The upcoming 2023/24 La Liga season is set to commence this weekend, featuring Barcelona’s endeavor to uphold their championship title while Real Madrid adjusts to the departure of Karim Benzema earlier this summer.
With distinct strategies pursued by Spain’s top two clubs in the transfer market, AFP Sport highlights five noteworthy new acquisitions poised to make an impact in this La Liga season:
JUDE BELLINGHAM (Real Madrid)
Making a striking entrance at the Santiago Bernabeu, the English talent’s selection of the number five jersey pays homage to the legendary Zinedine Zidane. Real Madrid secured Bellingham’s services for an initial sum of 103 million euros ($112 million), snatching the 19-year-old from Borussia Dortmund. Bellingham, a promising prospect for Madrid’s future, is presented with the opportunity to refine his skills alongside seasoned midfield stalwarts Luka Modric and Toni Kroos – players he will eventually succeed, partnering with young French duo Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni. While he exhibited brilliance for England during the previous year’s World Cup, Bellingham could only witness the heartbreak of Dortmund narrowly missing out on the German title during the season’s final moments from the substitutes’ bench.
ILKAY GUNDOGAN (Barcelona)
Formerly the skipper of Manchester City’s triumphant squad, Ilkay Gundogan declined a fresh contract offer to embark on a transfer to Camp Nou, marking his departure after an illustrious seven-season tenure guided by Pep Guardiola. The 32-year-old German international’s move adds vigor to Barcelona’s midfield, which already boasts an array of options including rising Spanish talents Pedri and Gavi, along with Dutch star Frenkie de Jong. In the aftermath of their unsuccessful bid to entice Lionel Messi back following his stint with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona sought Gundogan as an alternative. Messi ultimately ventured to Inter Miami, where he now shares company with former Barcelona comrades Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. Notably, Oriol Romeu, whose route to the Barcelona senior squad was once obstructed by Busquets, has also rejoined his childhood club subsequent to his transfer from Girona.
CESAR AZPILICUETA (Atletico Madrid)
Returning to his homeland after a remarkable 13-year spell abroad, Spain’s esteemed defender, Cesar Azpilicueta, is now donning the colors of Atletico Madrid. His remarkable journey includes 11 triumphant years with Chelsea, during which he clinched every significant accolade on the club stage. Following his departure from Chelsea in a summer overhaul under the guidance of new manager Mauricio Pochettino, Azpilicueta affixed his signature to a one-year contract with Atletico. His tenure at Chelsea spanned 508 appearances, marked by two Premier League titles and the captaincy during Chelsea’s conquest of a second Champions League trophy in 2021. Now at the age of 33, Azpilicueta’s arrival infuses Atletico with a treasure trove of experience. The team, led by Diego Simeone, is seeking to build upon a promising second half of the previous campaign that propelled them to a third-place finish.
ANDRE SILVA (Real Sociedad)
Once hailed as the potential successor to Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva’s trajectory has encountered a slight setback since his standout season with Eintracht Frankfurt two years ago. At the age of 27, Silva has embarked on a new chapter, joining Real Sociedad on a season-long loan from RB Leipzig. This transition coincides with the Basque club’s triumphant return to the Champions League, ending a decade-long absence after securing a fourth-place finish in La Liga last season. A veteran of Porto, AC Milan, and Sevilla, Silva’s journey has seen him grappling with a thigh ailment throughout the preseason. Nevertheless, Real Sociedad has high expectations for him, banking on his resurgence as they bid farewell to namesake David Silva, who recently retired due to a severe knee injury.
ARDA GULER (Real Madrid)
Secured from Fenerbahce, narrowly evading the clutches of their arch-rivals Barcelona, for an approximate fee of 20 million euros ($21.7 million), Arda Guler’s acquisition aspires to elevate Real Madrid’s ambitions. The Turkish teenage sensation, often likened to Messi due to his remarkable skills, is anticipated to contribute to the emergence of a fresh “Galacticos” era. Possessing a left-footed finesse, this 18-year-old prodigy etched his name in history by becoming Turkey’s youngest scorer in June. Guler’s journey commenced at Fenerbahce at the age of 16, when he debuted during a Europa League qualifier, and not long after his 17th birthday, he shattered records once again by becoming the club’s youngest goal-scorer in a league match. Despite inking a six-year pact with Madrid, Guler is set to commence the season on the sidelines, engrossed in his recovery from a knee injury.