Are Atletico Madrid staring at a season of overhaul?
Perennially tipped as title favorites since their unlikely title win in 2013-14, Atletico Madrid have gone through another underwhelming domestic season by their lofty standards. Left to play second fiddle yet again to Barcelona, they find themselves finishing in second place this season behind the club from Catalunya.
In the European circuit, they have gone from the highs of winning the Europa League last season and the UEFA Super Cup, where they defeated arch-rivals Real Madrid 4-2, to the depths of defeat this year. The Champions League R16 tie, which they lost 3-2 to the Ronaldo-led Juventus after having taken a 2-0 lead at their swanky Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, sticks out in particular.
Incoming players fail to shine
Despite boasting the meanest defence in the league yet again, Atletico's attacking firepower has been there Achilles' heel this season with only (outgoing) striker Antoine Griezmann boasting a goals tally in double digits (15). It has been another season of struggle for veteran Diego Costa, who has simply not been good enough post his €56 million move from Chelsea last January.
Costa has had issues regarding his on-pitch discipline, causing further headaches to coach Diego Simeone. Costa's on-pitch antics resulted in an eight-game suspension stretching past the start of next season.
The new players who came in the last transfer window have also endured a disappointing campaign, especially club record signing Thomas Lemar who moved to the Spanish capital from AS Monaco in the summer for €63mn. Despite high expectations and the talent that the player possesses, the 23-year-old French winger has just five goal contributions in 30 LaLiga games (2 goals, 3 assists) this season.
With success being sparse, Atletico seem to be facing a summer of overhaul - or perhaps an exodus of players - in their quest for more silverware.
The crucial summer transfer window
Having gone through another trophy-less season, coach Simeone did suggest some changes in approach and personnel in the summer. They have already seen Lucas Hernandez sign up with Bayern Munich in the summer for a club record €80 million and Gelson Martins leaving for Monaco on loan.
Now, they face the prospect of losing Jan Oblak to Manchester United, Saul Niguez (for whom there seems to be a three-way battle between the Manchester clubs and Barcelona), and Rodri to Manchester City.
But the biggest news is around Diego Godin Griezmann, both of whom have made their summer exits official. With Godin set to join Inter and Griezmann being stalked by Europe's elite, there are further headaches for Simeone and the Atletico hierarchy. They will now have to deep dive into the market to find a quick replacement for their high-profile exits in the summer.
An uncertain future
Atletico have been linked with some top talent already, including an approach for RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner as a replacement for the French striker, and also with Manchester outcasts Juan Mata and Nicolas Otamendi. Earlier last week they were also linked with a move worth €40-45mn for current Lille winger Nicolas Pepe, who has shone for the French club this season with 20 goals and 11 assists in 36 Ligue 1 games.
Also worth noting is their interest in Spurs right back Kieran Trippier, a possible replacement for club legend Juanfran Torres who will also leave after refusing a contract renewal with the club. The return of right-back Sime Vrsaljko will also be guaranteed to add firepower to their defense.
But Atletico have to act quickly before their bigger and richer rivals swoop in for these players. The exit of their high-profile players could leave a dent in their quest for trophies next season, which may affect the influx of the new crop.
In the wake of this exodus, much focus will remain on Morata, who has given a good account of himself with six goals and an assist in the 15 games he has played this season since switching England's capital (from Chelsea) for Spain's on a year-and-a-half loan deal. But with so many reported exits it will be difficult for Simeone and the club to hold onto their other experienced stars as well.
If the management doesn't get the new recruits in time, it could be another underwhelming outing for 'Los Rojiblancos' and their fans next season.Published 18 May 2019, 14:07 IST