Atletico Madrid need help up front in the face of looming FIFA transfer ban
The news that Atletico Madrid and city neighbours Real have been given a transfer ban by FIFA means the club now have just more than two weeks to make any changes to their squad before summer 2017. With Los Rojiblancos currently sitting top of La Liga and into the last 16 of the Champions League, we take a look at what business, if any, Diego Simeone might look to conduct before the month is up as his side prepare to affront a crunch period.
On the face of it, Atleti are well stocked in the goalkeeping department. Jan Oblak has been a revelation since overcoming his initial difficult start to life in the Spanish capital and has conceded just eight goals in 19 La Liga games this season. The danger is that his sparkling form could attract the attention of suitors across the continent and thus it would be wise to try to tie him to a new deal and increase his release clause to prevent this.
Behind him, Miguel Angel Moya has proven himself to be a more-than-competent backup who can step in when necessary. Yet with just the aforementioned pair registered in the first-team squad (Spanish league rules allow a maximum of three), Simeone might think about bringing in an experienced third-choice stopper who can step up in case of injury or a big-money offer for Oblak in the next 18 months.
Yet again, Los Rojiblancos' backline has been the bedrock of the team's success, just as it was in the 2013-14 title-winning campaign. Diego Godin has been colossal, playing every minute of every La Liga game thus far -- one of only five outfield players to do so -- and was inexplicably left out of the FIFPro XI this week despite being the standout centre-back in world football. At his side has been the up-and-coming Jose Maria Gimenez. The Uruguayan pairing are an immovable force in front of Oblak, and in Stefan Savic and Lucas Hernandez, there is quality backup. No incomings necessary here.
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Juanfran and Filipe Luis have been a model of consistency in the full-back areas and Jesus Gamez provides good cover for the former. However, with Guilherme Siqueira unable to force his way past countryman Luis and known to be unhappy at his lack of playing time, a backup left-back is needed in order to fill the void when the Brazilian moves on come summer.
Having just signed Augusto Fernandez and Matias Kranevitter, Atleti frankly have an embarrassment of riches in central midfield. The two new boys will provide stiff competition for the likes of Gabi, Tiago, Saul Niguez, Koke, Thomas Partey and Oliver Torres. If anything, the club could do with shedding a player -- plausibly Tiago given age and injury -- rather than adding to the ranks.
Atletico have added astutely in the past couple of transfer windows with youngsters like Luciano Vietto (22) Angel Correa (20) and Yannick Carrasco (22) providing energetic, if inconsistent, contributions from wide areas and they will continue to grow as players over the coming months.
The same can be said for Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has been Atleti's talisman since the turn of 2015, notching 27 goals in the past calendar year. The Calderon outfit have slapped a €100 million price tag on the forward and top of the agenda following Thursday's news should be a new contract for their prized asset, in addition to bringing him some help.
Both Jackson Martinez and Fernando Torres have flopped when presented with chances to stake a claim to be the club's No. 9 position this campaign and seem devoid of any sort of confidence. Colombia striker Martinez has been linked with a move away in the Spanish press and the latter has only six months left on a loan deal, which should never be renewed despite his legendary status at the club.
Atletico's backline have papered over a number of cracks that the side have demonstrated going forward, and they cannot be expected to continue to perform so impeccably until summer 2017. Therefore, after sorting Griezmann's new contract, the club must surely recruit more goals. This in turn will provide healthy competition for Martinez to start performing like a €35m recruit and also push Vietto to up his game.
Rafael Santos Borre agreed joined Atleti in the summer and was immediately loaned back to Deportivo Cali for the season. The terms of the ban mean that any players already at the club and out on loan can return without any issue, thus making the 20-year-old a realistic, immediate option.
This is also likely to bring good news for Borja Baston. The striker has been in excellent form on loan at high-flying Basque side Eibar, netting 10 goals in 18 La Liga games -- more than Martinez, Torres and Vietto put together. Long touted as a future star at the Calderon, the 23-year-old could well come back to replace the man he idolised and put pressure on the rest of the attackers to show their worth.
The club's excellent summer window, coupled with new Chinese investment meaning more secure finances, looks to be paying dividends. It would mean a ban would not be the disaster it might have been four or five years ago, and the cynical observer might even suggest they have been preparing for this eventuality for the past few months.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.