It’s easy to come to knee-jerk reactions on the back of an extraordinary fortnight of Champions League action. Whether it’s talk of Premier League dominance, the end of eras in Madrid and Munich or the tiresome Messi-Ronaldo debate after fresh brilliance from both men, many conclusions have been drawn based on the events of the last ten days.
Only time will tell how much of a genuine shift has taken place. A Barcelona-Juventus Final would quell talk of a new era of English superiority for now but for perhaps the first time in a decade which has seen European competitions dominated by Spanish clubs, La Liga’s elite have a right to be concerned.
Barcelona will remain a force for as long as Leo Messi continues to be Leo Messi but all eras have to eventually end and there is a sense that both Madrid clubs may already be at that point, to some extent at least.
Back to the Future or a New Tomorrow? – Zidane’s Dilemma
That Zidane style pic.twitter.com/vxwToxxcsF
— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 12, 2019
Whenever Real Madrid endure a season of failure, there is always an assumption that they will try fix it all with a summer clear-out and a big spending spree. However it’s curious that their immediate response to perhaps the worst week in their history, where they were effectively eliminated from three competitions, was to turn back to Zinedine Zidane, the man who seems to have the midas touch when it comes to getting the best out of this group of players when it matters most.
Zidane has almost certainly been granted a number of concessions in order to entice him back. The nature of those will most likely never be made public but it seems almost certain that he will have a much greater say in the club’s transfer business this time around. Therefore the club’s dilemma is also Zidane’s and that is whether to embark on a major clearout of the squad that delivered three straight Champions League wins or whether to at least keep the core of this side together for another season and add quality where it is needed.
Funding a Spending Spree
Strong session today. Good to be back out there! pic.twitter.com/4pSrZcHOkF
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) March 13, 2019
The first of those options appears more likely but the success of it will depend on their ability to sell players who both the club and coach agree are best moved on. The likes of Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos remain valuable assets that could generate some serious funds if a suitable buyer can be found quickly enough. However there are only a relatively small group of elite European clubs who have the resources to make such moves.
While Real Madrid will have funds to spend regardless, their ability to sign several ‘galacticos’ this summer will be very much dependent on offloading players quickly enough. Bale could be used to draw Spurs into a deal for Christian Eriksen. Chelsea already appear to be facing up to the likely loss of Eden Hazard. While such signings would be welcome additions, the capture of Neymar or Kylian Mbappé from PSG is the sort of statement that Florentino Perez desperately needs to make if he is to truly wave in a new era at the Bernabeu this summer.
Atleti’s trusty defence heading for summer break-up
Ronaldo is after busting a nut in Godin. pic.twitter.com/UGPRftaKOr
— Declan Rogers (@lfcReclanDogers) March 12, 2019
While 21st Century Real Madrid has been defined by their wealth of big-name attacking stars, Atlético Madrid’s success under Diego Simeone has been more dependent on collective brilliance, particularly that of their defence. Diego Godin, Juanfran and Filipe Luís all remain from their incredible 2013/14 season when they won the Spanish title and came within minutes of being crowned European champions.
However all three of those players are now 33 or older and all three have been tipped to leave this summer. That in itself would mark the end of an era to a large extent and Diego Simeone’s ability to rebuild the back four will be key in determining whether or not Atlético Madrid are capable of continuing to operate on the same level to the best European football has to offer. With Lucas Hernandez also expected to move to Bayern Munich at the end of the current campaign, Atléti may need a host of defensive reinforcements.
Can they recover the fighting spirit of old?
Se cumplen 5 años (12.3.2014) de la gran goleada del @Atleti al @acmilan (4-1) en 1/8 de final de @ChampionsLeague con un #11ATM formado por Courtois, Mario Suárez, Filipe Luis, Miranda, Gabi, Raúl García (⚽), Godín, Arda (⚽), Juanfran, Koke y Diego Costa (⚽⚽).#TalDiaComoHoy pic.twitter.com/vkDwyY6YrC
— Peña Bendita Locura (@BenditalocuraAt) March 11, 2019
Assuming Diego Simeone does decide to stick with Atlético Madrid for what could be a challenging season next time around, rekindling that fighting spirit and defensive resilience, two qualities that have come to define the club will be key.
It’s an exaggeration to say they have been lost altogether but there have been times when Atléti have crumbled over the past twelve months, in a way they simply wouldn’t have in seasons gone by. 3-0 and 4-0 away defeats in Turin and Dortmund this season have highlighted that most and some of the spirit of old does seem to have been eroded away over time for one reason or another.
The likely departure of Godin, the player who along with Gabi perhaps best embodies 2010’s Atlético Madrid will be a particularly tough one to swallow. Therefore it’s key that Atléti don’t just sign the right players but the right people this summer.