If you’d like to know how I responded to Jez’s questions to me, go here!
VUSA: One of the narratives this summer and early this season was that Diego Simeone was getting ‘tired of the project.’ Was there any truth to that? Is he fully committed to Atleti, or still a bit frustrated with the front office?
JB: Simeone is still fully committed to the squad and to these players, but in my opinion it’d be impossible for him not to be sore at the higher-ups. Yes, they brought in Costa and Vitolo last summer, but not without inordinate hand-wringing and a six-month ban from wearing red and white. The failure to emerge from the UCL group stage further handicapped the club financially and led to sales outside the winter window. They’re now asking him to compete on two fronts with a 16-man squad. He hasn’t said a word publicly, but I couldn’t blame Cholo if he aired more than a few grievances privately.
VUSA: Filipe Luis being out for the remainder of the season is a big loss. How will Simeone work around this?
JB: Losing Filipe is a really big blow, as so much of Atleti’s playmaking goes through him. Lucas Hernández — a CB by trade but a pretty capable LB — will take most of the Brazilian’s minutes, and academy full back Sergi González will be his backup. But neither Lucas nor Segi can replicate what Filipe brings to the table in terms of his dribbling, crossing and overlapping runs.
VUSA: Diego Costa. €66m. A good deal?
JB: In this market, yes. Atlético tried so hard to lower that price, but in the end paid what a world-class forward is worth. His goal-return hasn’t been eye-popping, but the space Costa has opened up for Antoine Griezmann has allowed Atleti to play much more positively and score at a rate we haven’t seen seen since he left four years ago.
VUSA: What do you see happening after the season’s end? Is Griezmann really leaving?
JB: Barring something really spectacular — like coming back to win LaLiga — Griezmann is out the door this summer, which will kick off a really important window. Rodri and Samu Castillejo may form part of the plan and address needs in midfield and in wide playmaking, but Atlético need to acquire depth at full back and sort out replacements should Jan Oblak leave along with Griezmann (Oblak’s departure is harder to call). Because the club’s finances are so shady and tied closely to the opulent new stadium, it’s hard to gauge on just how much Atleti can and will spend this summer. But there’s gonna be movement and a few new faces for sure.
VUSA: We can always take Vietto back, I suppose! Looking at this year, who do you hope to meet in the Europa League final this season?
JB: Ha! Ha! Lazio would be fun as a Simeone Derby, so I’ll pick them.
VUSA: And finally, a prediction for tomorrow?
JB: I’ll go with a 1-1 draw.