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Monday August 15 2016
2016-17 Season Preview: Atletico Madrid

Having come agonisingly close to a League and European cup double last season, Mike Barnes feels Atletico Madrid’s new recruits can take them that elusive step further in 2016-17.

Coach: Diego Simeone

Key signings: Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica),Kevin Gameiro (Sevilla)

Key sales: Luciano Vietto (Sevilla, loan),Borja Baston (Swansea)

Last season: 3rd

This season (predicted finish): 2nd

Atletico Madrid again finished third in La Liga last season, equalling their achievement in the previous campaign but falling short of their 2013-14 exploits, when Coach Diego Simeone led the Spanish capital’s second side to their 10th domestic League title.

Atleti get their 2016-17 campaign under way next Sunday, when they entertain newly-promoted Alaves at the Vicente Calderon. The new campaign will be Simeone’s fifth full one in charge of a club that have cemented itself firmly among Spanish football’s top three.

 

Simeone’s men conceded a record low of just 18 goals in their 38 Primera matches in 2015-16 as they pressed Barcelona and Real Madrid all the way, eventually finishing just two points behind their city rivals and three adrift of the champions from Catalonia.

Despite an impending transfer ban hanging over them, Los Colchoneros have been the big spenders in La Liga over the summer, with President Enrique Cerezo happy to back Simeone to assemble a squad capable of challenging again at home and in Europe.

With experienced full-backs Juanfran Torres and Felipe Luis and central defenders of the calibre of Stefan Savic, Jose Maria Gimenez and the evergreen Diego Godin, Simeone will continue to have a rock-solid backline, reinforced by Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who secured the Zamora Trophy for his outstanding record in 15-16.

Croatian right-back Sime Vrsaljko has arrived from Sassuolo and Atleti have extended 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez’s contract until 2020, but while preventing goals is unlikely to be a problem for Atleti, they will need to score more. Their 63 last season – 22 of them coming from Antoinne Griezman – was the highest outside the top two, but still 47 behind Real Madrid.

Simeone has moved to strengthen his attacking options with the acquisition of striker Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla for €32m and Argentine winger Nicolas Gaitan, who has arrived from Benfica for €25m. Both will need to quickly develop an understanding with top-scorer Griezmann, upon whom expectation will only increase.

Local hero Fernando Torres, whose loan from Milan expired midway through the summer, has signed a one-year contract at the Vicente Calderon, amidst reports that Simeone was looking to lure unsettled Chelsea striker Diego Costa back to Madrid for the new season.

Gameiro had his best-ever season at the Sanchez Pizjuan, netting 29 times in 52 appearances in all competitions. Gaitan was less prolific with 11 goals in 37 appearances for Benfica but will nonetheless add another dimension to the Atleti front line. Both players could enable Simeone’s men to be more entertaining and expansive.

With a blend of midfield experience epitomised by Tiago Mendes and Koke and younger talent such as Oliver Torres, Yannick Carrasco and Saul Niguez becoming established, Cholo has strength in depth all over the pitch.

Atletico are forging ahead with plans for their new stadium, upgrading their infrastructure to compete with or even better that of Barca and Real Madrid. Whether Los Colchoneros can eclipse the big two where it really matters in terms of results and consistency remains debatable, but they have strengthened sufficiently with the aim of doing just that.

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