There may not have been a new Galáctico superstar signing at Real Madrid this summer, and Barcelona have focussed more on bringing in young, versatile players to add balance and competition for places within their squad, rather than splash €80 million in another Neymar or Luis Suárez. But there has still been plenty of interesting acquisitions made by La Liga clubs this summer.

Some have come relatively cheap, in adherence to the model of bringing in young, undiscovered players with the potential for huge re-sale value that clubs like Sevilla and Villarreal have become known for.

While others have stretched the budget of the buying club a little more: André Gomes moving from Valencia to Barça for €55 million, for example, or Álvaro Morata’s return to Real Madrid from Juventus for €30 million.

But, regardless of price, here are the five signings – who are all newcomers to La Liga – that could have the biggest impact in Spain’s top division this season.

Samuel Umtiti

Barcelona have signed Samuel Umtiti from French side Lyon for €25 million. The 22-year-old central defender was superb last season, as he helped l’OL finish runners-up to Paris Saint Germain in Ligue 1.

So impressive were Umtiti’s performances that when Jeremy Mathieu and Raphaël Varane were ruled out of Euro 2016 with injuries, France boss Didier Deschamps drafted the Cameroon-born defender in to take their place. And when Adil Rami’s tournament was also ended by injury, Umtiti made his senior international debut in the quarter-finals of the tournament against Iceland.

Umtiti’s coolness under pressure and sublime passing skills made him a natural fit at the highest level, and he went on to star for Les Bleus in the semi-final against Germany and the disappointing final defeat to Portugal.

Umtiti will become an asset for Barcelona due to his physicality, speed and, above all, passing ability.

The Frenchman will be able to slot into the Barça backline to partner either Gerard Piqué of Javier Mascherano, who are comfortable in possession and accomplished passers in their own right. But it is Umtiti’s vertical passing that sets him apart. When the Blaugrana build from the back, midfield pivot Sergio Busquets is the man who collects possession in deep areas and looks to break through the opposition’s first line of defence with penetrative passes; Umtiti is also able to do this, offering Barça a new dimension.

Umtiti will become a mainstay of the Barça defence for years to come and, in the current market, his price represents a genuine bargain.

Nicolas Gaitan

In 2010, Benfica drafted in Boca Juniors attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan to replace his Real Madrid-bound compatriot Ángel di Maria. In his six seasons with the Lisbon giants, Gaitan was consistently one of the Águias’s most potent attacking weapons. Whether playing on the wing or more centrally as a number 10, Gaitan’s blend of pace, dribbling skills, eye for a killer pass and goal-scoring ability marked him out as arguably the best player in Portugal during his stay in the Primeira Liga.

After several years of speculation connecting him with a move away from the Estádio da Luz – most notably yearly links with a Manchester United switch – Gaitan has finally left Benfica to join Atlético Madrid in a €25 million deal.

The 28-year-old will be working under compatriot Diego Simeone at the Vicente Calderón, and how the fiery coach will fit Gaitan into his system is one of the most intriguing tactical question marks of the new season.

Atléti’s recent success has been built on their solid 4-4-2 formation, with Simeone also utilising a 4-5-1 shape for added protection in away games against higher calibre opposition. Gaitan does not have a natural position in either of these systems. The Argentina international is better suited to playing in one of the attacking midfield berths in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 set up.

The one area Gaitan could operate in within the current Atléti system would be as a withdrawn centre-forward, but that is where star man Antoine Griezmann does his best work.

So there’s a puzzle for Simeone to solve, but if he gets it right, Gaitan will become a star for Los Colchoneros.

Paulo Henrique Ganso

Sevilla’s €10 million capture of Paulo Henrique Ganso from São Paulo is one of the most intriguing transfers of the summer.

The 26-year-old playmaker was regarded as one of the hottest properties in Brazil in his late teens and early twenties. Having made his first-team breakthrough at Santos back in 2008, Ganso became a key figure in the Alvinegro Praiano’s three consecutive Campeonato Paulista titles from 2010 to 2012, as well as their 2011 Copa Libertadores triumph, and made his senior Brazil debut in 2010.

But Ganso’s relationship with the Santos fans was an uneasy one: he became labelled as a mercenary by the club’s supporters, relating to a 2010 deal for a third party company to acquire his image rights.

The youngster’s form began to tail off around this time, and the man once thought of as the future of Brazil’s midfield, did not feature for the Seleção from 2012 up until his recent selection in the 23-man Copa América Centenario squad.

Ganso left Santos to join rivals São Paulo four years ago. Being awarded the Tricolor’s number 10 shirt in 2014 coincided with a return to form for the now 26-year-old.

