Atletio Madrid’s title win last year was a breath of fresh air given Real Madrid and Barcelona’s duopoly over the league title. For the first time after Valencia’s victory under Rafel Benitez in the 2003-04 season did a team other than Barcelona or Real Madrid win the league.
However, Atletico will have to prove their doubters wrong and show that they are no one year wonder. With an amazing start to their current campaign which includes the Super Copa victory over Real Madrid and another 2-1 victory over them in the League, Atletico Madrid are sure to be fighting for major honours at the of the season.
The current scenario of European football is such that when smaller teams have a successful season, the team is barely recognizable the next season with the exodus of their main players to bigger clubs. Now, Atletico are no small team but their spending power is dwarfed by that of bigger clubs. However, it is in the transfer department that Atletico have scored a major victory.
Despite losing key players like Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, Atletico went ahead and made some clever buys in the transfer market. They brought in Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich who looks like a more than capable replacement for Diego Costa. They also brought in the talented winger Antoine Griezmann from Real Socediad, which may turn out to be one of the transfers of the season.
The transfer dealings of Atletico have not only made up for the absence of their key departures but have in fact made the team stronger. The blow of Costa’s departure to Chelsea has been softened by the signing of Mandzukic from Bayern, whose physical presence and tireless running can be a handful for the opposition. The former Bayern star is also very strong in the air and adds another dimension to the Atletico attack. Add to that the signing of Mexican Raul Jimenez and Atletico’s striking department looks well covered.
The other signing which displayed Atletico’s ambitions this year was the signing of Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad. The tricky winger, with his pace, dribbling and vision, is one of the highest rated youngsters in Europe and he already has first hand experience of playing in the Spanish League.
Atletico may have struck a bargain by getting him for 30 million considering the value he adds to the team and the over-inflated prices of other youngsters like Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers. The addition of Cerci, who brings great movement, agility and technique to the forward-line helps give them another threat.
Courtois was heroic last season, but Atletico have looked to move on and so have brought in Jan Oblak from Benfica and the experienced Miguel Angel Moya from Getafe. Atletico have built on their solid defensive foundations by bringing in some exciting attackers and the club have already shown their intent with their acitivities in the transfer market.
Real Madrid and Barcelona in transition
The core of Atletico’s title winning side remains intact and their push for a second consecutive league title is made easier by the fact that both Barcelona and Real Madrid are going through a period of transition.
The Catalan club are under a new manager and with many changes to the squad, they will require some time. The one year transfer ban meant this transfer window was crucial for the club and they went and brought in many players however the quality of some of their acquisitions remains, at best, questionable. They have brought in two central defenders, but with Jeremy Mathieu 31 and Vermaelen prone to injuries, it remains to be seen if these two signings will turn out to be effective.
Suarez, their high profile signing is serving his four-month ban and will only be eligible to play from next month’s El Clasico. Plus the question mark over Suarez’s ability to fit in the team remains. The golden generation has delivered unprecedented success for the club but some of them are reaching the twilight period of their careers. Age is catching up with Xavi and the king-pin of their midfield will no longer have a prominent role in the squad with Enrique preferring to play with new signing Rakitic. It will be tough for Barcelona to replace luminaries like Xavi and Puyol.
Real Madrid’s transfer policy continues to baffle their supporters and all the euphoria surrounding their La Decima triumph has been deflated by the departure of key players like Di Maria and Alonso. They were expected to usher in a new era of domination but Anceotti’s winning team has been offset by the departure of those two players and he will have to start from scratch again.
Real Madrid lack steel in midfield and the current duo of Kroos and Modric have so far been easily over-run by the opposition. Illaramendi was brought in last year as the heir to Alonso but he is yet to get regular playing time. The high profile signing of James Rodriguez means that he will be expected to play but that would require Ancelotti to tweak his 4-3-3 formation to properly accommodate the Colombian. It will take time for Ancelotti to find the right balance in a team which though overflowing with talent, lacks cohesion.
Out of the three teams challenging for the title, Atletico look like the most settled team having kept the core of their title-winning side intact. The team under Simeone has gone from strength to strength despite losing key players and it will be no different this season. With a stable manager and having ably replaced the departing players, Atletico will look to continue their impressive streak. The uncertainty surrounding Barcelona and Real Madrid might just be an added bonus for Atletico.
The Simeone factor
When Diego Simeone first took over the reigns at Atletico in 2011, the team were struggling and had finished the previous season at a lowly 7th. Fast forward three years and he has transformed the side into one of the toughest teams in Europe. In his three years at the club he has won the Europa League, Copa del Rey, La Liga and the Supercopa.
Add to that the fact that Simeone has achieved it despite losing key players and it looks even more impressive. But that is what makes Simeone stand out. His teams are based more on the collective rather than individuals. Behind the angry facade lies a clever tactician who gets the best out of his players.
He has instilled a never-say-die attitude in the squad and it is apparent on the pitch with players chasing down every ball like their life depended on it. Atletico have made tackling look almost like an art form and teams facing them know full well they are in for a rough ride
People who regularly follow the Spanish League will vouch that Atletico’s victory last season was a pleasant surprise rather than a shocking development. Simeone has set the bar high for his team and they look well-equipped this season to be one of the major contenders domestically and in Europe. And of course, everyone loves an underdog's victory!Published 20 Sep 2014, 23:33 IST