The old saying goes, never change a winning team. But when it comes to the world of football, you must always change a winning team. History taught us that much. Great teams of the past like Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona kept evolving constantly to keep winning. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid should be no different as the Colchoneros look to build on their La Liga success. Who should be the transfer targets for Atletico Madrid in the transfer window?
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 22, 2021
Atletico Madrid pipped Real Madrid to the league title of the final matchday of the season. In the best of the title races in the recent past, the Rojiblancos had ice in their veins to win 2-1 against Real Valladolid on the final matchday. They finished the season with 86 points, two clear of their city rivals Real. Diego Simeone hence ended a seven-year wait for a league trophy.
They were dominant from the word go in the league and made sure they didn’t let go of their lead. Having done some smart business the previous summer in the form of Luis Suarez, success was surely coming their way. Now they must look to build a dynasty for themselves as Real Madrid and Barcelona go through a transitional phase.
Luis Suarez in #LaLiga this season:
👕 32 appearances
⚽️ 21 goals
🅰️ 3 assists
🏆 1 title
Joined Atletico for a reported £5.5million after he was told by Ronald Koeman that he was not part of Barcelona's plans. What a signing! pic.twitter.com/YUGsOpoFcB
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) May 22, 2021
Diego Simeone knows that his club are shrewd spenders. They rarely break the bank as they did for Joao Felix. Hence operating on a limited budget, he must plan to better his squad. Simeone switched to a three-man back at the fag end of the last season. He must hence strengthen the squad in that area and must also bring in a world-class striker to challenge Luis Suarez. We at FootTheBall assess the options available for El Cholo.
PRIORITY NO 1 – CENTRE-BACK
IDEAL OPTION – JULES KOUNDE
Despite having four senior centre-backs, this is the one area where Atletico could improve. Simeone loves experimenting and switches between multiple systems. However, a switch to three-man back has been extremely rewarding for him. This system demands three top-quality centre-backs. Stefan Savic has taken the mantle of leader of defence after Diego Godin. It is his partners that make the task tougher. Felipe had a hot and cold season and Jose Gimenez was often injury-prone. With Hermoso filling as the left-back, there’s room for a premium centre-back. This is where Kounde comes in.
La première 🐓🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/Nb8Dk3WQsQ
— Jules Kounde (@jkeey4) June 3, 2021
The 22-year-old Frenchman has been on the rise in the Spanish league in the last couple of years. He joined Sevilla in a €25 million deal from Bordeaux as a 20-year-old. Kounde came in like fish to water in the La Liga as he slotted in seamlessly alongside Diego Carlos in the heart of Sevilla’s defence. He went on to help his side win the Europa League and was named in the Europa League squad of the season.
Kounde displays maturity beyond his age on the pitch. He has excellent positional sense and is rarely caught out of position. Kounde plays much bigger than his height would suggest as he thrusts himself into aerial challenges boldly. He isn’t afraid to charge on the ground as well, as he drives into tackles. He has a nice burst of pace that helps him cover for the full-backs. Like any other modern centre-back he is a proficient ball carrier from the back.
Simeone appreciates versatility and Kounde offers just that due to his ability to play as a right full/wing-back. Atletico would need to pay a huge chunk to Sevilla to prize him away. If nurtured properly, he can be their defensive fulcrum for the future.
BUDGET OPTION – CRISTIAN ROMERO
Even Romero himself wouldn’t have imagined his stock to grow this soon. He was playing in the Argentine league three years ago. Fast forward to 2021, he’s a hot prospect wanted by many clubs. The 23-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign at Atalanta under the impressive Gian Piero Gasperini. His season eventually got better as he was the mainstay of the Argentine team that won its first Copa America in 28 years.
At 6’1, Romero has a tall frame and an athletic structure that gives him an imposing presence on the pitch. Romero can be described as an old-school centre-back who takes no prisoners. He goes into tackles cleanly and emerges with the ball. His aerial play is a natural gift due to his physicality. Despite his size, Romero has great agility on the ball and is comfortable with it. However, he needs to improve the speed of his game as he often ends up playing square passes thus hampering counter-attacking situations.
Romero plays in a three-man back in Bergamo and is tailor-made for Atletico Madrid’s system. The Argentine connection with Simeone might help him to ease into the new league without much trouble. Since Romero is on loan from Juventus at Atalanta, Atletico needs to act fast and reach the Old Lady with an offer before his other suitors queue up.
