Few teams among this year’s Champions League are quarterfinalists will lose more than Atlético Madrid.
Antoine Griezmann, the team’s top offensive threat in recent years, has confirmed his departure, which is a massive loss (you’re welcome for the newsflash). If it seems like he produced a disproportionate share of his team’s offense in each of his five seasons with Atletico Madrid, it’s because he did. Below is a quick look at his production in domestic play since ‘14-15:
2014-15: 22 goals, 1 assist
2015-16: 22 goals, 5 assists
2016-17: 16 goals, 8 assists
2017-18: 19 goals, 9 assists
2018-19: 15 goals, 9 assists
As if the loss of Griezmann were not enough, the club will also lose Juanfran, Diego Godín and Lucas Hernández. The loss of those players, one year after Gabi walked away, means that Koke will be one of the few staples of the last several years who is still around next season
To continue with the tough reading for Atleti supporters, now keeper Jan Oblak is reportedly interested in a move. We should also mention here that Filipe Luís has an uncertain future with the club as well.
The good news (not there’s truly a positive way to spin this) is that Atleti is going to have some money to spend for a change. Though his former team, Real Sociedad, will get a percentage of the release clause for Griezmann, Atlético should still be left with nearly €100M from his exit. Hernández also left for a hefty fee that should help his former team restock the cupboard.
Despite all the revenue the team has made the last few years as its standing both on and off the pitch has improved, it has not become a destination for elite talent. That’s going to have to change this summer, though.
Without some significant additions to offset the loss of Griezmann — not that he’s someone you should expect to “replace” — it’s hard to see Diego Simeone’s team making much noise in La Liga, much less the Champions League. Here’s to hoping Los Rojiblancos can work some transfer magic and prevent La Liga from reverting back to a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Let’s Go Shopping: Atlético Madrid
Tyler: Let’s transition from the hand-wringing to the shopping part of this feature. Few players, regardless of position, are more highly-sought than Benfica’s João Félix. Atleti, along with Manchester United and Manchester City, is among the teams that have been mentioned the most as Félix’s next home. Could he choose to become the next Portuguese star to score his goals in the Spanish capital?
Chops: I don’t think that Atleti is Félix’s ultimate home, although I get the thinking about him wanting more first team minutes there vs. a situation like City.
In general, I think Atleti have a major problem: if you’re a top-tier offensive talent, why would you want to go there? Yes, Griezmann found success in the system, but it’s not one that makes Madrid a top destination for first-tier young talent.
Tyler: I won’t rule this out, but based on Los Rojiblancos’ history (not only their unwillingness to spend, but also their lack of appeal to top strikers), I’d certainly be surprised. However, you can’t overlook the first team playing time issue. Atléti can build their offense around Félix. City can’t.
Chops: The type of players Atlético should target–and ultimately the only ones I think they could get–are the second-tier offensive creators. They should look at once-productive stars who are languishing with teams now.
Romelo Lukaku would be interesting for them. Had this been two years ago, a good two-way midfielder like Naby Keita would’ve made sense. While too dainty to be the kind of stout defender who would excel at Atleti, a reclamation project like Philippe Coutinho would be a huge boost in helping them break down defenses (assuming the old Coutinho is still in there, somewhere).
Tyler: I like the idea of Lukaku. Maybe I’m just excessively impressed/traumatized by what he did to the U.S. in the World Cup five (!) years ago, but I’ve always believed in Lukaku. I’ve been puzzled (admittedly from afar) by his relatively unsuccessful stint with Manchester United, but let’s remember that he’s still only 26. He remains a talented scorer and seems like a player whose physicality would fit in well with Atleti. Could he be had for around €50M or less?
Chops: Agree about his physicality being a fit. If you add €10M, then the price you mention I actually think is in the ballpark of what United could fetch (although it’s a far cry from what he’s theoretically valued). He just seems like the right kind of player for Atlético.
The other types of players Atlético should target are the talents left standing in the musical chairs shuffling from top teams. If Manchester City is ready to move on from Leroy Sané, he’s the right age and has the right goal-scoring mentality that would help lessen the blow from losing Griezmann. If Real Madrid can’t find the right price on Christian Eriksen, he’s actually a great fit for their midfield.
On one hand, Atlético Madrid is absolutely an elite top-tier club. On the other, in the context of offensive players, they’re a notch well below the more attractive open systems played by Liverpool, City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and others.
