The 2019-2020 La Liga season kicks off on Friday as back-to-back champions Barcelona get to show off their squad tune-ups against Basque side Athletic Bilbao.
Ernesto Valverde's side could face a stiff challenge this season from one of the Madrid outfits–but everyone's money is against that being the usual giants from the capital. Many deem this to be Atlético Madrid's best shot at a trophy in years despite the departure of several of Diego Simeone's most reliable players. Zidane's Real Madrid will have something to say about their neighbor's bid, and fans will demand nothing short of a return to their usual dominance.
Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona:
Barcelona has bought players from within Spain as well as players from across Europe, and the result is a Blaugrana that are odds-on favorites to win a third straight La Liga title.
The biggest offseason move not only strengthened Barca ahead of their Friday opener at Athletic Bilbao but weakened rival and 2018-19 runners-up Atlético Madrid. The signing of winger Antoine Griezmann after meeting Atleti's eye-watering £110 million release clause signaled the urgency Barcelona have in not only winning La Liga, but also the Champions League. Following their spectacular flameout at Anfield against Liverpool – in which they threw away a three-goal lead from their first-leg victory – Barcelona is pulling out all the stops to ensure their squad is the best on and off the continent.
Griezmann gives Barcelona an imposing front line that features that guy Lionel Messi – you may know him as arguably the greatest of all-time – and Luis Suarez, who has instinctive goal-scoring finisher’s abilities while irritating opponents with his constant on-field theatrics. Messi and Suarez combined for 57 goals in La Liga last season, with the 32-year-old Messi racking up 36 while clearing 400 in league play and 600 in all competitions in his landmark career.
Celta Vigo vs. Real Madrid:
While Barcelona look to lay claim to being the best in La Liga, Real continue to be runaway winners for the best in drama. Los Blancos are again starting a season in upheaval, as coach Zinedine Zidane–in his second go-round with the club–struggled to find any sort of cohesion on a preseason tour in which his side was lit up for 18 goals in seven matches, including seven by Atlético while in the U.S.
Gareth Bale continues to be the central talking point, with both player and coach uncertain if the Wales international will stick with the club–despite Zidane showing little interest in playing him–or move before the close of the August transfer window. Real continue to be linked with Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and PSG striker Neymar, but no one is certain if both or either player will arrive.
That leaves the current trio midfield of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro to provide service for Eden Hazard, who completed a long-sought £91 million move from Chelsea after helping the Premier League side to the UEFA Europa League title in June. The Belgium international, who totaled 19 goals and 15 assists in all competitions last season, has yet to look at ease in Zidane's preferred 3-5-2 formation, which has many worried Real will fail to contend again after finishing 19 points behind Barca in 2018-19.
Atlético Madrid vs. Getafe:
Every season, it seems an elite European club poaches a star player off Atlético Madrid, yet somehow Diego Simeone perseveres and keeps his side in contention for the La Liga title and the knockout rounds of the Champions League. This season, the challenge is intensified for the Argentine boss following the departures of Griezmann to Barcelona, central midfielder Rodri to Manchester City, and defender Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich.
The transfer fees accrued for the trio came to nearly £300 million, which Atletli promptly invested a good portion (£115 million) to land 19-year-old Joao Felix from Portuguese side Benfica. Felix, who had 15 goals and seven assists in his first full season, has already shown himself quite capable of filling the void Griezmann created on the right-wing.
But fear not for Simeone, who still has mercurial striker Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata in attack plus one of the world's best goalkeepers in Jan Oblak. The defense, which is the heart and soul of Atlético, has been significantly re-tooled with the departure of Hernandez and Diego Godin, as Jose Gimenez is the lone holdover from last season's back four. Kieran Trippier made a surprising move from Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur to slot in at right-back, and Mario Hermoso is expected to be Gimenez's new partner in central defense.
La Liga Opening Weekend Schedule:
Friday, August 16:
• Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona (3 p.m. ET, BeIN)
Saturday, August 17:
• Celta Vigo vs. Real Madrid (11 a.m. ET, BeIN)
• Valencia vs. Real Sociedad (1 p.m. ET, BeIN)
• Villarreal vs. Grenada (3 p.m. ET, BeIN)
• Leganes vs. Osasuna (3 p.m. ET, BeIN)
Sunday, August 18:
• Alaves vs. Levante (11 a.m. ET, BeIN)
• Espanyol vs. Sevilla (1 p.m. ET, BeIN)
• Atletico Madrid vs. Getafe (3 p.m. ET, BeIN)
How to Watch:
Live Stream: You can stream every match on fuboTV. Sign up now for a free seven-day trial.