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LaLiga 2017-18: Messi in transition, Bale battling for his place - five stars to watch

17 August 2017 15:20

Real Madrid's performance in the Supercopa de Espana confirms them as favourites to defend their LaLiga title this season.

Zinedine Zidane's men claimed a 5-1 aggregate victory over Barcelona, whose attempts to overcome the loss of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for €222million look set to define their season.

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid begin life at their new Wanda Metropolitano home, while two players arrive in the Spanish top flight looking to revive their careers.

Here we take a look at five men to watch out for during the coming season.

 

LIONEL MESSI

Barcelona face a transitional season following the break-up of the attacking trident formerly known as MSN.

Much of the responsibility for ensuring Barca do not feel the absence of the departed Neymar too keenly will fall on the shoulders of Messi, who signed a huge new deal last month to keep him at Camp Nou until 2021.

That burden may involve the integration of a new face into the fearsome attacking force, with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele both seemingly close to a move, or it could mean adapting to a different approach under new boss Ernesto Valverde.

On the evidence of Wednesday's Supercopa second leg - a 2-0 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu - new blood is much needed, especially with Luis Suarez set to miss the first four to five weeks of the season with a knee injury suffered in that game.

Whatever happens, this season promises to test Messi, whose reported uneasy relationship with Valverde adds another intriguing strand to his 2017-18 story.

 

GARETH BALE

While one attacking trio has been broken up by a world-record transfer, another - Real Madrid's BBC - could also be set for a shake-up due to the club's frightening strength in depth.

Bale watched from the bench as Madrid clinched the Supercopa on Wednesday, with the excellent Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez selected to flank striker Karim Benzema - the former scoring a stunning opener and the latter hitting the post.

Sat alongside Bale was Isco, who made the most of his opportunity in the first team at the end of last season during an injury lay-off for the Welshman.

Throw Cristiano Ronaldo - suspended for the second leg - into the mix, and Bale is no longer assured of his place in Zidane's first-choice starting XI.

The 28-year-old overcame criticism of his form during 2014-15 and will hope for an injury-free campaign as he bids to convince his coach and fans of his quality once more.

 

SAUL NIGUEZ

Atletico Madrid's faith in Saul was clear when they handed the midfielder a remarkable nine-year contract last month.

Some of Europe's biggest clubs had reportedly earmarked the 22-year-old as a potential target, but the near decade-long deal put paid to the hopes of any would-be suitors.

And as Atleti prepare to enter a new era at the Wanda Metropolitano, the hope will be that Saul can become a player to define this period in the club's history.

Having come to the fore over the past two seasons under Diego Simeone and on the back of netting a hat-trick in Spain's European Under-21 Championship semi-final win over Italy, Saul's stock looks destined to rise.

 

NOLITO

Nolito is back in LaLiga following an unsuccessful stint with Manchester City in the Premier League, and the forward has a point to prove with Sevilla.

The former Barcelona and Benfica man was recruited by City after impressing during three years with Celta Vigo, but he managed only nine league starts in England.

Nolito did contribute six goals in all competitions and was on target for Sevilla in a pre-season friendly win over Roma last week.

His new club will be hoping he can replicate the kind of form that saw him net 39 goals in 100 league matches for Celta.

 

ADNAN JANUZAJ

It seems as though Januzaj has been one of the Premier League's big prospects for several years, but he arrives at Real Sociedad at a crossroads in his career.

Now 22, it is time for the Belgium international to prove he can cut it at the top level, having been allowed to leave by Manchester United for a reported fee of £9.8million.

Januzaj was given his United debut by David Moyes and spent last season playing under the Scot on loan at the ultimately relegated Sunderland.

He had previously been linked with Sociedad during Moyes' time in charge of the club.

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Primera División table

# Team MP D P
1 9 +23 25
2 9 +15 21
3 9 +11 20
4 9 +9 19
5 9 +5 17
6 9 +5 16
7 9 +2 16
8 9 +1 16
9 9 +2 14
10 9 +4 11
11 9 +0 11
12 9 -2 11
13 9 -4 10
14 9 +1 9
15 9 -5 9
16 9 -8 8
17 9 -17 7
18 9 -15 6
19 9 -11 3
20 9 -16 1

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