Tyler: I think you’re all over it re: talented players that top teams like City, RM and Barca are forced to sell to afford their outlays for the Eden Hazards of the world.
I think Eriksen will end up either staying at Tottenham or joining RM. Coutinho is an interesting possibility. Speaking of him, it will be fascinating to see how much anyone is willing to spend on him. Though he’s just one year removed from being an elite producer in the more grueling Premier League, he’s coming off a disaster of a season and I have no clue how much Barcelona will be able to get for him.
Chops: Just as an aside–has anyone had a worse transfer ever in the history of soccer than Coutinho? Like, that has to damage his psyche forever, right? You whine your way out of a great situation at Anfield, go to Barcelona and get booed off the pitch every game. You watch your former club get much better after you leave, then go on to lose a Champions League game in the most epic of spectacular meltdowns in front of the home crowd you spurned. And your former team goes on to win the biggest soccer competition in the world after embarrassing you on your old home field. It’s like he dumped a girl, but that girl became a super model overnight and dated the world’s biggest celebrity who is also hung like an elephant and then you were forced to watch them have sex right in front of you while her family stood behind you and laughed at you the whole time.
Anyway, where were we?
Tyler: Wow, that escalated, and is going to be tough to follow. At this point, I honestly have no idea where we were. But to answer your first question, no, I can’t think of a transfer that has gone worse, and after you put it the way you did, it’s hard to imagine any move from one elite team to another working out any worse. To wrap up the Coutinho portion of this piece, I don’t see him as a fit on a team that places so much emphasis on physical toughness.
To leave your beloved Coutinho alone, for now … until very recently, Oblak’s future at the club seemed secure. However, he has said this week that he wants out — apparently he’s hoping for a move to Manchester United. Considering all the other players on the way out, the loss of Oblak would be huge. No Simeone-coached team is going to become a sieve in one offseason, but replacing so many veteran defenders and Oblak would be a hell of a task, to make the understatement of the summer.
One possible GK target for Atleti would be Keylor Navas, who is likely leaving Real Madrid. Staying in Spain — and sticking with the idea of a former rival joining Simeone’s side — Jasper Cillessen is expected to leave Barcelona. Could he join Atlético? Chops, are there any keepers from the EPL who are on the move?
Chops: First, if Oblak leaves, that’s another massive blow. It’s crazy to think a team that just finished second in La Liga and consistently plays Champions League football isn’t more desirable for in-house talent. If you’re Oblak, why would you leave Madrid for Manchester United? What’s the draw? To play in worse weather on a rebuilding mess of a squad?
The only Premier League goalie who comes to mind as a getable option is Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge. He was the best statistical GK in the Premier League the last month of the season, and Liverpool has shown us the benefits of mining unearthed gems from relegated teams. At 29, he’s on the older side of his prime curve, but could serve as a one- to two-season stop-gap while they find the next great keeper.
Tyler: For what it’s worth, apparently Oblak’s upset about the team’s inability to keep its top players other than him. But I’m with you, it makes no sense to leave Atleti because it’s losing defenders, especially when your apparent preference is to go play for a Manchester United side that struggled mightily in the back end this year.
Let’s wrap this up by talking about some under-the-radar signings this team could make. Hector Herrera is a player the Spanish papers expect to join the fold at some point this summer. The Mexican midfielder, 29, currently plays for Porto. A few other names I’ve seen linked to this club are Eintracht Frankfurt forward Ante Rebic and Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur.
Both are intriguing possibilities, especially the 21-year-old Bentancur, who could look to become the next Uruguayan to hold down Atleti’s back line after Godín’s long tenure in Madrid. Two other options are 20-year-old midfielder Exequiel Palacios from Argentina’s River Plate and Real Madrid’s Mariano, who was not a factor in his first season at RM.
Chops: I like where your head is at with Palacios. That’s one that would make some sense to grow up.
One target I like for them is midfielder José Campaña from Levante. He is right in his prime (26), plays strong and aggressively defensively (12 yellow cards last year), and services through balls well (9 assists). At €15m, he doesn’t break the bank but is a good building piece for whoever your next striker is.
Tyler: Based on this team’s history, Atlético is not going to be adding any household names. Throughout their run, they’ve kept winning despite quiet summers, but they’ve never experienced roster attrition like this. They’re not the highest-profile team in Europe, but to me, they have the most interesting summer ahead of anyone.