If we focus on their Champions League run (particularly the stunning upset over Liverpool in the Round of 16) and how they played after the break force by the pandemic, Atlético Madrid are coming off a solid season.
Before getting into why I have my doubts about them, though, let’s give a bit more credit to their form from last February through late July.
Diego Simeone’s team lost to Real Madrid on February 1 and did not lose another game until they fell to RB Leipzig in the Champions League quarterfinals on August 13. That’s a hell of a run, even if there were plenty of draws during that streak.
How will Atleti do this season? Oddsmakers have them +1100 to win the title and -500 to finish top 4. Are Atlético Madrid a contender?
What changes should we expect — will this offense finally be reliable?
Despite going out and spending top dollar on one of the biggest young stars on the planet last summer, the Atleti featuring João Félix in ’19-20 looked a lot like the previous, starved-for-goals editions of the team.
After finishing with 58 goals in 38 games in ’17-18 and 55 in ’18-19, the addition of Félix led to … all of 51 goals – less than 1.4 per game. Even for a defensive-minded club, that’s not nearly enough to win any major trophies. It’s somewhat encouraging, I guess, that the club’s xG was a bit higher, at 58.7. This team did not get nearly enough from its attack, though, regardless of which numbers you use to assess it.
As the offensive output has decreased the last few years, so has the team’s season point total – from 79 in ’17-18 to 76 in ’18-19 to 70 last season. Another 70-point campaign could mean a finish outside Spain’s top four if Sevilla and/or one of Villarreal, Real Sociedad or Getafe improve.
Can João Félix take a leap?
The Portuguese star, and Atleti’s front office, were both hoping for more than 21 starts (27 appearances) and six goals considering what they paid for him. If he’s a double-digit goals and assists man in his second season, Los Rojiblancos will be a hell of a lot more formidable. No pressure!
Atleti’s Champions League loss to RB Leipzig provided plenty of cause for concern as well as some reason for optimism. Simeone’s decision not to start him, or Álvaro Morata, and instead go with Diego Costa and Marcos Llorente, was puzzling. That choice probably cost his team a trip to the UCL quarters.
But perhaps Félix coming on in the 58th vs. RBL and immediately looking like the best, most dangerous player on the pitch will stick with Simeone this season. If he’s healthy, he has to start and play all 90 minutes, or close to it. Period. If that’s Simeone’s takeaway from that loss, then maybe it will beneficial in the long run.
Have there been any significant changes to the roster?
As of now, not really. Winger Yannick Carrasco, who joined the team on loan in January, got a new deal that makes him a member of the squad through ’24. After scoring one goal and producing four assists in 16 La Liga games last season, his permanent presence is good news for his club.
But no other players who will regularly line up in Simeone’s XI have been signed. The transfer window does not close until October 5, even though the opener against Granada is scheduled for Sunday, so there is time to make a move.
Morata is reportedly on his way to Juventus, and if he leaves, his team will have to sign someone, whether its Barcelona’s Luis Suárez or another proven finisher.
If Morata’s departure is not accompanied by another signing, the offense could conceivably be even worse this season. Diego Costa + Félix does not equal a championship attack. That much should be obvious, so it will be interesting to see what happens between now and October 5.
The bottom line
Atleti’s defenders and midfielders will make this team so hard to score on that they’ll likely finish top four in Spain. But (hot take alert) they have no chance to score enough to win La Liga or the Champions League without some changes up top.
Even if Félix is one of the best players in the league this season – and that’s a massive if based on ’19-20 — he’s going to need someone else to create and finish opportunities.
As for the oddsmakers’ take, Atleti is +1,100 to win La Liga and -500 to finish top-four. Those prices make sense considering these guys’ high floor (thanks to that defense) but limited ceiling (did we mention their attack leaves something to be desired?)