Expectations and the season so far

The win against Celtic could be just the platform that Atlético needed

Manzano has a large squad available(Colchonero.com)

Manzano has a large squad available
(Colchonero.com)

It has been over 10 weeks since Atlético first began working under the command of Gregorio Manzano, and on Thursday night against Celtic, we may have finally seen a true glimpse of our team for this season.

Rested were Filipe, Silvio and Reyes, three players who we would normally expect to see in the line-up, but the so-called “holy trinity” of new signings Falcao, Diego and Arda Turan all started for the first time at the Vicente Calderón.

The first impressions were hugely promising, with each making a contribution in the form of either a goal or assist (or both, in Diego’s case).

However, other areas seem to have also been strengthened, such as the defence, so often our Achilles’ heel in the past.

Perhaps surprisingly, Atléti having kept five clean sheets from seven matches this season, and only conceded two goals in the process. Despite looking shaky on the odd occasion, the options for centre-back are particularly strong, with four internationals in Godín, Domínguez, Perea and Miranda vying for a place.

At full-back, new boy Sílvio has looked the part so far both defensively and offensively, whereas Filipe, although perhaps having not yet reached his maximum level, remains one of the better left-backs in Spain.

Another nice surprise has come in the goalkeeping area, with 19 year-old Chelsea loanee Thibaut Courtois having so far beaten off competition from Joel and Asenjo, earning comparisons to his predecessor David de Gea after an impressive start.

Elsewhere, the midfield is functioning well and unlike in the majority of last year, they have shown an ability to dominate games and set a strong base for the rest of the team. Mario Suárez has started the season as he finished the last, and after being operated for a long-term pubis injury during the summer, could improve even further with a run of games.

The return of Gabi also looks to be a positive move, with the former canterano keen to take on the role of the organiser, something which Atléti have lacked for a number of seasons. Although he may not possess the killer final ball like Diego, his leadership qualities have already been evident, and could prove to be crucial for games in which the team struggle especially.

In attack, many expected the departures of Kun Agüero and Forlán to weaken the team in what was considered to be our strongest area, but as it has turned out they have been replaced by players with similar quality, who can not just make an improvement to the forward-line, but also to the side as a whole.

Last season, the contribution of Forlán was minimal, and so we had to rely mainly on Agüero and Reyes for ammunition, but now with the additions of Arda, Diego and Falcao, we can even afford to leave Reyes on the bench, as demonstrated by Manzano on Thursday night. Furthermore, Salvio, Adrián and Pizzi are exciting options that we did not have in 2010/11.

The key difference between this season and the last with Atlético is depth. The squad is the healthiest in years, with a total of twenty-four players working each week to be included in the 18-man matchday squad. Quality is available for every position, and competing in three tournaments should not be an issue either.

However, despite after what turned out to be a very successful transfer window for Atléti, there are some problems – aside from the obvious – which should not be ignored. As always with a large quantity of new arrivals, they will need time to gel and learn to play together, which means that patience from the fans will be required, both with the players and the manager.

Understandably there are those who doubt the credentials of Manzano, and he will need to find continuity with his team selection in order for them to click, something which may be difficult with a squad of players who all want to be on the pitch.

Against Celtic, the early foundations of a team working in tandem were there for all to see, and in the next two games at home to Racing and Sporting, we will hope to see them build on this. The start to the league season, albeit excusable for a number of reasons, has not been great results wise, and taking a maximum of six points from these games is a must, considering that they are followed by a trip to the Camp Nou.

There are plenty of reasons to be upbeat, but needless to say, it will be a difficult season and qualifying for the Champions League could be tougher than ever with the likes of Málaga and Athletic now in contention. Most will agree that we are better equipped than last year, but as we know only too well, nothing can be taken for granted with this club.

What are your thoughts on the season so far? Are you happy with the squad? Which players would make your starting line-up if you picked the team?


  • DJ_ZA

    Welcome Billy… Fair summary you’ve made of the start this season, but i think many underestimate the contribution Manzano has made. While certainly there has been an improvement especially in the midfield with the new arrivals, I think Manzano has made a huge difference in making the squad a competitive team. Under Quique there just wasn’t any team spirit, with all the bickering, name calling, and general division amongst players (and manager). It was ugly and ending up in below par football / results. I think Manzano is key to helping this talented squad produce the results we expect.
    I guess only time (and results + injuries) will tell whether there is sufficient depth to this squad.

  • John Greece

    I think that the depth of the team is good enough to compete in europa and earn a respectable position in la liga.However,for me atletico must at last step up and become a team that challenge for the title,participate in champions league and dominate games.This is atletico i dream of and to do this 2 high class midfielders are needed,to set up the game which now has no plan,an ambitious coach and investments to our youth system,to produce young talents in future as long as a football director who REALLY knows from business.

  • Urban

    The team starts to show a lot of promise, but yet there still is much space for improvement. Especially with regard to Falcao’s positioning, imho he returns too deep for the ball he should stay in the box, wait on side so he could get the last pass and stretch the defense to make space for our very dangerous midfielders. Right now he is not connecting with the team well enough.

    And a really good article Billy, keep up the good work!

