Spain’s big two, Real Madrid and Barcelona, could be figuratively seen as the two sides of a coin in the recently-concluded summer transfer window. While Real Madrid were part of the big fracas of the David De Gea transfer saga which didn’t reach its desired conclusion, the summer transfer window was virtually a non-event for Barcelona as they were banned from acquiring players this summer.
Amid all the hysteria which nowadays comes as a given with transfer windows, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid have gone about their job with relative quiet and have struck deals for some of the most exciting talents available. An early season win at one of their supposed rivals means Los Colchoneros have had a better start to the season than most teams, particularly Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Let’s start with Atleti’s acquisition of Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, who is already in payback mode with his goal last weekend against Sevilla in a 3-0 win. Martinez, on paper at least, is his club’s replacement for the 29-year-old dispensable Mario Mandzukic, who left for Juventus. The ex-Porto man is an upgrade over the Croatian, and has a European pedigree comparable to Mandzukic.
Then there is Luciano Vietto, the exciting, young Argentine forward signed from Villarreal for €20m. Vietto was Villarreal’s top scorer last term and his potential is a shrewd addition to a forward line comprising of Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres and Martinez. The Vicente Calderon faithful will barely complain, and the Vietto deal was completed ages ago.
It is true Atleti have lost their most creative asset in Arda Turan to Barcelona over the summer, but the 28-year-old Turkish international’s loss, although significant, pales in comparison to the reinforcements brought in. Vietto, Martinez and another new signing, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, scored and assisted a combined 89 goals in the 2014/15 season. Which also puts the efforts of Turan, Mandzukic and Raul Jimenez into perspective.
Jimenez, who arrived at the Vicente Calderon only last season, has been shipped to Benfica. The trio of Jimenez, Turan and Mandzukic played their parts in only 43 Atleti goals last season, which is less than half of what the newly-signed trio of Vietto, Martinez and Carrasco put together. However, a lot could not be made of raw statistics of players who plied their trades at different clubs, and different leagues altogether.
Meanwhile, the top teams in Spain which include Valencia and Sevilla apart from the aforementioned big two have endured mixed summers. Mixed in a way that either they have failed to land their preferred targets as in Real’s De Gea situation, or failed to keep their best players as in Sevilla’s case with Carlos Bacca and Valencia’s case with Nicolas Otamendi, or failed to add to their squad as in Barcelona’s case.
Real Madrid’s situation with De Gea, which was clearly avoidable, now leaves new manager Rafael Benitez with an unhappy goalkeeper with the season having already got under way. While Valencia, though they have themselves strengthened and brought in reinforcements to fill the voids, have had to endure the departure of their most prized asset.
Which hasn’t been the case with Atletico Madrid. Los Colchoneros have kept their best players, Turan apart, and have had upgrades over the players that left or were let go. Miranda’s loan move to Inter Milan is almost a permanent transfer since there is an option to buy at the end of the season. While the Brazilian was a first team regular, his age (30) and the fact his contract was due to expire at the end of the current season meant Atleti have had a good measure of the market.
And also the arrival of Stefan Savic from Fiorentina and the emergence of Jose Gimenez last season leaves Atleti with plenty options to chose from and there is also the near constant presence of stalwart Diego Godin, whose commitment is of greater significance. Plus the club have also managed to hold on to their spine with the likes of Koke, Gabi and Griezmann staying put and the return of Oliver Torres from his loan spell at Porto.
Things are looking up for Madrid’s other team, and they have earned top money from sales as well; Toby Alderweireld was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for €16m and Mario Suarez went to Fiorentina for €15m, deals which represents value for sellable assets. The Suarez transfer was perplexing, given he came up through the ranks at the club, but his departure frees up the midfield for Oliver to make his mark.
With both Real Madrid and Barcelona off to slow starts to their respective campaigns, coupled with Atletico’s fine summer of acquisitions and their positive start to the new season, another tilt at the title after being the surprise winners two seasons ago can never be ruled out. While Valencia and Sevilla are already experiencing indifferent starts, both clubs failing to win thus far.
Although Barcelona have largely remained unchanged and their start to the season have designs of the previous campaign, a fresh and exciting-looking Atleti could be more than a handful for the champions. Another three-horse title race beckons in La Liga, and Los Colchoneros have seemingly already stolen a march on their rivals for the title with their largely successful summer transfer window.