Atlético Madrid’s topsy-turvy season will come to an end on Sunday, as Athletic Bilbao pay a visit to the Vicente Calderón in the final LaLiga contest there. Time is nearly up on the Calderón, and Atlético have stepped up on promoting the progress being made up north at A Stadium Called Wanda (more on that in the coming days).
Atleti have clinched a third consecutive third-place league finish, which attests to the solid work done by Diego Simeone and co. after the misadventures that characterized the team’s play from August through December. Automatic Champions League qualification is an inherently good thing, although it was a very bumpy road there; Atleti didn’t even climb into third place until early April. Changes will need to be made this summer n order to mount a more threatening domestic challenge - not to mention finally addressing the European Cup-sized elephant in the room.
AS say that Simeone and the club intend to compete on all three fronts next season and will listen to offers for Kévin Gameiro, Nico Gaitán and José Giménez in order to fund a necessary squad reboot. Gameiro and Gaitán - both purchased last summer - have been disappointing. Simeone has soured on the former recently, and it does not appear that Gameiro’s great chemistry with Antoine Griezmann will be enough to keep him around. Gaitán’s departure, meanwhile, is probably the most obvious piece of business Atlético will do this summer.
Giménez is a different story. His contract expires in 2018 and there has been little progress toward an extension, and last month’s renewal of Lucas Hernández to 2022 sent a pretty strong message to the Uruguayan. Stefan Savić may leave, too, with Atlético reportedly looking at snapping up a younger defender to battle Lucas for the right to partner Diego Godín in central defense. As we’ve discussed before, Giménez has not shown that he can stay fit long enough to hold down a place in defense or in midfield - which is a shame, as he is immensely talented. The 22-year-old has a €65m buyout clause and has piqued Manchester United’s interest; if a big offer comes in from England, Joséma probably will go.
Atlético will be able to allocate the Giménez money - along with the anticipated €30m generated from the sale of Theo Hernández to Real Madrid - toward the purchase of yet another #9. Cadena COPE say that the primary objective is bringing in a “guarantee” at forward, and Simeone is said to want a big, strong player at the position - as opposed to another quick, smallish player such as Gameiro or Ángel Correa. To that end, COPE report that Diego Costa is the top choice - as he was last summer - but Torino’s Andrea Belotti is the #2 option.
The 23-year-old has had a massive season in Serie A, with 25 goals and five assists to his name over 33 appearances. He also has a contract to 2021, and that contract has a €100m buyout clause; Atlético apparently are willing to pay €60m for the Italian. So we’ll see how that goes.
Meanwhile, The Independent’s Miguel Delaney wrote last week that Atleti are interested in Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez and Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy to beef up the forward line. The quick, strong and versatile Chilean has contributed 33 goals (23 scored/10 assisted) to the Gunners this season, but it looks like the Emirates side will miss out on next season’s Champions League anyway, and his contract is up in 2018. Vardy has not replicated his stunning 2015-16 season, but has scored 12 league goals and netted twice more in the Champions League, including once against Atlético in the quarterfinal. Simeone likes Vardy’s attitude and work ethic and the 30-year-old might be interesting as a backup. If he is purchased and marketed as the #9, though...
But it seems the most progress has been made on acquiring Lyon marksman Alexandre Lacazette. AFP’s Kieran Canning tweeted that a deal was done months ago (which we also wrote about) and the player is open to leaving France. What’s more, he is full of praise for los colchoneros and compatriot Griezmann:
Alexandre Lacazette speaking pretty highly of Griezmann and Atlético in an interview today... https://t.co/Jm09YHKkb2— Into the Calderón (@intothecalderon) May 16, 2017
However, these grand plans for an altered Atlético are contingent on the transfer ban appeal lodged with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That decision could come any day now, and Marca’s Alberto Barbero reports that if the decision goes against Atleti, the plan will be to bring back loanees Diego Jota and Luciano Vietto from Porto and Sevilla respectively.
All I have to say after that is: buckle up, y’all. This will be one wild ride and, for better or worse, a transformational summer for the mattress makers.