La Liga 2017-18: 5 key players to keep an eye on

ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 18, 2017 07:39 AM
La Liga 2017-18: 5 key players to keep an eye on
FILE - This is a Monday, July 10, 2017 file photo of Real Madrid's new signing Theo Hernandez as he heads the ball during his official presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press

The Spanish league lost Neymar in a record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain but still has plenty of star players on display, including the two touted as the best in the world — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Barcelona also kept Luis Suarez, Real Madrid held on to Gareth Bale, and Atletico Madrid still has Antoine Griezmann.

The top three teams did not make any blockbuster additions, but some talented players will keep the Spanish league attractive.

Here are some of the players worth watching in Spain when the league kicks off Friday:

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GERARD DEULOFEU

A product of Barcelona's youth academy, Deulofeu is expected to take over Neymar's spot in Barcelona's attack along with Messi and Suarez.

The 23-year-old Spaniard was bought back from Everton, which he had joined in 2015 after failing to make an impact with Barcelona's first team.

He had spent seasons on loan at Everton (2013-14) and Sevilla (2014-15) before being bought by the English club.

Deulofeu spent the second half of last season on loan at AC Milan, scoring four league goals in 17 games.

He played well enough to convince Barcelona to activate its re-signing clause and bring back the forward, who can play on either flank.

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MANUEL "NOLITO" AGUDO

The veteran forward is back in Spain after a short stint with Manchester City last season.

Nolito signed with Sevilla and will reunite with manager Eduardo Berizzo, who coached him for two seasons at Celta Vigo.

The 30-year-old Nolito replaces Victor "Vitolo" Machin, who transferred to Atletico Madrid.

Nolito, who played briefly for Barcelona in the early 2010s, was a member of Spain's squad at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Spaniard winger Jesus Navas is also moving from City to Sevilla, returning to the team he played until 2013. Sevilla also added Colombian forward Luis Muriel, who was with Sampdoria.

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PAULINHO

The 29-year-old Brazilian midfielder was Barcelona's first signing after Neymar's departure, arriving on a four-year contract in a transfer worth 40 million euros ($47 million).

A regular in Brazil's national team, Paulinho played for Tottenham for two seasons before moving to Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015.

The versatile midfielder thrived with Brazilian club Corinthians before moving to the Premier League, standing out for his prowess as a defensive midfielder and his ability to help out in attack.

His signing came as a surprise to many because of his age and because he is not known for playing the ball-possession game characteristic of Barcelona.

Paulinho is expected to fight for a starting spot with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.

The Catalan club also reinforced its defense by signing 23-year-old right back Nelson Semedo, the former Benfica player who was in Portugal's squad at this year's Confederations Cup.

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VICTOR "VITOLO" MACHIN

Vitolo was signed by Atletico Madrid but will spend the first six months of his new contract playing for boyhood club Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

Atletico is not allowed to register any new players until 2018 because of a FIFA-imposed ban for having broken rules regarding the transfer of underage players. Coach Diego Simeone will only be able to count on the former Sevilla forward as from January.

The 27-year-old Vitolo was part of Las Palmas' youth program before joining Sevilla in 2013. He helped the southern Spanish club win three Europa League titles from 2014-16 and has been capped 11 times by Spain, scoring four goals.

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THEO HERNANDEZ

The 19-year-old French left back was in the center of a dispute between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, choosing European champion Real instead of the team where he played most of his youth.

Atletico said Hernandez rejected several of its offers to renew his contract, which ran until 2021.

Hernandez impressed last season while playing for newly promoted Spanish club Alaves on loan from Atletico. Alaves finished ninth in the Spanish league and reached the Copa del Rey final, which it lost to Barcelona.

Hernandez will likely have to fight for a starting spot with veteran Marcelo at Real, where he will be coached by countryman Zinedine Zidane.

Madrid also secured the signing of 21-year-old Dani Ceballos, the former Real Betis midfielder who was named the best player at the Under-21 European Championship this year. Madrid also bought 20-year-old center half Jesus Vallejo, who was on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt last season.

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