Celtic kick-off their second chance at a Europa League campaign against Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Thursday night. Winners of the competition two years ago, Atleti will be one of the favourites for the competition again this year after reinvesting the huge sums received for Kun Agüero and David De Gea over the summer in the competition’s record goalscorer Radamel Falcao, Brazilian playmaker Diego and U-21 European Championships top-scorer Adrian.
Falcao’s signing was the biggest in Spanish football this summer beating that of Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez and Fabio Coentrão at a fee that could rise to €47m. The Porto striker scored 34 goals in Porto’s treble winning season in the last campaign, including 17 in the Europa League to break Jurgen Klinsmann’s 15-year-old record for a single European campaign.
The Colombian striker will handle the majority of the goalscoring burden but Atletico also recruited Adrian who shined as Spain won the Euro U-21 Championships in Denmark this summer from relegated Deportivo La Coruña.
In midfield, Gabi who was extremely influential in keeping Real Zaragoza in the Primera Liga last season has signed on for a second spell at the Calderon and Diego was captured just before the window closed. The Brazilian has always been a bit of a maverick during his career in Italy and more successfully in Germany, but his talent has never been in question and looks to be the playmaker that Atleti have lacked in recent seasons.
Arda Turan has also joined from Galatasary and Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been brought in on a two-year loan in place of De Gea. Silvio and Miranda have also been brought in to bolster the defensive ranks.
Gregorio Manzano outlined his intention to switch between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 in the summer but given the new arrivals a 4-3-3 looks the most suitable option. Adrian and former Arsenal man Jose Antonio Reyes will line-up either side of Falcao with Gabi and one of Mario Suarez and former Chelsea midfielder Thiago holding behind Diego in midfield.
Felipe Luis and Silvio, who played against Celtic last season for Braga, will provide most of the width from full-back but Manzano hasn’t decided on a first-choice centre-back pairing as yet. Alvaro Dominguez, another U-21 Euro Championships winner, is almost certain to start but Uruguayan Copa America winner Diego Godin was dropped in favour of youngster Miranda for the game against Valencia on Saturday.
Strengths and weaknesses
The wave of new arrivals seem to indicate that as ever Atletico will put their best foot forward. Falcao, Adrian, Reyes, Diego and Arda should make sure that despite losing Aguero and Diego Forlan in the summer there should be plenty of goals again this season. The questions will come at the back, Felipe Luis is a true Brazilian full-back in the sense that he does his best work going forward and Dominguez needs to improve his consistency if he is to maintain his place in the Spanish senior squad to which he received his first call-up earlier in the month. Courtois is also very inexperienced but has at least made a good impression in his first two games.
Atletico haven’t started well in terms of picking up points after a 0-0 draw at home to Osasuna and a 1-0 defeat away at Valencia, but their performances have merited more and as soon as the new players bed in and gel they should be vying for a return to the Champions League next season.
Unfortunately for Celtic there are too many to choose from but two stand out for the game on Thursday. Falcao is obviously a danger to any defence but in only his second game for los rojiblancos he might still show some signs of rustiness. Reyes on the other hand is well assimilated to Atletico’s style of play and was the main man along with Aguero last season. After difficult spells at Arsenal, Real Madrid and Benfica, Reyes has started to show the form that made him a £20m player in the first place at Sevilla and the one Celtic must stop if they are to have any chance of asphyxiating the Atletico attack.
Written by Kieran Canning | Spanishfootball.info