Following the majestic victory over archrivals Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, the portents for Atletico Madrid this season are very bright.
The uncertainty over key players, coupled with the transfer ban and the move to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano meant that the team had a very bad start to last season.
This saw the team eliminated from the group stages of the UEFA Champions League and a points gap that became too big to close on eventual league winners Barcelona. The team recovered eventually and finished second in the league and they also won the Europa League.
This summer has been markedly different. Key men Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez, Jose Gimenez, and Juanfran have been given new contracts while of the older stalwarts; Gabi and Fernando Torres have been moved on.
The transfer business has been top notch with a £111.15m worth of talent switching base to the Metropolitano. AS Monaco’s winger Thomas Lemar was the standout signing at £63m while former Cantera product Rodri was brought in for £18m from Villarreal to fill the hole left by the departed Gabi.
#5 Oblak, Adan and the quality in goal
Slovakian international Jan Oblak is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in world football and will be the undoubted starter for the side going into the new season. Despite constant rumours linking the 25-year-old with moves away from the club, Atleti have stood firm and resisted all entreaties for his service.
It is expected that he will be the latest player to commit himself to a long-term future at the club as Diego Simeone has made it a priority.
An excellent shot-stopper who commands his defence efficiently and is able to initiate counter attacks with his long kicks and throws, Oblak’s performances have been a key reason why the side has had the best defensive record in La Liga for the past couple of seasons.
New signing Antonio Adan (a €1m buy from Real Betis) will be back up for the Slovenian following the loaning of Axel Werner to Huesca. A former Real Madrid player, Adan was central to Real Betis’ barnstorming run to Europa League qualification last season.
#4 Atletico's defence looks stronger than ever
Los Rojiblancos have been one of the most defensively solid sides in Europe ever since Simeone took over in 2010. The central defence will continue to be marshalled by new captain Diego Godin and he is expected to be partnered by either Jose Gimenez, who has continued his upward ascent, and the equally impressive Stefan Savic.
Lucas Hernandez has been fully converted into being a full-time full-back and following his superlative performances last season and his displays for France at the World Cup. He will provide stiff competition for Filipe Luis who has been the team’s first choice left-back for the better part of five years.
The surprising loaning of Croatian international Sime Vrslajko to Inter Milan means that stalwart Juanfran Torres should once again be the right-back of choice for Simeone.
New signing Santiago Arias (a £9m signing from PSV Eindhoven) is a right-back in the best traditions of the modern full-back and will be the backup option.
#3 Atletico’s midfield looks very tasty
For the first time in a long while, the Atletico midfield will be dominated by Cantera products. Rodri, Koke, Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey will form the nucleus of the team’s midfield for the 2018/2019 season and will provide a fascinating mix of steel, pace, youthfulness, and goals (as evidenced by the goals by Saul and Koke against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup).
Ghanaian international Partey and Rodri will form the defensive part of the midfield. Rodri was a revelation at Villarreal last season.
His interceptions, tackling, intelligent use of the ball and ability to sniff out danger earned him a first La Furia Roja call-up and he is already being mentioned as a long-term successor to Sergio Busquets.
Koke has continued to grow as the years go on and he is now fully in his element as one of the team’s leaders. His tenacity, long and short passing range, tackling, dead-ball ability, and instinct for being in the right place have made him one of Simeone’s favourites.
Saul is the livewire in the midfield and the one who adds the dangerous X-Factor element to the side. Very left-footed with a wicked shot, his pace, dribbling, work rate, creativity, and knack for scoring spectacular goals in the big games will continue to give Atleti an outlet - especially in the tight games.
#2 A good attack has gotten better
Down the flanks, Atleti have even more options with Thomas Lemar, fellow new boy Gelson Martins, and Vitolo providing pace, goals, work rate, and trickery down the flanks.
Antoine Griezmann’s contract renewal would have been met with huge sighs of relief among the Atleti faithful and it is expected that the World Cup winner will continue to fire in the goals and create chances that would propel the team to more titles.
Diego Costa’s arrival in January was like a shot in the arm for the whole team and he has continued to justify the team’s efforts to get him back from Chelsea.
His two-goal salvo and all-round play against Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in the Super Cup was vintage Costa and he is expected to be among the leading contenders for the Pichichi in the 2018/19 La Liga campaign.
Angel Correa came on in leaps and bounds last season and as one of Simeone’s favourites, it is expected that he will continue to play an integral role for the team.
#1 Diego Simeone’s tactics and what the season holds for Atletico Madrid
A lot will depend on the tactics that El Cholo will employ. One of the few criticisms that have been levelled at the Argentine tactician - especially in recent seasons - has been his overtly conservative tactics.
Atleti have always possessed a team of players playing attacking, nice-to-watch football and it will be interesting to see just how much Simeone lets go of the handbrake to allow his players to express themselves more.
He is expected to continue with his flat four backline with Hernandez expected to get more game time ahead of Luis as the left-back of choice.
A midfield three of Rodri, Koke and Saul are expected to start most games as it’s a trio that offers tenacity, solidity, and creativity in equal measure.
Up front, Lemar will be the first choice winger to start on the left with the license to drift across the frontline and occupy the spaces vacated by Griezmann. Lemar’s French teammate Griezmann will continue in his usual Messi-role i.e. freedom to roam and cause havoc.
The battering ram that is Costa will continue to be the arrowhead of the team and get the goals that will propel the side to achieving the desired results.
It has been a long time since an Atletico Madrid side had the depth and quality this current iteration can boast of. They should be competing for both the La Liga and UEFA Champions League titles come the end of the season.
Predictions: La Liga - 2nd place, Champions League - Winners