Complete Report Card for Atletico Madrid in 2014

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2014

Complete Report Card for Atletico Madrid in 2014

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    Put simply, Atletico Madrid have enjoyed a truly stunning year in world football in 2014. 

    Despite the club's vastly inferior resources, Atleti became the first Spanish club since Valencia in 2003-04 to snatch La Liga's title away from Real Madrid and Barcelona. 

    Led superbly by manager Diego Simeone, Los Colchoneros also reached the final of the 2013-14 Champions League and were only seconds away from a historic double before Real Madrid performed a stunning comeback. 

    Such a season ranks among the finest in the club's history, and despite some personnel losses over the summer, the capital club have made a strong start to the 2014-15 season and are still fighting for honours in La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

    Across the following slides, we grade each Atletico player for 2014 across the various positions, including those who moved on during the summer transfer window. 

Goalkeepers

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    Current

    Miguel Angel Moya

    Grade: A

    When he arrived at Atletico Madrid this summer, Miguel Angel Moya wasn't expected to be Diego Simeone's first-choice goalkeeper. But early-season injury problems to fellow summer signing Jan Oblak handed the Spaniard an opportunity to cement his place. He hasn't looked back since.

    Now established in the Atletico goal, Moya has made his €3 million transfer fee look like an exceptional piece of business for the capital club who will undoubtedly have been impressed with what they've seen. 

    A superb shot-stopper, strong in the air and composed when coming off his line, the 30-year-old has been simply outstanding and managed to go through the group phase of the Champions League without conceding a single goal. 

    Jan Oblak

    Grade: C-

    It wouldn't be unfair to say it hasn't gone to plan so far for Jan Oblak at Atletico Madrid. 

    After arriving for £12.6 million from Benfica, Oblak was expected to fill the place vacated by Thibaut Courtois, but has instead found himself enduring an injury-interrupted season while falling to second in the pecking order behind Moya. 

    And when he was given a chance against Olympiakos in the Champions League, he was anything but assured while conceding three goals in a dramatic loss. 

    Previous

    Thibaut Courtois

    Grade: A+

    Along with Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois was the outstanding goalkeeper in world football in 2013-14 while playing with Atletico Madrid. 

    Astonishingly calm and commanding in the box for a 22-year-old, the Belgian played a leading role in the club's historic season and his return to Chelsea last summer was a major blow. 

    Daniel Aranzubia

    Grade: D

    As a result of Courtois' excellence, games were hard to come by last season for back-up goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia.

    But when his first chance in 2014 came against Almeria in February, the Spaniard failed to deal with a back pass and took down Jonathan Zongo to receive a straight red card. 

    His only other appearance for the year came in Atletico's 2-0 loss to Real Madrid in the second leg of their Copa del Rey meeting. 

Right-Backs

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    Current

    Juanfran

    Grade: A

    To understand just how outstanding Juanfran has been at right-back for Atletico Madrid over the past two seasons, one first must look at his appearance record. 

    In 2013-14, the Spaniard started 54 games domestically and wasn't substituted in a single one of them. This season he's already up to 23 starts for Atleti, taking his tally to 77 starts for his club in 18 months. 

    Serving to make that even more impressive is that Juanfran, despite the workload, has been one of the finest full-backs in Europe during that time, mixing defensive reliability with an incisive attacking punch to become a key component of Diego Simeone's side. 

    In 2014-15, his interplay with Arda Turan down the right sideline has been truly wonderful. 

    Jesus Gamez

    Grade: C

    With Juanfran holding down the right-back position, Jesus Gamez would have arrived at Atletico Madrid from Malaga this season knowing playing time was going to be scarce. 

    Signed simply to bolster squad depth, the Spaniard has made just three starts this season and two of them came in low-key encounters with L'Hospitalet in the Copa del Rey. 

    His only start in La Liga came during the disappointing 3-1 loss to Valencia at the Mestalla when Atleti's back four looked unsure without Juanfran anchoring the right side. 

    Previous

    Javier Manquillo

    Grade: C

    Like Gamez this season, Javier Manquillo found it difficult to force his way into Diego Simeone's XI in 2013-14 and made just three appearances for the club this calendar year. 

    And like back-up goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia, two of those came in the consecutive losses to Almeria and Real Madrid in February, the second of which saw Manquillo give away a first-half penalty. 

Left-Backs

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    Current

    Cristian Ansaldi

    Grade: B+

    At the beginning of the season, it looked as if the on-loan Cristian Ansaldi had been brought to the Vicente Calderon to add depth to the left-back position behind Guilherme Siqueira. 

    But the defensively-sound Argentinian has been the better of the two left-backs so far in 2014-15, earning Diego Simeone's trust in the bigger games when he's been injury free. 