FOOTTHEBALL’S QUIRKY OPTION – LUCAS MARTINEZ QUARTA
Argentina were craving top-class centre-backs for many years. Now they have two gems on their hands. The 25-year-old Quarta grew under the radar quietly before making a sudden impact at the Copa America. Though he is a relatively riskier proposition, it is a punt worth taking for Atletico Madrid.
Martinez is blessed with a blistering pace that makes him a favourite to latch onto long balls played over his head. He is also adept at tackling and winning aerial duels. Martinez is an agile dribbler and is extremely press resistant as he sneaks out of dangerous situations easily. He also has a great vision to play lobbed balls forward in search of his team’s runners.
PRIORITY NO 2 – STRIKER
IDEAL OPTION – LAUTARO MARTINEZ
In Luis Suarez, Atletico have one of the best strikers of world football in the past decade. The Uruguayan’s goals drove Atletico to the league title last time out. It is to be noted that, the sharpshooter is 34 years of age and cannot be relied upon week-in and week-out. Atletico’s lack of options didn’t give Simeone the luxury of resting him as Suarez was stretched to the limit. Joao Felix hasn’t lived up to his prize tag yet and Simeone can look to other places for strengthening his forward line.
Lautaro Martinez is a highly regarded striker at only 23 years of age. The Argentinian had a successful Copa America as his three goals helped the Albiceleste win the title. Martinez enjoys playing as a second striker in a strike pair. He formed an excellent bond with Romelu Lukaku at Inter. He might have similar success as he links up with Suarez at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Martinez is a skilful dribbler and has great passing to complement his clinical finishing. He can also drop deep to link up play and is physically strong to shrug off the midfield challenges. Though he is not a predatory number nine in the box he can create chances like a no.10. Luis Suarez, who will lose the legs to create as he ages, can thrive from Martinez’s service. However, Martinez is more than capable of leading the line alone if needed.
Atletico Madrid are now the favourites to prise Lautaro Martinez away from Inter, according to Diario AS in Spain https://t.co/6pbrytnIIH #Atleti #FCIM #FCBarcelona #AtleticoMadrid #Argentina pic.twitter.com/P3udJc48LN
— footballitalia (@footballitalia) June 6, 2021
Since Inter are feeling the effects of the pandemic in full force, it might be a good time to lure him away from San Siro.
BUDGET OPTION – RAFA MIR
This would be a move that would not stop the world or be flashy in nature. But it is the right type of move that might pay dividends to Atletico. Rafa Mir has starred for the relegated Huesa in La Liga on loan from Wolves. The 24-year-old is a classic number nine who can be a fox in the box.
Atletico Madrid are targeting Wolves striker Rafa Mir, who impressed during a loan spell in Spain with Huesca last season.
— Football Extra (@football_extra) July 20, 2021
Mir has good pace and strength to come out on top in duels and run away with the ball. He also takes a high number of shots per game. He scored 13 times in the league last season only behind stellar names such as Messi, Benzema, and Suarez.
It is reported that Atletico’s sporting director Andrea Berta is a huge admirer of Mir. If a move is made, it won’t set back Atletico Madrid by much as Mir is valued very cheaply. Atletico might complete a smart piece of business with him.
FOOTTHEBALL’S QUIRKY OPTION – GERARD MORENO
The man in form. Whatever he touches turns to goals. For ardent Spanish football followers, this won’t be a surprise. It is slightly surprising that Moreno’s moment came now at 29 years of age. A man with infinite potential has been finally living up to it for the last two years. Since his move to Villarreal, Moreno has exploded and is scaling new heights.
What a season for Gerard Moreno 👏
He becomes the 10th player from Europe’s top 5 leagues to score 30 goals this season in all competitions.
30 goals ⚽️
10 assists 🎯 pic.twitter.com/PgqKgfbBAV
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 26, 2021
Moreno is a clinical finisher and is versatile enough to thrive on the wing. He scored 30 goals for the first time in his career last season for his team as Villarreal rode on his goals to the Europa League trophy. As a result, he got a call-up from the national team and was handed the number 9 at the Euros. Moreno impressed with a goal and a couple of assists in the La Roja’s semi-final run.
Though it is highly unlikely that Villarreal would sell to a direct rival, if Atletico does approach with a hefty offer, it might be too difficult to say no.