Atletico Madrid: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering La Liga Season

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

Atletico Madrid: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering La Liga Season

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    How will Atleti fare this season?
    How will Atleti fare this season?Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    It's rare that the champions of a league go into the next season as third favourites to triumph, but that's what's happening to Atletico Madrid.

    They were the plucky underdogs last year, scraping a 1-1 draw against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on the final day to lift the title.

    Well, in theory. They still haven't been presented with it yet, because the head of the Spanish FA was traveling, per the Daily Mail.

    Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have strengthened this summer, splashing millions on Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Ivan Rakitic and many more big names.

    Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, have been struggling to tread water, trying to replace the players they have lost in the weeks after their heart-breaking Champions League final defeat by city-rival Real Madrid.

    The Rojiblanco have seen Diego Costa and Filipe Luis head to Chelsea, while the west London side have also recalled imperious goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after three successful years on loan at the Vicente Calderon.

    David Villa is another who has left Diego Simeone's side, and the Argentine manager has been hard at work trying to fill the gaps.

    Here we look at how their squad rates for the new season, position by position.

Goalkeeper: B

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    Jan Oblak in action for Benfica.
    Jan Oblak in action for Benfica.Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Options: Jan Oblak, Miguel Angel Moya

    Losing Thibaut Courtois seemed like the Sword of Damocles dangling over Atletico's heads.

    Surely at some point Chelsea were going to take back their brilliant Belgian.

    But Petr Cech's fine form meant that he stayed for three seasons and made himself a hero on countless occasions.

    Now, finally, the Blues have taken back their highly coveted property and Atletico had to act.

    They brought in Miguel Angel Moya from La Liga rivals Getafe and also Jan Oblak from Portugal's Benfica.

    Moya set them back around £2.5 million, per the Daily Mail's Elliot Bretland, while Oblak cost a far weightier £12.6 million, according to the BBC.

    Moya played on Tuesday night against Real Madrid in the Super Copa first leg, and he had no chance with the goal scored by James Rodriguez which was deflected in from close range.

    Oblak is expected to be first choice and he had a good season as he helped Benfica reach the Europa League final. 

    However, neither of them are anywhere near the quality of Courtois and will suffer by comparison this term.

Right-Back: A+

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    Juanfran was excellent last season.
    Juanfran was excellent last season.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Options: Juanfran, Cristian Ansaldi, Jesus Gamez

    Atletico have plenty of options at right-back, with Juanfran a star last season and unlikely to be removed from his slot.

    The former winger, converted to a full-back, was brilliant at times, including in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

    While it is unlikely he will be shifted, if Cristian Ansaldi, taken on a season's loan from Zenit St Petersburg can find some good form, he will be another decent option there, and also at left-back.

    Furthermore, Jesus Gamez is another new signing, from Malaga, who will be adding competition.

    Atletico have great depth in this spot, particularly when you consider Toby Alderweireld can also fill in.

Left-Back: B

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    Guilherme Siqueira in action.
    Guilherme Siqueira in action.Beck Diefenbach/Associated Press

    Options: Guilherme Siqueira, Emiliano Insua

    As mentioned before, Cristian Alsaldi is happy to play here and he came on as a substitute against Real Madrid in the Super Copa, for the man who is expected to take this role in most games.

    That's another new signing, like Oblak from Benfica, Guilherme Siqueira.

    The Brazilian replaces his compatriot Filipe Luis who has a new home at Chelsea.

    There was a strong case to be made that Luis was the best full-back in the division last season, so Siqueira will have high standards to match.

    A fine attacking presence, but occasionally shoddy at the back, he was substituted for his own good on Tuesday night after picking up an early booking.

    The other player who can feature here for Atletico is Emiliano Insua. The less said about him the better in truth, as he didn't have a fine time of it when asked to fill in for the injured Luis last term.

Centre-Back: A

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    Diego Godin is a leader.
    Diego Godin is a leader.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Options: Diego Godin, Joao Miranda, Toby Alderweireld, Jose Gimenez

    Defence is Atletico's greatest strength and so it seems churlish not to give them an A+ somewhere along the line, but the fact is they don't quite have the squad depth for that.

