Atlético Madrid are the reigning LaLiga champions. After a rollercoaster season, the rojiblancos were finally crowned champions on the final day with a win over Real Valladolid. After some brief and strange celebrations, attention soon shifted to their hopes of winning it again — but better.
Real Madrid and FC Barcelona remain in financial limbo and Atlético, while not thriving, have a decent squad and a chance to build on last season’s success.
In this article, we will look at the team’s depth at goalkeeper and left-back before delving into the centre of defense, midfield and attack in later articles.
Diego Simeone changed his tactics last season, playing with three at the back and with wing-backs. It worked, but we don’t know if Atlético will continue to play this way next season. For the sake of this series of articles, we will be picking a 3-5-2 and discussing squad depth in relation to that formation.
This might be the easiest position to write about in all of sports.
Jan Oblak is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. Ivo Grbić has already declared a desire to leave the club next season in order to play and develop, with a loan deal the most likely outcome.
Oblak casts a long shadow in goal and those living in that shadow have few chances to play and grow. Atletico’s revolving door at back-up goalkeeper means we are likely to see another new arrival this summer.
Aitor Fernández, Robin Olsen and others have been mentioned as possible back-ups to Oblak, and a verteran who is happy to play deputy with the chance to play for a Champions League side and fight for titles is probably the best option to pursue for Atlético. It doesn’t matter much though, because if Oblak gets injured, any player who replaces him will be a big step down in quality.
Oblak has two years left on his contract, is 28 and entering his prime. He is the canvas on which all of Atlético’s success next season will be built.
This is the first area of the field where we encounter some confusion over depth.
Diego Simeone has not replaced Lucas Hernandez since he left for Bayern Munich — the French defender had the perfect blend of speed and strength to play in Simeone’s 4-4-2. The lack of options at left-back last season led to the change in formation, and that allowed Yannick Carrasco to play in a role more natural to him. This also made a place in the team for Mario Hermoso at left centre-back. Renan Lodi was used as a change of pace, sometimes slotting in at left-back or left wing-back when required.
Atlético had plenty of candidates for player of the year last season and Carrasco was one of them, scoring the winner against Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano and constantly providing “verticality” and width on the left. Without Carrasco, Atlético would have struggled for creativity and incision in attack.
As for Hermoso, he played as a left centre-back most of the time, as we can see below. But he did play at left-back on a number of occasions — mostly when Atlético needed more metal in a flat back four. Left-back is not his natural position, though.
This means Lodi is the only natural, traditional left-back in the squad. The Brazilian’s form meant Simeone never really relied on him, but he proved useful in cameo roles. The 23-year-old’s goal against Osasuna after coming off the bench turned the tie back in Atlético’s favour as they went on to win the league.
That being said, the colchoneros need a starting-quality left-back. It’s difficult to know whether Simeone’s switch to a 3-5-2 was decided upon because of his lack of options at left-back or for different reasons. One wonders how committed he would be to the 3-5-2 if he had a player of Lucas Hernandez’ quality in the squad.
Atlético have a variety of options at the position and they are all different profiles, but none you would say fit the ideal version of a Simeone-styled left-back.
It’s not the most pressing need, as we’ll see, but Atlético would be wise to add a new player in this position during the summer transfer market.