Despite lifting the Europa League and finishing above city rivals Real Madrid for just the second time this century, Atletico Madrid desperately needed to add players this summer.
Their season ended with just 17 outfield players, while one of those – club legend Fernando Torres – has already departed, coupled with wingers Yannick Carrasco and Nico Gaitan both leaving for China at the beginning of the year.
They were acutely aware they needed to add depth and so far they have moved quickly with the signing of Thomas Lemar from Monaco.
The 22-year-old, away with France at the World Cup, has agreed to join the Europa League winners in a £52.7 million deal, as per the Guardian.
Re-joining Europe’s elite
The group stage elimination from last season’s Champions League sent shockwaves through the club and, whilst they significantly upped their game in the second half of the campaign, Atletico focused on re-entering Europe’s top bracket of clubs.
Vitolo and Diego Costa duly arrived in January, while they are working hard on renewing Antoine Griezmann’s contract in light of strong interest from Barcelona.
The first arrival was Villarreal midfielder Rodri, whose potential has been recognised at international level as he earned his first cap with Spain in March.
Djibril Sidibe has reportedly been ‘very close’ to joining Los Rojiblancos, but as it turned out the next arrival was his Monaco teammate, Thomas Lemar.
No Premier League move
Last summer, the French international was strongly linked with moves to both Arsenal and Liverpool.
The quoted fees of €90m – following Neymar’s €222m switch to Paris Saint-Germain – was enough to curtail a deal, and the forward subsequently remained at the principality club for another season.
Atleti have secured his services for a reported €60m – a significant recuction on last summer’s reported fees, but a substantial fee for the Madrid-based club nonetheless, who do not possess the same spending power as leading English clubs.
Whilst Monaco midfielder Fabinho is linking up with Liverpool this summer, Lemar is going to La Liga.
In his short career so far, Lemar has goals and assists against PSG, Lyon, Tottenham, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and an international brace against the Netherlands.
The Frenchman is a versatile attacker able to play on both wings, as well as through the centre and in a free role, while he is predominantly left-footed.
Lemar has scored 22 goals in 123 games for Monaco and starred in their 2016/17 campaign, when they won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals. He made his France debut in 2016 and has scored three goals in 12 international games.
The January exits of Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan freed up space in Atleti’s ranks for a player of Lemar’s profile. The debate, however, centres around whether Diego Simeone will adapt his system to incorporate Lemar on the flank of an attacking three, or stick with a 4-4-2 to accommodate Costa and Griezmann in a strike partnership up top.
Lemar is well-versed in a 4-4-2 system, having shone for Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco in their Ligue 1 victory in 2016/17, a team that used this system to great effect.
This is a statement signing by Los Rojiblancos and one that signals their intent to challenge for the two trophies that eluded them again this season – La Liga and the Champions League.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group F in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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