    A strong tackler, tireless worker and penetrating force down the left flank, only a number of niggling complaints throughout the season have prevented Ansaldi from locking down the position permanently. 

    Guilherme Siqueira

    Grade: C+

    It was a rocky beginning for Siqueira when he arrived at Atletico Madrid. In his first competitive outing for the club, Cristiano Ronaldo identified the Brazilian as the weak link in Simeone's back four in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup and changed sides to attack the left-back. 

    Immediately, Siqueira gave away a penalty, highlighting his defensive shortcomings in the process. 

    Since, the former Granada full-back has improved a little to share the duties with Ansaldi, but still looks more comfortable going forward than defending. 

    It was also the 28-year-old's rash, second-half sending off against Real Sociedad that saw Atleti lose control of their game in Basque country and eventually succumb to a 2-1 defeat. 

    Previous

    Filipe Luis

    Grade: A

    The troublesome task for both Ansaldi and Siqueira when arriving at Atletico Madrid this season was how to replicate the extremely high standard set by their predecessor, Filipe Luis. 

    Among the finest full-backs in Europe last season, the Brazilian was a crucial part of Atleti's extraordinarily tight defence in 2013-14 and performed his job superbly with his combination of robust tackling, intense concentration and positional awareness. 

    His departure to Chelsea in the summer transfer window was a major blow for Simeone. 

    Emiliano Insua

    Grade: C

    When Luis went down with a right adductor muscle tear in late January, Emiliano Insua enjoyed a string of games in an Atletico shirt that he wouldn't have otherwise seen. 

    Despite getting through a number of games unscathed, the 25-year-old was undone in both Copa del Rey meetings with Real Madrid in February. In each clash, the Argentinian repeatedly fouled Los Blancos' attacking stars and could do little to prevent a 5-0 aggregate defeat. 

Centre-Backs

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    Current

    Diego Godin

    Grade: A+

    Right now, it's difficult to overstate just how good Diego Godin has been in 2014. 

    The key figure in Atletico Madrid's phenomenal defence, the Uruguayan has risen to become the finest centre-back in Europe with an unparalleled ability to block, head, clear and intercept nearly everything that comes his way. 

    Earlier this month, Bleacher Report's Guillem Balague awarded Godin his Player of the Year award in La Liga for 2014. 

    Honestly, it's hard to argue with him. 

    Miranda

    Grade: A

    The other key man in Atletico's defence in 2014, Miranda would have received a "A+" as well if not for a slightly underwhelming beginning to the current season. 

    A superb reader of the play, strong in one-on-one situations and powerful in the air, the Brazilian helped to form the best central defensive pairing in Europe in 2013-14 with Godin. 

    But the 2014-15 campaign has seen Miranda slip below his lofty standards, with an own-goal against Valencia and some shaky moments when passing out from the back allowing Jose Gimenez to get a look in. 

    Jose Gimenez

    Grade: A

    At just 19 years of age, it is truly staggering just how good Gimenez already is at this stage of his career. 

    Thanks to injuries and some indifferent form from Miranda, the Uruguayan teenager has made nine starts in 2014-15 and has looked supreme in almost all of them. 

    Against Elche, he showed off his technical ability with a stunning goal, while his display in Turin against Juventus was one of the best defensive performances seen in Europe this season. 

    Along with Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, Gimenez might be the hottest defensive talent on the continent. 

    Previous

    Toby Alderweireld

    Grade: B

    Toby Alderweireld's 2014 might be defined by one moment: His late equaliser against Malaga in the second last game of La Liga to set up a dramatic finale against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. 

    Without the Belgian's goal, Atletico wouldn't have claimed their historic title in 2013-14. 

    But Alderweireld was also a solid contributor in the centre of the defence when called upon, and despite one below-par showing when filling in at right-back in a 2-0 loss to Levante, the 25-year-old was a capable back-up defender before his loan move to Southampton

Central/Holding Midfielders

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    Current

    Gabi

    Grade: A

    A little like Miranda, Gabi hasn't quite recaptured his form of last season in the current campaign, which is the only reason why the veteran midfielder can't be given an "A+" for his body of work in 2014. 

    During Atetico Madrid's run to the league title, the Spaniard was inspirational as a tireless workhorse in the heart of Diego Simeone's formation. Anchoring the Atleti system, the 31-year-old tackled, pressed and harassed his opponents with an unrelenting appetite, while his hard running and set-piece delivery were critical in the team's work going forward. 

    While he hasn't hit those heights again so far in 2014-15, his superb campaign last season saw him nominated alongside Luka Modric and Sergio Busquets for the LFP's Best Midfielder award. 

    Tiago

    Grade: A

    While Gabi was undoubtedly Atletico's finest central midfielder in 2013-14, Tiago's has been the better of Simeone's anchoring pair in the current season. 

