COMMENT: Diego Simeone’s side sold several of their best players but have also worked hard to renew their squad since winning La Liga last term and will be a force again
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
All change at Atletico Madrid. Last season’s Liga winners saw several of their best players move on in the summer and have brought in many others ahead of the new season. Despite the upheaval, however, the team looks ready to compete again as their campaign kicks off against Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa on Tuesday.
The faces may be different, but the objective for Diego Simeone’s side remains the same: to “win, win, and then win again” as their mantra famously states. “One game at a time.”
The team that claimed La Liga and came within a few seconds of beating Real Madrid to the Champions League trophy in Lisbon last May has lost many of its principal protagonists. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has returned to parent club Chelsea, while Diego Costa and Filipe Luis have also moved to Stamford Bridge and David Villa joined New York City.
It is often said that a coach should not change a winning team, yet Simeone has had to and 12 players have left the capital club in total, with nine more coming in so far this summer and a further five returning from loan spells elsewhere.
Simeone signed striker Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich for €22 million, bought Real Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann for €30m, added Argentine attacker Angel Correa for €7.5m and Mexican goalscorer Raul Jimenez for €10.5m after a deal to bring back Chelsea’s Fernando Torres proved impossible.
A further €10m was spent to bring in left-back Guilherme Siqueira from Granada, while Benfica goalkeeper Jan Oblak cost an additional €16m. Defender Jesus Gamez also arrives for free from Malaga, with Cristian Ansaldi brought in on loan to cover the full-back positions.
For a total outlay of less than €100m (having also recouped €74m in player sales), Atletico have overhauled their entire squad. “We have got seven or eight players with €95m, while Madrid bought two for €95m,” Simeone said on Monday. “There’s a little difference. But the club has always had this creativity. We are forming the group, but the group is not just 11 players but 18 or 20.”
And that group is now arguably stronger than last season, when so often Atletico were reliant on a first XI that played in virtually every game, with Raul Garcia in reserve and little else.
“We have a better team than last year,” club president Enrique Cerezo said on Monday. “It’s different. We have made important signings and our homegrown players now have more experience.”
And for his part, Simeone said last week: “I’m pleased with what we have done in the market. The signings of Mandzukic, Griezmann and Jimenez give us an important offensive power.”
In his first season, the Argentine coach took over a team languishing in mid-table and led the side he previously played for to victory in the Europa League.
Then, in 2012-13, he masterminded a Uefa Super Cup success against Chelsea at the beginning of the season, which ended with Copa del Rey victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The club then lost their finest footballer as Radamel Falcao was sold to Monaco in the summer of 2013, but still Atleti advanced and the club enjoyed probably the greatest season in their history as they claimed La Liga for the first time since 1995-96 (a team in which Simeone featured prominently as a player) and lost out to Madrid in extra-time in the Champions League final in Lisbon.
Now the new season is about to start and Atleti begin defence of their Liga crown at Rayo Vallecano on Monday, but first face Madrid over two legs in the Spanish Supercopa on Tuesday and Friday.
“I’m happy,” Simeone said. “The idea, as always, is to be competitive.”
And they will be – there can be little doubt about that.
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