Atlético de Madrid is stacked. No, seriously. It’s, like, more stacked than it’s ever been in this golden era under Diego “El Cholo” Simeone.
Sure, it had a “modest” season last year, but that was to be expected after losing two stalwarts: Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa. It was the pair’s dominance that led Atleti to the league title and Champions League final two seasons ago.
Atleti transitioned well, signing Jan Oblak and Antoine Griezmann as replacements, and both have been excellent.
Oblak was hurt for the first part of the season, but toward the end of the year looked like he can be an imposing keeper.
For his part, Antoine Griezmann is one of the most exciting young forwards in the world. He scored 22 goals in his debut season (playing roughly 72% of the minutes). He’s the complete forward too, with great movement and vision as well as blistering pace (and really cool hair). He’s one of these modern forwards who can score but feels more like an attacking midfielder.
Expect his play to improve even more after a full season under Simeone’s system.
So let’s dig into the turnover this summer and how it’s bolstered the squad.
To start, Atlético brought back Filipe Luís from Chelsea. Filipe Luís’ contribution to Atleti’s magical season in 2013-14 cannot be overstated. Elite fullbacks are often the difference between a good team and a great one. Atlético looked like a different team when it started Filipe and Juanfran on either side of the back four. Simeone almost never plays with wide midfielders in his 4-4-2, preferring instead to pack it with converted central players like Koke, Raúl García, Saúl Ñíguez, or Arda Turan there. That’s why it’s essential Simeone have elite two-way full backs who can provide depth on the flanks.
Speaking of Arda, his loss really hurts. His creativity was often the spark that got Atleti out of its more Spartan tendencies. Atleti prefers to grind opponents down rather than overwhelm them with a lot of attacks. So Arda’s inspiration often made the difference. His departure puts more pressure on Griezmann and Koke to provide those moments of brilliance.
The other potential spark player is young Óliver Torres. Óliver has been a bit of a cult hero for Atleti fans in recent years as he’s sparkled in the youth system and the Spanish youth national teams. Not since Fernando Torres (no relation) has a youth player captured the imagination of the Atleti faithful like Óliver has. During his loan spell at Porto he responded brilliantly, gaining valuable Champions League experience. He’s the prototypical Spanish midfielder: small, quick, with an almost endless abilities to play quick little one-twos to break down defenders.
He took over Arda’s No. 10 jersey and has looked very good in preseason.
Up top, Atleti got rid of Mario Mandžukić, who was decent for them with 17 goals in 34 appearances, but didn’t really fit the style of play. Mandžukić is combative and feisty, but he is ineffective in open space and outside of the area. Given that Atleti typically prefers to play longer with quicker strikers, he often seemed out of place.
That’s why it signed Jackson Martínez, who is a more complete forward (and a three-time scoring champ in Portugal), and Luciano Vietto, who is basically a Griezmann clone. Jackson is a proven commodity with plenty of Champions League experience, and Vietto was a breakout star in his debut season in La Liga with Villarreal.
The team also added Yannick Carrasco from Monaco. Carrasco has the ability to carry the ball long distances with his dribbling ability. That’s something the squad sorely missed when Diego Costa left: the ability to gain ground without committing many players forward.
Oh yeah, it also still has Fernando Torres to provide some local legend fairy dust.
At the back, Atleti will be as solid as ever with the incredible Diego Godín commanding the line. Godín is a source of endless inspiration for his teammates. He’s one of the toughest players in the world, and a legitimate goal-scoring threat on set pieces. Next to him will be his Uruguayan compatriot and understudy José Giménez, considered one of the world’s best center backs under 21 years old.
Simeone signed Florentina’s Stefan Savić to replace the outgoing João Miranda and provide some depth.
The final piece of the puzzle to complete Atleti’s insanely stacked squad would be PSG’s Thiago Motta. I kinda think Motta might be the most underrated player in the world. He’s a tough-as-nails-but-also-good-on-the-ball defensive midfielder, a combination that rarely exists. You often see a tough midfielder, or you see one who can play. Rarely both. And Motta’s been doing it at the highest level for a long time. The signing looks difficult at the moment, even though Motta has publicly stated that he wants to leave. He would play alongside Tiago or captain Gabi, two classics of the Simeone era.
There is even talk of moving Koke back to central midfield should Óliver Torres explode in his first season back.
Could Atleti challenge for La Liga? Probably not. That title in 2014 required everything to come together perfectly, including a very poor season from Barcelona. But Atleti could certainly make a run for it in the cup competitions. How many Premier League squads would you trade for Atleti’s? Would you trade Juventus’? I certainly wouldn’t. And with one of the best managers in the world at the helm, anything is possible.