Atletico Madrid: Griezmann contract and Lemar signing a statement of intent
Atletico Madrid’s summer deals bode well for a strong season and a potential return to the top of European football.
Atletico Madrid won the Europa League last season, but that did not sate Diego Simeone. He thirsts for a successful return to the Champions League, for another attempt at securing that most elusive of trophies.
The Argentine has guided Atletico to the final twice in recent years and on both occasions Real Madrid were in the way.
Their city rivals have won it four times in the last five years and Simeone clearly wants to end that period of dominance.
He will also be aiming for a more consistent title challenge in La Liga. To do that, more squad depth will be needed, as Atletico finished the season with very few fit players.
In that sense, the summer has started ideally. The most high profile news was that of Antoine Griezmann’s contract renewal – largely because of the self-aggrandising manner in which he announced it: a video, posted after a protracted buildup and with production values to rival the latest Spielberg film, that confirmed his stay in the Spanish capital.
Away from Griezmann’s histrionics, there has been other welcome news. Thomas Lemar, the 22-year-old winger who has excelled at Monaco, will join the club after the World Cup.
He will arrive alongside Rodri, a talented young midfielder signed from Villarreal, whilst Atletico have been boosted, too, by the renewal of defenders Jose Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez’s contracts.
It is a far cry from last summer, when Atletico were disrupted by a transfer ban and a stadium move, with that tumult impacting upon the opening games – Atletico struggled for wins and lost ground early in La Liga, followed by elimination from the Champions League.
A concerningly thin squad was an issue last season, too. Simeone had little choice but to rely on a core of first team players; they were fortunate to avoid any significant injuries.
That Atletico still finished comfortably in second place in La Liga and lifted the Europa League trophy is a testament to the quality of those players. Had circumstances been more favourable last summer, the season might have been considerably stronger.
Set for a strong season
This time, there is no such excuse.
They have strengthened in key areas and secured the future of two of their most valuable players. Keeping Griezmann, in particular, is a huge boost. Regardless of his questionable personality, replacing his goals had he left for Barcelona, or elsewhere, would have been an unenviable task.
Gimenez, too, has formed a formidable partnership alongside Diego Godin – which has been in evidence for Uruguay at the World Cup – and Lemar will offer something different to the Atletico attack.
His introduction could provide the necessary thrust in the final third to avoid the turgid draws that are often a feature of their La Liga campaigns.
Last season, on reflection, will likely be considered something of a transitional one. Settling in to a new stadium can take time – although Atletico’s adjustment in that sense was fairly seamless – and they were not helped by an inability to strengthen their squad immediately.
Now, though, statements have been made. Barcelona and Real Madrid will need to be wary heading into the new season: Atletico, it seems, will be strong.
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