Atletico Madrid go into the new La Liga season as reigning champions, and looking at the state of their nearest rivals, Atletico fans must be relatively optimistic their side will be able to retain their title, although if they are to be celebrating once again around the Neptune fountain in Madrid, a few things have to fall into place.
Atletico will look at Lionel Messi’s departure from FC Barcelona and the loss of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane from Real Madrid and think that although their side doesn’t look much stronger than last year, neither do the teams they will have to beat in the race.
If Atletico’s season depends on one thing at the moment, it is keeping striker Luis Suarez fit and the Uruguayan passing the 20-goal mark yet again.
To say Suarez was the bargain of last season is a big understatement, as he netted 21 league goals in 32 appearances, including the goal which assured the title on the last day of the season in Valladolid.
However, Suarez will turn 35 next January and the question has to be whether or not he can do it again? And if he can’t, who will score the goals Atletico need to claim the title?
A string of injuries meant Moussa Dembele failed to give him any support during his loan spell in the second half of last season, and although Atletico have signed young forward Marcos Paulo, the 20-year-old is one for the future rather than the present, and Atletico need backup for Suarez.
Angel Correa contributed nine goals last time around, but that is the Argentinian’s best ever total in La Liga, and midfielder Marcos Llorente was Atletico’s second top scorer with 12 goals as he drove forward from midfield.
The arrival of creative midfielder Rodrigo de Paul, who can usually be relied on for goals, should help lift some of the pressure, but Atletico will hope to get a deal for Wolves striker Rafa Mir over the line this month to give Suarez the support he needs.
Meanwhile, the club is still waiting for record signing Joao Felix to use his prodigious talents on a regular basis, and the feeling is this is a make-or-break season for the Portuguese, who is still just 21 years old.
Elsewhere, Atletico remain well balanced, with Koke and Hector Herrera in the middle of the park and wingers Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Lemar offering an outlet out wide, although they will need a replacement if Saul Niguez leaves the club after disappointing last campaign.
Atletico can also be relied on to be tough to beat, with exceptional goalkeeper Jan Oblak well protected by a rugged and experienced defense, whose members can also be relied on to be a threat from set pieces.
Coach Diego Simeone will want to keep right-back Kieran Trippier, who is being tempted by a return to the Premier League, but as things stand, Atletico can be expected to be dueling in the top-three for another season. Enditem