Is there any value in backing Atletico Madrid?
Atletico Madrid’s success last season raises a couple of obvious questions. Firstly, can they win the title again? And secondly, what can Real Madrid and Barcelona do to stop them. An early glance at the outright betting market suggests that the bookies consider Diego Simeone’s team to be a one hit wonder – so, what are their chances of winning the title again?
The first thing to remember is that Diego’s Simeone’s team also triumphed in the Copa del Rey and made it to the Champions League final last season – clearly demonstrating that they are serious contenders on more than one Level. The year before, the Argentinean led them to Europa League glory in only his first full season in charge.
After that Europa League victory, Atletico lost their star player and top goal scorer Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco. It was suggested that they would be a weaker team and would struggle without him but this was not the case. In fact, as Atletico have proven before – with Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and Fernando Torres – they are not afraid to let go of world class striking talent.
Diego Costa is the latest striker to depart and his €32m transfer to Chelsea has sparked the same debate about how Atletico will cope without him. The answer could be Mario Mandzucic; the Croatian striker scored 33 goals in his 54 appearances for Bayern Munich – including a goal in the Champions League Final – and bagged a total of eight trophies in two seasons. His overall goal scoring ratio is far superior to Diego Costa’s and at 28-years-old, he is in his prime.
Simeone has also secured the services of highly-rated midfielder Antoine Griezmann. The23-year-old scored 16 goals for Real Sociedad last season and also featured for France at the World Cup in Brazil.
The other big departure was goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – who returned to Chelsea after his loan spell – and his place is expected to be filled by 21-year-old Slovenian stopper Jan Oblak who arrived from Benfica in a €12m deal. He will face competition from the much more experienced 30-year-old keeper Miguel Angel Moya who joined from Getafe.
New signings Cristian Ansaldi, who signed from Zenit; and Guilherme Siqueira who arrived from Granada, will battle it out for the vacant left-back position after Filipe Luis also made the move to Chelsea. Although, Ansaldi also has experience of playing at right-back and could provide cover for both roles.
Perhaps the biggest coup of all for Atletico was retaining the services of Simone himself. His impressive success in the Spanish Capital was expected to trigger a scramble for his signature but the clamour never arrived and he will now stay put for at least another year.
Real Madrid will be desperate to steal the title from their rivals across town but they could once again struggle to find the right balance in their expensively-assembled squad. They now have two more big money signings to integrate into the unit after midfielders James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos arrived for a combined total of nearly €100m.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti managed to appease the club’s hierarchy with a record 10th Champions League title last term but he will be expected to deliver a much better performance in the league this year.
Barcelona will once again have to adapt to a new Coach and new tactics after ex-player and former B-team Coach Luis Enrique was given the top job. He has yet to prove himself as a top level Coach after a poor spell at Roma but he did well to keep La Liga team Celta Vigo clear of relegation last term. The Catalan Club’s bosses will be hoping that he can emulate the success of previous unproven coaches such as Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola but his appointment appears to have a huge element of risk.
Enrique will have the job of shoe-horning €94m signing Luis Suarez into the team once he has served his nine-game ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. The controversial Uruguayan could return for the first El Clasico game against Real Madrid if he is fit enough to be considered for selection.
It is not clear what tactical approach Enrique will take this year but he has already shown that he feels there is a need to strengthen the defence with the signing of Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia. It could be a tricky season for Enrique and the pressure could soon mount if Barca do not get off to a good start.
Of the three teams, Atletico have done the best business in the transfer market, they have the stability of the longest serving Coach and they also have the most balanced squad. Simeone seems capable of extracting every last ounce of effort from his players and their team spirit is something to be admired.
So are Atletico worth backing to win a second consecutive La Liga title? At the current odds of 14/1 with Bet365 – they certainly are.