Atlético Madrid face the hard task of rebuilding their squad right after winning the title in Spain, can Diego Simeone keep them competitive at the highest level?
2013/2014 was a dream season for Atlético Madrid. Defying all odds, Diego Simeone’s side put an end to the big 2 hegemony in La Liga, clinching the title in the last day at Camp Nou of all places, and came within mere seconds of a historic continental double. However, as is the case for any club in Spain aside from Barcelona and Real Madrid, success means losing key players to Europe’s economic powerhouses and having to rebuild. If 2013/2014 defied all odds, even coming close to such success in 2014-2015 would further immortalize Diego Simeone and this Atlético Madrid side in football history considering that circumstances in which such feat would have to be achieved.
As of today, David Villa, Felipe Luis, Adrian and, most importantly, Thibault Courtois and Diego Costa have already left the club this summer, and with it left most of the core of last season’s team. It is possible that some more key players will depart until the end of the summer – namely Arda Turan and Miranda -, but Simeone knew this was going to happen and has been rebuilding smartly thus far – always keeping in mind that he doesn’t have the resources to spend 8o million or more in a player like Real Madrid and Barcelona do. Courtois has been replaced by Benfica’s Oblak, and Mario Mandzucic was signed to help fill in the void left by Costa and Villa – two relatively cheap signings of players with certified quality. Further transfer targets include Gaitan, Ansaldi, Tino Costa, Soldado, Jackson Martinez and Negredo, among others. It is clear that Atlético are making the right moves to remain competitive in the coming season, replacing departing players with experienced quality players.
In a way, this might even be a blessing in disguise for Atlético; last season’s campaign was only possible because Simeone got every last drop out of his squad, the team was squeezed to the maximum, in order to remain competitive a squad overhaul was most likely necessary. So what can we expect of Atlético in 2014/2015? Certainly not a repeat of last season; a realistic look at the situation shows us that Atlético will be competing against two clubs with far, far superior resources in La Liga and a few more in the Champions League. All that can be asked/demanded of Diego Simeone is a third place finish in La Liga and a solid Champions League campaign, anything more than that would be (another) miracle of sorts and can certainly not be demanded. It is Barcelona and Real Madrid who are under pressure to deliver big titles given their ridiculous investment over this summer – and every other summer for the past few years; despite defending the La Liga title, the pressure won’t be on Atlético, everyone at the clubs knows third place is the only goal that can realistically be set.
With that said, Atlético are still allowed to dream; in Diego Simeone they have a manager who has proved to be capable to surpass even the best of expectations; creating another such solid and almost impenetrable unit will be a huge challenge, but if Simeone manages to work his magic again, who knows what could happen? It’s impossible to write off Atlético after what happened last season; it’s true that they have inferior resources comparing to the top 2, but that was already true last season and that didn’t stop Simeone from building a strong enough team to beat Barcelona and Real Madrid. Atlético are making the right moves in the transfer market and now it’s all a matter of how the likes of Oblak, Mandzukic, Griezmann, etc… along with others who might still come will gel with what’s left of last season’s core.
Atlético will almost surely remain very competitive in La Liga and in Europe in 2014-2015. Competitive enough to fight for the big titles again? The odds are against it, but Simeone’s already done it once so we should give his Atlético 2014-2015 version a chance to prove themselves before writing them out of contention for La Liga and the Champions League.