OPINION | The top summer signings in La Liga

A new season is upon us, and so is the bustle of yet another transfer window. The summer transfer business of most clubs in the Spanish top flight has gone under the radar with Ligue 1 and the Premier League grabbing most of the headlines.

Sergio Ramos departed for PSG and Lionel Messi’s stunning exit came amidst the revelation of Barcelona’s embarrassing financial situation. Kylian Mbappé’s saga with Real Madrid continues after Los Blancos submitted their first offer of €160 million and it’s fair to stay that El Chiringuito’s dramatic enactment of the above storylines may have grabbed more headlines than the shrewd purchases elsewhere in the league.

That is not to say that La Liga has been starved of its own shiny new toys. While the figures haven’t hit monstrous numbers – only four arrivals at the time of writing have crossed the €10 million mark. There have been several signings that can have quite an impact on their club’s fortunes in the upcoming season. We’ve picked out three to watch out for.

3. José Juan Macías: C.D. Guadalajara to Getafe (loan with option to buy)

Kick-starting our top three is talented Mexican forward José Juan Macías. Signed on loan by Getafe from Mexican club Chivas, Macías follows the footsteps of the likes of Chicharito and Carlos Vela as players who’ve emerged from Chivas’ academy.

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Getafe will perhaps experience a radical change in playstyle after the departure of head coach José Bordalás, and the arrival of Macías points will ensure that happens. He possesses excellent close control and is very capable of taking on defenders. Macías often likes to receive the ball on the wing, using his nimble fleet-footed ability to get past his markers and create subsequent goalscoring opportunities. He also has a tendency to drop deep on occasion, linking up with the midfield and using his impressive technical qualities to help in building an attack.

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JJ Macías also has a keen eye for goal and isn’t hesitant to have a pop from distance. He endured two prolific seasons in Liga MX, averaging about a goal every two games for Club León and Chivas. Getafe’s 28 goals was the least a club scored in La Liga last season, and with top scorer Angel leaving for Mallorca, Macías can be their new talisman.

Getafe’s new manager Míchel managed in Mexico for a while, and will no doubt have been a keen observer of Macías’ exploits. While La Liga enthusiasts have long awaited Diego Lainez’s breakthrough, his compatriot may go understated as he looks to help Getafe rebuild this season. With a purchase option of €6 million, Macías may prove to be a bargain for the future.

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2. Rodrigo de Paul: Udinese to Atlético Madrid (€35 million)

While title rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid have had to juggle with big-name departures, champions Atleti have only strengthened further. In a summer of low spending, De Paul’s €35 million fee has been the heftiest purchase into La Liga, just ahead of new Atlético signing Matheus Cunha, who joined from Hertha Berlin for a reported €30 million.

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Earnest La Liga watchers would remember that this isn’t the Argentine’s first spell in the Spanish top flight; he had a decent spell as a promising 21-year old winger at Valencia between 2014 and 2015. The current version of De Paul has made huge strides, emerging as an exceptionally dynamic and versatile midfielder.

Over the past two seasons, De Paul has grown into one of Europe’s elite progressive midfielders, ranking in the 96th percentile for progressive passes, 98th percentile for progressive carries, and 99th percentile for dribbles completed. His elite forward passing can be a great asset with a marksman like Luis Suárez to play to, and he can also advance from deep with Koke doing his underappreciated work behind.

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De Paul can perform a number of roles for Atlético Madrid and is an excellent acquisition for Cholo Simeone. If the latter deploys the three-at-the-back system, De Paul can slot in alongside Koke as the more creative central midfielder or slightly further forward in the role where Thomas Lemar excelled last season. In a 4-4-2, De Paul can be used either centrally or on the right flank, if Simeone decides to utilize Marcos Llorente up top. De Paul naturally excels as a right-sided midfielder, and can capably play a similar role to Llorente, regularly combining with Kieran Trippier and providing able defensive stability if the wing-back pushes forward.

1. Memphis Depay: Lyon to FC Barcelona (free transfer)

A significant pay cut was taken by Gerard Piqué to register the Dutchman for the club, but Memphis Depay will more than repay back the favour. In fact, he is already on his way; his set piece delivery assisting Piqué’s headed goal to get Barça underway in the current campaign. As odd as it sounds, Leo Messi leaving Barça was probably the reason Depay edged De Paul as the best summer signing in La Liga.

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Memphis thrived under Ronald Koeman for the Netherlands, and he is expected to play a similar role at Barça. Memphis loves to be involved with the build-up play, dropping deep and operating in half-spaces. As such, in addition to his goalscoring, Depay is also a clever creator, allowing others to flourish in the space created by the Dutchman. His dribbling in tight spaces has always been one of his best attributes and adds a dynamic to Barcelona’s attack.

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Messi’s exit makes Depay’s arrival all the more prominent, and he will be the central figure for Barça going forward. For the Dutch National Team, Depay was excellent under Koeman as the focal point of the attack. Through his time at Lyon, Depay has converted his flashy playstyle to much more efficient and consistent output; 22 goals and 12 assists in 2020/21, his best numbers since his final season at PSV. If his debut against Real Sociedad and goal against Athletic Club is anything to go by, his signing will be a huge success as Barça look to turn fortunes on the pitch for the better.

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Honourable mentions

Javi Galán

Celta Vigo paid Javi Galán’s measly €4 million release clause to prise him away from relegated Huesca. Left-back Galán was one of the brightest aspects of Huesca’s season. Galán grew into a statistician’s wonder as the season went on, and the diminutive full-back was the most successful dribbler out of any player in Europe’s top five leagues (min. 100 dribbles completed: success rate 81%). Celta appear to be an exciting group under Coudet, and Galán is a great signing as they look to bolster their chances at a European spot. Galán has emerged as one of Europe’s most impressive dribblers.

David Alaba

While Real Madrid may have lost some of their glitterati, David Alaba’s acquisition should not be overlooked. Hugely experienced and incredibly versatile, Alaba is a world-class defender who gives Real multiple possibilities acorss the back four and into midfield. Signed for free from Bayern Munich, Alaba was very impressive on his debut, looking right at home as an offensive left-back, linking well with Eden Hazard as well as notching an assist.

Roddur Mookherjee & Spanish Football Analytics

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