After such heroics in the 2013/14 season, the real challenge is only just beginning for Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone worked wonders with his team to take them to the brink of an incredible Liga-Champions League double last time round, missing out by the narrowest of margins. But the Argentine will know that such achievements will be tough to reproduce.
The Colchoneros' first team has been gutted over the summer transfer window, with several undisputed starters snapped up by clubs eager to emulate Atletico's success. But Simeone has not been resting on his laurels.
El Cholo, forced to spend his summer scouring the transfer market in order to replace the likes of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois, has made some very encouraging signings. One of the men to watch this season in Madrid will be a full-back who finally has the chance to show a wider audience his obvious talent: one Cristian Ansaldi.
The Argentine, who along with Angel Correa (San Lorenzo) bolsters the ranks of Simeone's compatriots in the club, comes to Atletico on a one-year loan from Zenit St. Petersburg, as reported by Goal. If he is not a household name, it is more a reflection of the exposure the Russian leagues receive outside of the country than any comment on Ansaldi's abilities.
One of Ansaldi's biggest gifts, and something which has proved invaluable to coaches throughout his career, is his versatility. The Rosario native feels equally comfortable on either side of the defence, and for five years was an undisputed first-teamer with Rubin Kazan. Two Premier League titles in 2008 and 2009, the first in the club's history, were achieved with Ansaldi a near ever-present in the Tatarstan team's line-up.
Simeone then will have the luxury of calling on his new signing to fill in on either side of the pitch, safe in the knowledge that he will have a left-sided defender capable of replacing Filipe Luis, but who can move about if necessary.
Ansaldi is not the most exciting attacking full-back in world football, but he has plenty of athleticism and strength which allows him to surge past his marker from deep. Playing on the overlap, he brings a new dimension to the attack while never neglecting his duties at the back. His most visible weakness, perhaps, is the lack of a really effective final ball; but the Argentine more than often compensates by playing on the ground, keeping the attack moving into the opposition half.
At 27 years of age, a tally of three international caps is immensely unjust. Without a doubt years of efficient service in Russia counted against him for the Albiceleste, where players operating in Spain, Italy and England are followed much more closely by both fans and coaches, hence finding it easier to raise their profile and force their way into contention.
The coming year, then, represents a monumental challenge not just for Atletico, but for their new signing as well. Ansaldi will be aware that with a new man, fellow Rosario native Gerardo Martino, in charge, there is a clean slate for many players and a great year with Atletico would see the full-back fight back into the international picture.
Can he produce the goods? Signs are promising. Simeone has made an extremely shrewd signing in bringing Ansaldi over from Russia, and the solid defender should prove an excellent reinforcement as a rebuilt Colchonero look to recreate the magic shown last season.
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