Atletico Madrid will be hoping to go one better both domestically and in Europe as they look to knock their fellow Spanish counterparts off their perch in La Liga and the Champions League.
Last season was somewhat of a mixed bag for Atleti. Although they were Champions League finalists and took the La Liga title race to the penultimate game, they exceeded the expectations of their manager but still came out of the season trophyless and their fans disheartened.
After a slight lull at the beginning of the season which saw them lose three times before the beginning of October, Atleti began to pick up the pace and find some consistency.
Their counter-attacking way of playing had opposition lost for ideas. It was rarely Atleti who saw the majority of possession in their games last season, but defensively they were a match for almost every front line, with Oblak keeping an incredible 34 clean sheets from 57 games.
Los Rojiblancos went on multiple runs of games where the defence were impossible to breach, with Atleti going on runs of 5+ games without conceding a goal four times last season (six being their longest run).
Now, there is a lot of optimism around the side. While Diego Costa ended up never returning to his old club (at least at the time of writing), Atleti have strengthened their side without letting key players go. They tied last season’s top scorer Antoine Griezmann to a new contract, and even signed a new man up front to partner him.
Atleti have signed a combination of starters and future prospects ahead of the new season, with Kevin Gameiro and Nico Gaitan expected to go straight into the line-up and Sime Vrsaljko likely to be rotated with Juanfran. Diego Jota is likely to be one for the future although could feature in a few games, while Axel Werner, who was signed from Atlético de Rafaela, has been loaned straight back to the Argentine club.
Goals weren’t Atleti’s strong point in the first half of the season, but Antoine Griezmann and co. racked up the goals in 2016. The Frenchman, who has been converted into a second striker under Diego Simeone’s tutelage, finished the season on 32 goals, 22 of which came in La Liga.
It’s fairly safe to say that Atleti were reliant on the finishing of their star man with only one player breaking the 10-goal mark alongside him. Despite a disappointing start to the season, Fernando Torres shone throughout 2016, scoring 12 goals in all competitions throughout the season and in the process, earning himself a permanent move back to the club.
The team’s downfall in the league last season was not only Barcelona, who were the only team to do the double over Atleti, but also the inability to hold onto results against teams fighting relegation. In games away to Levante and Sporting Gijon, 89th and 90th minute winners condemned Simeone’s men to defeat, with the former proving fatal as it ended their hopes of a league title.
Atleti have been dealt a relatively tough start once they get past two of the three newly promoted teams, who they face on the opening two games of the season. In the five games following that, they face trips to Balaidos, Camp Nou and the Mestalla. While it could prove key towards the latter stages in the season, it’s vital that Atleti perform in these games and show their competition what they’re about.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Atleti will be among the big two again, but this could very well be their year again. Having said that, with the way Barcelona have added strength in depth (although the forward line could still do with reinforcements), I believe Atleti will fall just short. A top two finish for me this season.