Where do Atletico Madrid go from here under Diego Simeone?
It has been a season of transition for Atletico Madrid. They sold two of their best players last summer, following their superb La Liga triumph and Champions League final defeat, though the recruits they brought in were more than capable.
Mario Mandzukic, a Champions League winner with Bayern Munich joined to replace Diego Costa, while the superbly talented Antoine Griezmann made the switch from Basque outfit Real Sociedad.
The Croatian hitman has scored 20 goals in 41 appearances this term, while the 24-year-old French talent also boasts a similar strike rate, having hit 25 in 50 across all competitions.
However, Atleti’s recruitment hadn’t finished there. Jan Oblak crossed the Portuguese/Spanish border to join from Benfica, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois returning to parent club Chelsea, while Guilherme Siqueira followed suit to replace Filipe Luis at left back, who also joined the Blues.
In January, manager Diego Simeone pulled off somewhat of a coup snapping up Fernando Torres on loan to bring him back to his boyhood club, and the striker was an instant success.
This summer, though, could see more changes again. Unsurprisingly, Griezmann, has been linked with a move away, with Chelsea said to be considering making a £40m plus bid, though they could use Luis – a peripheral figure to the success at Stamford Bridge – as bait. Atleti’s campaign hasn’t gone as well as they would have perhaps liked.
Barcelona’s response at ceding the title to Simeone’s side last season was to go out and spend over £100m on the likes of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen, Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Neighbours Real Madrid were equally as active, bringing in James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas, while Javier Hernandez joined on loan.
As a result, Atleti trail leaders Barca by 11 points in the league, while they are nine behind cross-capital rivals Real. The biggest achievement for the club was undoubtedly tying Simeone down to a long-term deal, and the ex-Argentina captain must have been given assurances.
Strengthening further in the summer will be a priority, with the side seeming to lack an all-round operator in midfield this term, someone in the mould of a Paul Pogba or Sami Khedira. Simeone may be tempted by a move for Athletic Bilbao anchorman Ander Iturraspe, who would add much-needed steel in place of ageing skipper Gabi, though reports indicate that they have already reached an agreement with PSG frontman Edinson Cavani.
This could put an end to Mandzukic’s Vicente Calderon career after just one season, though the Croatian would still command a decent sell-on price, and be high on the list of a number of clubs, including Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
There is also still a hotbed of talent in La Liga, which Simeone could look to raid, with Getafe’s 24-year-old Spanish striker Alvaro Vazquez showing plenty of potential this term, while Real Sociedad 22-year-old Spanish playmaker Ruben Pardo is one for the future, and could possibly replace Koke if he moves.
However next season pans out, Simeone will no doubt do all he can to ensure Atleti challenge for honours once more.