Real Madrid came into the season looking weak and wounded after a year of disarray. Meanwhile Barcelona, after winning the league almost by default last time around, went through such a sticky patch through the winter that they were forced to sack their manager.
The path has been open all year for Atletico to step up and move clear of their big rivals, and their massive outlay on stars like Joao Felix last summer was meant to be the injection of attacking quality they needed to help them take advantage of the big two’s respective slumps.
But quick look at the MELbet mobile app shows the table as it stands when the season was paused, with Los Rojiblancos spluttering way down in 6th, accumulating more draws than wins after 27 games. And, you can bet based on these predictions.
It’s the same old story we’ve seen time and again since their title win in 2014. The team has just lacked the quality, but more importantly the character, to push on and win games and pick up the points that one needs to catch even these sub-standard editions of Madrid and Barcelona.
All that big spending has raised expectations, without improving the team, and the news today that one of Saul and Thomas Partey could go does increases the sense that the squad might have already passed its high water mark in terms of investment.
Certainly news that they are going to have to sell to buy is not something Atleti fans will want to hear, despite a quite clearly bloated squad in some departments. They can certainly afford to lose one of their many right backs for example, but players like Saul and Partey are integral to the team’s success, and the players in the squad who might replace them simply aren’t up to their standard.
But Atletico can make the most of this. Diego Simeone’s great success came from bonding a scrappy group together into something special, not from signing wonderkids for €100m. Perhaps a quieter summer, with lower expectations going into next season, will allow them to finally find the right formula again.
Their rivals for the title can’t stay this weak forever, and their window to try and win a second Liga in ten years is starting to close. Diego Simeone will have to use all his magic to forge a team as efficient and ruthless as the one that lifted the title in 2014, but you would be a brave punter to bet against him pulling it off somehow.