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Transfer Analysis: What does the Sime Vrsaljko – Santiago Arias swap mean for Atletico Madrid?

Tuesday 7th August 2018

Looking towards the 2018-19 season, Atletico Madrid will undergo a massive change in their best XI and squad on the whole. Los Colchoneros are widely expected to be a contending team in La Liga, while having decent chances to make another deep run in the UEFA Champions League. As if that was not enough, they also have to focus on the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid. It is a lot on Diego Simeone’s plate to begin the season, one where Atleti will miss several influential members of their first-team squad.

We could talk about how the departures of both Gabi and Fernando Torres could hurt the side as both were club legends. However, neither played a big role within the team last season. And after all, that was the main reason why Simeone decided to let them go. But no. This time, we will focus on Atletico’s former starting right-back, Sime Vrsaljko, and his newly-signed replacement, Santiago Arias.

The one who leaves...

Let’s begin with Vrsaljko. Any football fan who enjoys the transfer gossip knew the Croat was likely to leave Atletico Madrid this summer, but not due to his poor performances. It was the exact opposite: he was so good that several top teams in the world were after him. And with that scenario, it was always going to be hard for Atletico to keep him around. Especially with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus (among others) lurking.

In the end, the Croatia international – who enjoyed an excellent World Cup campaign with the Balkan side – joined Inter Milan on a season-long loan deal. However, the Nerazzurri will have an option to purchase him once the upcoming season ends.

Vrsaljko decided to leave to “earn more minutes elsewhere”, and there is no question that Atletico will miss his attacking ability. But they did not do a bad job finding an adequate replacement.

...and the one who arrives

Shortly after announcing Vrsaljko’s departure, Atletico revealed the Arias capture, on a five-year deal from the reigning Eredivisie champions, PSV Eindhoven. Arias caught the eyes of many fans with his displays for the Colombia National Team over the past few years, but several European sides had him shortlisted a while ago. After all, the 26-year-old (just like Vrsaljko) right-back had been a top performer in the Eredivisie over the past two years. Teams were aware of his qualities, and now Atletico will have a chance to enjoy them.

Those abilities mesh into one finely balanced player. If we could sum him up in two or three words. Unlike Vrsaljko, Arias thrives on the defensive side of the ball since he is an aggressive, gritty defender who covers his area quite well. He can get forward if the chance arises too. But mostly, his value should come defensively, where he will provide stability; opposite to left-back Filipe Luis, who performs better going forward. Having the perfect blend is vital.

Plus, who says that being a defensive-minded player would be a bad thing at Atletico? Not only because Simeone loves those players, as stated above, Arias’ presence should provide balance to the team’s right flank. Especially if Angel Correa or Gelson Martins play in front of him. Both players give a lacklustre – at best – effort on defence, so having Arias would solve those problems; making the team better from a tactical standpoint.

It’s still early to say if Atletico Madrid made the right move or not; after all, Vrsaljko was a proven performer and Arias is yet to play a competitive game with the squad. However, the early returns should be positive. At least on paper, there is a chance that Atletico might end happy with this deal once it’s all said and done.

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Juan Pablo Aravena

29-year-old sports analyst and journalist with over three years of experience in the industry. Writes about all kinds of sports from football to golf, but there is no question his biggest passion in life is football. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Colo Colo fan.


Total articles: 190

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