Atlético Madrid and manager Diego Simeone enjoyed a positive showing last term, finishing second in La Liga and capturing their third Europa League title after defeating Marseille in the final. That will give supporters plenty to be happy about (along with their magnificent new stadium), but there are areas that simply must improve if Los Colchoneros are to be a true title contender in 2018-19.
The backbone of the team is found in the defence, once again showcasing their skills in frustrating the opposition. Atlético allowed the fewest goals in league play during this past season (22), and Simeone is able to rely on spectacular talent and leadership. Captain Diego Godin, José Giménez and Filipe Luís lead a reliable back-line, with goalkeeper Jan Oblak able to put a stop to one-on-one situations quite often when necessary.
Midfield contributions from Koke and Vitolo have been crucial (although Gabi has moved on), while striker Antoine Griezmann continues to be the catalyst in the attack. The Frenchman scored 19 league goals last season, and Los Rojiblancos will be expecting more in the upcoming campaign. The club need to be able to close the gap on title-holders Barcelona, both in terms of points and goals.
Barca finished 14 points ahead of Atlético in 2017-18, and scored 41 more goals along the way (99/58). Simeone’s tactics are based around the impressive defensive work and non-stop movements of his players, and there is not always an emphasis placed on scoring five goals per game. With sharp positioning at the back and key passing in the middle, Madrid’s focus is to find a result any way that they can. This has been evidenced in European competitions, as they have been a common sight in cup finals this decade.
However, the club knew that scoring numbers must improve, and there were promising signs last season. Diego Costa’s arrival gave Atlético versatility for the front-line, and the Spanish international has created an effective partnership with Griezmann up front. Griezmann will also be entering this season brimming with confidence, following France’s 2018 FIFA World Cup victory in Russia this summer. There was speculation that he may be departing the capital, but the 27-year-old committed his future to the team with a new contract in June.
The club’s hierarchy recognise that Griezmann will need reinforcements around him to truly shine, and they have added two pieces this summer that may help to make that a reality. The signings of Thomas Lemar (AS Monaco) and Gelson Martins (Sporting CP) only make Atlético’s wide play more dangerous. Both are full internationals at young ages, and Griezmann will have an immediate connection with Lemar due to their time together with Les Bleus.
Simeone’s line-up will now feature tremendous pace and skill in the final third, able to attack the opposition in a variety of different ways. Barcelona and Real Madrid can score goals in bunches, but now defensive-minded Atlético may be capable of doing the exact same.
Atlético Madrid last won a La Liga title in the 2013-14 season. If they are to challenge for it again this time, they will need their attack to be as potent as their defence. With the collection of talent now at his disposal, Diego Simeone will certainly have high expectations for his squad.
Atlético’s victory against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup proved that Simeone’s side are capable of earning wins against their main rival. With the club looking sharp and determined, La Liga’s title race is sure to be interesting this season.