La Liga 2021/22 preview: Atlético Madrid

Atlético Madrid are reigning La Liga champions and Diego Simeone will be quietly confident of retaining the title in 2021/22 with the departure of Lionel Messi from the league.

Summer Transfer Business

Given all that’s gone on in La Liga over the last few weeks, Atlético Madrid’s transfer window – despite just the one major signing – can only really be described as a resounding success. While Barcelona have lost Messi, Real Madrid Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane, Atleti have not only managed to keep hold of all their valuable assets but look to have added another hidden gem to their title-winning collection.

Dynamic, positive, forward-thinking and tirelessly creative, Rodrigo de Paul looks set to be a fantastic addition to the Atlético midfield, bringing incredible athleticism alongside the similarly powerful Marcos Llorente and club legend Koke. Ranking in the top 1% across Europe’s midfielders for expected assists, passes into the penalty area, dribbles completed, progressive carrying distance, and fouls drawn, De Paul is unrelenting in his efforts to drive his side up the field, something that will help Atleti turn those closely fought games into more comfortable victories as the season goes on.

Barring any late miracles from the ‘big two’, I think this is the signing that leads Atlético Madrid to consecutive titles for the first time since 1951.

The Manager

What more is there to say about Diego Simeone that hasn’t already been said? Approaching 10 years in charge of Atlético Madrid, the Argentine has cultivated a team in his identity – tenacious, committed, intense – that has been chipping away at the Barcelona–Real Madrid duopoly ever since El Cholo first arrived on Spanish shores.

The only thing that Simeone has left to win in Madrid is the Champions League, and he’ll no doubt be looking to eradicate memories of last season’s flat round-of-16 exit to eventual champions Chelsea with a more purposeful run in this season’s competition. Other than that, expect to see Atlético’s manic manager bouncing up and down the touchline all season long as his exceptional side launch another La Liga title offensive.

Key Player

He may be approaching 35 years of age, but as he showed last season, Luis Suárez continues to be one of the most influential strikers in world football.

With an incredible seven crucial match-winning goals last season, with three of those coming in the 88th minute or later, the Uruguayan’s goals directly won Atlético Madrid 23 points last season. Fitting, then, that his last-gasp winner at Osasuna, along with his final day strike at Real Valladolid, were the two strikes that led Atleti to title success.

His minutes may be managed next season, but Suárez doesn’t ever stay away from the headlines for too long. I’m sure he’ll have his say somewhere along the line next campaign.

One for the Future

A team that largely relies on experience and know-how, there don’t seem to be many academy graduates seriously pushing for minutes at Atlético Madrid this season. There is, however, a certain João Félix, who, still only 21, will be hoping to prove some of his doubters wrong this season.

Players can’t do anything about their transfer fees, but Félix’s eye-watering €113 million price tag seems to still be weighing heavy on the young man’s shoulders, who hasn’t been able to show his supreme quality often enough for a side whose battling style of play can sometimes stifle his youthful exuberance. The arrival of Rodrigo de Paul, however, could spell good news for João Félix, who can expect top-quality service from midfield once he returns from an injury sustained at Euro 2020.

Final Position

Everything seems to be falling into place, then, for Diego Simeone to retain the La Liga title for the first time. There will undoubtedly be stern challenges from Barcelona and Real Madrid, who both still have incredibly strong squads heading into the new season, but the air of calmness at the Wanda Metropolitano, in contrast to the sheer chaos elsewhere, probably gives Atlético Madrid a slight edge going into the post-Messi era of Spanish football.

Thom Harris

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