Having broken the trend of La Liga constantly being a two horse race, Atletico showed us last season that its not more than money that counts in football. After a wonderful season, key players have left for other clubs while new ones have been drafted in. Brendan Bernegger sees what’s next for the current La Liga Champions.
After a fantastic season which saw them crowned as La Liga Champions, Atletico Madrid is now starting over from scratch. Diego Simeone’s squad lost many talented players as Striker Diego Costa and Left Back Filipe Luis departed to Chelsea as Los Colchoneros received €58M for the two players combined (Diego Costa 38M, Filipe Luis 20M).
In addition to that, David Villa and Adrian have also departed the club, both players had a genuine impact in the attacking third of the pitch but both also had two different roles. Villa was a constant starter as he started 32 out of the 36 games he played. Adrian on the other hand played more of a super sub role as he only started 4 La Liga matches while making subbing in 18 times off the bench. The stats below show how the both players contributed to Atletico.
While the offensive production of Villa and Adrian was nowhere near Diego Costa, (35 Apps 27 Goals 3 Assists) their impact will still be missed. Atletico Madrid also let Diego Ribas go to Fenerbahce, after they just signed him permanently this previous January. Ribas only made 13 appearances for Madrid scoring 1 goal and 1 assist in league play. He was a big hit among Atletico fans after scoring a thunderbolt against Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League encounter.
Atletico Madrid now has some offensive roles to fill if they want to repeat their league triumph. Diego Simeone has already replaced his biggest loss by snapping up Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich for €22M. Mandzukic was Bayern’s leading scorer last year he scored 18 league goals in the 30 Bundesliga appearances that he made. Mandzukic is an all-around threat as his big physique will torment fellow La Liga defenders this year.
Mandzukic was not the only big money move to come to the Spanish capital. Atletico also signed upcoming Argentine talent in, Angel Correa. The 19 year old joined for € 7.5M from San Lorenzo in Argentina. The forward is said to have uncanny resemblances to a fellow Argentina and former Atletico player in Sergio Aguero. In addition, Madrid got back Leo Baptistao from his loan spell at Real Betis. The 21 year old made 17 league appearances for Betis scoring 1 goal as the Andalusian based club was sent down to the Segunda Division.
While Diego Costa has been replaced, Simeone still needs to account for the departures of David Villa and Adrian. Rumor has it; Arsenal attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla doesn’t want to fall too far down in the pecking order and may look for an escape route, with Atletico being possible suitors for the Spanish International. Arsenal’s attacking front/midfield is looking overcrowded since Alexis Sanchez arrived from Barcelona and Arsene Wenger is interested in bringing in William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon.
The influx of Arsenal midfielders could give Cazorla too much competition and he may want to move away from North London. Cazorla would be an adequate replacement for David Villa because he previously played as a left winger at his former club Malaga. He did struggle to replicate his 2012-13 form but still made 31 appearances for Arsene Wenger.
Cazorla was tied with Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud for second most assists given last season and if he joins Atletico he could form a good team with fellow national team player Koke and Turkey’s Arda Turan.
The stats above highlight how Cazorla has played at Arsenal for the past two seasons. As I stated above, his 2013/14 season was nothing compared to his breakout season in the EPL during the 12/13 campaign. None the less, Cazorla can still flourish under Diego Simeone and will have a big target to play to in Mario Mandzukic.
While Simeone slowly starts to buy fire power for his offense, he also needs to fill out his defense. The loss of Filipe Luis to Chelsea leaves a gaping hole at his left back spot. Luis paired up nicely with fellow Brazilian Miranda as the two gave up a league low 26 goals. Atletico’s defense was the key catalyst to them lifting the trophy at years end. Juanfran, Godin Miranda and Luis all contributed heavily and played outstandingly.
Atletico could even have a bigger problem on their hands if Miranda ends up leaving the Spanish capital. The 29 year old Brazilian was wanted at the beginning of the transfer window by Manchester United, and is now a target for Chelsea.
|Player||Apps||Tackles Per Game||Interceptions Per Game||Clearances Per Game|
The table above shows how last years starting back four was key to Atletico’s run to the title. On average the back four averaged 2.55 tackles per game, 1.83 interceptions per game and lastly, they would average 3.93 clearances as a team. While they didn’t focus on hard, rough and tough defense, Atletico worked well as a team and they were consistent in the back. The only instance of a poor defensive showing that comes to mind was a 3-0 loss away to Osasuna towards the end of February.
With Luis now gone, Simeone will also attempt to lure an Arsenal outcast. Left back Nacho Monreal has only made 33 league appearances for Arsenal for the 1.5 seasons he’s been with the North London side. Manager Arsene Wenger prefers Kieran Gibbs instead, and Monreal has struggled to establish himself as a consistent first team starter. In his 23 apperances for Arsenal during the 2013-14 season Monreal averaged 1.3 tackles per game, 1.1 interceptions while clearing the ball an average 2.4 times per game. While he may not be coming off of a career season like Filipe Luis was, he is still a player who has proven himself in La Liga.
Monreal was actually a team mate of Cazorla’s back in 2011 as the two played for Malaga, ultimately leading them to a fourth place finish, which saw Malaga qualify for the play-off round of the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League.
Last but not least, Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois has finally returned to his parent club as he will challenge incumbent Petr Cech for the number one spot. The 22 year old played a huge role in Atletico’s success as he won the Zamora Trophy two straight years in a row. The trophy is given to the keeper with the lowest goals to games ratio. Instead, Jan Oblak has joined from Portuguese powerhouse Benfica for €16M as he is the most expensive goalkeeper in La Liga history. Oblak started to make a name for himself as Benfica manager Jorge Jesus put him in goal with towards the end of the Primeria Liga season. In the 13 games he played, he only gave up three goals and won the Best Goalkeeper of the Year award.
This transfer window has seen rivals Barcelona, and Real Madrid splash some serious cash as they are set to snatch Atletico’s crown away from them. Real Madrid has added Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez to back up the trilogy of BBC (Bale, Benzema and Cristano). Meanwhile, Barcelona has signed the ever controversial Luis Suarez from Liverpool to help Neymar and Lionel Messi upfront. Suarez isn’t the only newcomer as Ivan Rakitic will help the midfield after his great season with Sevilla. With the start of La Liga only 30 days away, we can only wonder if Atletico have done enough to keep their crown.
All stats were taken from WhoScored.com