All is well in the Atlético Madrid universe again. Los rojiblancos asserted their control in the battle for fourth place, Antoine Griezmann is back scoring goals, Diego Simeone is staying next year and we got a glimpse against Granada of next season’s midfield and attack.
Gabi was missing after surgery on his hand, while Kévin Gameiro and Fernando Torres were also absent, but the midfield pivot of Thomas Partey and Saúl ÑÍguez were both destructive and constructive, and a more dynamic Koke, Yannick Carrasco and Griezmann caused confusion for Granada with Nico Gaitán’s speed on the left an asset (although I remain unconvinced that he is in Atlético’s best starting XI). Also, in an ideal world, Atleti might have more of a focal point up front in the form of Gameiro, but he is on the mend from a stomach muscle ailment.
News that Manchester United were looking at Griezmann alternatives (even though Atlético fans will tell you there are not alternatives) was followed by some very encouraging quotes from Griezmann via AS English:
“I’m very happy here and of course the nice weather really helps a lot! My team mates are among the best there are and then I have a top class coach, so I am very happy here and I have no reason to leave.”
Not to suggest that this season is over because Atlético are in a very decent position in the Champions League. A quarter or semi-final spot is not beyond their reach and I’ll leave it there for fear of jinxing it. As far as next season is concerned - and working on the premise that Atleti can not sign anyone - they still have plenty to be excited about with this current crop. Here’s why:
- Sime Vrsaljko will most likely replace Juanfran as Atlético’s right-back but expect the latter to feature in plenty of games. That is, for my money, the best one-two punch money can buy at right-back without causing a stir over playing time. Juanfran, ever a team player, will become a squad player while Vrsaljko grows. It’s an ideal situation for Simeone.
- The same applies for left-back with Filipe Luis and Theo Hernández, although the Brazilian is not willing to give up his grip on the starting position just yet, and rightly so. He has no natural replacement in the squad at the moment and will be afforded more rest next season, with Theo growing into an eventual starting role in the squad.
- In the centre, José Giménez should be given every opportunity to start and make the position his own along with Lucas Hernández when Diego Godín needs rest but Godín, as he has been for years now, remains the lynchpin.
A word Koke’s future
In midfield, Atletico have struggled to find the right balance of defensive protection and creative expression with Koke operating at the base of midfield and Gabi and Saúl either side of him - more often than not, further ahead of him too. The truth is, Koke is not suited to the role and needs a player or two beside him in order to be at his best. He can control a game from that position at times but it has become increasingly easier to get at Atleti when he is playing as a number six. Saúl and Thomas in that position, not so much. They provide energy going forward and disrupt opponents in equal measure. Koke’s long-term future lies as an unorthodox winger, gravitating towards the middle as a number 10. This should be part of an Atleti attack that will also see a more fluidity with the Carrasco and Griezmann duo plus Gameiro up front.
As the battle for fourth rages on, and Atlético eye a third Champions League final during the Simeone era, some thought has moved to next year. Provided they can keep their best young players and current stars, Atlético have a whole lot going for them next season even if they can’t sign anyone.