Atletico Madrid have become a force to be reckoned with under Diego Simeone, and Edin Halilovic pays tribute to the path the Coach is taking the club down.
Since arriving at Atletico Madrid at the end of 2011, Diego Simeone has made a major impact at the club. The Argentine has won five trophies in just over four years, the longest managerial tenure at Atleti in 30 years since the days of the late Luis Aragones, and, perhaps most importantly, has led Los Colchoneros back amongst the elite of Spanish football.
It’s a feat which is especially impressive when considering just how strong the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid has been over the last decade. Becoming the first team other than the Clasico giants to win La Liga in a decade aside, Atleti under Simeone also have Copa del Rey and Europa League triumphs to their name, as well as a Champions League final appearance, which ended in bittersweet defeat.
However, success sometimes comes with a price and it’s no less true for this Atletico who, despite all their achievements, are still not seen as one of the true elite sides of European football and struggle to compete with those who are from a financial perspective. Atletico have been surrounded by the vultures in the transfer market, with seven of their starting XI in their League-winning campaign since leaving the club.
Although they have since brought back Filipe Luis from his disappointing Chelsea spell, it’s meant that Simeone has often been tasked with rebuilding the team and replacing key players every year, without getting a chance to build on his success.
After a respectable, but ultimately below-par, 2014-15 campaign, Simeone changed his entire forward line, Antoine Griezmann aside, by bringing in Jackson Martinez, Luciano Vietto and Angel Correa in place of Mario Mandzukic, Raul Garcia, and Raul Jimenez. Stefan Savic, coming in from Fiorentina, swapped Leagues with Miranda, Yannick Carrasco was signed as a replacement for Barcelona-bound Arda Turan and Filipe returned to the club after the unconvincing performances of Guillermo Siqueira.
Oliver Torres and Thomas Partey were also recalled from their loans to complete the squad, while a mid-season injury to Tiago Mendes saw Matias Kranevitter, signed in the summer from River Plate, and Augusto Fernandez added during the winter to cover the Portuguese’s loss.
With these additions, Simeone has begun to mature and diversify his tactical acumen by switching to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation instead of the standard 4-4-2 he had been playing for much of his first three years in charge. Jose Maria Gimenez has become Diego Godin’s partner at the heart of defence, while there doesn’t seem to be a consistent left winger or centre forward, with Carrasco, Oliver and Saul Niguez rotating for the former role and Jackson, Vietto, and Fernando Torres competing for the latter.
All these changes, along with the luxury of last year’s signings getting another season’s worth of experience under their belt, have made Atletico a stronger, more versatile team than before, with a mean and compact defence continuing to form their base. They have achieved 18 clean sheets in 29 games this season, the best of any top-four League team still in Europe, and a slight reduction in their offensive numbers, most probably owing to the fact that there are no consistent scorers in the side after Griezmann.
Moreover, their improved tactical flexibility and attacking signings have made Atleti a more dangerous team. They’ve added newer elements to their game which haven’t been present since the days of Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao at the club.
It’s a new-look Atleti which have more versatility, attacking variety and strength in depth than any of Simeone’s previous iterations and, best of all, with the financial state of the club improving markedly in recent years, they’re in a better position to keep hold of their prized assets than before.
The recently-adopted strategy of injecting more youth into the first team means they finally have the opportunity to build a team that can compete at a high level for years to come. Consequently, Simeone’s decision to extend his stay until 2022 is understandable as he is slowly, but surely, building an Atleti team with his own vision.
With their FIFA-imposed transfer embargo banning the club from making signings for the next two windows, it makes all the more sense they're building around young players and that Cholo has rejected offers from elsewhere to continue the work that he's started in this process of building a brand new team.
With Atleti currently top of La Liga, in the last eight of the Copa del Rey and still active in the Champions League, they may already be in a position to win at least one major trophy at the end of the season. Coupled with all the potential at the club, both now and in the future, especially as they move into the 70,000-capcaity Estadio La Peineta in the summer and the new television deal in Spain comes into effect, it seems like the good times are set to continue at Atletico Madrid.