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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Spanish Primera Liga preview: Retention of Griezmann and Simeone set up Atletico Madrid to be best of rest behind Real Madrid and Barcelona

A new stadium awaits Atletico, but third-place is their realistic glass ceiling behind the top two sides in the league, while a number of other sides have reasons to be optimistic.

Atletico Madrid's big bonus of the summer was striker Antoine Griezmann agreeing to stay at the club. Action Images via Reuters / Adam Holt
Atletico Madrid's big bonus of the summer was striker Antoine Griezmann agreeing to stay at the club. Action Images via Reuters / Adam Holt

Atletico Madrid’s greatest success in the close season was keeping Antoine Griezmann, the versatile French forward who wanted to join Manchester United.

Griezmann changed his mind when Atletico’s transfer ban was upheld. He will stay and play in Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano home on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.

Diego Simeone will stay too and that is enough for fans delighted with how the 2010s have gone so far for a team who were perennial under achievers.

Andy Mitten's Spanish Primera Liga preview:

The only team to break the Barca-Madrid duopoly since 2004, Atletico also won two Europa Leagues and reached two Uefa Champions League finals, though the two defeats to their more glamorous neighbours hurt.

They still want to bring Diego Costa back from Chelsea and Costa wants to return, but the transfer ban means that would have to wait until the second half of the season.

Atletico look good for another third-place finish and run to the latter stages of the Champions League, but without the vast riches of those they regularly better, it is going to be hard to go past the bigger European giants.

The new stadium, with its increased 67,000 capacity and executive facilities, should eventually help financially, though they will miss the shabby but hugely atmospheric Vicente Calderon.

Sevilla have had another close season of immense change. Their vastly successful sporting director Monchi has departed, but they have signed well with the fleet-heeled Nolito and Jesus Navas from Manchester City.

Ever Banega, who impressed at Valencia, is back in Spain after a tough year at Inter Milan.

Villarreal finished fourth last term and have strengthened with the signings of Ruben Semedo, Pablo Fornals and Enes Unal.

They have also signed AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca on loan, who will play up front with Cedric Bakambu.

One major departure is defender Mateo Musacchio to AC Milan.

They’ve strengthened and they needed to, for their last foray into the Champions League was a disappointment as their injury-hit squad was unable to cope with domestic and European demands.

Four Basque teams will be present with Eibar, who have done well to establish themselves in the top flight.

Alaves, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad are the other sides, with the latter two aiming for top-six finishes and success in the Europa League.

Valencia need to find a stability that has long been lacking, Espanyol hope to continue their steady progress under Chinese ownership and Quique Sanchez Flores, which meant an eighth place finish last term, while Andalusian sides Real Betis and Malaga will likely finish mid-table.

Mid-table will be a success for Las Palmas, coached by Manolo Marquez, who has never coached higher than the third tier before, and his assistant Juan Carlos Valeron.

Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna, the two Galician clubs, will hope for better finishes than the 13th & 16th of last season. With Celta free of European football, that should be possible.

Of the promoted sides, Levante aim to stay up after an excellent season in Segunda, while Catalan side Girona, playing in Spain’s top tier for the first time, should stay up because of their link-up with Manchester City, which will see a number of players from the Premier League club go on loan there.

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