After last season’s exploits, Atletico Madrid will find it difficult to reach such dizzying heights this year, especially after losing key players, and key rivals strengthening.
Atletico Madrid did the unpredictable when they broke the Barcelona/Real Madrid duopoly and won La Liga, a feat not achieve by any side for a decade (Valencia 2003/04).
But with their evident success came a cost. The whole world (Chelsea in particular) stood up and took notice of Atletico, and their relatively unknown yet superior players.
The price of success
When Dortmund broke Bayern Munich’s dominance in 2011, they too paid the price. Player of the Year Shinji Kagawa departed for Manchester United.
Soon Bayern decided to strengthen whilst weakening their closest rivals, pinching golden boy Mario Gotze (announced in acrimonious circumstances), and snatching top striker Robert Lewandowski for nothing a year later.
As much as they tried to rebuild with the signings of Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitariyan, they still fell well short of the Bavarians.
Southampton are also feeling the effects of a successful season, with star players Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert leaving the club, and Dejan Lovren also set to leave. Manager Mauricio Pocchetino was also snapped up by Spurs. How well they fair remains to be seen.
Replacing key players
Atletico’s case is no different. They lost three massive players to Chelsea, with top scorer Diego Costa and Filipe Luis moving for a combined £48 million deal and Zamora trophy winner Courtois returning from loan.
No doubt, Atletico have been shrewd in their attempts to replace them. Jan Oblak is a fine young keeper earmarked to be one of Europe’s best.
And in Mario Mandzukic, they have secured on a proven goal scorer at the highest level and Guilherme Siqueira is an adequate stand-in at left-back. Whether each is an improvement on the previous is questionable.
Even if Atletico were to adequately replace Costa, Courtois and Luis, that wouldn’t be enough, considering the way in which Real Madrid and Barcelona have strengthened this season.
James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos are quality additions to any side but to a Champions League-side takes Los Blancos to another level. Luis Suarez will join Lionel Messi and Neymar at Barcelona in one of the most feared attacks in world football.
Getting back to the level they were at last season simply won’t be enough, and whilst they have recruited well, a well organised, well drilled side can only get you so far.
This, coupled with their Champions League responsibilities next season means they’ll be competing on three fronts.
It’s sad, as much of what made last season so entertaining was seeing Atletico take on the big boys and triumph. But Atletico have been severely weakened, meaning the Barcelona/Real Madrid dominance looks set to continue.