After a season which saw Atletico Madrid break Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on the La Liga title, the alarms bells went off over the summer as Diego Simeone saw his two best players exit the Vicente Calderon to join Jose Mourinho’ side at Stamford Bridge.
The loss of Thibaut Courtois was significant to the Madrid club because the Belgian goalkeeper had been the best goalkeeper in Spain over the past few seasons. But the departure of striker Diego Costa was the one that figured to hit Atletico the hardest.
Costa was the club’s leading goal scorer and best symbolized manager Diego Simeone’s combative philosophy on the pitch. The Brazilian-born striker was focal point of the club’s attack and literally dragged Los Colchoneros to countless one-goal victories over the course of the 2013-14 domestic and European campaign (Atletico won seventeen matches by a single goal last season).
Diego Simeone opted to replace Costa with Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic. While Mandzukic can be counted on for production in front of goal, his skill set is very different from what Atletico had become familiar to playing with while Costa was in the squad.
The Croatian is a physical presence, strong header of the ball and a fantastic finisher inside the box. But he isn’t capable of getting behind the defense or beating players with the ball at his feet. Costa possesses all of Mandzukic’s attributes, as well as the ones he lacks. So Simeone need to make more moves over the summer and adjust his footballing tactics.
Atletico’s biggest coup of the summer was signing winger Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad. The France international had been a transfer target of numerous European powers over the past few seasons but chose to join Los Rojiblancos because Simeone’s philosophy fit perfectly with his playing style.
The transition from Sociedad to Atletico hasn’t been seamless for Griezmann. The 23-year-old has had to adjust to his Argentine boss’ brutal training sessions and acclimate himself to new teammates.
It was just few weeks ago that Simeone emphasized that Griezmann needed to step up in order to succeed at the club, after an early return which saw the 24 million signing score only once in nine appearances for the club.
“[Griezmann] is a very important player for us,” Simeone said. “We need him at his best. I believe that players when they have more consistency become more important to the team. We need to have consistency in our play.”
“Griezmann scores goals, he can run in behind, he can beat his man, he can play in different positions. It is normal for a young kid. With all my respect, it is not the same to play at Atletico Madrid than at Real [Sociedad], the demands are different.”
Since struggling to maintain a position in the starting eleven during the opening weeks of the 2014-15 La Liga campaign, the French winger has become a regular in the squad and this weekend put in one of the standout performances of the young season.
The France international scored his first La Liga goal off a deflection, but followed that tally up with a thunderous header for his second; which gave Atletico a lead it would never relinquish during a 4-2 victory over Cordoba.
Following the contest, Griezmann confessed that he needed to make some adjustments to his training habits in order to step up his production.
“I knew I had to change some things when I came here and so I’m doing everything to do that,” he said.
“We always give everything at the Vicente Calderon and the supporters help us reach a higher level.”
“The most important thing is I’m getting to know my teammates and they’re getting to know me.”
“We remain on the right track. I’m happy for the victory and for the goals I scored.”
Atletico Madrid are currently third-place in La Liga and only trail league-leaders Real Madrid by a single point after ten matches (Atletico also defeated Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu 2-1 earlier this season). Diego Simeone’s side are also top of their Champions League group after Matchday Three and are clear favorites to progress into the Round of 16 as group winners.
With Antoine Griezmann appearing to be hitting his stride, the prospects of Diego Simeone’s side once again challenging on the domestic and European front looks very good.
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