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How mightily relieved Atletico Madrid must be that they tied Diego Simeone down to his new contract back in March. The coach that delivered their first title in 21 years in 2014 has seen that squad, which also lost the Champions League so narrowly to neighbours Real in Lisbon, gradually dismantled but while players can be replaced, it is hard to imagine how potentially damaging the loss of El Cholo would be to Atletico.
After selling Diego Costa, top-scorer in that La Liga winning campaign, to Chelsea along with Felipe Luis last summer, Ateltico have waved goodbye to Arda Turan, to Barcelona for £24 million, and Miranda, who joins Inter Milan on loan, this time around. Mario Mandzukic, signed from Bayern Munich as a replacement for Costa has switched to Juventus after a disappointing 12 months in the Calderon.
Simeone can still call on the likes of Gabi, Tiago Mendes, Koke, Raul Garcia and Diego Godin who formed the reliable backbone of that superb 2013-14 campaign and they are now supplemented by the fresh impetus of Raul Jimenez, Christian Rodriguez, Saul Niguez and Oliver Torres.
With David Villa and Thibaut Courtois having also both departed it is a very different squad from two years ago but one that will not lose the importance of the collective and spirit of togetherness that is drilled into them.
It is why Simeone has gone back to what he knows best this summer by dispensing with Mandzukic, the Croatian striker who never quite got to grips with Simeone’s demands of a high work-rate despite a return of 20 goals.
The spritely young Argentinean Luciano Veitto has been signed from Villarreal for £14 million and his exuberance, partnered with Antoine Griezmann building upon an impressive first season in which he scored 25 goals, will go some way to compensating for any loss of intensity their attack may have suffered last term.
The £24.8 million capture of Porto’s Jackson Martinez though has the potential to be Atletico’s most significant deal and the one that could restore them to genuine title challengers.
Griezmann’s haul made him Atletico’s top-scorer as they finished third and qualified once again automatically for the Champions League but the French winger was not initially signed to become a goal-scorer but to be the energetic link-up between midfield and attack in the void left behind by David Villa.
Costa was the rabid bundle of passion and zeal that relentlessly harassed defenders and led Atletico’s lightning counter attacks with effective power and drive, but with Mandzukic operating more as a target man some of the bite was notably missing as Simeone’s team were forced into a year of transition that involved more possession, slower and more intricate build-up and the more assertive, open style, involving advancing full-backs and a higher defensive line, cost them.
Atletico would score less, concede more and finish 16 points adrift of champions Barcelona.
However Martinez arrives with a record of 92 goals from 132 games with Porto and will bring with him his deadly eye for the net as well as a natural capacity to adapt to the high-pressure game Simeone urges.
Lethal in front of goal and full of hard-running, the Colombian is more of a natural replacement to Costa than Mandzukic and will fit perfectly into the succession of Atletico’s recent prolific South American strikers; Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and now Martinez.
The 28 year old, scorer of 32 goals for the Portuguese champions last season, including seven in the Champions League as Porto very nearly knocked Bayern Munich out in the quarter-finals, sees himself capable of replicating the devastating form his countryman Falcao achieved during his time in the Spanish capital.
“I hope to be another Colombian as successful as Falcao was there” says Martinez who had agreed to join AC Milan before changing his mind, “I have had a great progression, always learning, always growing, and now I’m going to Atletico where I hope to help the team and also continue to grow as a player.”
Athletic, quick and a cool finisher, so dangerous when operating on the shoulder of the defender, Martinez will be capable of playing as the central striking component of a 4-3-3 or supported by Griezmann in a 4-2-3-1 or in Simeone’s favoured 4-4-2.
The Argentine though has acknowledged that his team will have to undergo a slight shift in style in that system for this coming season as they aim to contend with another off-season of change.
Simeone has been signed up to lead a different-looking Atletico into a new era and it can be certain that none of the communal drive or ferocity in the squad will be lost. Martinez will be quick to sign up to that and will also provide a regular source of goals.
If the Colombian adjusts quickly, then Atletico will be challengers once again.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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