  • Javi

    I agree with DJ_ZA Manzano has been brillilliant in turning the spirit of a team that was left in shambels by QSF’s poor performance and the loss of three superstars
    You can see the difference in the players faces and their comments
    In addition Manzano has been fantastic in how he changed the team strategically
    Last year we relied on DeGea to make spectacular stops which would sometimes result in haphazardly getting the ball to kun reyes or forlan somehow so they could perform an individual miracle
    Defense and midfield were chaos and occasionally the ball would get to kun who would perform and individual play
    This year there is structure and organization at all levels and it could well be that we will not miss and quickly forget our three lost superstars. All parts are starting to gel together and the future is very exciting. However we still have to get our midfield to plau better as well as our wings so as to feed the gol scoring machine we gave in Falcao

  • mohammad

    the most important factor is the continuty and consistent wins.. last years atletico was a team with winning 4-0 game then losing 4-0 the game after. we must have the winning mentality for each game whether against racing or against barcelona. for thr time deing and this depth in squad i expect to be in the top 3 in la liga ( and with hard work we can compete for the title), at least semi finals in spanish cup and europa league.

  • mohammad

    the best 11 to start with:
    courtois
    silvio-miranda-godin/domngz-filipe
    mario-gabi
    diego
    reyes arda
    falcao

  • Ringo

    I think competing for the title is a bit too high of a task, at least this year.
    Because of the money and success, Real and Barca have even more depth in their squad, for example.
    We have Koke on the bench, who’s still only 19, Barcelona has Cesc, Thiago and Afellay.
    Maybe with luck, Atleti could come pretty close, but unlikely, since the team still needs time to gel, the new players are playing amazingly so far, but still need to adapt to the others and the others need to adapt to the new guys, for optimal profit out of their skills.
    Koke needs more experience and also needs to adapt to the new system and players.
    I hope Salvio gets a chance to compete with Reyes, I’d like to see if he might fit better in the team play.

  • Davide

    The thing about Barcelona and Real is that they can gel the same starting 11 every game if they want to develope chemistry, because generally squad player accept being benched in big clubs like that. We can not do that, we are not big enough to make most players accept to be reserves and back-up. Biggest task for Manzano will be to keep everyone happy. Healthy rotation whilst keeping the core of the first 11 will be key to our season. Easier said than done. Salvio should be played pretty soon before he becomes disillusioned.

  • Davide

    And i also totally dislike playing three defensive midfielders, what is the meaning?? Every single game when we later change to 4-2-3-1 is being dominated by us, and we press down opponents into their own box. Whilst with this 4-3-3 with three defensive midfielders, the game is more open. We should go out and play three attacking midfielders from start and finish of the game in first half, which i believe we can. I want to see Racing to their pants before the first 30 minute mark. I can buy the idea of playing safe at away games with three defensive midfielders to begin with and then gradually change the tactics as the game goes on. But at the Calderón we need to make opponents sniff their own goalies ass from start.

  • Chalet

    Thanks for the article, Billy.
    I enjoyed reading it!
    Great to have some new writers here!

    Same goes for Tom Pollock who was introduced lately at Madrid Atléticos.
    Together with Flo (Florian?) from Madrid Atléticos there are some promising new writers around. 🙂

    I wrote some comments recently at Madrid Atléticos – but every time when I submitted them unfortunately they didn´t show…
    Maybe I am ‘persona non grata’?

    Oh – and sorry for being a little bit OT now…

  • Ringo

    Davide, three defensive midfielders are too much for my linking, as well, but three attacking midfielders won’t make it any better.
    Domination is created by control, and without any defensive/controlling midfielder, you will never gain that control.
    Look at Barcelona and Real (soory for those examples again, haha), they play with controlling players all the time.
    Koke could grow into a sort of Xavi, but Xavi runs more, which almost gives him two positions, Koke needs to work on his stamina. Furthermore, Barca also play Busquets and sometimes they even add Keita, which makes their style of midfielders about the same. What I’m trying to say: CMs give you control and domination, not AMs, they just add fluidity up front.
    I think the wingbacks could prove very important, as well. When in possession, they function as extra midfielders, more directions to pass the ball.
    Filipe and Silvio both seem very promising so far, so that’s good news.
    4-0-2-1-3 or 4-1-2-0-3 are my choices, or sometimes 4-1-0-2-3 or even 4-1-0-1-4 or something.
    (I seperated defensive, center and offensive midfielders to show my ideas on this one)

  • Derek Maaijen

    Chalet, I know they’ve had some issues with the spam-filter on the site, I think that’s why!

  • Chalet

    Derek//

    Thanks a lot for this piece of information!
    I appreciate that very much!!!

  • Davide

    Ringo//

    Of course i don’t mean three offensive midfielders instead of three defensive ones. I was talking about playing 4-2-3-1 which means that we should use double pivotes and three offensive midfielders in front of them. This formation is has been played at the end of Atléticos games this season so far. I think we should play it from the start of the games, not later.

    For example:

    …………..Mario…..Gabi……………
    ..Reyes………Diego………Arda…..
    ……………….Falcao………………..

    not:

    ……..Mario….Tiago….Gabi……….
    …Reyes……………………Diego….
    ……………….Falcao……………….