The summer of 2019 was supposed to signal the end of an era for Atletico Madrid.
The departures of Antoine Griezmann, Rodri, Lucas Hernandez, Filipe Luis and Diego Godin ripped the heart out of Diego Simeone’s side. That was followed by a season in which they lacked an identity, and it seemed the Simeone years were winding down to a close.
But fast forward a year and here we are: the second peak of El Cholo at Atletico. In leading the Rojiblancos to their their 11th La Liga title, the crafty Argentine has proven that there is far more to him than the inflexible disciplinarian he gets typecast as in the media.
Simeone, realising that he no longer has a settled XI of dependable troops he can send out to follow orders and run themselves into the ground, has mixed things up and come up with a plan A, B and C that have kept opponents guessing all season.
At the heart of all of it, though, has been a robust attacking style that is unrecognisable from the Simeone teams of old.
Geared towards getting the best out of Luis Suarez, Atletico have largely sacrificed their tactical discipline in favour of something far more fluid and expansive. The result is clearly reflected in the numbers; only Barcelona topped their 67 goals in La Liga and it was Atleti’s best return in five years.
The tried and tested 4-4-2 shape has remained on occasion but it is no longer the default. Depending on the players available, Simeone has used 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 set-ups this season, and the versatility of much of the squad means that opponents are often left guessing until kick-off.
It’s that dynamism and unpredictability that has allowed them to overcome their mid-season collapse and get the title over the line. Atleti dominated the early part of the campaign, but a run of four wins in 11 between February and April allowed Real Madrid and Barcelona to claw themselves back into the fight.
Things turned around with a swashbuckling 5-0 win over Eibar, however. With Angel Correa and Marcos Llorente deployed as a makeshift front two, they swatted the relegation strugglers aside, and went on to win five of their last seven to bring home the title.
His ten years as Atletico manager had already established him as one of the best coaches in the world, but we’ve seen a new side to Simeone this season. His characteristically fierce brand of man management has been in full effect, and so too has the defensive solidity that has established them as one of the teams no-one wants to face.
But it has all been married with a new-found unpredictability and attacking vigour that is threatening to bring about Atleti’s second coming as a genuine force in Spanish and European football.