Luciano Vietto: 5.9
Diego Simeone was very upset when Vietto moved to Mestalla in January. He wasn’t necessarily annoyed by the club loaning out the forward from under his nose — it was more due to his profligacy near goal.
Vietto looked hungrier and more determined than the young, shell-shocked striker who came over from Villarreal in 2015. The Argentine’s work rate won him minutes early in the season as Cholo shuffled through several striker options. But costly, damaging misses in LaLiga (particularly in a 0-0 draw at Valencia), the Champions League (particularly in a 0-0 draw at Roma) and the Copa del Rey (particularly in a 1-1 draw at third-division Elche) destroyed his confidence and necessitated a loan once Diego Costa came on board.
The 24-year-old improved somewhat once returned to Marcelino’s welcoming arms — he scored a hat trick against Las Palmas in the cup and added winning goals in league play against Levante and Girona. However, Valencia will not take up Vietto’s €15 million option and he will return to Atlético Madrid this summer.
Fernando Torres: 6.3
The one word that comes to mind regarding El Niño’s final season in red and white is “professional.” Torres never shrunk from his responsibilities as a dressing room presence and a club ambassador, even as his importance to the side plummeted.
There were times when Atlético could have used production from him, mind. Torres didn’t score in the league until December, and it’s probably not coincidence that he played his best against Segunda B sides in the Copa del Rey. The 34-year-old played 70-plus minutes in LaLiga just three times before April, and only got 13 minutes combined across the Europa League semifinal and final. But in his final competitive match, Torres took the captain’s armband and scored a vintage brace against Eibar.
It is difficult to sum up what Torres represents, to explain why he remained so loved and cherished even as he visibly declined over the past several seasons. When Torres emerged as a 17-year-old academy graduate, he graced the pitch for a team in Segunda, a team without a leading light or a presence to rally around. El Niño was that symbol for many. He became the captain at 19 years old and stayed through lean years as Atleti tried to re-establish themselves in LaLiga. He left, came back and retained the admiration of thousands. Now he’s off again, to write another chapter in his unique footballing book — but he’ll be back someday, perhaps as a coach or something more. (Club president?!)
Kévin Gameiro: 6.7
Simeone hesitated to hand the Frenchman big minutes early in the season, but he eventually proved his value with a string of game-winning goals — seven in total across all competitions. He scored five league goals held up as match winners (even if two were penalties), and the Madrid papers pondered a “GGC” trident in February.
But Gameiro’s form fizzled out as the season wound down, and he did not get on the pitch as Atlético secured the Europa League. He won’t find consistent football in a team that boasts a top striker pairing. His game is too limited, and it’s quite likely the 31-year-old moves to Valencia or back to France this summer.
Diego Costa: 7.2
This tweet encapsulates the Diego Costa experience:
Diego Costa has been on for 20 minutes. He’s scored, injured himself & gotten in a fight. I’ve missed him so much.— Jonny (@jonnysfootyblog) January 3, 2018
Costa’s long-awaited return corresponded with an immediate uptick in Atlético’s form, even as the Spain international did not find the net with regularity. But he did use his physicality to force open swathes of space for Griezmann, space that no other forward he had played with could open. The big man scored three times in 15 games upon his return to LaLiga — a figure impacted by ankle and hamstring injuries — but he registered four assists and retained his trademark aggressiveness. His stoppage-time strike against Arsenal (assisted by Griezmann) to put Atleti into the Europa League final was no doubt the best moment of his half-season.
Costa is still in his prime at 29 — as evidenced by his performances at the World Cup — and a full season next to a near-perfect French foil should leave supporters salivating.
Antoine Griezmann: 7.5
On more than one occasion in 2018, Simeone rued his talisman’s wasteful winter. A distracted and disenchanted Griezmann labored through the season’s first four months — which began with a red card and suspension 67 minutes into the league opener at Girona. Even as he scored a goal-of-the-year contender, Atlético’s superstar forward struggled to find form and Cholo looked for creative ways to get him going (including playing him as a lone striker in a Madrid Derby).
From Jan. 3 to season’s end on May 20, Griezmann scored 22 goals and added eight assists in 29 appearances across all competitions. Buoyed by Costa’s arrival, he benefitted massively from the openings his new strike partner created and hit his best form ever.
Griezmann motored on through to the Europa League final, where he offered up a signature performance — his brace carried Atlético to a 3-0 win and a major trophy. His future dominated the weeks prior to the World Cup, but he confirmed his decision to stay in the capital prior to France’s first match.
Despite his slow start, Griezmann’s per-90 shots and chance creation remained consistent, and he ended as Atleti’s top scorer for the fourth year running. At 27 years old, he is at his peak as a world-class forward and Atleti’s Lionel Messi. His surprise decision to stay will allow him to grow even more on the pitch and expand his brand off it, while his team realistically can aim for the biggest trophies in 2018/19.