MADRID (AP) — After several summers of no major offseason signings, both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid have spent big to revamp their squads in an attempt to dethrone Spanish champion Barcelona.
Eden Hazard arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu with the expectation of becoming Real Madrid’s new leader. The Spanish powerhouse paid Chelsea a club-record fee of 100 million euros ($113 million), plus add-ons, to secure the 28-year-old Belgium midfielder.
Atlético smashed its own transfer record by meeting Benfica’s 126-million-euro ($143 million) price tag for 19-year-old João Félix, the promising Portuguese star who many say could be the next Cristiano Ronaldo. Atlético’s previous top signing had been 70 million euros ($78 million) for Thomas Lemar last season.
Barcelona also continued to incorporate new stars in the hopes of maintaining its dominance. Barcelona has won eight league titles in the last 11 seasons. Antoine Griezmann swapped Atlético for Barcelona, while young Dutchman Frenkie de Jong will boost the quality of the champion’s midfield.
Here’s a closer look at the top signings in Spain:
One of the Premier League’s best playmakers in recent years, Hazard is Madrid’s new hope to take over a team that has been in disarray since Ronaldo left last summer for Juventus.
With superb dribbling skills, speed, vision and scoring ability, Hazard was Chelsea’s leader for seven years. He scored 110 goals in 352 appearances and helped the London club win both the Premier League and Europa League twice, as well as the FA Cup and the League Cup.
The pressure will be on him to take charge of a team that is coming off its worst campaign in recent memory and needing to rebound after the return of coach Zinedine Zidane.
Hazard should provide the link between Ballon d’Or holder Luka Modric in midfield and striker Karim Benzema.
After doing all he could for Atlético, which finished runner-up behind Barcelona the last two seasons, Griezmann decided it was time to join forces with Lionel Messi.
The versatile forward who helped France win the World Cup last summer will restore Barcelona’s trio of attackers alongside Messi and Luis Suárez. Barcelona had been missing one since Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain.
Griezmann led Atlético to a Europa League title and scored 133 goals for it as the team’s main source of goals and most creative player.
He will now have to find his role alongside the great Messi and Suárez.
Griezmann had a contract with Atlético with a buyout clause of 200 million euros ($224 million), but the clause automatically fell to 120 million euros on July 1. Barcelona paid that smaller sum, but Atlético is demanding the full 200 million euros because it claims Barcelona had started negotiations before July.
With Griezmann gone, Atlético has placed its hopes on the Portuguese teenager who promises to be a future star.
Félix only spent one season with Benfica’s main team, but his goals and flashes of talent were enough to catch the interest of Atlético and other major clubs.
He set several records for Benfica in Portugal: youngest player for its “B” team at 16, youngest scorer at the team’s Stadium of Light at 18, and youngest to score a hat trick in the Europa League at 19.
Félix has already impressed in Atlético’s jersey by scoring goals in preseason.
He will team up with Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata in coach Diego Simeone’s forward line.
De Jong is the other youngster hoping to make a big impact in Spain.
The Netherlands midfielder is tipped to become the future midfield general of Barcelona, which paid Ajax a transfer fee that could reach 86 million euros ($98 million) in January. He finished the season with the Dutch club, helping it reach the Champions League semifinals.
De Jong’s poise on the ball and eye for a pass has drawn comparisons to Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who flourished with Barcelona as a player and as a coach.
He arrives at a team that already includes midfielders Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Arturo Vidal and Arthur. But it appears that coach Ernesto Valverde wants him to take a leading role immediately.
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