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Atletico Madrid: their loss of character and where they go from here

After a tough week by Atletico Madrid, where they lost to Chelsea and drew with Leganes at the weekend, there has been a lot of questions surrounding Simeone and how good this current Atleti team really is.

Comparing this team to that of the league winning side of the 2013/14 season, there is a clear gap in terms of players attitude, grit and determination. This gap is clear to see when simply comparing the 2 sets of players.

Team of 2013/14 Team of 2017/18
Thibaut Courtois Jan Oblak
Juanfran Juanfran
Diego Godin Sime Vrsaljko
Miranda Diego Godin
Toby Alderweireld Stefan Savic
Martin Demichelis Jose Gimenez
Jose Gimenez Lucas Hernandez
Filipe Luis Filipe Luis
Mario Suarez Thomas Partey
Josuha Guilavogui Koke
Koke Saul Niguez
Gabi Agusto Fernandez
Tiago Gabi
Diego Yannick Carrasco
Raul Garcia Nico Gaitan
Cristian Rodriguez Angel Correa
Arda Turan Antoine Griezmann
Adrian Lopez Kevin Gameiro
David Villa Luciano Vietto
Diego Costa Fernando Torres

In an unlikely La Liga triumph in 2014, Atletico Madrid made it possible by being able to see out tough games, where they scraped through with a 1-0 win. The steeliness in defence played a fundamental role in this league win as Atelti conceded the least amount of goals (26) that season in Spain.

The summer after winning the league as well as reaching the Champions League final, saw the loss of Diego Costa, Felipe Luis and David Villa most significantly. That summer however, did see the addition of equally talented players in Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic, Jan Oblak and Raul Jimenez to name four.

With subtle changes to the team-shape, personnel and mentality, very little changed for Atletico Madrid in the 2014/15 season. They did however, score 10 less goals than the league winning team the season before by only hitting the back of the net 67 times.

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After that season, there has been a clear move away from the dependence on players with grit and aggressive nature – really having Simeone personified on the pitch – toward having a bigger focus toward flair players and wingers. Having seen his side score less goals was probably a contributing factor toward this shift in focus.

The amazing thing about the 2015/16 season where Atleti conceded only 18 goals in 38 games is that they finished 3rd in the league. Having seen so few goals go passed them, there was clearly a flaw in the system and this is why there has been a change in tact from Diego Simeone.

In the build up to the 2015/16 season, Atletico Madrid allowed some players who had displayed a lot of ‘character’ leave the club. Included among these players were: Arda Turan, Mario Mandzukic, Mario Suarez, Raul Garcia and Miranda. Taking the place of these were Stefan Savic, Luciano Vietto, Yannick Carrasco, Matias Kranevitter and Augusto Fernandez. Granted, the last two players brought in were of a similar ilk to the warriors that went out that summer.

Having said that, the lack of a typical number nine in the form of either Diego Costa or Mario Mandzukic was the real reason why Atletico failed to win the league that season. They scored a lowly 63 goals that season – despite having conceded only 18 – this return in front of goal was not adequate enough.

Hidden within this loss of a terrorising number nine, was the loss of similar players across other parts of the pitch – particularly in midfield. Looking at today’s squad, they are crying out for a player in the form of Arda Turan or Raul Garcia; someone who is willing to put their body on the line and fight for everything. The lack of these type of characters was clear to be seen in their recent mauling at the hands of Chelsea.

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Currently, the only player within midfield who is of this type (other than a 34 year old Gabi) is Augusto Fernandez. The real issue with Augusto however is that he is injured so often that he cannot be relied upon. Letting the relatively untested Matias Kranevitter go to Zenit this summer was also a mistake.

The Argentinian would have filled the gap perfectly during spells of absence from Augusto and would allow Gabi sufficient resting time also. Incidentally, Kranevitter has been performing admirably for the St. Petersburg based team this year. The loss of Tiago through retirement at the start of this summer further highlights the lack of grit in central midfield.

Even though Atleti don’t appear to have anyone within their squad capable of throwing their boots at the linesman (Arda Turan), they could really do with one. In trying and failing to replace Diego Costa since he left the club, and now finding the perfect replacement in Diego Costa himself, Atleti have also found the man with the right character they were missing also.

With Diego Costa re-joining the club in January, I still do not think they have enough within their ranks to truly challenge for titles this season. With the addition of a central midfielder – or the return to full fitness of Augusto Fernandez – they would stand a much better chance.

Time will only tell however and Atleti really need to keep themselves within touching distance of Barcelona and city neighbours Real Madrid by January should they have aspirations to be involved in a title race.

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