Is a manager ever entirely happy with his squad? Can a team ever feel complete after a summer of buying, selling and loaning players?
If the answers are “yes” and “yes,” Diego Simeone and Atlético Madrid must be feeling pretty smug about their transfer business this summer.
Atlético had three main objectives going into the summer: find a striker, keep Kieran Trippier, and sign Rodrigo De Paul. By midnight on August 31, they had achieved all three — and to really hammer home their recent good decision-making and fortune, they significantly weakened a direct rival.
Barcelona lost their top goalscorers from last season this summer — Lionel Messi (38 goals) and Antoine Griezmann (20) — and won’t have Ousmane Dembélé or Sergio Agüero until November. Meanwhile, Real Madrid lost their two starting centre-backs, one of whom just happened to be their captain and leader, and only brought in one replacement in David Alaba.
All this comes one season after neither of Spain’s big two could catch Atlético in the race for LaLiga. Atlético saw an opportunity this summer and decided to move. This is a team ready to win now, and that is reflected in their investment this summer.
No team in Spain spent more money on players this summer than Simeone’s Atlético.
Cholo added three players to his squad who can contribute straight away. De Paul is a 27-year-old Argentine international with experience in LaLiga, while Antoine Griezmann is still world class despite how the move to Barcelona has hurt his reputation.
Matheus Cunha is a highly-rated attacker, too. He might be more of a work-in-progress, but still an interesting addition to Simeone’s armoury.
Atlético chased a striker for the entire summer. Potential deals for Rafa Mir and Dušan Vlahović fell through, and with time ticking down, it felt like Simeone would not get the striker he so badly wanted.
But on the craziest of transfer deadline days, Griezmann became available and Atlético pounced, re-signing him along with the high-potential Cunha.
The question, as always, with Atlético is whether they have enough goals or not. Defensively, Simeone’s teams don’t struggle, but it’s their attacking firepower that has been found wanting in past seasons.
That shouldn’t be a problem this year, and the competition for places is very healthy.
If you add De Paul and Marcos Llorente’s threat from deep, along with Yannick Carrasco on the wing, you start to think of this team’s ceiling. Do they have one?
If Simeone can find the right balance in attack, Atlético are the runaway favorites for the league and one of the strongest teams in Europe.
Strangely, Atlético were in a comfortable position this summer. They didn’t have to sell anyone and have no pressing contract issues. They could have watched while Madrid and Barcelona imploded.
The one that hurts the most is Saúl Ñíguez, now at Chelsea, but in a way it’s refreshing that the central midfielder gets a move away from Atlético at A pivotal time in his career. He admitted himself that Atlético needed a different version of Saúl than the one we have seen in recent seasons. And Atlético did not let the academy graduate go until Griezmann signed.
That transfer showed Atlético fully in control. It will do no harm for Saúl to experience a different league, a different manager and a different setting. It’s a loan deal, for now, and whether he comes back or not remains to be seen. His departure, given his recent form, is not monumental.
Aside from that, Atlético did not lose another player from their squad last season.
We still don’t know what Simeone has up his sleeve for his new additions. Last season, he added new wrinkles to his system, and now he has an array of attacking talent, each player possessing a versatile skill set.
We don’t know how LaLiga will shake out — but in terms of process and in theory, Atlético managed this summer’s transactions perfectly.