Connect in the back of the net

As Atletico Madrid head into the start of the La Liga season this weekend, the club would be forgiven for letting out the briefest sigh of relief after having negotiated a transfer window in which they couldn’t register new signings but haven’t lost any key first team players.

Antoine Griezmann was expected to be the first out of the door this summer with the Frenchman having a long-held understanding with Manchester United which verged on an agreement in principle over personal terms.

Jose Mourinho’s club were intending to pay the 100 million euros to necessary to buy the 26-year-old out of his contract although Los Colchoneros were expected to allow the Reds to make a straight offer of the same money and accept it in order to make things easier for a player who has given them good service.

The initial plan was to allow Griezmann to move with their blessing whilst bringing in a sizable fee and then a portion of that incoming money would be used to sign Diego Costa in order to replace him.

Unsurprisingly the rest of the transfer fee was set to be used to help pay off debts incurred through the construction of their brand new Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

 

Big player

Alas the decision taken by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to uphold Los Rojiblancos’ transfer ban put paid to the aforementioned plan leaving Diego Simeone two tough months in which he couldn’t actively strengthen his squad and had to fight to keep his big players from departing.

Jan Oblak is one such player, yet with the transfer window nearing a close Paris Saint-Germain are said to be incredibly interested in testing the Spanish club’s resolve with a very significant offer, with it a slight possibility they may even look to buy-out the Slovenian goalkeeper’s contract for what roughly equates to £90 million.

This would be a disaster for Simeone and co on the eve of the new season and they have to do whatever it takes to prevent Oblak leaving for Paris, especially because the 2017/18 season presents them with a very good chance of domestic glory.

 

Taking advantage

Seldom do you enter a season in which Barcelona are not head and shoulders above most teams in Europe, particularly over the course of the last decade, however following a summer of slow and uninspiring transfer business coupled with the spectacular circumstances which set in motion Neymar’s world record sale to Paris Saint-Germain, Los Cules are in a period of difficulty.

Ernesto Valverde has inherited a team which is unbalanced in terms of age and with Neymar gone the infamous ‘MSN’ attacking trio is now merely a duo with both Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi having moved past the age of 30.

Their defence and midfield is weaker than it ever has been with Andres Iniesta, like all athletes, unable to overcome time and the pressure this has placed on Sergio Busquets over the past 12-18 months gives the world’s finest defensive midfielder the look of a tired man.

If ever there was a chance for Atletico to capitalise then it is this season. Yes they have been hamstrung by an inability to recruit but they have a very stable squad filled with quality players who know what it takes to win.

Real Madrid face another hectic calendar where they will take part in the Champions League until the very late stages as well as having to travel to the United Arab Emirates in December to compete in the Club World Cup.

Los Blancos negotiated this kind of fixture congestion well last season but logic dictates that it will be very difficult for them to do so again, even if they are the best football team in the world at present.

Atletico must take advantage of this, there is no pressure on them as nobody truly expects anything given the quality of their city rivals and the fact the club haven’t been able to add to their team this summer. Atletico have the quality to win La Liga again but they must keep their best players.

 

Temptation

It is easy to see why Oblak would be tempted, you could forgive him that. The Parc des Princes club is seeing a major overhaul in their squad this summer with a number of exciting players being brought in.

After giving new coach Unai Emery a little freedom to target players he wanted in the market last summer the club have retained absolute power after a disastrous season in which the Parisians conceded the Ligue 1 title to Monaco as well as contriving to blow a 4-0 first-leg lead over Barcelona en route to Champions League elimination.

Patrick Kluivert was quickly moved out of his position as Director of Football with Antero Henrique taking on much of the transfer responsibility.

Neymar is the figurehead of the new team and the club is determined to add even more quality with offers for Kylian Mbappe, Fabinho and Oblak all expected to come before the transfer window closes on August 31.

For a player this is an exciting team to potentially be part of and given the constant investment at the club it isn’t a team that is going to crumble.

There remains the constant fear in the Spanish capital that Atletico’s recent boom period will come to an abrupt end when Simeone does eventually leave the club, such is the impact he has had throughout his tenure.

 

Must be persuaded to stay

At just 24 years old, the stopper has plenty of time to move on in the future and given his status as one of the top five in his position across the continent then it is unlikely the interest in him this summer will be a one-time deal in the way Barcelona wanting to sign Philippe Coutinho is likely to be.

Atletico must convince him that staying part of the current group will benefit him; they are close to success and a little bit of luck domestically could make all the difference. Of course it remains to be seen how much of a priority signing a goalkeeper is for the French giants given how time consuming dealing with Monaco is proving to be.

Question marks remain over Kevin Trapp whilst Alphonse Areola has never truly been trusted to be the club’s no.1 despite his obvious talent. Of course Oblak is much better than both and if the French club agree to pay the buy-out fee then it is difficult to see what Atletico Madrid can do to keep him from going.

 

Atletico must show resilience

There remains hope that PSG’s Financial Fair Play concerns will prevent them from doing so and it is clear any attempts to secure a cut-price deal will be rebuffed this summer.

Jan Oblak isn’t going to lose value over the next 12 months and it would make perfect sense to wait a year and then let him go if he still wishes to. It is worth remembering that the club have a fine record in identifying goalkeepers.

Yet whilst signing such a replacement isn’t a possibility then letting Oblak leave mustn’t be one either and with just over two weeks to go until the window closes, Atletico must be resilient in keeping their star stopper out of PSG’s clutches if they are to have any chance of reclaiming the Spanish championship.

 

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn

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