Atlético Madrid will be more frustrated than most with the sudden halt to all competitive football, considering they were beginning to gather some momentum off the back of their empathic victory over Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League.
Bloody global pandemic, eh?
So with the season in limbo and teams probably already planning for a frantic transfer window later this year, we look at where Atléti need to strengthen and the players they should target to fill those gaps.
This isn’t necessarily because Jan Oblak will be departing the Metropolitano, although he has been heavily linked with Europe’s top clubs for the last two seasons and more recently Chelsea as they continue to consider a replacement for Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Moreover, even if Oblak does remain, they have precious little back-up currently. Second choice veteran Antonio Adan is out of contract in June and has barely played any competitive minutes for the club.
They do have Argentinian youngster Axel Werner on loan in Mexico who they could recall this summer but he is not currently seen as a viable option long-term.
There are two real avenues to go down. They can bank on an experienced La Liga keeper like Sergio Rico – currently on loan at PSG from Sevilla – who, despite one disappointing season in England with Fulham, is a steady keeper and wouldn’t cost an alarming amount. Alternatively, they could target an older stopper with Champions League pedigree such as Espanyol’s Diego Lopez or Willy Caballero who is out of contract at Chelsea at the end of June.
The other route is to bed in a talented youngster for the future. Two names that could fit this mould are Porto’s Diogo Costa and Barcelona’s Iñaki Peña who, at 19 and 21 respectively, are a few years away from being a first-choice but could benefit from some cup appearances and working with Diego Simeone.
If there is one position Atlético really need to strengthen above all, it’s this one. After the departure of long serving Filipe Luís last summer, they only have one recognised left back in Renan Lodi. If injury were to strike, one of the right-sided players like Santiago Arias or Kieran Trippier would need to cover.
22-year-old Lodi has had a strong debut season but it is important he is challenged for the position moving forward. Simeone favours players who are willing to cover both ends of the pitch with equal intensity so any new signing would need to be an intelligent, hard working player.
Premier League options include Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso – who is thought to be surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge now – and Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, who may wish for a new challenge after spending a couple of seasons filling in for Benjamin Mendy.
Getafe’s Mathías Olivera is a top prospect and is already making waves in La Liga. Whether he would want to sit on the bench more often than not moving forward is a question only for him but the promise of European football must be hard to resist.
An outside bet would be to add to Atletico’s English full back contingent and take a punt on Aston Villa’s Matt Targett, whose stock has risen in recent months.
Atletico are well stocked for forward and wide players, but the possible departures of Diego Costa and Yannick Carrasco – who is at the end of his loan spell – means they will need a bit of reinforcement.
Due to the versatility of several of Atletico’s forwards, they should be looking for a mobile target man like Costa. Someone who can hold the ball up, bring others into play, but still remain a strong finisher; something that doesn’t come naturally to the likes of Joao Felix and Alvaro Morata. Every Simeone team needs a player with some bite, and this should be no different when looking for an attacking player.
Replacing Diego Costa is a near impossible job as he offers so many unique attributes on and off the ball. But if it has to be done it might be wise for the Atléti board to look at shorter term fixes rather than trying to introduce another youngster.
Alexandre Lacazette has been heavily linked with the club for a while and has been mentioned as part of a swap deal involving Thomas Partey. However unlikely that particular deal may seem, Lacazette could end up moving anyhow and would certainly replace some of Costa’s work rate and hold up play effectively.
Other options include Real Madrid’s Luka Jović – who has thus far struggled to cement a spot at the Bernabéu – and Wolfsburg’s 6’6 Dutch hitman Wout Weghorst. If they want a real outside bet, Alexander Sørloth has impressively turned his career around with Trabzonspor in Turkey after a nightmare spell with Crystal Palace and could be worth a punt.