IN his second weekly column for WeLoveBetting Will Dyer (@W2Dyer) takes a look at Aletico Madrid’s knack of producing goalscorers as well as their chances for silverware this season.
Atletico Madrid: Engineering Goalscoring Machines
There seems to be a model at Atletico Madrid that turns young and promising forwards in to clinical and deadly strikers. Fernando Torres, a lifelong Atleti fan who said he’d never kiss the badge of another club, was born and bred at Atletico and in his first season, the Mattress Makers were actually in the Spanish Second Division.
El Nino scored an impressive 91 goals in 243 games for the capital club in his first six-year stint and now the prodigal son has returned, completely out of form and lacking confidence; only to go and score a brace against arch-rivals and world beaters Real Madrid at the Bernabéu in his third game back! You couldn’t have scripted it any better.
But just how do Atletico manage to get so much from their strikers? The list of forwards that have either broken on to the world scene or been in scintillating form at Atleti since the millennium is absolutely astonishing:
- Diego Costa (2010-2014) 64 goals in 135 appearances.
- Radamel Falcao (2011-2013) 70 goals in 91 appearances.
- Diego Forlan (2007-2011) 96 goals in 196 appearances.
- Sergio Aguero (2006-2011) 101 goals in 234 appearances.
- Fernando Torres (2001-2007) 91 goals in 243 appearances
The list doesn’t stop there. In the 1980’s Hugo Sanchez and Julio Salinas also boasted brilliant records and club legend Kiko played for the capital club for eight years and along with Lubo Penev helped Atelti to the Spanish double in 1995/96.
Christian Vieri smashed 24 goals in 24 appearances for the club in 1998-99 in his only full season outside of Italy. These days a striker playing out of his comfort zone would have a big question mark over his head in his first season away from home but not Vieri. Atletico wouldn’t fail him would they!?
A year later a certain Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink arrived and hit 35 goals in 47 games for the Mattress Makers including seven in seven European games. A mention also to David Villa is only fair; he was still influential, fans favourite and made an important contribution last season.
Adapting To Strengths
What is most remarkable about this record is that losing their star striker doesn’t seem to faze the Madrid club. Atleti just go out and recruit another solid player and turn him into a great.
Losing Sergio Aguero in 2011 was a big worry for Atletico as Diego Forlan also departed but up stepped Diego Costa under Diego Simeone’s regime and he became just as prolific.
There are similarities between players like Aguero and Radamel Falcao but Costa is an entirely different player. Torres in his younger days was well known for his speed and agility whilst Costa is famed for his brute force and finishing ability.
Adapting the rest of the side to play to their strengths is where Atelti excel. The present day Atletico Madrid team is wonderful in the air. In fact a whopping 19 of Atletico’s 40 La Liga goals this season have been headers. That’s seven more than Real Madrid despite the fact that Real have scored 64 goals in the league.
Here’s where the adaptation becomes glaringly obvious; Atletico have already scored more headers this season than they did in the whole of 2013/14. They scored 18 in 77 last year (23%) whilst this year stands at 47.5%.
In 2012/13 that headed goal percentage was even lower, at 17%, still with Costa as their main man. Why have Atletico changed their playing style? The answer is simple; because Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann are exceptional in the air. It’s clever, but also logical stuff from the coaching staff.
Efficiency In The transfer Market
Atletico seem to be able to buy, sell and loan players to their advantage year-upon-year. This season alone they have brought in 10 new players. Add in loans and they’ve spent a total of £154m.
But looking at their departures and with five players sold, plus a number of players leaving on loan, and they’ve brought in revenue of £176m. So Atleti are actually making a profit in the transfer market. The average age of the players they are bringing in is also lower than the players leaving, which means there’s a conveyor belt of talent at the Vicente Calderon.
Many of the personnel they have bought in the past (Forlan and Falcao for example) were well regarded worldwide but other European giants had their doubts. Atleti didn’t and those decisions have paid off so kudos to the backroom and scouting staff.
Antoine Griezmann: The Next Big Thing?
Atleti snapped up Griezmann from Sociedad for €30 million after he hit 20 goals in 49 games in 2013/14 to take La Real to a seventh-place finish. Griezmann played a left-wing role at Sociedad but Atleti have so far tried him in a more central position and it’s bearing fruit.
The young Frenchman has scored 10 goals in 19 games so far. He’s a good finisher but he’s also often involved in the build up to a goal. I think he will continue his good form and become a consistent goalscorer at the highest level. He could be also be a key piece in the France team that looks well placed to win Euro 2016.
Many think that Mandzukic is quite an unremarkable player, and while he might not have the panache of his predecessors, I think he could be just as good for the club.
The big Croatian scored 48 goals in 88 games for Bayern Munich and is not far off a ratio of a goal every other game throughout his career.
Super Mario’s netted 16 goals in 27 games at Atleti and it shows he’s continuing his excellent goalscoring exploits. And I can’t see another club coming in for him anytime soon, such is his unfashionable nature.
In three or four years time I think we could be looking at a footballer in the mould of Diego Forlan; a player in the twilight of his career that’s still holding his own in the goalscoring charts.
The Team Dynamic
So there you have it. Two players scoring in more than 50% of their games. Now back that up with a tenacious midfield of Gabi, Raul Garcia, Arda Turan and Koke accompanied by an incredibly solid defence built around Diego Godin and you have a recipe for success.
This team is relatively unchanged from the one that won La Liga last season. They seem to have once again replaced the goals they lost to a transfer, this time Diego Costa’s. At left-back Filipe Luis has not been that sorely missed as Guilherme Siqueira from Granada has been a good purchase.
If Torres can continue to chip in with important goals during his loan season then they could have three players consistently coming up with the goods.
Atleti’s wonderful 2014 saw them win a closely- fought, magnificent La Liga title for the first time in 18 long years and one week later they were just minutes away from lifting the Champions League trophy.
In February Atelti have a seemingly straight-forward draw against Bayer Leverkusen that many people expect them to overcome. That would see them through to the quarter-finals again and you could never rule them out going all the way.
Simeone, a cult hero, has the ability to outthink his opposite number and this has regularly seen Atleti wriggle their way through the biggest of matches.