a lot. Not only with football, but also as a person, the way you think about things. That is why I enjoy every day of working with him. I can be really mad at him one day. But the next day the anger is gone and we will love each other again."

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.

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