This summer has been difficult for everyone, and football clubs have been no exception. The absence of match-day revenue has lopped a huge chunk of money off every team’s income, while all continue to struggle with the fall-out from what the coronavirus has wrought.
Atlético Madrid came nowhere near challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid for the league last season and were beaten by RB Leipzig in the Champions League after another disappointing performance. The same arguments and worn-out debates over Diego Simeone’s style of play followed after Atlético were left to rue a missed chance in Lisbon.
Simeone is not going to change. He has tried to in some ways, but fundamentally he is a defensive manager. Despite flickers of hope throughout the year that the Argentine is willing to be more expansive, when the business end of the year comes around, Atlético will always revert to type.
The best that can be hoped for is a radical change in personnel to inject newness into the team. This Simeone side lacks warriors in the middle and has an abundance of naivety in attack. Neither of these areas has been addressed since the transfer market reopened.
Atlético’s lack of a transfer activity is a concern. Some clubs are moving fast to fill holes in their squads, but it seems the rojiblancos are waiting to see how the market shakes out in the coming days and weeks. That approach benefits the team’s long-term economic situation, but it doesn’t do much for their hopes next season.
Atlético kick off their campaign on Sept. 26 against Granada. There is still time to upgrade the squad, but it doesn’t seem as if a transfer strategy emerged since the season ended. That is, aside from “offload all the youngsters from Atlético Madrid B.”
So is shifting dead weight from the squad really a solution?
In some ways, no news might mean good news for Atlético. Thomas Partey speculation has died down to a whimper. There is no massive hurry to sell anyone and Yannick Carrasco, who was a pleasant surprise after his return last year, is expected to stay with the club for at least another season.
There is still significant dead weight that needs urgent attention, though. It’s quite clear that Diego Costa (who has tested positive for COVID-19) is finished at the very top level, as much as it hurts to type those words. Thomas Lemar has run out of chances and might be the most disappointing signing of the Simeone era when you consider his price (€70 million, the most expensive signing in the club’s history). The French attacker will be sold at a loss and has already reportedly rejected offers, with his priority being to play in the Premier League. Wolves and Everton have both been mentioned.
Mario Hermoso, another disappointing signing, could leave the club with Nehuén Pérez ready to step in if he does. The 20-year-old Argentine had an impressive loan season with Familição and could be ready to occupy a role in Simeone’s squad. If Hermoso doesn’t leave, it’s Pérez who could depart, with AS Roma said to be keeping a close eye on him.
Atlético are well-set defensively, but the concerns remain over their midfield and attack. Partly, this is down to Simeone’s tactics. But given his unwillingness to bend, the squad sometimes has to find a way to overcome the limitations inherent to Cholismo.
A chance for Atlético
It wouldn’t be an article looking toward the future without saying “Atlético have a real chance this season.” The playing field has levelled like never before in LaLiga, and there is a genuine shot for either Sevilla or Villarreal to break into the top three. Lionel Messi might remain at Barcelona, but he is sure to lose a number of his closest allies in the squad. Real Madrid are in good shape, but newest galáctico Eden Hazard has been useless since joining from Chelsea last summer. Los blancos’ midfield is aging. and there might be motivational concerns after their exhausting effort to win LaLiga following the coronavirus-imposed lockdown.
La Liga was used to having almost half of the top 50 players in the world. That number has gradually been decreasing, last season it stood at just 10. Could it drop even further in 2020/21? @21stClub pic.twitter.com/uu0yhxgdQi— Aurel Nazmiu (@AurelNz) August 30, 2020
Atlético need a number nine who can score consistently with limited opportunities. Marcos Llorente’s emergence as a lightening rod in attack will help to create more opportunities and with Yannick Carrasco opposite him, they should be able to stretch defences more frequently. But Atlético need a killer up front to convert chances. If they can’t acquire one and Álvaro Morata’s inconsistencies remain, they have no shot. Ángel Correa emerged last season as an aid in attack but he hasn’t shown the nous of David Villa — who was, of course, a leading figure during the 2013/14 LaLiga-winning season.
Los colchoneros need help in the middle of the field, too. Lemar was meant to help in this area as an auxiliary midfielder who could also contribute in attack. This hasn’t been the case. There was a time when Saúl Ñíguez contributed in the final third, but Simeone’s conservatism has shackled him, too.
Atlético will expect an improvement from João Félix, and a significant one at that, but they remain deficient in the kind of player who can win games when things aren’t going their way. That’s the kind of player you need to win a league title.
Money is tight at the moment, and budgets have been scaled back. Atlético will have to start moving in the market if they are to start the season with a title-challenging squad, or we might find ourselves here next summer writing and reading articles with similar sentiments.