    Often stationed as the deepest player in the Atleti midfield, the Portuguese has enjoyed a fine campaign thus far protecting his back four and will be critical to his team's hopes of repeating last term's strong run to the Champions League final. 

    Though not as athletic as Gabi or his younger counterparts, Tiago is crafting a fine, late-career spell for himself as a defensively sound midfielder with brilliant anticipation skills and a knack for making timely interceptions. 

    Mario Suarez

    Grade: B-

    Aside from his run in the team when Tiago went down with a serious wrist injury in February of last season, Mario Suarez was rarely used by Diego Simeone in the closing stages of Atletico's memorable 2013-14 campaign. 

    Given the excellence of Tiago and Gabi, it wasn't hard to understand. 

    But Suarez has been afforded some more opportunities this season due to injuries to both of those men but has struggled to replicate their influence. 

    Without the work rate of Gabi and lacking the positional sense of Tiago, the 27-year-old is forced to foul opponents more often and has been an easier player to blow by when used as a holding midfielder.

    Such aspects to his play where most evident during the 3-2 loss to Olympiakos in Greece. 

    Saul Niguez

    Grade: C+

    Saul Niguez is the youngest member of Atletico's collection of midfielders and is a player who is an exciting prospect for the capital club. 

    Since returning from a loan spell at Rayo Vallecano, we've seen glimpses of the young Spaniard's potential in games against Sevilla and Deportivo La Coruna—two outings in which he's scored. 

    But at just 20 years of age, Saul has also struggled to make his presence felt consistently across 90 minutes, often being a peripheral figure for his side as the likes of Gabi, Tiago, Koke and Arda Turan dominate Atleti's time in possession. 

Attacking Midfielders

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    Current

    Koke

    Grade: A+

    Though he was excellent last season, Koke still sat behind the likes of Diego Costa, Diego Godin, Thibaut Courtois and Gabi for overall influence for Atletico Madrid. 

    This season, he's his club's finest player. Easily. 

    Now the leader of Diego Simeone's midfield, the 22-year-old is rapidly becoming one of the most influential players in Europe. With the ball he's a wonderful technician, an accurate passer, a goal threat and a set-piece master. Without it, he's a tenacious defender who tackles more often than every member of the squad aside from Gabi, per WhoScored. 

    Quite simply, Koke is the complete midfielder. 

    Arda Turan

    Grade: A

    Arda Turan might not be able to match the extent of Koke's influence, but the diminutive Turk does stand alone in this Atletico squad. 

    Possessing great vision, fine control in tight spaces and a knack for releasing forwards behind the opposition's defensive line, Turan is the centre of creativity in Simeone's lineup. 

    After expertly linking up with Diego Costa last season, the 27-year-old has formed a fine partnership with Juanfran down the right flank this campaign in what is a new-look method in attack for the team. 

    And every time he's substituted, it's always Simeone who's leading the applause, reflecting how highly the manager regards Turan. 

    Raul Garcia

    Grade: B+

    Defining a position for Raul Garcia is extremely difficult, for he's become a utility in every sense of the word for Atletico. An attacking midfielder, a wide midfielder, a secondary forward, a floating forward, a lone striker—he's been them all at various stages. 

    As such, the Spaniard has been incredibly useful for Simeone, who's been happy to shift Garcia around depending on the needs of his formation on any given day. 

    Of course, the 28-year-old doesn't possess the same technical quality as many of the others in the club's attacking stable, but it's his tenacity, physicality and work rate that appeal most to the manager. 

    And for a utility, a return of 23 goals across the last one-and-a-half seasons is a fantastic return. 

    Previous

    Adrian

    Grade: B-

    Adrian lost his starting place in the Atletico XI in 2013-14, and was forced to accept a role as a regular substitute—one he performed 24 times last season. 

    Often introduced in place of a central midfielder or versatile forwards such as David Villa and Raul Garcia, the Spaniard was used as an injection of energy into the Atleti attack by Simeone. 

    Crucially, he scored the equaliser in the second leg of the club's Champions League semi-final clash with Chelsea at Stamford bridge. But wanting regular starts, Adrian completed a move to Porto last summer. 

    Oliver Torres

    Grade: N/A

    Despite his potential, Oliver Torres played just 48 minutes for Atletico Madrid in 2014 before being loaned to Villarreal. 

    In 2014-15, the young midfielder is now completing another loan spell, this time at Porto. 

    Diego

    Grade: C+

    Despite being one of Atletico Madrid's stars during his first spell at the club, Diego's return didn't prove to be as successful as he would have hoped. 

