The Early Sub: State of the Club- Atletico Madrid

It’s been quite the dramatic summer thus far Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid. Becoming engaged in a push and pull battle for their star striker, Antoine Griezmann, with Manchester United. Jose Mourinho and Manchester United were adamant on signing the Frenchman and had this talk dragging on since at least March. Griezmann’s mind was spinning on who he wanted to play for, but that all came to a stop when the CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sport) enforced a transfer ban on Atletico for the summer. That ban became a blessing in disguise for Atletico as the ban forced their hand into retaining all their players due to the inability to replace those pieces that could possibly depart. All rumors ceased from Atletico Madrid and will now be forced into preparing for the upcoming season with the same squad they had last season. That squad were one of Europe’s top sides, but were unable to mount a serious title push in La Liga and were defeated by rivals Real Madrid in the Semifinals of the Champions League. That’s admirable, but this club desire more then just a good effort. This club wants trophies, and to take their place as a European power in the world’s game. With Antoine Griezmann signing an extension till 2022 and with Koke signing and extension last month, can this current club achieve success next season?

The Core

Now with Atletico having to hold onto all of their players this offseason, they’ll already have an understanding of who their core is going to consist of. The first block of their team is left back Filipe Luis who was absolutely stellar last season. Atletico Madrid are currently in position of the 2nd best left back on the planet behind Alex Sandro of Juventus. Many may believe that Marcelo is the best left back on Earth, but his compatriot has the numbers to back it up. In Europe’s top 5 leagues, Filipe Luis had the 25th highest average rating out of ALL players. He was a larger influence on games then Roberto Firmino, Marco Verratti, or Christian Eriksen. That’s 2nd among left backs. Filipe Luis was also awarded 6 Man of the Match awards for Atletico this season, most among left backs. Those 6 Man of the Match awards were also the most on the team. Lucas Hernandez seems to be the future for Atletico on the left side if he’s preferred there instead of center back, but Filipe Luis has that position for the time being. He’ll also be one of the world’s best at that position for Atletico.

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Next is the man who the rumors were swirling around, Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann wasn’t as prolific as he was last year when he was one of the five best players on Earth. He was still one of the top strikers in La Liga, scoring 16 goals and providing 8 assists in 36 La Liga games. He’s still a world class player and one of the best players on Earth. Atletico are fortunate that Griezmann decided to stay, not even Lacazette could perform to his compatriot’s standards.

3rd is 22 year old center midfielder, Saul Niguez. Saul came to the world’s attention at 21 years old, when he scored a world class goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season. Although Saul demonstrated his incredible dribbling ability on that goal, he’s actually an excellent holding midfielder. Capable of locking down the middle of the pitch, he was a wonderful partner for Captain Gabi, and is sure to be the future of the Atletico midfield.

Diego Godin is the 4th addition to our Core list of players for Atletico Madrid. Godin lately has boasted his status as one of the world’s very best center backs. Being the most integral piece of an immovable Atletico defense for the past 4 seasons, Diego Godin absolutely is one of the best center backs in world football. Winning La Liga with Atletico in 2014 and reaching the Champions League final twice with Los Rojiblancos, Godin has been one of the team’s leaders and will continue that role next season.

The last piece of Atletico’s core is another 22 year old, and it’s Jose Gimenez. The defender is comfortable playing at center back, right back and holding midfield and is more then capable at each. Developing into one of the world’s finest center back, Gimenez is Godin’s ultimate partner. He adds an element of youth and energy to Godin’s experience and patience. This combination has resulted in Gimenez making 2.6 tackles per game and Godin completing 2.5 interceptions per game. Gimenez also puts up an impressive 2.3 interceptions per game, ensuring that this Atletico defense being a fortress at the back.

Rising Young Players

Atletico has no shortage of young talent on their roster and weren’t afraid to use that talent last season. Atletico used 9 players under the age of 25 last season and with this transfer ban, Diego Simeone is sure to call upon more young players to rise to the occasion and play up at the top level. There were several players for Atletico who found some time on the first time and are looking to play a larger role for the side this upcoming season. Saul and Gimenez are each 22 years old and are established on the starting lineup but who else is looking to make their first team breakthrough? The first candidate is 21 year old defender, Lucas Hernandez. The Frenchman just witnessed his twin brother Theo make the jump to Real Madrid after having a stellar season on loan at Alaves. Lucas is also looking into a move to Manchester City but due to the transfer ban, Lucas most likely won’t be allowed to go until after the World Cup. This gives him a prime opportunity to be used to the max for Simeone before giving him up. He’s projected to develop into a fine defender and is a fantastic center back and can play left back very well. He earned 13 starts last season in La Liga and an additional two appearances off the bench and will be looking to make more appearances this season in order to provide additional rest for 31 year old Diego Godin.

