Would Dries Mertens or Edinson Cavani transform Atletico's fortunes?
Image: Roberto, CC BY-SA 4.0
Nine trophies in as many years, along with two Champions League finals, cemented Atletico Madrid as a European powerhouse. This year, however, there are cracks in the foundation.
Atletico's struggles don't stem from a lack of desire or work ethic. Only La Liga leaders Real Madrid concede fewer than their 15 goals. Diego Simeone was prepared for captain Diego Godin's summer exit, just not so much for Antoine Griezmann's. While the rearguard remains resolute, the men charged with making a difference at the opposite end continually come back empty-handed. Atleti's 22 goals surpass the Primera Division's most ineffective side, Celta Vigo, by only five tallies. While his defence-first philosophy lifted the Rojiblancos among Europe's elite, El Cholo is now accused of holding back his attacking talent.
Atletico scored once in their last five games, losing four. The club's eight forwards claim only 23 goals across all competitions. Across town, Karim Benzema boasts 18. Forget breaking down an opponent's low block, Simeone's forwards must break through their own collective mental block.
After the club spent well over €200 million in the summer, supporters expect a greater output. Despite wunderkind Joao Felix's high-profile signing, Los Colchoneros failed to replace Antoine Griezmann. The wavy-haired Frenchman scored 133 times in 257 appearances. Felix can't match that pace with four in 24 but, with a €126 million investment, Atleti expect the 19-year-old to make up ground in the future.
While the board invested €243.5 million [Transfermarkt] in the summer and then made Alvaro Morata's loan from Chelsea permanent for another €56 million, their €313.1 million in summer sales keeps them in the black. They are free to invest in a proven scorer this summer should they choose.
• 234 games
• 102 goals
🇺🇾 Diego Forlán
• 196 games
• 96 goals
🇨🇴 Radamel Falcao
• 91 games
• 70 goals
We will have to wait until the summer to see if Edinson Cavani is the man to continue Atleti's tradition. 🌎🇺🇾 https://t.co/StIj2ojspw
Arguably, there would be no better man than Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan has been surplus to requirements at Paris Saint-Germain since the club acquired Mauro Icardi from Internazionale. Last year, the 33-year-old scored 23 goals and provided 9 assists over 33 appearances. Cavani's ability to hold the ball and bring his wide men into play could potentially unlock the chains that have shackled the likes of Thomas Lemar. The high profile signing from Monaco failed to hit the ground running at the Estadio Metropolitano, not managing a single goal or assist this campaign.
Given his reputation, a host of clubs will vie for Cavani's signature despite the fact he'll be 33 next term. Considering he's available on a free, Atletico shouldn't find padding his reported €350,00/wk wage too bitter a pill to swallow.
A more affordable option of similar quality, Dries Mertens is available from Napoli. After compiling 89 goals and 49 assists in 222 Serie A games, it's surprising he hasn't been snapped up by Europe's bigger clubs.
Dropped into Simeone's compact formation, the Belgian's speed would make him invaluable on the counter-attack. El Cholo may prefer the 32-year-old over an out and out striker. Mertens can patrol the wing or set up shop behind the number nine. At 5'7, Mertens can stand eye to eye with Lionel Messi. While Il Maestro has a few more tricks up his sleeve, both love to break defenders' ankles with mazy close control at pace.
Adding either or both on a free [Mertens contract also expires in June] would give Joao Felix another year to develop without the weight of the world on his shoulders. That alone could be invaluable to Atletico Madrid.