Back in 2014, when Atletico surged to a league title and beat Chelsea in the semi-final of the Champions League to qualify for the final in Lisbon on May 24th, it was easy to dismiss it as a flash in the pan. One good summer of plundering by the top, top European clubs and Madrid's second team would be stripped to the bone and back at a familiar juncture - square one.
Last year, it looked like that had happened. Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis had left for Chelsea, Arda Turan had his head turned by Barcelona with the promise of less running and other players left by choice or by force. Atletico fought to the final moments for third place in the league they were defending as Champions and were beaten by Real Madrid in the quarter-final of the same competition they had come so close to winning just a few short months before.
It is a testament to Atletico's commitment to investing in players and Diego Simeone's ability to develop these players while remaining true to his hard-working style that Atletico are back at the summit of European football for a second time in three years.
Not only have Atletico replaced the players they lost but they have replaced them with footballers who might compete for Ballon d'Ors in the very near future.
The times they are a changin'
The biggest losses Atletico suffered since that glorious 2013-14 campaign were Arda Turan, Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois and you could throw in the aging David Villa there too (Filipe Luis too, but he is back and playing as well as ever in the red and white).
It looked for a while as though replacing Diego Costa was a fool's errand and neither Mario Mandzukic, Jackson Martinez or Luciano Vietto could hold a match to the striker. Fernando Torres, however, is playing as well as he ever has and is the perfect foil for Antoine Griezmann, the man who replaced David Villa.
It goes without saying that the Frenchman is Atletico's talisman and has scored 57 goals in his 106 appearances for the club since joining two years ago. For all intents and purpose, losing Costa was disastrous, but replacing him and Villa with Griezmann and Fernando Torres has worked out better than expected.
Thibaut Courtois might have played his last game in a Chelsea shirt having suffered a season of ignominy in his second year back at the club. Jan Oblak, on the other hand, won the Zamora award and conceded just 25 goals all year in his first full season as Atletico's starter.
Miranda was a loss, as he and Diego Godin had built a formidable partnership at the heart of Atletico's defense but with the emergence of Jose Gimenez and the savvy signing of Stefan Savic along with Lucas Hernandez' recent good form, Atletico have not missed a beat.
One of the other major differences in this year's Atletico squad is that Tiago Mendes has been replaced by Augusto Fernandez and Saul Niguez has emerged as a box-to-box midfielder with an eye for a goal and a willingness to throw himself into a tackle.
Los Rojiblancos are an entirely different beast now with less reliance on singular players, more youth and variety on the bench and an injury-free squad.
Atletico players and management have all stated their physical condition is much better this time around when asked what is different about this year's Champions League final. Atletico have a clean bill of health with injury worries involving Godin and Gimenez earlier in the year all cleared up. even Tiago Mendes could be in line to play some minutes after suffering a leg break earlier in the season.
Koke said, We have had two weeks to prepare for the game and we arrive in much better physical condition. Two years ago we played another final against Barcelona just one week before. We have to face the final like it was our last. You never know when you will play your next one."
There are few who would argue that Atletico have not only rebuilt since then but have built a stronger, fitter and more dangerous squad than the one that took the field in Lisbon back in May 2014.