Diego Simeone's side have started strongly this year - can it realistically continue?
Atletico Madrid are about a year away from real contention for the title. That seemed to be the consensus around La Liga prior to this season, but their fast start is beginning to make believers out of a lot of people.
When Barcelona and Real Madrid battled it out for a 2-2 draw recently, Atletico quietly moved level on points with Tito Vilanova’s side with a 2-1 victory over Malaga.
That was the most important game of the year for Los Rojiblancos, and the victory showed they could truly compete with the top sides in La Liga. They don’t play Barcelona or Real until December, but they have a real opportunity to solidify this form into something more permanent.
In order to do that, there are a few things that would be of great benefit.
Radamel Falcao's success has inevitably led to him being linked with other clubs.
It sounds so simple, but the easiest way to derail a winning team is to lose players in the middle of a season. Atletico‘s success has brought them a lot of recent attention, so it’s no surprise that their headline-makers are now linked with moves to other clubs.
Radamel Falcao is the leading scorer in La Liga this year, so he is the one in the spotlight. Recent reports have linked the Colombian striker with Chelsea and Manchester City; Roman Abramovich has allegedly already sanctioned the £45 million price tag that has been slapped on Falcao’s head, according to John Richardson of the Express.co.uk.
It’s not just Falcao who is being linked with a move away, either. Arda Turan was recently pictured wearing Nuri Sahin’s Liverpool shirt, which of course then led to speculation of a transfer to Anfield.
Arsenal’s continuing contract woes with Theo Walcott have led to the Gunners considering a move for Adrian Lopez, The Daily Mirror reported. It doesn’t seem to be based on much more than the fact that both players are dragging out contract negotiations, but such talk could be damaging this early in the season.
A successful league campaign is built on consistency, so losing players of Falcao and Turan’s calibre could put a halt to Atletico’s ambitions this year. One scenario seems to be to retain the star players until the summer, then selling them when their values appear to be highest.
It would doubtlessly cost them in the long-term but would at least ensure a celebratory year for the club, as well as gaining them extra financial flexibility ahead of next season.
Extending Simeone's contract puts Atleti in the best position for more trophies.
As things currently stand, Diego Simeone is contracted until the end of this year. He has built up a good connection with his players and shows a lot of class by granting valuable minutes to squad players, keeping up morale in the process.
The difference under Simeone has been astonishing. It seems like the players now understand their role and are committed to fulfilling it. Atleti are playing some of the best football in any league right now, and it would be a real shame to see that dissipate under rumours of Simeone’s departure.
To his credit, he has played all of that down from the outset. He made 134 appearances for Atleti over two spells at the club, winning La Liga and the Copa del Ray in 1996, so has a history with the team that ties him to Madrid.
It was reported in The Sun by Antony Kastrinakis that Simeone wants to stay at Atletico over any other position:
He said: “My intention is to continue, to sign a new deal but we will see. I’m not talking about other offers or clubs. Right now, my priority is to talk to Atletico first.”
Simeone has had success with every club he has managed in his short managerial career, so it’s clear that he should be the one to lead Atleti to new heights. The best way to do that is to extend his deal this year—not wait until the other offers pour in.
If Simeone is serious about his desire to stay in Madrid—he further endeared himself to the Atletico fans by saying (via ESPN) that he would never coach Real—then, he will open the talks with the club and agree to terms as quickly as possible.
This will ensure a stable season this year, as well as sending a message to the players that the team is committed to a successful future.
Raul Garcia is a good option for Simeone from the bench, but Atletico don't boast the same depth as Real or Barca.
While Atletico have made a strong case for themselves with their record under Simeone, the only way they can truly compete with Barcelona and Real is to have a deeper bench to carry them through the difficult parts of the season.
Although the team is more than just Falcao, it was interesting to see them perform without him against Espanyol, rock bottom at the end of September.
Atleti still came away with the win, but the absence of Falcao was clearly noticeable. To Espanyol’s credit, their defence did a good job for the first 30 minutes, but a team of Atletico’s quality should have broken them down much earlier.
This is likely to worsen as the season continues. Without the depth of the top two teams in La Liga, Atleti will drop points in games they are expected to win. Injuries will affect the team much more, and a shock loss can turn into a losing streak very quickly.
Saying that the team needs additional players in depth positions is all very well. However, Atleti already find themselves in a difficult financial position, with UEFA withholding the team’s prize money last year in order to settle outstanding debts.
The acquisition of Falcao may have translated to success on the field, but it was a calculated risk. A lot of supporters were dismayed by his price tag, and Eurosport.Yahoo.com reported that payments to Porto are behind schedule.
Teams that operate at a loss inevitably get caught in a cycle of selling, with their best young talents sold off to stabilise the club before they can reach their potential.
Atletico have a good reputation for finding promising players and developing them but are often forced to sell them earlier than they would like.
It’s always difficult for a club to extricate themselves from this circle without winning, but they can’t win without top players. Atletico’s winning attitude is sustainable with all their first-team players healthy and in form, but history shows that is almost always too much to ask.