Football

Joao Felix and Co herald new-look Atletico Madrid

Despite mass exodus, Simeone's men look better poised than city rivals Real Madrid

They lost three of their first-choice back four, their homegrown standout midfielder from last season and a forward who scored 133 goals for the club over the past five seasons.

Despite that, there is a genuine sense of optimism surrounding Atletico Madrid ahead of their La Liga opener against Getafe on Monday morning (Singapore time).

It is an amazing turnaround from the doom and gloom narratives from a few months ago, in response to the exits of Diego Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Lucas Hernandez, Rodri and Antoine Griezmann - most of whom have been stalwarts in Atletico's recent successes.

There is a new generation in place at the Wanda Metropolitano, and early signs look promising.

Last month, coach Diego Simeone sent an early warning to his La Liga adversaries, hammering local rivals Real Madrid 7-3 in an International Champions Cup clash in New Jersey.

So how have Atletico done it?

The club have recruited well, bringing in the likes of midfielder Marcos Llorente, centre-back Mario Hermoso and right-back Kieran Trippier to complement the statement signing of prodigiously gifted attacker Joao Felix - who cost 126 million euros (S$195.1m) from Benfica and has averaged a goal or an assist every 35 minutes in pre-season.

The 19-year-old Portuguese wonderkid will likely soon be joined by Spain striker Rodrigo from Valencia, offering Simeone the enviable situation of having to choose between the 28-year-old, Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata to start up front.

Los Rojiblancos captain Koke has hinted at a change in strategy from the team with the best defensive record in the league over the last four seasons.

He said: "The coach has been getting us playing in a 4-3-3 shape, he wants to be more attacking, have a little more of the ball and try to be more forward-thinking."

Meanwhile, things look less rosy across Madrid at the Bernabeu. Despite spending almost £280 million (S$468.5m), Real Madrid do not seem to be a happy place ahead of their season-opener away to Celta Vigo tomorrow.

Coach Zinedine Zidane has publicly tried pushing Gareth Bale out of the exit door and is apparently frustrated with club president Florentino Perez for failing to sign Paul Pogba.

WALKING OUT

Perez seems more keen on luring Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, and reports have emerged this week that Zidane is considering walking out on Real, something he has already done once before in May 2016.

La Liga champions Barcelona's summer has also been clouded by the pursuit to re-sign Neymar, despite the club signing Griezmann for £107.6m.

Ahead of their date with Athletic Bilbao tomorrow morning, Barca legend Hristo Stoichkov told broadcaster Univision: "Barcelona do not need Neymar. He has no place because there are already important players (at the club).

"There is (Ousmane) Dembele, Griezmann, (Luis) Suarez and (Lionel) Messi. Where is he going to play? He would be a bomb inside the locker room."

Barca's Copa del Rey vanquishers Valencia are also under a cloud, with speculation that transfer guru Mateu Alemany and manager Marcelino could leave the club due to differences with Singaporean owner Peter Lim and his close links with super agent Jorge Mendes.

Rodrigo's likely exit to Atletico for 60m euros ahead of Sunday morning's visit of Real Sociedad is unlikely to help matters.

Football