Group Stage Fan Preview: Atlético Madrid

The 2017/18 CL campaign of Club Atletico de Madrid is set to kick off very shortly. A competition where Atleti have come so close to winning it all, not just once but twice in the recent memory. But they eventually fell short of claiming the ultimate glory. Adding insult to injury is the fact that it was to their city rivals both the times. As opposed to the seasons prior to that, 16/17 has been a disappointing campaign for the rojiblancos but they pushed on in the CL, reached the semi finals where they eventually fell to Real Madrid once again. But they managed to finish off their campaign with a win over their city rivals in what was the last European game at the very atmospheric and hostile Vicente Calderon.

New season and a move to a new and bigger stadium but the transfer ban prevented Atletico from adding quality to their side. However, the positive they can take from their transfer window this summer is them holding onto all of their best players. Atleti signed Vitolo from Sevilla who was immediately loaned out till January to Las palmas. And they are sure to add few more signings in January after their ban is lifted, which could see Diego Costa returning back to the former Spanish champions.   Speaking of Diego Costa, Atletico in the CL were drawn against Diego Costa’s current team Chelsea FC in the group C. The group also consists of the serie A side Roma and Qarabag. Chelsea would provide a stern test for the Simeone’s side and their defense, a defense that helped Simeone make the Calderon an unbreachable fortress in the recent memory.

The likes of Eden Hazard and co could prove to be a tough test to the back line of Atleti. The ties with Chelsea will be nothing short of exciting for their respective fans. Another notable fixture for Atletico is against AS Roma, a team who hasn’t been at it’s very best recently but still could prove to be tough opponents especially on the road. Roma particularly did not have an outstanding transfer activity. But the signing of Pellegrini a very promising talent, the return of Florenzi and Dzeko infront of goal are few of the tests Atleti could face. Qarabag away should be another interesting fixture cause you can never write off anyone when it comes to the champions league. But the Rojiblancos shouldn’t really struggle on their way past the group stage. What should Atleti rely on? Atletico boast an almost perfect home record and they’ve done very well on the road. What makes Atleti tick is how well organised and stubborn their defense usually is. A system that worked so well for them, holding off Europe’s finest teams. However Simeone tweaked the system so they could be more attacking which clearly was not effective to that extent last season. Atleti should go back to their defensive ways which makes them tick, which was a major reason Atleti did well in Europe.

While the group stage might not be a major test for Atleti, they can struggle against the bigger sides in the final stages of the competition if their defense continues to leak goals. Another great positive Atleti always had was how atmospheric their home stadium was. If they can have such an atmosphere at their new stadium, it would be something that could definitely influence their performances.

Key Players: Atleti have great quality in all departments. However the game changers for them would be the following. Filipe Luis, arguably one of the best left backs in the world. Filipe can play a key role in Atletico’s campaign. Koke and Saul, their two best midfielders who can influence the game in more than one way. Koke, who isn’t as hyped or appreciated enough as the other midfielders in the world, can more or less do it all in the middle of the park. He is one of the most complete midfielders in the world. He can contribue everyway, be it on the attacking front or be it defensively. And then there is Saul Niguez, arguably one of the best young talents out there. And he already has the record of scoring and influencing in the big games. Jan Oblak, one of the best goalkeepers in the world today. Even if the Atleti’s defense is breached, he single handedly can keep them in the game. And lastly, its Antoine Griezmann.

While his future still remains not entirely certain, Griezmann has carried Atleti’s attack on his shoulders over the past few seasons. He will be a vital element in their attack.   Weaknesses: While Atleti do have their share of younger prospects, few of their key players are aging past it. Gabi, who can be a key cog in their defensive play is no longer in a position to play all fixtures. Same can be said for Godin.who has been one of Atleti’s better defenders. While Gabi and Godin are fit, it works but when they’re sideline Atleti do not have enough options to turn to. Partey, who can play short cameos isn’t nowhere close to being ready to fill in Gabi’s shoes. And Savic, Gimenez and Lucas are Atleti’s only available options. The shortage in depth can affect them down the road. So if Atleti can be a little active in the january window and get few options in, it would help them during the later stages of the season.   Simeone expects and asks his players to play every game like it’s their last game ever. In Simeone, they have a leader they can draw inspiration from. And on their best day, Atletico can go up against the best of the best and come out on top. That being said, Atletico Madrid have been ensured a great future to look forward to, thanks to Simeone. And they are going to be one of the top names in European football in the years to come. The road to Kiev is not going to be easy but the colchoneros can expect their team to go a long way, maybe even win the ultimate prize of European football.

By: @Naitology

Photo: Getty