For Atletico Madrid, this summer has felt different. There has been no turmoil, no tumult. They have not lost a key player and spent their days searching for a replacement. They have not had to navigate the disruption of a stadium move. And they have not been restricted by an inconvenient transfer ban.
Instead, things have felt serene. If Diego Simeone had pictured an ideal pre-season, this might have been it. Atletico have a settled team, have made impressive additions in the transfer market and appear prepared for a return to the top of the European game.
Last season, of course, Simeone’s side exited the Champions League prematurely. It was, perhaps, unsurprising. Atletico had been unable to add to an already thin squad during the summer and they were no longer in the familiar surroundings of the Vicente Calderón.
It meant a slow start: a series of draws left Atletico trailing behind Barcelona in La Liga and they fell to third place in their Champions League group, too. Still, they recovered and ended the season strongly. They were, by the end, Barcelona’s closest challengers and Europa League winners.
This season, though, there should be no such stumbling blocks. If all goes to plan Atletico will begin bullishly, intent on making a statement both domestically and in Europe. There is no reason to suggest that they cannot challenge on both fronts.
Keeping Antoine Griezmann felt seismic. There had been an expectation that he would leave for Barcelona. But he opted to stay and, for Atletico, that could mean the difference between challenging and falling short again.
Griezmann’s performances at the World Cup – and indeed the performances of a number of others – will have greatly encouraged Simeone. He was excellent as France powered to victory, scoring four goals but, more importantly, acting as a leader in an inexperienced side, playing with maturity and confidence.
Lucas Hernandez, France’s young left back, will also hope that his displays at the World Cup warrant a regular place in Simeone’s team this season. He played with an assurance that belied his age; part of a French back four that dominated most opposition.
Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez were imperious for Uruguay, too, while Diego Costa and Koke established themselves as regulars in a Spain side that ultimately disappointed. Atletico made more than just a fleeting impression on the tournament in Russia.
The established players will, as ever, make up the spine of Simeone’s team. But Atletico have added shrewdly this summer. Rodri, a midfielder signed from Villarreal, has shown great promise. And Thomas Lemar, who has excelled with Monaco in Ligue 1 in recent seasons, should add flair and directness in attack.
Gelson Martins arrived, too, in controversial fashion on a free transfer from Sporting. What is clear is that Atletico should be more of an attacking force, more adept at turning draws into wins. That has proved a hindrance, particularly in the early stages of last season; and if there has been a criticism of Simeone’s Atletico it is that there is occasionally a lack of cutting edge, an inability to truly take the game to more lowly opposition.
It is, of course, far too early to assess a team with any certainty. But, at present, things look overwhelmingly positive for Atletico. Real Madrid, having lost Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, could be set for a period of uncertainty. And it remains to be seen whether Barcelona, under Ernesto Valverde, will perform as consistently as last season.
Atletico, as always, will be the underdogs. But they should be expected to compete as ferociously as ever, and perhaps with some added quality. In the Champions League, they will be intent on making an impact. Last season’s disappointment will be motivation enough.
And with Simeone at the helm Atletico cannot be written off.
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