SPANISH LEAGUE 2018-19: 6 new signings to watch out for

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — By far the biggest move during the transfer window was the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid to Italian champion Juventus.

The group of incoming players expected to make an impact is slim, but both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have focused on bulking up their midfield in hopes that the key to the title is in the dirty work.

Madrid’s only significant move was to reinforce the goalkeeping position. In the attack, it is betting on a promising youngster to help make up for Ronaldo’s absence.

Atletico Madrid added a few players but its biggest move was to keep France forward Antoine Griezmann.

Here are some of the new signings to keep an eye on in Spain this season:

THIBAUT COURTOIS

Courtois wanted to leave Chelsea and Madrid grabbed the opportunity to add the goalkeeper to its squad, securing a top-notch player to compete with Keylor Navas.

Navas helped Madrid win the last three Champions League titles but was often criticized, and the club had tried to sign another goalkeeper ever since he took over from Iker Casillas in 2015.

The last time there was a fight for the starting goalkeeper in Madrid was when Casillas got injured in 2013 and lost his position to Diego Lopez, who remained the starter for some time after Casillas recovered.

The 26-year-old Courtois arrived touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, finishing third with Belgium at the World Cup and winning the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

ARTURO VIDAL

Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal joined Barcelona with the task of helping fill the void left by Andres Iniesta and Paulinho.

Iniesta is finishing his career in the less-demanding Japanese league, while Paulinho opted to return to China.

The 31-year-old Vidal should be a perfect replacement for Paulinho, offering Barcelona muscle and a combative attitude to allow Philippe Coutinho more freedom to act as a playmaker in place of Iniesta.

Vidal signed a three-year contract with the defending Spanish champions after helping Bayern Munich win the Bundesliga in each of his three seasons with the German club.

Vidal played a key role in leading Chile to titles in the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.

RODRI

Rodrigo “Rodri” Hernandez has the makings of one of Spain’s best defensive midfielders despite being only 22.

Rodri enjoyed a breakout season last year at Villarreal, when he filled in superbly for the injured Bruno Soriano, proving to be both a reliable passer and an excellent tackler.

He now joins an Atletico Madrid side that is aiming to make another run at the league title it last won in 2014.

Rodri will fill the space left vacant by Gabi Fernandez, the longtime team captain who left to play in Qatar.

THOMAS LEMAR

Thomas Lemar is another talented 22-year-old player brought in to boost Atletico’s attack.

He arrives from Monaco with the mission of providing some speed on the wing, something the team had been missing since selling Yannick Carrasco midway through last season.

Lemar’s signing appears to be exactly the kind of new talent that Griezmann had demanded Atletico acquire to convince him to stay instead of making a move to Barcelona.

Lemar was a key player for Monaco when it reached the Champions League semifinals in the 2017.

VINICIUS JUNIOR

With Madrid making no attempt to pull off the impossible task of replacing Ronaldo, the team may have to settle for 18-year-old Vinicius Junior.

Madrid paid nearly 45 million euros ($52 million) for the promising Brazilian teenager last year, days after he made his professional debut for Flamengo.

It seems like a massive sum for an untested teenager, and Madrid originally left open the option of letting him continue to develop in Brazil for another season. But his progress convinced Madrid that he was ready to make the leap right away, and the speedy and talented forward has already met expectations by playing well in the preseason.

GERARD MORENO

Lost on a mediocre Espanyol squad last season, striker Gerard Moreno had a superb campaign, scoring 16 goals and working hard as a playmaker.

That earned Moreno a 20 million euro ($22.8 million) transfer to Villarreal, where he played for several seasons before he was sold to Espanyol in 2015 for only 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million).

The 26-year-old Moreno joins a Villarreal team that finished fifth in the league last year to win a berth in the Europa League.

Villarreal hopes Moreno will bring the goals it lost when Cedric Bakambu left for the Chinese league midway through last season.