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Another young star for Atletico is 23 year old Yannick Carrasco. Carrasco has already made his breakthrough on the first team and often features on the left wing for Simeone. He’s a fine winger, but suffered a down year, failing to be of any influence on more then one occasion last season. He’s still a dangerous winger who flies down either side of the field and is capable of cutting into the middle of the field with either foot. The Belgian wonderfully compliments Antoine Griezmann as Carrasco’s skill creates space for Griezmann. He’ll be looking to improve on his 7.01 average rating next season and find the form that made him a popular commodity at Monaco in 2015. When he would use his wonderful, youthful energy and provided 10 assists in the league while also scoring 6 goals and having an average rating of 7.25.

Last is Angel Correa. The 22 year old Argentine has been compared to Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez as he boasts pace and skill at the top of any attack. A dazzling gem for Los Rojiblancos, Correa has already won 7 caps for Argentina and played in the Olympics for Argentina last summer. Correa had a hard time finding starts for Atletico as he only managed to make 10 starts in the league but found himself being a popular sub for Simeone. Making 21 appearances off the bench, Correa still managed 4 goals and shared the team lead in assists with 8 assists. Responsible for 12 goals with only 10 starts, he’s bound to see more time, especially with Kevin Gameiro finding a hard time adjusting to life in Madrid last season.

Players On The Hot Seat

With Diego Simeone unable to bring in additional players to strengthen some holes in the lineup. He’ll be forced to field the players he has and may have to rely on the youth more then he may like this season. That being said, his patience is still thin for certain players in the lineup who had difficulty finding their feet last season, and Simeone will be keeping a close eye on exactly who he’d want to unload once this ban is lifted. The first player on the hot seat is right back Juanfran. Juanfran has been accredited with being one of the most rock solid players for Atleti, even winning the league with them in 2014. But he was underwhelming last season, making 21 starts in the league and only managing a rating of 6.90. With Simeone preferring Sime Vrsaljko at times last season, and experimenting with Jose Gimenez at right back, Cholo may be weighing his options on replacing the Spaniard already.

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Next is Nicolas Gaitan. Everything seemed gravy for the Argentine last summer when he finished out a superb season with Benfica and earned a first team spot on Argentina’s Copa America squad. After a solid performance for his country, he locked up a move to Atletico Madrid where he seemed like a welcome addition to this Atletico attack. Instead he ended up playing out a disappointing season where he recorded an average rating of 6.82 while only managing 11 starts in the league and coming off the bench 12 times. Simeone just seems incapable of finding a spot for him in the lineup, and even when he plays he doesn’t seem to look like the Gaitan that played at Benfica. With Carrasco and Koke the preferred wingers at Atletico, there may not be a place for the Argentine and he may be on his way out next summer if he doesn’t prove his worth.

Last is Kevin Gameiro who managed more starts then Benfica but played even worse. Although the Frenchman put up a pretty 12 goals and 5 assists, he didn’t manage to do much more then that. Unable to be the effective strike partner for Griezmann that Simeone envisioned, Gameiro only recorded an average rating of 6.82 (16th best on the team) and found himself being substituted for Angel Correa. Simeone may look to replace Gameiro with Correa next season and that’ll leave no place for Gameiro as I’m sure the bench wouldn’t interest the 30 year old.

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2017/2018 Season

Atletico Madrid firmly asserted themselves as the third best team in Spain this season as Real Madrid and Barcelona ran away from the rest of the league, and engaged in their own duel. Atletico was surely looking forward to this summer to grow and reload to mount another league and European title challenge but that transfer ban has killed all plans of that. Younger players will be counted on, and some may be able to step up to the plate, but it seems improbable that Atletico would even be able to finish 2nd next season over Real or Barca, let alone win the league. Not to mention the difficulties of moving to a new stadium will be heaped upon this team next season. This Atletico side is a very talented bunch, don’t get me wrong, but they just can’t compare to the other worldly talent of those two giants. This side will make noise next season but a 3rd place finish seems in order, unless they can climb over a Barcelona side currently in transition with a new manager. As for the Champions League, I just don’t think they’re better then Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, or Juventus. With that being said, I do think they’re the 5th best team in the world, so a quarterfinal exit, with a pretty likely appearance to the semifinals seems to be in order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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