Reasons why Atletico Madrid can compete for La Liga title

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The Atletico Madrid side which won the La Liga title in the 2013-2014 season has truly been broken apart. The side had a commanding goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois, a solid center-back combination of Diego Godin and Miranda, and one of the best left-backs in Europe in Filipe Luis. Further forward, Atletico had two quality playmakers in Arda Turan and Diego Ribas, and a brilliant striker in Diego Costa. Just two seasons on, it looks like the entire core of the title-winning squad has vanished. Despite that, there is much to look forward to for Atletico Madrid fans in this upcoming season. As the team still contain lots of experience and character through players like Gabi, Juanfran, and Godin, and now have lots of young players with potential ready to impress, like Oliver Torres. Gimenez, and Angel Correa, among others.

Last season definitely felt like a step back for Atletico. They scored less goals, conceded more goals, as they finished third in La Liga. Diego Simeone had to change his side’s system to cope with the departure of Costa and the arrival of Atletico’s newest big striker, Mario Mandzukic. As Mandzukic is less mobile than Costa, who ran the channels for Atletico, Simeone decided to change his side’s defensive high line. Now, Atletico were playing extremely deep with two banks of four in their 4-4-2 system. Simeone also postponed his switch of Koke from a wide midfielder to the center of the pitch, where Koke could see more of the ball and control games from deep. The result of this was football of a lower quality than the previous season. Early in the season, Atletico were scoring set-pieces at an astonishingly high rate, but as the season went on, goals dried up. Mandzukic’s form fell with injury and a lack of trust with Simeone. Atletico struggled to score goals and their physical battles on the pitch became all too common. 

But now change has come. Just one season on, and Atletico have sold big stars in Miranda and Arda Turan. In truth, these departures aren’t as game-breaking as some might think. Miranda has been a fantastic servant for Atletico, but considering he was in the last year of his contract and has now passed the age of 30, Atletico have done well to earn 15 million euros from his sale. In truth, Miranda struggled with form last season, which coincided with the emergence of Jose Gimenez. Gimenez, the young Uruguayan center-back, plays alongside Godin at international level and the two have struck a good partnership. He will surely be a key starting member this upcoming season. For cover, Atletico have Lucas Hernandez returning from a successful loan spell at Getafe this upcoming season. He can cover for Gimenez and Godin. Another great option, obviously, would’ve been Toby Alderweireld, who was recently sold to Tottenham. As it is, Atletico and Simeone have never truly looked confident with Alderweireld, and Atletico’s financial situation requires such sales. Juanfran continues to be brilliant as a right-back, bombing up and down the flank. At left-back, Atletico may need to strengthen. Neither Siqueira nor Cristian Ansaldi truly convinced in the spot last season. Jesus Gamez, who was bought as cover for right-back, played there towards the end of the season, but he was surely a stop-gap replacement. Atletico have strongly been linked with re-signing Filipe Luis, who has failed to make the left-back berth at Chelsea his own. With a new left-back coming in, Atletico’s defense would be ready for the upcoming season.

In terms of Atletico’s midfield, the experienced players are still there in the shape of Gabi, Tiago, and Mario Suarez. Koke is likely to make the transition to central midfield too, as part of a more proactive style of football (rather than reactive). As for the wide options, Atletico have lots to choose from. Saul Niguez came back from a loan spell last season and generally played well on the left hand side of Atletico’s 4-4-2. Another season worth of experience should see him improve this season. Oliver Torres is returning from a good loan spell at Porto, where he played Champions League football and competed for the Liga Portuguesa. Correa is currently injured, but he can play as an attacking midfielder or as a striker for the club. He has pace to burn, which combined with his trickery, makes for a very talented young player. Another player capable of playing a role is Raúl Garcia. He is one of the most experienced players at the club and understands the role Simeone wants him to play clearly. At times, he is asked to play down the right-hand side, other times he is asked to play as the second striker up top and win aerial battles. Lastly, Atletico have signed Belgium international Yannick Ferreira Carrasco from Monaco. Under Leonardo Jardim last season, Monaco played a very disciplined style of football. Ferreira Carrasco will fit right in at Atletico with his tracking back, ability to play well on the counter, and ability to fit right in to the system. He is definitely one to look out for. 

Just three months ago, Atletico’s options up top were Mario Mandzukic, Antoine Griezmann, and Fernando Torres. Now, the options are Griezmann, Torres, Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto. Atletico have seriously spent to improve their attacking options this summer. Raúl Jiménez will surely go out on loan, and it will be expected that Martinez and Griezmann will start up top for Atletico. Martinez has a good combination of speed and strength and he will allow Atletico to once again have a mobile striker to play quick, counter-attacking football with. Griezmann doesn’t need any explanation. Luciano Vietto is still a bit raw, but he will surely come on as a substitute as a player with fresh legs ready to change a game. Torres played a similar role last season, coming on in the second half when the opposition got tired, using his pace to get in behind defenses. Torres will surely fall down the pecking order, but can still be a useful player for Atletico, as he sometimes showed this past season. 

All in all, Atletico are ready to shine across the next few seasons. The attacking talents of Ferreira Carrasco, Griezmann, Martinez, Vietto, Correa, among more, will bring back the power up top which was lacking last season. A more established defense and a midfield which will become younger with Koke, Saúl, and Torres, will set a good core for this Atletico side. The big game experience and the character in the dressing room is still present at the club despite the departures, in the forms of Gabi, Tiago, Diego Godin, Juanfran, and Raúl Garcia. Make no mistake, Atletico Madrid will be ready for an assault on the title this upcoming season.  

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