The Madrid-Barca Axis: Why Atletico are still genuine title challengers

Connect in the back of the net

All the talk in Spain has been about Barcelona and Real Madrid, and rightly so. Barcelona obviously have lost Neymar and are now frantically searching for his replacement.

While Real Madrid have stayed steady and look stronger than ever, yet it seems that Kylian Mbappe will not be joining Los Blancos.  

On the other side of Madrid, nobody seems to be talking about Atleti. Yes, we all know about their transfer ban, and everyone seems to have written them off before the season has started.

But, can Los Colchoneros be quietly confident about the season ahead?


It’s the same squad, with a few additions

A big advantage going for Atleti this season is that they’ve kept a large majority of their squad.

There have been times during the summer where it looked like many of their players had their heads turned. Marseille have been strongly pursuing Diego Godin and many of Europe’s top clubs have been sniffing around Filipe Luis.

But of course, Atleti’s main concern was losing Antoine Griezmann to Manchester United. At many points since the end of the season, it looked like Griezmann was heading towards the Theatre of Dreams. From the fact that his best friend is Paul Pogba and the fact that he went on French TV and said, ‘It’s possible. I would give it a 6/10 chance’.

Yet, all three of these players have stayed loyal along with the rest of the squad. And, although Atleti have a transfer ban, they’ve made no hesitation in signing players for January.

They signed Vitolo early in the window and have sent him on loan to Las Palmas until January so that he stays fit and will be match ready, something Barcelona didn’t do while they had a transfer ban with the likes of Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal.

They have also, of course, been heavily linked with Diego Costa. It seems likely that Costa will re-sign for Atleti, but it’s vitally important that they get him to play up until January.

This could be for Chelsea, another La Liga team like Las Palmas or another European team. With this squad, I fully believe that Atleti can challenge for the league and Champions League again this year.


Simeone is still there, but he needs to change

The relationship between Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone is a special one.

Simeone has been there as a player and now as a manager; he’s suffered many highs and lows.

From winning La Liga at the Camp Nou, to winning the Europa League. But perhaps Simeone’s biggest disappointment is not winning the Champions League. Twice, he’s lead Los Blancos to the final, but have suffered heart breaking defeats to their bitter rivals Real Madrid in Lisbon and in Milan.

What’s been most impressive about Simeone is the way he’s come back from those final defeats.

After both finals, it would have been totally understandable if Simeone left to go to a Premier League club or challenge himself in another European league. But, he’s stayed loyal to Atletico Madrid and the fans will be forever grateful for his service to the club.

There’s no doubting that Simeone is a great man manager and all the players love him, but many critics that his 4-4-2 tactic is getting a bit stale. There’s no doubting the strength of the defence, but it might be a good idea to change the way they attack, so they are asking the opposition different questions.

Maybe Simeone can try a 4-3-3.

They could form a midfield of Gabi and Koke, but they could also bring Saul in from out wide, and this would give them more creativity down the middle. Out wide, Yannick Carrasco had the best season of his career last season and is pivotal down the left.

Down the right, Simeone could play Kevin Gameiro and have him cut inside and provide balls for Griezmann up top.

I believe that if Simeone tries a different formation, Atletico can be a more creative force instead of a formulaic, structured team, and this could push them to the next level.


Wanda Metropolitano

In my opinion, this is the only factor that could hinder Atletico’s season.

The Vicente Calderon was an incredibly unique stadium. It was the heartbeat of the club. A church where Atletico Madrid’s fans went to worship every weekend and they created an incredible atmosphere.

An atmosphere that was unrivalled in Spain, and it will be a massive lost not just to Atletico Madrid, but to Spanish football.

Yet, like many clubs, Atleti must move on, and this season they will be playing at the Wanda Metropolitano. But there are many issues with this ground.

First of all, it is located in Rejas region of the city, which is near Madrid airport. The Calderon was located in the Arganzuela region of the city.

The distance between both stadiums is 15 km, which is ridiculous. Atleti have always been situated in the Arganzuela region of Madrid, it was where they were formed and where they’ve always played.

Now, the fans must travel to the other side of the city to the ground, which raises a second issue. The transport links to the stadium are not finished. Madrid city council promised to build a new metro station at the stadium, which hasn’t been completed yet.

Add to this, that not all the seats are fitted in the stadium, how are Atletico Madrid fans expected to create an atmosphere with all these issues around the Wanda Metropolitano?


The verdict

Apart from the possible issues at the new stadium, I truly believe Atletico can challenge this season.

I certainly believe they can finish above Barcelona this season and can reach the semi-finals of the Champions League again, and with a bit of luck, can win the tournament.

Yet I find it baffling that no one seems to be talking about Atletico Madrid’s chances this year, but I don’t think they’d have it any other way.


Written by Sion Misra

Follow Sion on Twitter @sionmisra

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