For much of the season, Atletico Madrid looked like genuine title contenders - and played like one as well.
Helped greatly by the terrific form of star striker Radamel Falcao, the team occupied second spot in the La Liga standings up until March. But most people are cynical about a repeat performance next season, especially with Falcao reportedly on his way out from the Calderon and the team deep in financial trouble.
It is this very financial difficulty which forced the team to sell promising youngster Alvaro Dominguez to Borussia Monchengladbach last season. However, even considering all this, the Madrid outfit have the foundation for building a team that can challenge for the title, even without Falcao.
The first thing that Atletico needs to do is to ensure that manager Diego Simeone does not leave for greener pastures. Atletico's fortunes took a U-turn last season following the arrival of club legend Simeone as manager.
The Argentine galvanised a previously malaised team and spurred them on to win the Europa League title and challenge for a Champions League spot - something that seemed unattainable at the time.
In the end they would miss the Champions League by a single point, but the very fact that Atleti came so close speaks volumes about the coach. With quality managers in high demand this close season, Atleti may find it difficult to hold on to their gaffer come close season.
With Falcao looking a sure shot to leave this summer, Los Rojiblacos will also need to add a striker to their roster - and that too one with a significantly lower price tag.
Whoever comes in will have the not so envious task of filling the big boots left by the departing Colombian. The silver lining is that the team is likely to get a €50 million windfall through the likely sale of their star man.
Nevertheless, the team will only be able to spend €20-30 million of this money due to their precarious financial situation. Amidst intense rumours that quality strikers such as Stefan Jovetic and Leandro Damiao are looking set for meadows other than the Calderon, finding Falcao's successor could become tricky.
Saint Etienne's Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has sizzled in Ligue 1, and could prove to be a quality replacement, with the added benefit that he would likely come at a reasonable price. With the return of on loan players Pizzi, who has shown good form with Deportivo this season and youngster Borja Gonzalez, a single signing could suffice.
However, Atletico would do well to buy two strikers with the available money as the above-mentioned strikers add depth, not quality to the side. Other possible acquisitions include Benfica's Oscar Cardozo, Swansea's Michu, Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov, Roma's Pablo Osvaldo and Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas.
Another immediate priority should be to acquire the services of on-loan Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois' services on a permanent basis. A great part of the credit for the Madrid outfit leading the table in terms of clean sheets goes to this young Belgian. However, Chelsea are unlikely to let go of this gem permanently. Even if Courtois's honeymoon at the Calderon comes to a close, Atleti wont need to buy a new goalkeeper as Sergio Asenjo has long been in the waiting for his chance at the club.
Even though he has never quite cut the mark at the Red and Whites, Asenjo has, in his exploits with the Spain Under-21 team, proved that he is very talented. Joel Roble's has also shown good form with Wigan during his loan spell.
The Los Rojiblancos' midfield and defence are solid. However, they lack the sheer numbers to compete on multiple fronts. To counter this, astute dealings have to be made so as to increase the depth of the squad.
Moving along players who are clearly not a good fit - such as Ruben Micael and Ruben Perez should be followed by bringing in squad players - who would arrive at low prices. These kind of players are quintessential if Atletico are to mount challenges on multiple fronts. Players such as Giovani dos Santos, Javi Fuego, Bruno Soriano, Jaime Gavilan and Patrick Ebert are unlikely to sting the pockets, but provide valuable depth along with proven ability in the Spanish League.
Another effective method of increasing the depth in the squad would be to promote promising youth team players Oliver Torres and Elliott Kebbie.
Provided the Red and Blacks are able to do all this, they will surely develop into genuine contenders, and not just the 'best of the rest' behind the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly.
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