Diego Simeone has turned Atlético Madrid into a European powerhouse over the last 10 years. The most important thing he has done in achieving this status is reducing the team’s volatility from performance to performance. Gone are the days when Atlético might be fighting relegation after a season when they were fighting to play in Europe. A down year now is one when Atlético finish fourth instead of second. Simeone guides Atlético to a certain level, and that’s something the decision-makers at the club can build a strategy around.
The strategy Atlético have built based off Simeone’s success — basically, spending a lot of money to remain competitive — means any dip in performance might mean the dismantling of that strategy.
Atlético have stabilised but stopped growing, never stretching themselves to burst through the ceiling imposed by their own defensive, physical style. Their displays prior to the coronavirus lockdown meant once football returned, they would have to obliterate that ceiling and make a sprint for the finish line to ensure they finished in the top four. They sat sixth back in May when LaLiga was suspended, coming off three draws in four games.
They had nothing to lose returning from the coronavirus break. The good vibes created at Anfield carried into the lockdown and have extended beyond it. With another last-eight appearance in the Champions League to put on his resume, Simeone has used the intense schedule and need for rotations to try different formations in different circumstances — and their form recently has been incredible. Atlético are unbeaten in seven games since the return with 15 goals scored and four clean sheets, too.
Simeone’s new look, old school Atlético Madrid
Marcos Llorente’s emergence as one of LaLiga’s most exciting attackers — in terms of pure energy — has people talking. But Yannick Carrasco’s return has turned Atlético Madrid into a much more vertical and direct side once again. It was with this style that Atlético were successful in the earlier years of Simeone’s reign, and it could be the key to their success again.
The width and verticality that Llorente and Carrasco add make life that little bit easier for João Félix to express himself, too. The Portuguese attacker has not yet found his feet at the club, but is showing signs of life and consistency since football’s resumption. He is finding his rhythm with all the opportunities to play minutes and seems to be dealing well with the intensity of the games. Arriving as a teenager last summer, he has had an entirely-acceptable first year in a new league and he will be like the cliched “new signing” for Atlético next season.
Meanwhile, Álvaro Morata and Diego Costa are not perfect, but they have been buoyed by the athleticism surrounding them, and Ángel Correa continues to be a nuisance whenever he plays. He is coming off his best season in a red and white jersey and offers a very distinct skillset in the squad. The midfield is cut and dried — Thomas, Koke and Saúl. Héctor Herrera has played well when afforded minutes and adds an authoritative, experienced voice in the dressing room.
At the back, Atlético have a left-back for the next decade in Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier has impressed and integrated well at the club. José Giménez, Stefan Savič, Felipe Monteiro and Mario Hermoso have fought for minutes in what is an impressive amount of depth for a group of central defenders and, well, Jan Oblak is a top three goalkeeper in the world.
Football’s transfer market has changed since the coronavirus wiped out millions euro worth of income. It might have changed forever. But all we know right now is that this summer is not going to be as it was, with teams sometimes appearing to invent sums of money to move for players. The good news for Atlético is that there might not be buyers for their best performers, and players like Thomas Partey might sit and wait another year or two before being tempted by the Premier League. The bad news is that the players Atlético are trying to offload won’t fetch the same kind of money next summer, either.
If you were to ask Simeone if he would like additions in the summer, he would say “yes” because you can never have too much talent, you can never stop improving and you can never have a surplus of options. But Atlético’s squad has looked as healthy as it has in some time.
The Simeone stability might well leave with the Argentine. We don’t know when that will be, but while he’s in charge, we are guaranteed competence at the very least. With the squad coming together and the options now available to him, Cholo could be about to build his next great iteration of Atlético Madrid.