Another season lies ahead for Atletico Madrid, but despite their third-place finish in the 2019-2020 campaign, they go into the new season with more doubts hanging over Diego Simeone’s side than at any time since he took over as coach in 2011.
2019-20 was a strange season for Atletico, who were well below their best for a long time – losing to third tier Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey and dropping more points than usual in La Liga.
Indeed, before the enforced break due to the coronavirus, Atletico were in sixth place in the table and it looked as if a top-four spot and qualification for the Champions League were in doubt.
However, the hectic last 11 games saw Atletico find form and as rivals such as Real Sociedad and Getafe lost ground, in the end the top four was secured with relative ease.
Atletico’s finish to the season even gave hope that they could take advantage of the changed format for the last eight of the Champions League and secure a title that has so far evaded them, but German side RB Leipzig put paid to that optimism at the first hurdle in which Atletico showed many of their usual flaws and few of their virtues.
Once again Atletico preferred to play their defensive game and only looked to attack their rivals when they had fallen behind as they were outplayed for long periods.
There is no doubt that the back four lined up in front of the impressive Jan Oblak is usually hard to break down; Atletico only conceded 27 league goals last season and they only lost four times in La Liga.
However, just 51 league goals and 16 draws show where Atletico’s chances all too often disappear. They are hard to break down and they are hard to beat, but all too often they are unable or unwilling to take the initiative and ultimately that costs them points.
Simeone will (and does) argue he doesn’t have the resources that are available to Real Madrid and Barcelona, but while that may be true, he has more cash to splash than anyone else in Spain and with players such as Koke, Thomas Partey Vitolo, Angel Correa, Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix, he certainly does have players to entertain.
Perhaps the best news for Atletico last season was Simeone’s decision to convert Marcos Llorente from a defensive into an attacking midfielder and if Llorente can recreate his form from the end of the campaign he will become a key player.
Meanwhile Atletico fans will want to see more from record signing Joao Tomas after the youngster showed signs of his undoubtable talent in his debut season in Spain. Simeone will not need the Portuguese to start leading the Atletico attack, rather than playing an attractive bit-part.
Llorente and Joao Tomas will give hope for another top-three finish, but with no new faces so far this summer, there is no reason to think that Atletico will mount a serious title campaign.
Indeed the worry for some must be that last season saw the beginning of diminishing returns for Simeone and although he has always been able to maintain his team looking refreshed and motivated, 2020-21 might just be a season too far for Simeone’s defensive style unless he is willing to be more proactive in attack.