Everything that has a beginning must come to an end.

The Background

Watching the 2017 Super Copa was like watching the sun rise at dawn, ushering in a new day; it felt like the beginning of a new era, a change of guard, with Real Madrid confirming their status as the number one football club in world football. It was indeed a remarkable display against the side they displaced from the apex of the game. Madrid were champions of Spain, and back to back champions of Europe, a feat even Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side couldn’t achieve, despite being widely regarded, and quite rightly so too in fact, as one of the greatest teams to have ever graced a football pitch. Over the two legs there was no doubt who the superior team was, with Barcelona getting humbled, and publicly admitting as much.

For years there has been talk of a steady decline at Barcelona, with an increasing reliance on the mercurial talents of Lionel Messi. The acquisition of Luis Suarez which led to the formation of the deadly MSN front line was only a shot of adrenaline to a failing heart, only delaying the inevitable demise of one of the greatest sides to ever step on a football pitch. Their cause was not helped by the departure of Luis Enrique, and the appointment of the excellent, but highly unproven Ernesto Valverde as manager. Another symptom of the club’s shambolic administration at board level.

Atletico Madrid, the best of the rest, were heading into a landmark season of some sort. After 51 years, the Vincente Calderón was no more. Wanda Metropolitano was the new home. Diego Simeone had done a stellar job, punching far above his weight in molding this combative Atletico side in his very own image. However, he has appeared at times like a battle weary man, years of fighting against two of Europe’s elite both at home and abroad taking their toll. The Champions League heartbreaks couldn’t have helped either.

For the rest, 4th position remained the most realistic expectation as usual. This has usually been a battle amongst the Valencias, Sevillas, Villareals, Bilbaos and Malagas of this world, with the others content to preserve their La-Liga status, along with a faint hope of a surprise Europa League qualification.

The Transfer Window

A picture is worth a thousand words. The picture of Neymar in a PSG shirt is worth that, and then some more; about 222million euros more to be exact. Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona to PSG was the proverbial knockout punch. It was truly a huge blow to Barcelona, and the La-Liga as a whole, as the events which played out showed. It appeared to be the final nail in Barcelona’s coffin – for the first time in quite a while they lost a player they didn’t want to. 

Meanwhile Madrid were going from strength to strength. Following their Super Copa victory over Barca on the field, what followed was a subtle transfer window victory off it, the signings of the highly coveted Spanish duo of Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos. One that the largely expected but needlessly stretched and highly overpriced signing of the Borussia Dortmund starlet and wonderkid, Ousmane Dembele could not overshadow. These were not exactly Galactico-esque signings but they represented the future of Spanish football. Along with the likes of Isco, Carvajal, and Asensio, Madrid were building a good Spanish core. Barcelona were losing to Real Madrid at their own game. A trip down recent memory lane to the last two Euros & World Cup would reveal why the Barcelona faithful had cause for worry about their Spanish contingent in the national side, a saga again slightly more complicated now by the impending Catalonia brouhaha.

A transfer ban meant no incomings or outgoings at Atletico Madrid, meaning that Atletico, and by extension La-Liga, got to keep Antoine Griezmann, limiting the loss of superstar forwards to just one.

The Reality

Barcelona’s response to the questions asked of them has been nothing short of phenomenal, with the one all draw against Atletico Madrid the only blemish in an otherwise perfect campaign so far. The style may be gone, but the substance remains. With Valverde it’s been more effective than pretty, but he won’t be bothered about that. He’s getting the job done, and that’s all that really matters, at least for now.
Valencia have been the surprise package of the season, flying high with some impressive performances, and fully deserving of their second place on the log. Real Madrid have made a stuttering start to their title defense with Zidane having to deal with issues regarding fitness and form in his squad. On current form they are not even the best in the league, let alone best in the world. Atletico are gradually adjusting to their new home, but initial signs suggest that this might take some time, and thus hamper their chances of a sustained assault on the title.

Winners and Losers

Like fine wine, Lionel Messi is only getting better with age, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Simone Zaza has been the revelation of the season so far, his goals firing Valencia to second place, his horrible spells seem to be firmly behind him. In a season when Cristiano Ronaldo has been a bit subdued, partly due to the disciplinary issue that marred his start to the campaign, Isco has often been Madrid’s savior, taking his fine form from the end of last season into this campaign. His growing influence in the Madrid midfield won’t do his confidence any harm.

Meanwhile Gareth Bale is enduring another difficult season, while Cristiano Ronaldo has not been at his braggadocious best; but the biggest disappointment this season has been Antoine Griezzman. The French forward has really struggled to recapture his best form this season, and his struggles have reflected in the quality of Atletico’s performances so far. That said, Yannick Carrasco has a lot of faith to repay but its very unlikely he would do it if he continues in his single minded game play, Thomas Partey however seems to be primed as Gabi’s successor. Only time would tell how that works out.

Looking Forward

The biggest story of the season has been off the pitch, with the Catalonia referendum and its implications for Barcelona and La-Liga as a whole the major talking point. Results on the pitch have not been affected though as Barca continue to set the pace, despite having to host a game in an empty Camp Nou in protest. Everyone else so far, is playing catchup.

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