Simeone surely sees that Atletico can be La Liga’s next future force
Matt Haynes | January 27, 2016
Atletico Madrid appear to be leading a revolution in La Liga. Having won the title in 2014 when they also finished Champions League runners-up, they seem keen to show that this is no fluke.
Simeone seeking supplant of Barca and Real?
Such is the conviction that Atleti are capable of potentially even becoming number one in Spain, that Diego Simeone signed a new contract until 2020 in March of 2015, highlighting his belief in the club and its ongoing project.
“I am here because I’m convinced the club will continue to grow,” the 44-year-old coach had said. At the time, there were suggestions that he was being lined up by Manchester City to take over from Manuel Pellegrini at the end of last term.
However, since the start of the Millennium, we initially saw Real Madrid dominating before Barcelona took over in emphatic style, though the former weren’t completely knocked off their perch. There are clues to suggest that Simeone is planning to stage a similar coup which saw the Catalan outfit take Real by surprise a decade ago.
Taking himself off the market so publicly, has ensured that he is completely committed to Atleti and can apply 100 per cent focus to his goals. For a club who have consistently sold their star players, it is quite surprising and ultimately testament to Simeone’s talents that they remain highly competitive every season.
Such resilience has earned Atleti respect among the elite. In recent transfer windows, they have seen Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Mandzukic depart and while the former has returned on a two-year loan deal he is a shadow of his former self.
Those are just strikers, though with the exception of Torres, who left nearly a decade ago, Atleti have lost quality in other areas over the last five years.
David de Gea, who has gone on to become arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, while left back Filipe Luis was also a great asset for the club went away and returned.
Add to that Toby Alderweireld – steadily developing into a top-class centre half at Tottenham – and playmaker Arda Turan, who moved to rivals Barcelona, and that list becomes much more than academic.
Lesser clubs would have potentially experienced a drop down the divisions, so the foresight of Simeone to identify the right players to bring in, while defining a blueprint of how he wants his team to play is quite remarkable.
Taking a step back to analyse the bigger picture, it is fair to say that the Spanish club have played an important part in what is a very interesting production line.
The natural order in recent years, has seemed to be that South American clubs sell to Porto, who are an obvious and also symbolic gateway to Europe. In the case of Falcao, famously, and now with Jackson Martinez, Porto and Atletico have established key links, important for the growth of world-class players.
Building their success in recent seasons as a reactive side, significantly superior on the counter-attack, Simeone has seen fit to modify his approach this term, with teams reluctant to commit many men forward against them. It has seen more emphasis placed on Koke; an heir apparent to Xavi Hernandez in the national team, with Atleti mixing up their play this term, becoming more unpredictable.
In Antoine Griezmann, unsurprisingly another star linked to a number of top European clubs, Simeone has a world-class talent at his disposal. With an ability to play anywhere across the front line, or in behind to equal effect, he has scored 43 goals in 82 appearances and will be instrumental to any future success.
Having signed Argentine striker Luciano Vietto in the summer from Villarreal, the Argentine has drawn comparisons to compatriot and former Calderon star Aguero.
While a number of factors have halted his progress since joining, such as illness, injury and competition for places, his scoring record and ability don’t spark debate. With 20 goals in 48 appearances for the Yellow Subamrine and still only 22, there are no limits to how good he can become.
With Simeone seeming to prefer a 4-3-3 formation much more, Atleti also appear to have the personnel to emulate the incredible efficiency and style of Barcelona’s front three of recent times, which, no matter who is included, as recent history shows, always delivers in the same way.
As such, there is scope for fluidity in the attacking third, though the trident can also be more rigid. Out of the options available, any trio is best suited with Griezmann wide right, with another summer recruit, Belgian trailblazer Yannick Ferreira Carrasco more at home on the left. Also just 22, there are hopes that he can develop into a similar sort player to compatriot Eden Hazard.
It leaves a vacancy open for the third spot. Vietto, though, is the clear and obvious candidate and, as such, the frontline can become one of the very best in Europe.
This may mean that Martinez finds himself surplus to requirements, just as Mandzukic did at the end of last term. Both players style don’t fit this new approach and while, the former was prolific at Porto, Simeone seems less convinced of utilising a physical focal point, as he did with first Forlan and then Costa.
Then there is also Vietto’s fellow countryman Angel Correa, who, at two years his junior is another contender for a place in what can become a highly clinical attack. In terms of skillset, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two, although Correa has senior caps; however it highlights that Atleti have the foundations to become a formidable strikeforce.
The ‘next Barca’?
The more you look through the squad, the more a case can be made for Atleti having similarities to Barcelona. While Koke, like Xavi resembles a midfield metronome, just behind him, Saul Niguez can arguably become a better version of Sergio Busquets.
At just 21, he would be the base for which players ahead of him, similar in age can launch their attacks and like Barca weave passing patterns. Another central midfielder should be high on Simeone’s list.
Someone to provide more of a balance between defence and attack, and while Ilkay Gundogan could be available the German would likely be more interested in joining up with former boss Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
A possible option is reopening lines of communication with Porto and pouncing for much sought-after Portugal international midfielder Ruben Neves, though at only 18, he would likely be one for the future and not considered a priority signing. Real Sociedad’s Ruben Pardo, though, has always shown potential and he could be one who makes the step up if Simeone sees fit.
An all-round centre back who can eventually take over from Diego Godin could become a priority long term, though, Simeone has plenty of options in this regard, including compatriot Jose Maria Gimenez, especially if he keeps his recruitment to La Liga.
Having established a relationship with Villarreal last season when they signed Vietto, returning for in-form and highly-rated fellow Argentine Mateo Musacchio could be a credible option, who can become a world class centre back under Simeone.
Atleti are certainly a team to watch closely over the next couple of seasons and, having considerably closed the gap on Barcelona and Real Madrid (currently second to the former on goal difference), can definitely win La Liga this term again, with Simeone’s side a highly tempting 12/1 with Coral to achieve this.