    A stunning goal against Barcelona in the Champions League was undoubtedly the highlight, but the Brazilian made just the seven starts in his second stint at the club and didn't take part in the club's pivotal end-of-season games against Barcelona and Real Madrid. 

Wingers

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    Current

    Antoine Griezmann

    Grade: B+

    When Antoine Griezmann has enjoyed playing time this season at Atletico Madrid, he's generally been very good. But strangely, that playing time has been difficult to earn for the Frenchman. 

    Signed as the club's marquee player of the summer, the former Real Sociedad star has been forced to bide his time under Diego Simeone, who's often preferred Mario Mandzukic up front on his own or the Croatian paired with the versatile Raul Garcia. 

    But Griezmann was outstanding in Atletico's recent 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao, scoring a hat-trick to demand his inclusion in the XI after the Christmas break. 

    If he can continue to build on the flashes of brilliance he's shown thus far, his €30 million transfer fee might begin to look rather cheap. 

    Alessio Cerci

    Grade: D

    It just hasn't worked out for Alessio Cerci at Atletico Madrid, with the Italian set to move to AC Milan imminently after a difficult time at the Vicente Calderon, per ESPN FC

    Though Cerci is a talented forward, Simeone demands a relentless work ethic from his attackers to ensure the team's press can push as high as possible. 

    Unable to convince the manager of his work rate and two-way diligence, the 27-year-old has found himself on the outer and hasn't impressed at all in the limited playing time he's been given. 

    Cristian Rodriguez

    Grade: C-

    Nothing more than a regular substitute these days for Simeone, Cristian Rodriguez hasn't been able to make a meaningful impact at the Vicente Calderon since his first season at the club in 2012-13. 

    Like Cerci, the Uruguayan is a talented finisher in front of goal, but lacks the dynamism and persistence to be a starter under the ultra-demanding Atletico manager. 

    As such, we often see Rodriguez come on with 10 minutes to play and the result already decided. 

Strikers

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    Current

    Mario Mandzukic

    Grade: B+

    It was always going to be hard for Mario Mandzukic to fill the shoes of Diego Costa, who grew into one of the world's finest strikers during his time at the Vicente Calderon.

    A player of contrasting qualities, the Croatian's presence has been valuable for Atletico this season since Costa's departure, but he has forced Diego Simeone to completely revamp the club's attacking methods. 

    Lacking pace, the ability to counter-attack and uncomfortable carrying the ball himself, Mandzukic has forced the team to employ a more patient style featuring longer passing sequences and a high press to dominate the territory battle (last season, Atletico were a deep-sitting, counter-attacking force). 

    But although there have been some difficulties in that transition, the former Bayern Munich striker is the club's top scorer this season with 14 goals in all competitions thus far. 

    Raul Jimenez

    Grade: C-

    Had Raul Jimenez arrived for a small transfer fee last summer, we might have a completely different perception of the young Mexican striker than we currently do. 

    But unfortunately, Jimenez has been burdened by his €10 million fee and has found life difficult in his first season in Spain. 

    A raw centre-forward, the 23-year-old lacks the polish to lead the line for Atletico, but as a tall, rangy type, he's not the partner Mario Mandzukic needs in a forward pairing. 

    The result has been a season of limited opportunities for the former Club America star, who's got a lot to do to prove he can be a top-flight striker in La Liga. 

    Previous

    Diego Costa

    Grade: A

    It might seem surprising that Diego Costa doesn't earn top marks for his performances at Atletico Madrid in 2014. But a closer examination of his record shows his best work with the club was done in the first half of the 2013-14 season. Indeed, his run between September and December of 2013 was the standout period of his time in the Spanish capital. 

    So while the second half of last season still saw Costa score at a decent rate while also being a rampant, one-man counter-attack, a slightly less prolific time after the new year combined with injury troubles brings his mark down a notch. 

    David Villa

    Grade: B

    Much like Costa, David Villa began the 2013-14 season in hot form and had racked up 13 goals by the time January 2014 arrived. 

    But Atletico's attritional style in the latter months of the campaign saw the team's attack dry up somewhat in the new year, with Villa only adding five goals to his tally at Atletico in 2014. 

    Interestingly, though, Simeone is still looking for a player to perform the Spaniard's role as a dangerous secondary forward this season. 

Manager

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    Diego Simeone

    Grade: A+

    It's impossible to fault Diego Simeone's management in 2014, for what Atletico Madrid achieved this calendar year is truly remarkable. 

    Able to draw out every drop of ability, passion and commitment from each and every one of his faithful players, the Argentinian has developed a side capable of challenging the finest in Europe despite the club's limited resources. 

    Demanding, tactically brilliant and the ultimate pragmatist, Simeone keeps driving Atletico to triumph after triumph when the logic dictates that such a record should be almost unattainable for someone in his position. 

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