Atleti ready to challenge

When the 2014-15 season ended, the La Liga table read a familiar tale with Barcelona and Real Madrid occupying the top-two spots. Atletico Madrid had made a valiant effort to defend their Primera crown but ultimately finished 14 points behind second-placed Real Madrid and 16 behind eventual champions Barcelona.

There are a few reasons why they finished behind Madrid and Barcelona. Firstly, inconsistency hampered them throughout the season. Under Coach Diego Simeone, they have managed to achieve notable results – doing the League double over Los Blancos that included a 4-0 thrashing at the Vicente Calderon.

However, they have also under-performed, such as in March, when they drew three consecutive League games, as well as failing to win their last four League games. Were it not for Valencia’s inability to capitalise, it would be Los Che finishing in third and qualifying for the Champions League automatically.

Secondly, their signings last summer, which were meant to offset the losses of star players like Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois, were a mixed bag. Jan Oblak, signed from Benfica for €16m, had an injury-ravaged start to the season but recovered to put in some strong performances, while Mario Mandzukic lasted less than a year before being sold to Juventus.

However, Antoine Griezmann enjoyed a brilliant debut season following his €30m switch from Real Sociedad, his 25 goals and six assists prompting reported interest from Chelsea, Bayern Munich and the like.

As a result, Cholo has made sure to be assertive in the transfer market this time around. Buying Luciano Vietto from Villarreal is a good start. Twenty goals and eight assists in his maiden Spanish campaign emphasised bags of potential that can be utilised to deadly effect. Simeone’s next signing was in the form of Porto striker Jackson Martinez for €35m. Though Atleti were forced to pay his release clause, the Colombian’s arrival means the void left by Mandzukic has been quickly filled.

Both strikers are similar players – tall, powerful and can hold up play for other players to make dangerous runs ahead of them. Martinez had been prolific for Porto, as seen by his 92 goals in 133 games over three years. The hope is that Martinez can be effective for Atletico like Diego Costa was during their title-winning 2013-14 campaign.

Atletico have also been prudent in their spending as these buys have been funded by sales, thereby making their net spend small. Currently, their expenditure on Vietto and Martinez this summer is €55m, while money coming back in from player sales roughly reads €18m –€3m for Miranda’s loan fee to Inter and €15m for Mandzukic’s permanent transfer to Juventus. In addition, however, Los Rojiblancos look like selling Arda Turan either to Barcelona or a Premier League club for at least €30m, driving the club’s net spend even lower.

Regardless, these signings indicate that Simeone is preparing an assault on La Liga, along with the Champions League, next season. More arrivals could jet in by the end of the transfer window, but it will be in May 2016 that we’ll discover the fruits of their summer activity.