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.”