Five newcomers to look out for in La Liga

AFP , Tuesday 8 Aug 2023

The 2023/24 La Liga season kicks off this weekend with Barcelona attempting to defend their title from a Real Madrid side that bid farewell to Karim Benzema this summer.

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham, left, moves the ball past Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli during the second half of a Champions Cup soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. Photo: AP


With Spain's top two clubs adopting different approaches in the transfer market, AFP Sport picks out five new signings to watch this season in La Liga:

Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid)

The England international announced his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu by choosing the number five shirt as a tribute to club great Zinedine Zidane. Signed for an initial fee of 103 million euros ($112 million) from Borussia Dortmund, the 19-year-old Bellingham represents Madrid's future, with the chance to further refine his game alongside veteran midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, players he will eventually phase out with young French duo Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni. Bellingham shone for England at last year's World Cup but could only watch from the bench in despair as the German title slipped from Dortmund's grasp on the final day of the season.

Ilkay Gundogan (Barcelona)

The captain of Manchester City's treble-winning team, Ilkay Gundogan turned down a new contract to move to the Camp Nou on a free transfer after seven hugely successful seasons under Pep Guardiola. The Germany international, who turns 33 in October, will strengthen a Barcelona midfield with plenty of options, including young Spaniards Pedri and Gavi, and Dutchman Frenkie de Jong. Barcelona turned to Gundogan after failing to lure Lionel Messi back at the end of his deal with Paris Saint-Germain, the Argentine instead heading to Inter Miami where he has since been joined by former Barca team-mates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. Oriol Romeu, whose path to the Barcelona first team was once blocked by Busquets, is also back at his boyhood club after moving from Girona.

Arda Guler (Real Madrid)

Signed from Fenerbahce under the noses of arch rivals Barcelona for a reported 20 million euros ($21.7 million), Madrid hope the Turkish teenage prodigy -- who has drawn comparisons with Messi -- will form part of a new generation of "Galacticos". A left-footed playmaker, the 18-year-old in June became the youngest player to score for Turkey. He made his Fenerbahce debut aged 16 in a Europa League qualifier two years ago and broke the record as the club's youngest league goalscorer barely two weeks after his 17th birthday. Guler signed a six-year contract with Madrid but will start the season on the sidelines while recovering from a knee injury.

Cesar Azpilicueta (Atletico Madrid)

The Spain defender returns to his homeland after 13 years abroad, 11 of those with Chelsea, where he won all major honours at club level. Azpilicueta penned a one-year deal with Atletico after leaving Chelsea in a summer clearout under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. He made 508 appearances for the Blues, twice winning the Premier League and captaining Chelsea to a second Champions League crown in 2021. The 33-year-old brings a wealth of experience to an Atletico team that again came third last term after a much improved second half of the campaign under Diego Simeone.

Andre Silva (Real Sociedad)

Once touted as the heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, Silva's career has stalled somewhat after his breakout season with Eintracht Frankfurt two years ago. Now 27, Silva has joined Real Sociedad on a season-long loan from RB Leipzig as the Basque club return to the Champions League for the first time in a decade after finishing fourth in La Liga last term. The former Porto, AC Milan and Sevilla striker has spent pre-season recovering from a thigh problem, but La Real are counting on him to rediscover his best form after namesake David Silva announced his retirement last month following a serious knee injury.

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