Since Diego Simeone’s arrival in 2011, Atletico Madrid have consistently challenged at the top end of La Liga, but with defeat this weekend leaving them 11 points behind leaders Barcelona, Atletico are likely to end a fifth straight season without a domestic trophy.
Atletico Madrid: The End of An Era
Out With the Old
The majority of Atletico’s longstanding defensive core looks likely to depart this summer. Diego Godin’s contract expires this summer, and the centre back is expected to join Inter Milan. Meanwhile, full backs Filipe Luis and Juanfran are also expected to move on. All three were vital during the club’s title win in 2013/14 and are fan favourites. Dogged, hard-working and disciplined, all three defenders epitomise the Simeone way. With combined club appearances nearing 1,000, these departures will leave a large void in the dressing room.
Distressingly for Atletico fans, it is unlikely that these will be the only departures. After committing his future to Atletico last summer, Antoine Griezmann is reportedly eager for a move to Barcelona. Whether this move materialises may depend more on whether Barcelona are willing to forget Griezmann’s public rejection last summer. Although he has not been at his best this season, Griezmann remains vital for Atletico. His nineteen goals are significantly greater than anyone else at the club. In fact, Griezmann is the only player to reach double figures for goals scored this season.
The midfield is also expected to be pillaged. The exceptionally talented Saul appears close to a move to Manchester, with both City and United keen on the versatile midfielder. Meanwhile, Thomas Partey has impressed this season and has again caught the eye of United.
Atletico Madrid’s poor recruitment makes these potential departures all the more concerning. For several seasons the club has attempted to bolster their attacking options, spending large amounts of money on multiple talents. In the last three seasons, Atletico have bought and then sold Vitolo, Kevin Gameiro and Nicolas Gaitan. Summer buys Nikola Kalinic has only two goals to his name, whilst the biggest disappointment has been record-buy Thomas Lemar. Since arriving from Monaco, Lemar has struggled to hold down a regular starting spot. Whilst he has time to develop at just 23, Simeone appears unsure as to how to get the best out of his new star. Lemar has appeared in multiple positions this season, failing to make any of them his own.
As proven in this weekend’s meeting, Barcelona are comfortably stronger than Atletico. With Barcelona already signing Frenkie de Jong for next season and also pursuing a deal for Matthijs de Ligt, the gulf appears set to widen further. More concerning is the anticipated investment at city rivals Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s return was subject to the agreement of the board to invest heavily in the playing squad. Real Madrid have endured one of their most turbulent seasons in living memory, yet Atletico sit only two points ahead of them. With Real unlikely to face the same struggles next season, Atletico could find themselves on the outside watching a two horse race for domestic dominance.
Has Diego Simeone’s Message Turned Stale?
The world’s highest paid manager, Diego Simeone deserves enormous credit for his work with Atletico. Built on defensive solidity, Simeone’s side yet again have the tightest defence, conceding only 21 league goals. However, his failure to evolve leaves many questioning whether he can take Atletico Madrid any further. Despite spending vast amounts on attacking options, Atletico’s style is no more offensive-minded now than five years ago. At vital moments, Simeone’s strong rearguard hasn’t been enough. Most recently, the devastating Champions League exit against Juventus proved that this philosophy cannot work.
Simeone’s job is safe, but he finds himself in uncharted territory. He must now rely on signing and moulding a new group of players into his system. Based on his history of integrating new players into the side, this could be the breaking of Simeone’s reign at Atletico Madrid.