Following the exit of several star names over the summer, much has been made of Atlético in particular in front of goal this season, with many quick to judge our new signings and point the finger at the team’s apparent inability to score and make chances from open play.
Diego Costa, David Villa and Adrián López headlined the exodus of attacking talent from the Vicente Calderón during the summer, with José Sosa and Diego Ribas also moving on following the end of their loan spells.
However, a large chunk was re-invested to strengthen our frontline, with many predicting before the start of the season that we actually have more firepower now than before, if not in the starting line-up then throughout the squad as a whole.
€30m was thrown at Real Sociedad for Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, the marquee arrival alongside Bayern Munich star Mario Mandžukić. Fair investments were also made on Italian international Alessio Cerci and upcoming Mexico striker Raúl Jiménez, solid additions to the existing cast of Arda Turan, Koke, Raúl García and Cristian Rodríguez.
Since Simeone’s arrival though, the team has generally been very settled and consistent. The Argentine is not a rotator like some of his high-profile counterparts, and has great faith in the players that have brought him unprecedented success in his time at Atlético so far.
Last summer, Toby Alderweireld and Josuha Guilavogui came in for sizeable fees on the last day of the transfer window, but both struggled to make any real impact or challenge for a starting place, and have incidentally already moved on to pastures new.
Given our notably demanding system and the high physical level required, there is always a period of adaptation that new signings have to go through and this has been the case with a number of the summer’s acquisitions. Cholo wants players he can trust, and this can only be won over time.
It’s fair to say that, bar Miguel Ángel Moyá in goal, nobody has quite hit the ground running just yet, but the fact is, the team is still getting results, doing the job they need to do, and also remain solid in defence – the key foundation to all our recent success.
In a recent interview, Arda Turan said that when he first came in, Simeone told the team “stop the opposition from scoring and you only need to find one to win the game”. Regardless of the personnel, this won’t change and as the new players start to get to grips with the system, they will get better at grinding out results from this approach.
The team has continuously improved year upon year under Cholo, but just about everybody in both the Spanish and English press has ruled out our chances of silverware this year. Even more so after we were handed the toughest of routes to the Copa del Rey final in last week’s draw.
This piece from Graham Hunter categorically predicts that third place is the most we can aspire to this year, and seems to be the common opinion of the so-called La Liga experts.
Still though, we refuse to go away. After losing to Valencia at the start of October, the response couldn’t have been better; three wins, eight goals without reply and the gap closed to just two points from Barcelona in top spot.
As fans, we know better than anyone that this team will never lie down or accept second best. “I’m not going to come out and admit that anybody is better than us,” said Mandžukić in an interview last week, who gave the impression of a seasoned team member when speaking to press in his native Croatia.
It has to be said that with each game that passes by, the new players look closer and closer to the level desired by Simeone, in particular the big number nine. A true warrior, you can see just why the former Bayern man was chosen to succeed Diego Costa in our team.
Antoine Griezmann is also starting to hit his stride an d, slowly but surely, develop an understanding both with Mandžukić and the likes of Koke and Arda. The Frenchman didn’t have an easy start to life in red and white, as many were quick to point out, but looking at his talent and how he has applied himself so far, it was always going to be just a matter of time.
Those who expected us to come out all guns blazing like in the last couple of years with a much-changed team have been quick to jump to conclusions or call our success a flash in the pan, but for me this is the most exciting thing about our season so far.
For a team who “only score from set pieces”, “sold all their best players” and “wasted money on their replacements”, we’ve won the Spanish Super Cup, beaten the impenetrable Real Madrid not once but twice, thrashed Sevilla, and also edged out Juventus in a strong Champions League group, one which we currently top.
When the new players fully adapt, and I saw ‘when’ with confidence rather than ‘if’, you have to wonder what the limit is this season. Big players may have left, but the principles and ideologies that have served us so well are still as strong as ever, a factor that supersedes any individual.
It would be foolish to write us off, especially after last year, but the players and coaching staff won’t mind that at all. Partido a partido.