Atletico began the season with lofty expectations as one of Spain’s most heavily supported clubs catapulted by recent foreign backing by Chinese investors, accompanied by top three placements in the league in the previous two seasons with a league title in 2014.
The previous season’s frustrating striker acquisition Luciano Vietto was loaned to Seville in a package deal including Mathias Krannevitter, bringing in notable summer acquisitions of Sime Vrsaljko, Nicolas Gaitan, Kevin Gaimero, and Diego Jota.
Many Atleti fans hoped to crack the armour of the Giants sitting at the top of the Spanish top flight once again, and claim European glory. The first five fixtures were highlighted by two convincing wins against Sporting Gijon, and the ever troubling Vigo.
These were preceded by a draw against the La Blaugrana, and a 1 – 0 victory over Bayern clenched by an early goal by the rising star Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
Carrasco continued table impressive performances looking to solidify his place in the starting XI. Many fans like myself looked towards the Belgian-born Spaniard to deliver a spark as an inside forward who consistently challenged defenders on the by-line with his pacey dribbling skills.
Yet his stamina became a growing issue as he so often looked burned out after seventy minutes. Much of the campaign was spearheaded by the consistent efforts of Filipe Luis, who led the team with a team-high average Whoscored rating of 7.55, the Slovenian stopper Jan Oblak, and the ever reliable Diego Godin maintained a stronghold at the back behind the Spanish midfield duo of Koke, and Saul.
Atleti capped 2016 off having dropped twenty-three points and placed fourth position behind Barcelona, an in-form Sevilla, and Real Madrid. In the month of January, Los Colochoneros held a steady record dampened by a tough loss against newly promoted Las Palmas from the Canary Islands led by striker Marko Livaja.
February began with a loss against Barcelona but was illuminated by a convincing victory against Bayer Leverkusen. This gave many Atleti fans hope that they were well on their way to the heights reached in the previous season by the team, with a possible shot at the title.
Atletico conceded more goals than the previous season, however they still managed to maintain the best defensive record in the Spanish top flight. The goal headed into week twenty-five was simple, as Atleti continued to hold the fourth position in the league as they were looking to maintain position in the league to qualify for next season’s Champions League and progress in Europe.
When they ran into La Real in European competition. Atletico hoped to eliminate the lingering cross-town rivals that have consistently put an end to their European glory in recent campaigns.
Victories against Sevilla and Valencia put away a quiet March that spelled out a draw against England’s latest competitor in the competition, Leicester City. Simeone’s side held Jamie Vardy and the foxes to a 1 – 0 defeat in the first leg. A draw in the second leg led them to the next round where they were once again matched with Los Blanco’s in searing form.
The first leg spelled a harsh defeat in a hard fought match in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick looking to secure a finals berth for Los Blancos once again, and surely eliminate Atleti from the competition. The weeks were winding down as Barcelona, and La Real were held in a deadlock at the top of the league table.
The second leg held against Real Madrid began with a fantastic 11th-minute header scored by Saul off from a set piece, followed by a fifteen-minute penalty sunk by Antoine Griezmann.
Real Madrid laid frozen in their boots as this indicated the tell tale signs of a comeback. After 25 minutes of containing the efforts of Los Blancos, Atletico conceded a low well placed shot by Isco to the left corner that shifted the momentum back in La Real’s favour.
After 90 minutes of football, the two goals were not enough to carry them through to the next round. The season was concluded with a win against Bilbao placing the Colochoneros at 78 points, 23 wins, 9 draws, and 6 defeats scoring 70 goals which equalled the goal tally of their title-winning 2014 campaign.
Jan Oblak went on to win the Zamora award for least goals conceded per minutes played for the second consecutive season. As Atletico prepare for a summer move from the historic Vicente Calderon to the newly built Wanda Metropolitano, and the fans are hopeful that the ban will be lifted in order to add some much-needed quality to the squad.
Nonetheless, in my humble opinion, I feel that this season can be looked at as nothing other than a success. There are a lot more trials in place before Atleti claim European glory along with another league title.
This, I feel gives a young squad with many of their core players on long term deals a very attainable goal to aim for. With the departure of the great Tiago who felt that he could no longer play at the top level, a verbal commitment from Fernando Torres to give it another year means the team is pressed to maintain and build upon that which they have achieved in recent seasons.