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and Forlán to weaken the team in what was considered to be our strongest area, but as it has turned out they have been replaced by players with similar quality, who can not just make an improvement to the forward-line, but also to the side as a whole.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