    Diego Godin and Joao Miranda were fantastic last season and if they can keep fit again and produce the same form, then Atletico will have no trouble whatsoever.

    However, Jose Gimenez is young and fairly inexperienced, and Toby Alderweireld is not always the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    The former could grow into a great defender, particularly under the supervision of his fellow Uruguayan Godin. 

Defensive Midfield: A

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    Will Gabi climb the Neptuno fountain again?
    Will Gabi climb the Neptuno fountain again?Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

    Options: Gabi, Mario Suarez, Tiago Mendes, Saul Niguez

    Gabi, the captain, the leader and after last season, the legend, will lead the team into battle once more.
    His fine performances at the heart of everything made him Atletico's engine.

    He was usually complemented by one of Tiago Mendes or Mario Suarez, both of whom remain.

    A strong, powerful bunch, which will only disappoint if they have lost some of their hunger, or Tiago's age affects his performances.

    Youngster Saul Niguez featured in the Super Copa on Monday and if he can play a few games it will take some of the heat off of Diego Simeone. 

    The coach has often been accused of not bringing through young players, with promising defender Javier Manquillo given to Liverpool recently. 

Attacking Midfield: A

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    Koke usually plays a big part in attacks.
    Koke usually plays a big part in attacks.Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

    Options: Koke, Raul Garcia

    Breaking Atletico's midfield players down is quite difficult, because Koke, for example, often plays on the left or the right.

    Raul Garcia, meanwhile, is usually deployed as a second striker, but often helps out the midfield too.

    In Atletico's first-choice side you can expect both of these to play more often than not.

    Nailing a first XI for Simeone is fairly difficult, despite the departures.

    Koke could be the future of Spanish football, making his international tournament debut this summer at the Brazil World Cup.

    Garcia is a dangerous player who is always good value for a goal from set pieces or with his head.

    It was this man who netted the late equaliser to make Friday's Super Cup second leg a thrilling prospect.

Left Attacking Midfield: A

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    Antoine Griezmann is a big signing.
    Antoine Griezmann is a big signing.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Options: Antoine Griezmann, Cristian Rodriguez

    Arguably the best signing of the summer for Atletico Madrid, Antoine Griezmann is expected to start on the left.

    He can also play on the right and cut inside, but the former Real Sociedad forward is best on the other flank.

    Per the Daily Mail he set Atletico back £24 million, which is a big fee but not an unjust one.

    He scored several important goals for La Real last term and Diego Simeone will be hoping for the same again.

    While a different player to David Villa, he is essentially the replacement for the veteran Spanish hitman.

    In reserve is Cristian Rodriguez, or "Cebolla," who is a useful understudy and often comes on in matches as a substitute.

Right Attacking Midfield: A

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    Arda Turan may switch flanks.
    Arda Turan may switch flanks.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Options: Arda Turan

    Arda Turan had a brilliant season last year and played a key part in the club's La Liga success.

    And while he's the only player listed here as a right midfielder for Atletico, that's not the case.

    As referenced earlier, Koke can play in this position and often did, with Turan featuring on the left.

    But with the arrival of Griezmann it would be no surprise to see him spend more time on this side of the pitch.

    The Frenchman can also play here and the two could even swap sides during a game.

Striker: B+

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    Mario Mandzukic is a big lad.
    Mario Mandzukic is a big lad.Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    Options: Mario Mandzukic, Raul Jimenez

    Two new signings will be vying for the sole striker slot at the peak of Diego Simeone's team.

    Bayern Munich's former Croatian hitman Mario Mandzukic is the one expected to star.

    He is a great physical presence and also a hard worker, as he showed in the Super Copa.

    However, as he also showed against Real Madrid, his finishing isn't always the greatest. He had two good chances and you would expect him to convert at least one of them. 

    The other forward is Raul Jimenez, a new signing from Mexican side America.

    He was a fairly regular scorer back home and also featured during the World Cup for Mexico.

    It might take him some time to adjust, but that shouldn't be too much problem with Raul Garcia around to bear some of the striker's load.

    Atletico will hope that by the end of the season they aren't pining for Diego Costa.