Think Diego Simeone and you think defensive football. Go one step further and there are specific defenders that come to mind — Diego Godín, Juanfran and Filipe Luis, who never truly settled away from Atlético Madrid at Chelsea before he returned one year later. You think of the young defenders coming through, too.
It’s time now, however, for Atlêtico to overhaul their defence with the threads worn off the tires and movement likely in the summer for at least two of those players mentioned.
Godín is reportedly off to Inter Milan (in case you haven’t heard by now) and Filipe has offers too. Lucas Hernández is already gone and Stefan Savić has had a row with the fitness coach Profe Ortega, and his future is up in the air. Reports suggest Atlético could sign up to five defenders to replace those leaving.
Porto’s Felipe Monteiro, 29, is one player they have been linked to and a deal is said to be close, while Andrea Berta is said to be in talks over Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi. Alex Telles is another player who could arrive. (It seems, however, at the moment that any player who has a half decent game at left-back is being linked, such is need to replace Filipe and Lucas.)
The players mentioned all fit a certain demographic — older than 25 but younger than the players they are fit to replace. Atlético need experience while getting younger at the same time, and so their pool of players is somewhat smaller than they might like. Simeone, however, needs a level of battle-tested players though as he brings through younger players at a much slower rate.
In the graph below, you can see how necessary it is for Atlético to get younger in defence. The blue dots represent every player who has played a game this season in LaLiga and the red dots are Atletico defenders. Three of their oldest players at 34, 32 and 32 (Juanfran, Godín and Filipe) have all played a significant chunk of minutes.
The three youngest players in that group are Francisco Montero, Carlos Isaac and Andrés Solano Davila. They are all 20 or younger and have combined for just north of 300 minutes between them in LaLiga. They could take a step forward but that is also a gamble Cholo might not be willing to take. Take Lucas out of that group and you need some seasoned players, with Jose Giménez and Santiago Arias the only two defenders over 22 who have significant game-time under Simeone.
According to capology, Godín and Filipe are the eighth- and ninth-highest earners at the club and could free up plenty of wage space if they do move on — although the fact that they won’t command a transfer fee is something that Atlético might have wanted to avoid. They do have the €80 million from Lucas, however, and a large chunk of that should and probably will go into defensive reinforcements.
Atlético still have both the lowest expected goals against and actual goals against with 23 in 35 league games this season, which is absurd. That is also down in large part to Jan Oblak’s superhuman abilities and he will definitely remain, which should help any incoming player. Simeone’s men have Espanyol, Sevilla and Levante left to finish the season and you would expect them to get the one point needed to ensure they finish above Real Madrid for the second straight year.
Between the three old sages in defence, they have given Atlético 25 years and all arrived around the same time as Simeone. Without labouring the point though, that Juventus second leg was a disaster and a freshening up is necessary.
Simeone, as superstitious and loyal as ever, would prefer if he could play them until their next step was the nursing home. That’s not possible though, and so change is coming. Expect Atlético to dive head-first into the transfer market with an eye on experienced defenders.