Champions League Team Focus: Atlético Madrid
Away from the Champions League’s big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Atlético Madrid appear to be the most likely team to win this year’s title.
Diego Simeone has built a seriously impressive side in the Spanish capital and after losing to city rivals Real in the final two years ago, he will be determined to go one better this year.
Simeone is rumoured to be the main target for Chelsea at the end of the season as the London club aims to replace Jose Mourinho, but the Argentine’s focus remains fully on Atlético – for now.
The hard running and heavy pressing of Atléti makes them a nightmare to play against and they have a genuine top level match-winner in France international Antoine Griezmann, who, like Simeone, may be tempted to move away from the club in the summer.
Whatever happens at the end of the season, Atlético are sure to be one of the most watchable teams in this year’s Champions League knock-out stages. With a comfortable draw against Dutch side PSV, they will be big favourites to make it through to the next round.
Quarter-finalists last year, it would be a surprise if Atléti did not make it to the last eight again this year, although they have the potential to go even further.
While a lot of Europe’s elite managers are feted for their tactical inflexibility, Simeone’s side tend to play in a very similar way, no matter the competition or the opposition.
Despite many people hailing him as a revolutionary coach, Simeone prefers a curiously traditional 4-4-2 with a pair of energetic forwards pulling into wide areas, while the wingers are asked to cut inside and act as genuine extra goal threats. The Atléti flat back four is perhaps the most resilient on the continent, with Diego Godin leading a defence that is extremely tough to break down.
Scoring against Atléti is hard, but stopping them at the other end of the pitch is arguably even more difficult. Griezmann has developed into one of Europe’s most fearsome strikers under the leadership of Simeone and Jackson Martinez is a threat too, although he has sometimes found life hard at the club. Further, in reserve are Fernando Torres, back at the club where he made his name, and namesake Oliver Torres, one of the most exciting young playmakers in Europe.
Atlético like to get the ball forward early but they are not direct in an ugly sense. Instead they move the ball swiftly and look to utilise the pace of Griezmann and Martinez’s physicality with balls in behind the opposition defence, which are often crafted by Koke’s gossamer touch.
Their set pieces are also the envy of Europe, with Saúl Ñíguez a particular threat in the air, while Godin has been known to come up with important goals in big moments on the elite stage.
Key fantasy players
This year has seen Antoine Griezmann’s transformation from often ineffective winger to one of the most in-demand attackers in world football, with daily football managers sitting up to take note.
Griezmann’s form has been relentless this season and if Atléti are to compete for domestic and continental titles, he will have to keep up his superb goalscoring spree. Griezmann scored four goals as Atlético cruised through the group stage of this year’s Champions League, for which he earned a WhoScored rating of 8.00.
While Griezmann’s match-winning performances usually grab the headlines, Diego Godin is arguably just as important to Simeone. The Uruguayan has somehow flown under the radar despite being one of the strongest defenders in Europe and as Atléti are famed for their defensive resilience, Godin could be an excellent pick for canny daily fantasy football managers. Godin played every minute of the group stages, with Atléti dominating Group C.
With Griezmann now usually playing as a striker, there has been a gap to fill on the wing for Atléti. The man who has stepped up to fill the void is young Belgian Yannick Carrasco, who supplied two assists in the group matches. At 22 Carrasco is still raw and he sometimes starts on the bench, so he is a risky selection for daily fantasy managers, but this could be the year he announces his arrival as a force to be reckoned with.