By Shikharr Chandra
As Atletico Madrid walked out of the Nou Camp with their heads held high and a standing ovation from more than 60,000 supporters present in the stadium, the question on everyone's mind was whether the capital club have what it takes to replicate their success. Diego Simeone's side had just won the La Liga and were set to battle out their neighbours in the UEFA Champions League final, yet keeping tabs on key players seemed like a distant dream for the Argentine manager and the board.
Surrounded by debt and financial controversy, Atletico could never compete with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid financially. The Spanish giants had broken transfer records season after season while the Colchoneros had to depend on some shrewd piece of business by Simeone who had assembled a competitive squad that had been fearless rubbing shoulders with the financial power houses of European football.
But despite the success of last season, it was always expected that certain players would move on. Diego Costa's transfer to Chelsea seemed a mere formality even before the transfer window opened. The Spaniard's performance in the Champions League semi finals cleared any doubts Jose Mourinho had regarding him and the warm applause from the Stamford Bridge crowd was enough for Costa to make up his mind.
Thibaut Courtois's performances over the two legs saw Simeone bid farewell to another indispensable figure in his team. The on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper was instrumental in the side's success over the last three seasons and Mourinho knew that another season away from the Bridge could see him miss out on arguably the finest young goalkeeper in world football at the moment.
While Atletico kept losing their players, their city rivals were once again on a spending spree. The acquisition of Toni Kroos in midfield added more depth and quality to the side whereas the big money signing of James Rodriguez from Monaco further strengthened their attack which already boasts the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Barcelona shelled out millions to sign Luis Suarez from Liverpool and with the addition of Claudio Bravo, Thomas Vermaelen and Ter Stegen, the Catalans look heavily loaded in key departments. Given the busy summer their rivals have had, it did seem as though Atletico's triumphant last season would turn out to be yet another 'one season wonder'.
But then again, Simeone is not the sort of manager who would throw in the towel. Instead the Argentine has once again used the limited funds available to him wisely. This has been the story of Atletico over the years. They are no strangers to losing key players but have only gone on to defy the odds every season. For a side that has managed to replace the likes of Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao over the last few years, surely the tough task of replacing the likes of Costa and Felipe Luis seemed doable.
The addition of Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich comes across as a like for like replacement for Costa. A proven goal scorer in the Bundesliga, Mandzukic's experience both in the league and European competitions will come in handy for Simeone. A towering figure in the opposition box capable of holding the ball well, the Croatian's presence will allow the creative midfielders to get more involved in the attacking third.
Simeone must be credited for keeping the spine of the team intact. The likes of Miranda and Diego Godin who formed one of the miserliest defense last season have stayed at the club despite various rumours linking them to a move away from the Calderon. The signing of 28-year old Guilherme Siqueira from Benfica provides an able replacement for Luis. The former Granada full back provides not only an option in defense but also in the attacking third as his overlapping runs make him very similar to his Brazilian predecessor.
The biggest coup for Atletico though is that both Juanfran and Koke have pledged their future to the club despite the interest in the latter from Barcelona. "I could stay here for life," he said after extending his contract with Atletico that will keep him at the club until 2019. The experienced Tiago was also handed a two-year deal.
Antoine Griezmann who at €30 million, was the signing of the summer from Real Sociedad for Atletico. The winger provides an excellent option in attack alongside the likes of Arda Turan and Raul Garcia. He comes across as a major upgrade to David Villa who was played as an inverted winger for most part of last season. The Frenchman would hardly take time to settle to the surroundings of La Liga having lived in Spain for the last decade or so.
The toughest part for Simeone probably was to replace Courtois with 21-year old Jan Oblak being handed over the difficult task of replacing the Belgian. The Slovenian international might not be on the same level as the Chelsea goalkeeper but under the guidance of Simeone, Oblak could well prove his doubters wrong.
Atletico are no more the underdogs in the league. They might not boast the strongest squad in La Liga but the expectations from them following their incredible last season will be sky high. Simeone has spent the money wisely and looking at their current roster it is safe to say they are on the same level if not stronger than last season.
Also it seems the club does not want to stop there with rumours linking them to Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez.. The La Liga is stronger than last season with the addition of Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez but Simeone and Atletico have time and time again proved critics wrong.