WITH Spain’s big two struggling to live up to their illustrious names, Real Sociedad and Atlético Madrid have emerged as title contenders in the early months of 2020-21. While Sociedad have been boosted by the arrival of David Silva, Diego Simeone’s side are going through something of a reinvention and their new look is winning friends and influencing people.
However, if there is a cloud, it is the early glance at the club’s financials for 2019-20, which should send a few alarm bells ringing. It has been reported the club has debt of € 999 million, an astonishing figure. While a lot of this is long-term commitments related to the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, such a high level of debt could prove to be a big obstacle if Simeone is to build a vibrant title-chasing line-up.
Atléti are unbeaten in LaLiga this season and are two games in hand to leaders Real Sociedad and just one point behind. They have beaten Barca at home – a Simeone landmark – and have a Madrid derby on the horizon. Less positively, Bayern Munich demonstrated why they are European champions when they thrashed them 4-0 in the group stage and the two teams meet again this week in the Spanish capital.
That game aside, they have looked solid this season and not only that, they have dispensed with the cautious, defensive approach that has defined the Simeone era by playing a game relying on a very high press that forces mistakes. No longer do they defend so deep, a tactic that didn’t make them the most attractive side to watch.
Atléti are now seeing why they paid so much money for Portuguese wunderkind João Félix, who has scored five league goals already and has been consistent since the start of the campaign. This is partly due to Simeone’s tactical switch which has allowed Félix to be more expressive just behind the forward line. Furthermore, Félix has also benefitted from the arrival of veteran firebrand Luis Suárez, who has also netted five times. Atléti have scored twice as many goals this season than they did in 2019-20 after nine games. Suárez may not be a long-term acquisition, but he could provide the spark that was needed.
Other players, such as Kieran Tripper and Koke, are enjoying a renaissance in the club’s reboot. They also have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Jan Oblak, who was on Chelsea’s shopping list in the close season.
While Real Madrid labour on and struggle to get the best out of expensive players like Eden Hazard, and Barca emerge from their political summer, Atléti look well equipped to repeat their 2014 LaLiga triumph. They’ve certainly looked better than the big two, but the 2019-20 financial report, which is due in December, may wipe the smile off their faces, albeit temporarily.
Like most clubs, Atléti have suffered from the pandemic. Revenues declined by just 9%, though, which is far better than some European counterparts. The debt is a worry, but the club still managed to make a profit of € 1.8 million. Their wage bill is still over € 250 million, even after LaLiga’s salary cap – they do have high-earning Suárez in their ranks now – and Simeone is said to be the highest paid coach in the world.
This could be their year – they have stability, they are playing better football and their main rivals don’t looks equipped to come through on the outside. With Sociedad also buzzing, this all makes for an intriguing and very watchable LaLiga season. It will be nice to see a change at the top in this age of hegemonies.