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Season Preview Roundtable: Defense and summer business

Roundtable #1 asks our writers to examine Atlético’s defense and their success in the transfer window.

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - Audi Cup 2017 Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

Concerns have been raised have been raised about Atlético Madrid’s back line ahead of the new season, especially regarding the over-30 brigade (Diego Godín, Filipe Luís, Juanfran). How strong will Atlético be at the back this season?

Robbie Dunne: Concerned definitely. I think Diego Simeone needs to rotate them better this year and also I think the guys coming in need to do better to make sure SImeone doesn’t regret rotating.

If they don’t take their chances, you can’t blame Simeone for not taking their chances but then again, Simeone has to trust the youth and give them chances. It’s a very complex situation.

Jeremy Beren: There may be a few more goals conceded, but Atlético should be fine at the back (health permitting). While fitness is a question mark considering both right backs missed quite a bit of time last season — and the first-choice left back already has a nagging foot injury — this is still an excellent, well-drilled unit with a good mix of proven veterans and wildly talented young players. What’s more, Jan Oblak will almost certainly continue has progression into one of the top goalkeepers on the continent, which will save Simeone’s back line from implosion should it come anywhere near that.

Rob Walker: Atlético's defense will likely be similar to last season, barring an unexpected collapse in form from either Filipe Luís or Diego Godín. They retain a top notch goalkeeper who has the most clean sheets in LaLiga the last two seasons, as well as a backline which is deeply familiar with each other. The main concern comes at center back, mainly who will act as Godín's partner. Ideally, one or both of José Giménez or Lucas Hernández will make a big step forward next season, cementing a first team spot and condemning Stefan Savić to the bench.

Stu Lindberg: Big picture I don’t think this will be a huge issue for us this season, as long as Jan Oblak doesn’t pull a Neymar and slip off to Paris, which seems unlikely. I will concede that the durability of Godín, Filipe and Juanfran will be tested this year. But with the presence of Oblak to organize them, I think the young talent we have in the back will be able to fill in successfully when the need arises. Though we may not be quite as stifling as the past two seasons, I still expect this to be one of the top defensive units in LaLiga.

Conor Coyle: Realistically I don’t see much change. They only conceded 27 goals last year, the least in the division once again by some distance and I don’t see an extra year on the legs as a particular hindrance. Filipe has been in the form of his life since his return and Godín was never blessed with great pace anyway, and with Oblak behind them again they won’t concede many goals. The only concern would possibly be Juanfran, but with Šime Vrsaljko snapping at his heels they’re not stuck for cover.

Brenton Bowen: Lucas’ emergence this pre-season could be a boost for reinforcing Atleti’s back line. His versatility in playing both sides of center and at left back will help with Simeone’s rotation when Filipe or Godín need rest. I am hopeful Vrsaljko will continue to grow as the future right back for Atleti; we’ve seen glimpses of it, now we just need to see consistency.

I have a couple concerns with Giménez’ health and Savić’s consistency. Simeone seems to have a lot of faith in Savić, but when playing against quality forwards he seems a bit out of sorts. Giménez is clearly the stronger player in my opinion, and should be the regular starter alongside Godin. Can we give Giménez the “injury prone” label yet? Probably not, but it remains a concern for me. A rotation of Godin, Giménez and Hernández with Savic thrown in would keep Atleti in a strong position defensively.

We have no reason to worry about Filipe Luís yet; he had a strong pre-season and remains in great shape. He is one of those players that conserves his energy well on the pitch. He’s rarely out of position and gets up field well, but isn’t running all over the place. Also, he could have a reliable sub with Lucas’ versatility and ability to slot in at left back (assuming he keeps up his pre-season form). There isn’t a lot of depth for Atleti in defense, but with some luck, they should remain a strong defensive and disciplined side for the 17/18 season.

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - Audi Cup 2017 Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

How would you grade Atlético’s summer business under registration ban?

Robbie: That all depends. Poor if you look at it purely from a squad building perspective, but not bad when you consider Atlético don’t have any money. One of the main issues is in attack and it looks like Diego Costa is coming, as is Vitolo.

When you look at Barcelona’s window during registration ban, they didn’t do many great things either, so it’s hard to find targets and then convince them to come and play somewhere else for a year in a World Cup year.

Jeremy: Atlético have their coach to thank if Costa joins Vitolo in donning red and white in 2018 — it’s through his insistence that Atlético have pushed to close the deal on the former after signing the latter. Simeone gets an A-minus for recruitment, the board gets a C-minus for nearly screwing up both transfers anyway. Throw in the prudent renewals to key players, and you have a solid B.

Rob: B-minus. The acquisition of Vitolo is good, but took too long and required a huge amount of drama to get finished. A very similar storyline has played out *so far* with Costa, as it seems nailed on he'll sign for Atlético, but it has taken far too long for the Atleti brass to get the deal across the line. However, it matters little as if both Vitolo and Diego Costa are acquired, they make Atleti genuine contenders in both major competitions, providing they remain in the hunt by the time Jan. 1 rolls around.

Stu: In many ways I think the registration ban may have been a blessing in disguise for this team. Without the prospect of bringing in new players, the club wisely put resources towards extensions for Koke, Lucas, Antoine Griezmann, Saúl Ñíguez and hopefully Oblak. Considering the form this largely unchanged team was in at the end of last season, if they can regain that quickly, they could come out of the gates fast while other teams are still shuffling their new pieces around.

Conor: It’s obviously limited them massively, especially when they are now trying to compete with big spenders Real Madrid and Barcelona. They’ve cut loose a few squad players and managed to keep hold on to their big names so that was the best they could have hoped for I suppose.

Brenton: I like the move for Vitolo a lot. I’ve been a fan of his for a while and I think he fits well into the team, adding to the threat in attack. The effort Atlético’s directors put into the signing should pay off in January once he arrives. The blue whale in the room during this summer window is Costa. If they can manage to bring him in for around €40 million, while Barcelona are paying the same price for Paulinho, we would have to consider this a successful window. A Costa-Griezmann strike partnership would be one of the strongest in the world.

I was a Luciano Vietto fan, but I think it is the right move to allow him to leave and recoup the money spent on him. With Fernando Torres’ return and Costa’s potential arrival, Atleti just don’t have the room for another forward on the squad. Atleti were also able to unload a few players that would have seen sporadic playing time, at most. Matías Kranevitter is off to Zenit and Rafael Santos Borré is heading to Argentina.

We also can’t forget that without the transfer ban, there’s a good chance Atlético would have lost Griezmann to Manchester United or worse -- Real Madrid or Barcelona. In that aspect alone, whether it was Griezmann who made the decision to stay, which is most likely, or if Atleti were able to convince him into staying, he is here for at least one more year. And Atleti need him. I think bringing Torres back was also important, maybe not on the field necessarily, but he remains a popular player in the dressing room and amongst supporters.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!