5 Strikers Atletico Madrid Should Consider in Summer Instead of Diego Costa
Atletico Madrid's decision to sell Jackson Martinez after just six months raised a few eyebrows, but it also raised an awful lot of money—around €42 million, which they'll have to reinvest in a new striker over the summer.
Media reports have continually linked Los Rojiblancos with a move for former forward Diego Costa, now with Chelsea. Marca suggested it would be the "dream" for the Vicente Calderon hierarchy to lure the naturalised Spanish forward back to the club in summer. Enrique Cerezo also told Deportes COPE (h/t Marca) that the club would do "everything in our power" to bring Costa back, but Atletico should be looking beyond horizons already visited.
Here, we identify five forwards from around Europe who might better fit Atletico's needs, given the demands placed on them and the current squad available to Diego Simeone.
Starting with the player who would likely be the most expensive of the quintet, Marseille's Michy Batshuayi has progressed over the past 12 months or so into one of the most reliable young scoring threats in Europe, combining pace and direct running with a composure in the final third and technique on the ball.
The Belgian attacker has netted 15 goals this season playing as Marseille's first-choice centre-forward, but has also previously played from the flank. His work in the channels replicates what Costa would be expected to bring back to Atletico, but Batshuayi has far more pace, far less history of hamstring trouble and a greater potential to see his value skyrocket.
He'll cost upwards of €25 million, perhaps even another 10 or 15 on top of that if the Ligue 1 club play hardball, but there's little doubt surrounding the ability of the 22-year-old.
In trying to identify the different ways Simeone could get the best out of his squad, we've looked at a variety of potential signings, not simply picking the five best forwards on the market.
Tactically and in terms of Simeone's most-prized attributes in players, Simone Zaza of Juventus would be a tremendous fit; he's a complete workhorse who closes down defences relentlessly, will run in behind to open up direct passing lanes and can dribble at defences as part of hold-up play, too.
Not anything close to a starter for Juve, he'd certainly be available and likely not cost the earth, but despite not featuring too often, his goalscoring rate is respectable—six in just 520 minutes this season, and 11 last season for Sassuolo.
Zaza is the type of player who could offer an impact in energy and end product for Atletico, but not such a star name that the likes of Luciano Vietto and Angel Correa wouldn't still see plenty of game time to hinder their own development.
Our third choice wouldn't cost Atletico a penny—he's their own forward, out on loan at Eibar this season.
Borja Baston looked to have missed the boat in graduating from Atletico Madrid's B team to the seniors, but his displays in La Liga against good sides will have Simeone surely reconsidering his options.
The 23-year-old has netted 15 goals in 21 La Liga matches, more than any other Spanish striker, including against the likes of Sevilla and Barcelona. A powerful runner, Baston has displayed his movement inside the penalty box, composed finishing and good link-up play this season to its fullest extent.
Question marks still remain over long-term consistency and his real ceiling, but he's certainly doing all he can to at least have a chance of staying with Los Colchoneros.
The forwards named up until now have been the type who can replicate Costa's role: surge in the channels, link with the midfielders and get in the box afterward to score goals. It's the role Jackson utterly failed in—but it's also a role that Antoine Griezmann can play, leaving another to be the goalscoring centre-forward in Atletico's 4-4-2.
Were Griezmann asked to be the outlet, as he already has been several times this term, Atleti want another penalty-box presence to ensure they don't struggle with goalscoring, as has been an issue at times over the past few months, and there are few more certain options than Mexican striker Javier Hernandez. The Bayer Leverkusen attacker has 21 goals in 27 games, finding form and consistency thanks to regular game time and a supply line behind him.
There'd be no shortage of either if Atleti went for him—but a few fans with long memories might need persuading that this is the right choice, after Chicharito knocked Atleti out of the Champions League while playing on loan for Real Madrid.
The biggest gamble of the list, but possibly with the biggest potential pay-back if it comes off, is AC Milan's M'Baye Niang.
In looking at bringing in a next-generation Diego Costa, Niang has many of the base traits of the Chelsea man: He works the channels, runs the ball out of defensive areas, works hard and challenges defenders directly—and can dribble and get shots away quickly.
Consistency and injuries have bothered Niang to date, and his Milan career has been stop-start at times. Since returning from a foot injury in November, though, he has been of the more consistent and impressive players for his side in Serie A. The Frenchman has found end product to go with his exciting general performances, despite the overall uninspiring nature of the team he plays in.
Niang is far from a sure thing, but given Simeone's capacity to develop talent and shape players with a good attitude, Niang has all the raw attributes that could make him a complete attacker and contribute to Atletico as much as Costa did in his best spell at the club.