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Can Juventus and Atlético Madrid challenge Europe’s elite?

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Summer 2019. Barcelona signed Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie De Jong. Real Madrid finally landed Eden Hazard. And Bayern poached Lucas Hernandez. You could be forgiven for assuming that the usual suspects would be dining at Europe’s top table once again in the 2019-20 season. But Atlético Madrid and Juventus are ready to rock the status quo with some impressive transfers themselves.

England’s Premier League dominated the European competitions in 2018-19. La Liga has responded resoundingly in the transfer market by spending well over £1bn on some true global superstars. With Bayern Munich also spending big, the aristocrats of the game are fighting back. They’re determined to reclaim their traditional spots in semi-finals and finals of the biggest competitions. They mean business. The fact that England’s wealthy upstarts Liverpool and Chelsea have won Europe’s top prizes will have irked them massively.

They’ve gone about their transfer business exactly as we’d have expected. However, it’s the recruitment power of another pair of Europe’s sleeping giants that has really turned heads. Up to now, Juventus and Atlético Madrid were still missing enough stardust to compete at the very highest level – that is, until this summer.

Transfers add to quality squad depth

Both Juventus and Atlético Madrid have moved on a lot of players, but they’ve actually managed to get some decent money for their transfers in return. Importantly, they’ve invested it wisely.

Atlético sold Antoine Griezmann for £107m, but they’ve replaced him with João Felix, arguably the future of Portugese football. And while they lost Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich, they received a cool £68m for him. With the cash, they went and signed Felipe, Renan Lodi, Mario Hermoso and Kieran Trippier in defense. And they still had change to spare. The same with Rodri – Manchester City parted with £62m to bring him to the Premier League, but the arrival of Marcos Llorente from Real Madrid for a relatively modest £35m seems like smart business from coach Diego Simeone.

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Juve already invested hugely in their “stardust” in 2018, with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ve added some more this year, with the highly-sought-after Matthijs De Ligt significantly strengthening an ageing defense. At £67.8m too, De Ligt’s transfer represents fantastic value for a 19 year-old already playing at an elite level.

Add in the astute free transfers of Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Adrien Rabiot and the returning Gianluigi Buffon (both PSG) and you can see how an already-formidable Juventus squad now has the kind of depth normally reserved for Champions League contenders.

Juventus and Atlético – ready to challenge?

After the English assault on Europe in 2019 and the investment of Barcelona and Real since then, competition for Europe’s top prize will be tough.

Current champions Liverpool haven’t stregthened in the transfer market, but retain a world class core and a talented squad. Manchester City have added to an already-impressive team and look set to challenge on all fronts again. Real Madrid are in a state of flux, but have invested heavily in some real quality players. Similarly, Barcelona flattered to deceive in 2018-19 but have added some real flair with Griezmann and De Jong.

Paris Saint-Germain have yet to find the right blend of characters in their squad and despite the obvious talent at their disposal, look an outside bet at best. The uncertainty over the future of Neymar is a massive handicap to any aspirations they might have.

With all this in mind, their really is no clear favourite for the UEFA Champions League in 2019-20. Both Juventus and Atlético Madrid have made astute and impressive enough transfers to surely be considered at least the equals of their illustrious rivals. And that will make for an incredible competition for the neutral.

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© Mike Barclay at The Football Diary 2020