If Ganso can take his recent form with him to Sevilla, Los Rojiblancos could have a player of real quality on their hands.

Pione Sisto

In a transfer that has gone somewhat under the radar, Celta de Vigo have snapped up exciting Uganda-born Denmark winger Pione Sisto from FC Midtjylland.

Sisto will be a name familiar to those who saw his displays against Manchester United in the Europa League last season. Midtjylland produced one of the shock results of the season when they beat United 2-1 in the first leg of their round of 32 tie, with Sisto’s pace, power and dribbling skills wreaking havoc among the Red Devils’ defence.

And although the 20-time English champions went on to hammer the Danes 5-1 in the return fixture at Old Trafford, Sisto still managed to score an early goal to give United a fright.

The 21-year-old seems destined for a bright future, and the fact that Celta have picked him up for just €5 million, means that the Galicians could stand to make a hefty profit on Sisto in the not too distant future.

José Angulo

Another €5 million signing who could quadruple in value if all goes to plan this season, is 21-year-old Ecuadorian striker José Angulo, who has signed for Granada from Independiente del Valle.

The young forward has earned himself the reputation of being the hottest young prospect in Ecuador over the last two seasons, scoring 24 goals and registering five assists in 45 games since his first-team debut in 2015.

It was his performances in last season’s Copa Libertadores that brought Angulo to the wider attention of the South American football audience, as his six goals powered Independiente to the tournament final, only to lose out to Atlético Nacional, with the Colombian side winning 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.

With his pace and remarkably mature finishing ability, Angulo will be one to watch this season.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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The 2015/16 Champions League – the 61st edition of Europe’s foremost continental club competition – gets under way next midweek, with 32 sides all dreaming of a successful campaign on the biggest stage of all.

Many believe that the Champions League now represents the pinnacle of the modern game, with the concentration of quality and talent having surpassed the more glamorous World Cup.

Here are five players worth keeping an eye on from outside the major leagues of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

Hector Herrera, Porto

Porto have a habit of signing talented youngsters from the Americas before selling them on for a hefty profit, and Herrera could be the next in line. The Mexican midfielder has gone from strength to strength since moving to Portugal from Pachuca in his homeland, and is expected to be one of the key members of Julen Lopetegui’s side this term.

An all-round, box-to-box midfielder, Herrera is just as likely to put in a crunching tackle as play an incisive through-ball. His energy and drive in the engine room will be vital to Porto in the Champions League, starting with Wednesday’s trip to Dynamo Kiev.

Bernard, Shakhtar Donetsk

Even 14 months on, Brazil’s 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany on home soil in the semi-final of the World Cup remains as astonishing as it was at the time.

Bernard made his first start of the tournament in that fateful encounter, replacing the injured Neymar in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s XI. The 23-year-old winger has not represented his country since.

Nevertheless, Bernard remains a fantastic prospect who will be desperate to show what he can do for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2015/16. A right-footer who tends to play on the left and cut inside, the Brazilian is out to prove his doubters wrong.

Seydou Doumbia, CSKA Moscow

Sometimes – and the reasons are often unclear – a player only really fulfils his potential at a particular club. Doumbia could be one such example: signed by Roma for £10 million in January, he is now back at CSKA Moscow on loan, the team he represented for five years between 2010 and 2015. The Ivory Coast international recently claimed to have rejected Premier League offers in order to return to the Russian capital when Roma agreed to let him go on a temporary basis this summer.

A glance at his goal scoring record for CSKA makes it easy to see why Doumbia feels so at home there: he has hit the back of the net 87 times in  134 appearances in all competitions, including three strikes against Sporting Lisbon in the qualifying play-off for this year’s Champions League. More goals in the tournament proper would confirm that Doumbia and CSKA Moscow is a match made in heaven.

Jeffrey Bruma, PSV Eindhoven

The former Chelsea centre-back is now in his third season in Eindhoven after joining the Dutch outfit in 2013. He was virtually an ever-present as PSV won the Eredivisie last term, and will now be looking to take his domestic form onto the continental stage.

Strong in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, Bruma will know that a move to one of Europe’s giants could be in reach if he performs well in the Champions League over the next few months.

Nicolas Gaitan, Benfica

Gaitan was far from alone in being linked with a move to Manchester United this summer, but rumored interest from one of the biggest clubs in the world shows that the 27-year-old is a very good footballer.

Capable of playing out wide or in a central role, the former Boca Juniors forward is quick and tricky dribbler who also possesses excellent vision. Were it not for his country’s incredible depth of attacking options, Gaitan would surely have significantly more than 10 Argentina caps to his name.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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