Atletico Madrida s 2013-14 season was always going to be a tough act to follow. Under Diego Simeone, they won the La Liga, reached the final of the Champions League, and the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. Compared to this, a 3rd place finish in the La Liga and a quarter final exits in the Champions League and Copa were probably not what the fans had in mind.
The Realities of La Liga
But, realistically speaking, this was a pretty decent season from the cluba s perspective. One needs to simply look at their competition to realise that. After Atletico upset the natural order of things in Spain by finishing on top of giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, both those clubs went into a buying frenzy. Real Madrid reinforced their attack with Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez for over a 100M, while Barcelona brought in Luis Suarez for roughly a 80M. Atletico meanwhile lost their highest goal scorer for a second year running, with Diego Costa heading to Chelsea FC. Simeone did bring in Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic for roughly a 50M, but being forced to restructure your attack every year (Atletico had sold off Radamel Falcao the year before) was always likely to take a toll.
And when comparing Atletico to Barca and Real, ita s not just a matter of transfer sums spent. As per the ESPN & Sporting Intelligence Global Salary Survey, Real Madrid and Barcelona are ranked 2nd and 4th in the list of sports teams that pay the highest wages. That’s all sports, not just football. On the same list, Atletico Madrid is ranked 85th. For reference, thata s below 80th ranked Aston Villa who finished 17th in the Premier League, 62nd ranked Borussia Dortmund that finished 7th in the Bundesliga, and 58th ranked Milan who finished 10th in the Serie A.
All that considered, the realistic expectations from the club should always be to consistently qualify for Europe, try to reach the semi-finals of the Copa regularly, and once in a while put up a challenge for the title. By that realistic standard, this season was not too bad.
Leta s look at all that was good and bad about this season:
The Good: Diego Simeone Commits To The Club
Before Diego Simeone took over managerial duties in 2011, Atletico Madrid had been through a decade of obscurity. After winning promotion back to the La Liga in 2001-02 (they spent two years in the Segunda Division), they spent the next 5 seasons finishing 7th or lower. Then followed 2 years of finishing 4th, and the return Europe, only to decline again with 9th and 7th place finishes (though they did win the Europa League in a 09-10). In stepped Diego a Choloa Simeone who, since taking over in December 2011, has changed the makeup of the club.
Hea s brought back a winning mentality, and turned them into a force to be reckoned within Europe. In turn he turned himself into one of the highest rated managers in Europe. With Simeone being linked with some of the top jobs in Europe, it was critical for Atleti to secure his signature. And in March 2015, the club made the announcement that he had agreed to a new contract that keeps him at the Vicente Calderon till 2020. This is massive achievement, one worth celebrating.
The Bad: Gap Between 3 . rd & 2nd Far Too Large
While finishing third behind Barca and Real is nothing to be ashamed of, the margin by which Atletico lagged is something that is far from ideal. The Rojiblancos finished with 78 points, a full 14 points behind second placed Real Madrid, and only one more than 4th placed Valencia. There was a genuine risk of missing out on Europe, but both Valencia and Sevilla dropped points in the final stretch. As it stands, Sevilla will also be playing in the Champions League after winning the Europa Cup.
Next season, Atletico have to do a better job of staying in touching distance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, while keeping a fair margin between themselves and the rest of La Liga.
The Good: Wiping The Floor With Real Madrid (Mostly)
Despite a lackluster La Liga campaign overall, Atletico have become excellent at beating their local giants. There were 8 editions of the Madrid derby, and Atletico were unbeaten for the first 7. Atleti did the double over the Galacticos, including a 4-0 rout at the Vicente Calderon. All in all, there were 4 victories for Atletico, and 3 draws. Unfortunately, the one loss to Real, a 1-0 result in their final clash of the season, came in the second leg of the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Still, all things considered, a season to rub in the faces of their local rivals.
The Bad: The Squad Is Ageing, Gabi Fades Out
Last season was one where, at 30 years of age, captain Gabi made the headlines for the influence he exerted in the Atleti midfield. This season has seen a drop in his form, however. He has looked lackadaisical and ponderous on the ball, and opposition players seem to run rings around him more often than not. Not only is he not an effective engine for the team, he has been something of a liability this season. Hea s picked up 13 yellow cards and a red card, conceding more free kicks than any other player in the club, an average of 1.8 fouls per game. Perhaps he will make a strong comeback next season; but if not, Simeone will have to plan for life without the veteran.
Simeone also has to address the larger matter of his aging squad. Barring Antoine Griezmann (24) and Koke (23), his entire attacking and midfield core comprises of players who are 28 years or older (Gabi is 31, Turan 28, Raul Garcia 28, Tiago 34 and Mandzukic 29). Ita s critical that he introduce some youth into the side this summer.
The Good: Atletico Again Create An Attacking Star
Mario Mandzukic looked the perfect fit for the club. After Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa, he looked tailor made for leading the line at Atletico. Another tall, strong goal scorer just like his two predecessors, he had a great start to life in Spain. Over a span of 31 games across competitions, he scored 18 goals this new club. Unfortunately for all concerned, the wheels then fell off and he failed to score a single goal in his remaining 11 appearances.
Thankfully, Simeone had signed another attacker in the same window, a a wingera from Real Sociedad by the name of Antoine Griezmann. The 24-year old Frenchman has lit the league on fire this season with 22 goals to his name, at par with Neymar, and only behind Cristiano Ronaldo (48) and Lionel Messi (43) in La Liga. Playing alongside Mandzukic for most of the season, he has been their standout player.
There are rumors aplenty linking Griezmann with a move away from Spanish shores, which would make this the third season running where Atletico lose their best talent. But the club has now earned a reputation for taking players with potential and turning them into world beaters. Which would explain why 21-year old Luciano Vietto, one of the brightest young talents in football today, is keen for a move to the Calderon.
The Future Is Bright
While this may not have been nearly as exciting a season as the previous edition for the Atletico Madrid fans, it was in the end a satisfactory campaign. Going forward, Atletico will have to make 3 things a regular occurrence: 1. Ensuring they never finish below the 3rd place spot, and occasionally pushing for a title run, 2. Using their organisation and discipline as tools to achieve long cup runs, and 3. Buying uncut diamonds and turning them into world class players, since their finances mean that it will always be tough to hang on to their best players for long.
Ita s an exciting time to be an Atletico Madrid fan.