The departure of Radamel Falcao, arguably the world’s finest ‘pure’ striker right now, was a painful setback for Atlético Madrid during the early stages of the summer– losing your best player always is. A huge fee cushioned the blow but for Los Rojiblancos to continue their success of recent years they had to ensure the squad was added to sufficiently over the transfer window, and this is exactly what they have managed to do.
The signing of two attackers, David Villa and Léo Baptistão, has replenished Atlético’s forward options. Spain’s leading all-time goal-scorer, El Guaje’s cut-priced move (€2.1 million initially) to Madrid will see him secure a more central role, something which wasn’t afforded to him at Barcelona due to a certain little Argentine. Baptistão meanwhile has moved from one of La Liga’s less prestigious clubs, Rayo Vallecano, for a fee of around €7 million. Capable of playing up top, though more effective in a supporting role (on the wings or just off the main striker), one of the league’s brightest young talents can provide pace, trickery, creativity and depth to Simeone’s side. Baptistão joins fellow Brazilian Diego Costa at the club, with those two and the aforementioned Villa representing Atlético’s forward options for the season.
From a defensive perspective, the versatile Belgian international Toby Alderweireld (signed from Ajax for €7 million) has been added to an already watertight backline – they conceded just 31 goals in La Liga last year, making them the most difficult side to break down in Spain. The goalkeeper who played a big part in that record, the excellent Thibaut Courtois, has also extended his stay at the Vicente Calderón, with yet another year on loan from Chelsea being secured. Josuha Guilavogui, the young French defensive-midfielder, can also provide some extra protection to the back-line after his €10 million move from AS Saint-Étienne.
A couple of other additions were made at the back including two goalkeepers, Roberto Jiménez (who has since been loaned to Olympiacos) from SL Benfica and Dani Aranzubia (on a free from the relegated Deportivo). José Giménez, a teenage Uruguayan defender, has also been brought in. Their squad depth is still a bit of an issue compared to the quality of their starting line-up, but all in all, Atlético have added very well to their squad for a minimal cost – totalling roughly just €30 million.
Diego Simeone has created more stability in a club formerly renowned for its sheer lack of it in the boardroom, which in turn has led to greater steadiness within his squad. This can be seen in how Radamel Falcao is the only high profile player who has been sold this summer, as well as just a few key additions being made to strengthen the side.
A limited amount of change shows the faith that Simeone has put in his current squad. Two excellent young Spanish midfielders should feature a lot – Koke, who recently made his debut for La Roja, had a large role last season and will continue to, whilst Óliver Torres (who is very firmly sought after by Barcelona) should have a bigger part to play after a few appearances in the last campaign. Trust has also been put into ‘bad boy’ Diego Costa, who has looked like developing into one of the league’s finest strikers within recent months. 20 goals last season, often from an inside-forward position or alongside Falcao, represented a fine return from the Brazilian. Simeone has a fantastic working relationship with him, and, under his guidance, Costa can continue his development into a top class player.
Costa’s relationship with Simeone was a big part in him signing a new contract this summer (amid interest from Liverpool) and this epitomises what the Argentine manager has built at Atlético – there’s a lot of mutual respect between him and the players who have a real belief in what he’s doing. This trust as well as some excellent signings should hold Atlético Madrid in good stead for this campaign. A 3rd place finish in La Liga last season combined with winning the UEFA Supercup and Copa del Rey were excellent achievements – something which they will want to build on.
The early season form has been superb, including two excellent performances against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup (although that ultimately culminated in defeat on away goals), which is a promising sign of things to come. They have also been granted a very manageable Champions League group in FC Porto, Zenit and Austria Vienna – something they should come through given their togetherness and ability to step up in the big games. Right now, as Diego Simeone’s reign at the Vicente Calderón continues, the future is looking good for Atlético.