Ever since Diego Simeone was appointed as head coach for Atlético Madrid in 2011, the club has been on an upwards trajectory. Simeone led the club to the Europa League title in 2012, the Copa Del Rey in 2013 and obviously, most impressively, the brilliant La Liga win in 2014. That 2013-14 season was one of the most successful in the club’s history with the league title, a club-record points tally in the league and it’s first Champions League final appearance. If it wasn’t for Sergio Ramos 93rd minute header, Atléti would have finished the season as champions of Europe too. That summer wasn’t kind to Atléti as Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, David Villa and Thibaut Courtois all left the club and needed replacing. While Antoine Griezmann was fantastic throughout the season and proved a brilliant signing, it proved hard to replace them. The club won the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid, but finished third in the league and reached the quarter-final of the Champions League where they were beaten by Real after an extra time goal from Javier Hernandez. The season provided one of the highlights of Simeone’s reign though, as the club humiliated Real in the league by winning both clashes. After impressing in the 1-0 away win, the home derby was an incredible 4-0 demolition. It was the epitome of Simeone’s footballing philosophy as Real couldn’t deal with the intensity or energy of Los Rojiblancos. Real Madrid and Barcelona have had to dig deep into their pockets and use their economical advantage to catch up with, and overtake, Atléti.
All great teams reach an end to their cycle, however, and Simeone’s first great Atlético side seem to have reached that point. To refresh and improve the team and reach the level of their rivals, Simeone seems to have turned to youth. The cantera have produced a few excellent talents, and along with Simeone’s shrewd signings it should make for an entertaining and promising future.
Starting from the back, José Maria Gimenez is ready to really step up and replace Miranda who has joined Inter. While still a terrific centre-back, the Brazilian shouldn’t be missed too much because of Gimenez already rock-solid partnership with Diego Godin, who remains one of the finest defenders around. The two Uruguayans will provide the base for the sides defensive stability, flanked by the excellent Juanfran at right-back and the returning Filipe Luis at left-back. This back-four is up there with the best in Europe, and with even more regular game time Gimenez will grow into one of the absolute giants in his position. The potential is there for him to be the outstanding centre-back in the game.
24-year-old Stefan Savic have been signed as back-up, and with French 19-year-old Lucas Hernandez getting minutes in pre-season, there is even more talent coming through.
In midfield, Koke is expected to finally claim one of the two central midfield positions as the team’s leading midfielder. With super-experienced duo Tiago and inspirational club-captain Gabi expected to rotate in the other as long career’s have taken its toll on their bodies, Koke should be the first midfielder on the team sheet and get most of his games centrally.
Just like Koke, Saul Niguez came through Atléti’s cantera. After spending time on loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul came back last season and was used as a rotation player in the squad. He was mostly used as one of the wide midfield players in Simeone’s narrow 4-4-2, despite naturally being a pivote, holding midfielder, also capable of playing at centre-back. He’s not a Simeone centre-back though, and will probably have to continue in the same role he had last season during the coming campaign. Eventually though, he will probably follow Koke in to making the transition from wide to central.
While Saul is a big talent, the midfielder Atléti are most enthusiastic about, and rightly so, is Óliver Torres. The playmaker spent last season on loan at FC Porto, and made 26 appearances in the league, scoring seven goals. He also gained valuable experience from playing in the Champions League, where Porto reached the Quarter Final stage. Óliver is a creator, capable of playing as the no 10, in central midfield in a 4-3-3 or, as is likely under Simeone, as a wide playmaker. Reportedly, Atléti offered Óliver to Porto as part of the deal that took Jackson Martinez to Atléti until Simeone requested that the midfielder stayed at the club. That shows the confidence Simeone has in the player, who is sure to get plenty of chances next season. If managed correctly, Simeone might have another potential world beater on his hands.
With Arda Turan’s exit confirmed, Atléti needed a midfielder who could dribble and create things out of nothing. That player is hoped to be another youngster, in the form of Belgian 21-year-old Yannick Ferreira Carrasco who signed from AS Monaco in July. The winger will provide a more direct style, and use his speed and skill to give the team something different. The Belgian will fit right in on the right flank, and will increase competition for places even further.
Up front, Jackson Martinez is the big name signing and he will be interesting to follow in Spain after scoring lots of goals in Portugal over the last few seasons. With Griezmann playing off him, Atléti will be more dangerous going forward. Fernando Torres is there too, but the most interesting player to follow will be Luciano Vietto. The Argentine striker was a revelation for Villarreal in his first season in Spain, scoring 20 goals for the club in La Liga and the Europa League. He seems a perfect fit for Simeone, with his tenacity and willingness to press from the front as well as his quality in front of goal. He times his runs perfectly, and is best described as a mix between Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tevez. Vietto worked with Simeone at Racing Club, so they already have a strong relationship.
Angel Correa is another young Argentine striker willing to make an impression after suffering problems last year with a heart condition. He is back playing now, and will be looking to get as many games as possible.
To conclude, Diego Simeone has obviously seen the need to refresh his team with younger players, and seems to have been very wise in his selection of these to make up as good a squad as possible. It will be fascinating to see how they get on during the coming season. With the likes of goalkeeper Jan Oblak, Gimenez, Hernandez, Koke, Saul, Óliver, Ferreira Carrasco, Vietto and Correa all 23-years-old or younger, the future surely looks bright for the club.