La Liga leaders Barcelona host 2nd-placed Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday night time understanding a win will make a fourth identify in five years all however inevitable. Atletico head into the contest 8 points behind the reigning champions with eight games closing, so handiest a victory could be sufficient to hold the hopes of Diego Simeone’s guys. More than that, although, the sport is likewise a final threat for Simeone’s antique shield to awaken themselves for one closing shot at glory. Over the past few years, Atletico’s title-triumphing aspect of 2014 has been gradually chipped away, the piece with the aid of composition, and after this summer time, it’s quite likely that most effective one or will continue to be. Ever-dependable midfielder Koke will nonetheless be there, together with the reacquired Diego Costa. That will likely be it, and Atletico is heading into a turbulent summer time which poses more significant questions than it provides answers.
Defensive stalwarts heading out Atletico’s first high-profile sale of the summer season has already been confirmed, with younger and versatile French World Cup-winner Lucas Hernandez agreeing an 80m euro (£68m) move to Bayern Munich. Losing homegrown Hernandez changed into a hugely irritating blow for Atletico; however, in an emotional experience, the predicted departure of a trio of lengthy-serving protective lynchpins could be even more keenly felt. Chief amongst the ones is a war-hardened centre back Diego Godin, whose fierce and no-nonsense style has possibly encapsulated Simeone’s managerial reign better than all people else during the last eight years. Godin, who might genuinely have regarded on the Ballon d’Or podium through now if defenders were ever considered for such trinkets, assured himself a unique area in Atletico’s records books using scoring the aim at Barcelona that delivered the league identify ahead of the hosts on the final day of the 2013-14 marketing campaign. The Uruguayan has been the very definition of ‘stalwart’ throughout his nine seasons with the membership, making 381 appearances and generally handiest missing video games thru (now not infrequent) suspensions. But he’s now 33 and out of settlement inside the summertime, with a free transfer to Inter Milan on the cards despite rumoured interest from Manchester United. A similar state of affairs is confronted with the aid of-of Godin’s protective team-friends, complete-backs Juanfran (34) and Filipe Luis (33), who’re fellow sufferers of Atletico’s coverage of refusing to provide contracts longer than 365 days to players in their 30s. Juanfran’s biggest moment for the club might be remembered for all the wrong motives, together with his penalty shootout miss allowing Real Madrid to win the 2016 Champions League final. But that is harsh on a crafty participant whose patient but solid play down the proper – much like Filipe Luis’ on the opposite flank – has performed the sort of key function in Simeone’s strategy given that he took over in 2011. These exceptional servants of the membership have accrued a blended overall of properly over 1,000 video games for Atletico, and the prospect of seeing three icons all leave on unfastened transfers on the equal time is surely distressing for lovers. But, to deepen Atletico’s concerns, they might not be the simplest ones.
Griezmann, Saul and Party additionally leaving? Losing an entire lower back four might be disruptive enough, but Atletico will be compelled to confront further upheaval following a fresh bout of hypothesis over numerous more magnificent key guys, together with famous person striker Antoine Griezmann. While the 28-yr-antique Frenchman rejected Barcelona in a public way closing summer and as an alternative signed a new deal with Atletico, he is now concept to remorse that choice and is hoping for a 2d threat to sign up for Barca as an accomplice for – an eventual successor to – Luis Suarez. Atletico president Enrique Cerezo claimed this week that the possibilities of Griezmann staying are “1,000%”, but Barca have never made a secret of their admiration for the player, and it might be no surprise if their hobby is reawakened, mainly if the underperforming Philippe Coutinho can be moved on for a first-rate fee. There could also be a couple of incredibly significant departures from midfield, starting with stated Manchester City target Saul Niguez, who has supposedly become pissed off with his limited role underneath Simeone – even being every so often asked to play at left-back. Also related with a move is Thomas Party, the 2018 BBC African Footballer of the Year candidate who has grown to be a key determining in the centre of the field following final summer time’s departure of captain Gabi. Ghana international Party, an occasional purveyor of staggering lengthy-range desires, has a launch clause of just 50m euro (£43m) and has consequently been linked with practically every significant Premier League membership. With the future of centre-back Stefan Savic also doubtful after a disagreement with the club’s health guru, ‘Professor’ Oscar Ortega – whose personal position is unsure because of the squad being hit with the aid of a ruinous list of 45 injuries over the direction the season – it’s far clean there is an unusually high diploma of turmoil across the Wanda Metropolitano at the moment. The question is: what should Simeone do approximately it?