1. Kevin Gameiro and the striker situation
Atleti have struggled with finding a player to lead the line since David Villa left. Mandzukic was the first to try, but though he scored often and provided Griezmann with
plenty of ammo he lacked the speed and athleticism required.
Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto were the experiments last season, Jackson looking like the more athletic, physical target man they needed. Unfortunately he wasn’t good enough. At all. Why not is not clear but it appeared the step up from Liga NOS to La Liga was simply too big. Vietto looked like another Griezmann project – a young forward who after Simeone got his principles through would become the long term forward Atleti needed. But as we know, that simply didn’t happen. Apart from a little clever link play outside the box he contributed very little and generally floundered in Atleti’s system.
That left Fernando Torrid Torres to lead the line as of January. To be fair, from about March onwards he played well, stretching the back-line and linking play well. He was a stopgap, and effective one, but a stopgap none the less.
Now we have Kevin Gameiro. Stylistically he is a change from Jackson and Mandzukic, a speed based channel runner rather than a physical target man. In theory it should work, dragging defenders away to create space for Griezmann and the attacking midfielders to exploit, but frankly if the last few have taught us anything, its that leading the line for Atleti is no easy feat.
2. Balance in the midfield
By the end of last season Atleti had a very clear first choice eleven (with one exception: Savic vs Gimenez) which looked like this:
The midfield being the interesting part: none of these players are irrefutably wide players (you could make a case for Koke, but most agree long term he should play centrally).
Gabi is the traditional midfield general. Breaks up play deep before distributing the ball forwards and leading his team from the centre
Saul is (in terms of positional versatility at least) the Spanish James Milner, able to play centre back, left wing, right wing, defensive midfield, attacking midfield, central midfield and even as a second striker. But always had most impact running from deep midfield into the attacking third, late Lampard style.
Augusto actually has spent most of his career as a right winger however in the last 2 seasons that has stopped completely – despite his past he is a defensive midfielder through and through.
Finally, Koke. where he plays best is subject to the most most debate. This season his best play came mostly from the right wing where he was moved to accommodate Carrasco – his ability between the lines and in the channels shone, but long term him either dictating from the centre or cutting in from the left looks the sensible options. Isco struggling on the right is a good comparison.
From these 4 a strong midfield was born. Saul wasn’t quite in his best position but he made it work for the team. This season however a spanner has been thrown into the works – a spanner named Nicolas Gaitan.
Gaitan will be coming in expecting to play – and he will. Slotting in on the left in either a 433 (Griezmann on the right) or the above 442 means displacing Koke – the only player (bar Godin) Simeone has described as ‘untransferable.’ Obviously Koke will (and should) start. The question is where? Most people have been calling for years to play Koke centrally, and on occasion, he has. Largely though Simeone has resisted and when Tiago was injured Koke was left wide and Saul was brought centrally. Why?
I strongly believe Simeone resists because of balance – for years Tiago and Gabi have almost been fighting each other for who can be more defensive than the other. Simeone sets his centre midfielders so deep that offensively they contribute little (except when he switches to 433) so in a 2 Koke may be wasted. Bringing Saul with his powerful running inside would help but that pushes Koke onto the right. It seems certain that all of Saul, Koke and Gabi will start but other than a switch to 433 (which isn’t good for Griezmann) it is struggle to get the best out of all three.
3. Quality in depth
I ran a poll the other day on which of the big 3 had the best backup eleven (vist the post to see the lineups, comments etc – https://plus.google.com/+TomFedrick/posts/RYypYyEUYbD)
Real Madrid won with 63% of the vote, Barca second with 28% and Atleti third with just 8% (yes I know that is 99% – it’s a rounding error). This shows how much worse Atleti’s backup is compared to Real and Barca’s. And frankly that isn’t surprising; Torres despite last season isn’t that great a backup, Hernandez hasn’t made many appearances and Oli has more or less faded into obscurity. Due to this Atleti may struggle to rotate in some areas and hence keeping players fresh will be more challenging. As will substitutions – Angel Correa and Yannick Ferriera-Carrasco are great options from the bench but honestly simply aren’t at the level of Rafinha Alcantara or James Rodriguez, at the back Vrsaljko and Savic are good but not Raphael Varane and Lucas Digne good.
Esentially, whichever way you spin it Atleti don’t have a squad as talent rich as the old big two. This, the other two issues mentioned here and many others besides are just some of the issues Atleti will come across (and knowing Atleti, solve) throughout the season.