Atlético Madrid have had one hell of a summer in the transfer market.
Diego Simeone’s men experienced a phenomenal shake-up at the end of last season. They lost defensive mainstays Diego Godín, Juanfran and Filipe Luis to free transfers. The future of said defence, Lucas Hernández, left for Bayern Munich. Their rock-solid defensive midfielder Rodri joined Manchester City, and then club superstar Antoine Griezmann left for Barcelona. So much of the spirit of the side left with them, and many wondered what Atleti’s future was going to be.
But then Atleti hit the transfer market like Tyson on the heavy bag in 1987. They replaced Rodri before he had even left with a tremendously astute purchase in Marcos Llorente. They gave away Antoine Griezmann’s shirt number whilst he was still their player, handing it to the magnificent Joao Felix. Their defensive recruitment has been less spectacular but still well thought out, culminating in Kieran Trippier joining. But the question this leaves us with is, how on earth will this team line-up?
We’ve come up with three possibilities.
It’s all change at the Wanda Metropolitano except in the most important place: the manager’s seat. Diego Simeone may have a whole new cast of characters to work with but he’s unlikely to alter the approach that has served him so well since he joined in late 2011. So, you can expect a 4-4-1-1 with Jan Oblak in goal yet again.
José Giménez has taken Diego Godín’s number and should become the new pillar of the defence. The Uruguayan is a sublime combination of size, speed and skill. Next to him will probably be new boy, Mario Hermoso. Signed from Espanyol, the tall Spaniard is a product of Real Madrid’s youth academy and has been excellent for the last couple of seasons. These two are both 24 and Simeone will be hoping they can become his new Miranda-Godín moving brick wall.
Either side of them will probably be Trippier and Renan Lodi. The Brazilian is, well, he’s a Brazilian left-back, you pretty much know what you’re gonna get there. On the right, Trippier is a shock signing (Simeone had asked for Barcelona’s supreme defender Nelson Semedo) but while he may not be the most solid defensively, his crossing and set-piece skill make him a hugely attractive prospect to Atleti. Expect him to post impressive assist numbers in 2019/20.
Midfield hasn’t changed much. Sure, Hector Herrera and Llorente are brilliant purchases but the roles they play will be familiar if you’ve ever watched a Simeone side. Both men are capable destroyers and also able to distribute the ball superbly. Herrera has the dynamism to move around the pitch whilst Llorente’s game intelligence is so high that Real Madrid will be kicking themselves for selling him so soon.
Out wide, Saúl and Koke will do Saúl and Koke things, i.e. they will collapse infield to make sure Atleti are never outnumbered and in attack, one will peel wide (probably Koke) and allow the other to get into the box and add a goal threat (probably Saúl). Meanwhile, up-top, Alvaro Morata is now wearing the no. 9 shirt and will look to connect with Koke and Trippier’s crosses.
Behind him is where the magic will happen. Joao Felix had an intensely impressive breakout season for Benfica, scoring 20 goals in 43 games. Everyone across the continent was after him, but Atleti secured his services. They’ve given him Antoine Griezmann’s shirt number and he will take up the Frenchman’s position, but it would be a surprise if he played the same role. It’s unlikely that Joao Felix is in the side to be the creative hub as Griezmann was. More likely is that he will be unleashed as a goalscoring force, working off Morata’s admittedly stellar link-up play. Those two could form a terrific tandem.
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A 3-5-2 twist
Sometimes you gotta evolve otherwise you’ll die. So, what if Simeone switches to a 3-5-2 for the upcoming season? He’s certainly got the players for it. The defence would see Hermoso and Giménez flank the veteran Stefan Savic. These three would be able to cover the entire width of the pitch themselves so those ahead of them would have real freedom to attack.
Trippier and Saúl would be the wing-backs. Trippier excelled here for England in the World Cup and Saúl showed last year that he can seriously affect games from this position, even if he doesn’t much like doing so. In the middle, you could honestly pick any three out of Atleti’s spectacular cast of midfielders and they would be able to play compact, defensive football. They could press when needed and also sit back and launch counters if they have to.
In attack, Joao Felix and Morata again. That duo would function as they do in the main line-up, with Morata constantly running the channels and holding the ball up for his strike partner. The Spaniard has never been one to fight with defenders, so letting him use his pace and skill makes more sense, and then Joao Felix is a born match-winner, so it makes so much sense.
This XI has a defensive balance that means, should Simeone want or need to commit to an all-out attack, he would be able to do that. The three-man back-line would take care of the defence, one of the midfielders would screen and everyone else could just bomb forward, flaring wide or getting into the box to try and break stubborn defences down – and that’s something Atleti have often struggled with.
One problem Atleti have often suffered from is fatigue. Simeone’s style is very physically demanding and it’s not a surprise that the only time they juggled a proper title challenge and deep Champions League run was in 2013/14, in the early days. And it also isn’t a surprise to know that injuries to Diego Costa and Arda Turan are why that season didn’t end with a historic La Liga and Champions League double.
Atleti need to be able to rotate. And now, with their new purchases, they may have cultivated a squad where they could rotate a bunch and still put a good side out. Though obviously, Oblak remains in goal because, hey, let’s not go crazy now. Savic and new signing Felipe come in at centre-back, with Savic providing experience and leadership. Meanwhile, Hermoso stays in the side but shifts over to left-back much as Hernandez would have done. At right-back, Santiago Arias continues his efforts from 2018/19 to impress Simeone.
In midfield, Thomas Partey comes in. The Ghanaian midfielder is a true all-rounder and honestly is so able to play any number of central midfield roles that you could partner him with literally anyone and he would make it work. Here, we go with Herrera, allowing the midfield to be more dynamic as a whole. Out wide, the magnificent Thomas Lemar and the relentless Vitolo act as true, orthodox wingers. So, while this system looks like the main one on paper, it would, in fact, be far more dynamic.
Up-front, the long-suffering Angel Correa continues to toil away in a back-up role, making the difference in key games but never enough games to warrant being the starter. And at no. 9, it will either be the experienced Nikola Kalinic or perhaps the 6’3 Serbian u-21 international, Ivan Saponjic. The gigantic striker didn’t set anyone alight at Benfica but then neither did his compatriot Luka Jovic and he played so well away from Benfica that he’s now at Real Madrid, so Simeone will be hoping he can work similar magic with Saponjic.