Atletico Madrid and the generation game

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El Cholo has rebooted.

This summer saw 17 players arrive at Atletico Madrid and 14 leave.

But does this upheaval make Diego Simeone’s squad stronger or weaker?

One look at the league table after three games would suggest the former. 

Three wins out of three – admittedly not against Spain’s strongest domestic sides – leave Los Colchoneros out on their own at the top of La Liga.

And with Barcelona and Real Madrid both suffering identity crises, many are wondering if their duopoly could be broken for the first time in six seasons – since Atleti last did it.

Two of the most influential figures to depart the Wanda Metropolitano over the summer were Antoine Griezmann (£2.77) and Diego Godin (£0.41). These two had formed a key part of the club’s spine over many years, but Simeone – perhaps mindful of the need to kill any staleness – saw their departure as an opportunity too.

The Griezmann money went on the supremely talented Joao Felix (£4.53) and other departures, such as that of Lucas Hernandez (£0.80), funded a youthful overhaul elsewhere.

Mario Hermoso (£0.57) at 24 years old was one of Espanyol’s best performers last season, and 21 year old Brazilian Renan Lodi (£0.95) has brought energy and enthusiasm to Los Rojiblancos’ defence. This has complemented the existing core of the likes of Thomas Lemar (£1.05), Koke (£0.90) and Saul (£0.89) who are all coming into their prime.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper AS last month, Simeone spoke candidly about his hopes for his ‘new’ side.

He said: “We have a generational change at Atletico as we have players who have come through the system and who are now established. Let’s hope they can transmit their experiences to the next generation who are coming through. They are the ones who have to be the leaders and show the way to the rest.”

It is in some ways a risk to throw these players into leadership roles, but with old heads such as Diego Costa (£0.82) around the dressing room, the Argentine hopes it can be done. 

He also recognises that Atleti are “no longer a neighbourhood club” and that their – and his – outlook needs to change from perennial underdog to that of a footballing giant.

All this rejigging and ultimately strengthening means that Simeone has been able to do things this campaign that he could rarely do before.

Firstly rotate. Already in the three matches, 14 players have made starts.

Secondly, change tactics. He has used three different formations in the opening games (4-1-2-1-2, 3-4-1-2 and 4-3-1-2) and this has given him a greater ability to keep opposition coaches guessing.

Lastly, make substitutions that can have an impact. Vitolo and Thomas Partey have both scored match-defining goals so far.

It was in Simeone’s post-match press conference after the late win over Eibar that he reflected on these replacements and it ultimately revealed the precarious essence of being a football manager.

He said: “I know the risks you take when you make these type of changes

It is easy for people to say you made a defensive change, and maybe lost the game. But we always live with that risk, on a fine line, and you have to do what you feel.”

Going on feel hasn’t worked out too badly for El Cholo so far, and with a rejuvenated group to work with, he could go onto even greater heights than he has already achieved in his stellar managerial career.

 

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About Author

Rob is a football writer who has featured on Football Espana, Crystal Palace FC and BBC Sport. A long-time Indexer, he prefers an assist to a goal.

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