A New Direction at Atletico!

After their relegation from Division 1, Atletico Madrid seem to have completely changed the squad structure and their approach to the forthcoming season. Many expected the plan would be to bring in some more top players to immediately return to the top league. However, this isn’t what has happened. While the team are targeting promotion, a long-term project has been started with the introduction of several high potential youths who can also have an impact on the first team. The club has maintained a high-profile squad whilst also implementing improved depth with huge ability for the future. Since arriving, Earle has seen close to 20 players depart with over 15 arriving, which makes sense seeing as he won the Wheeler Dealer Manager Award for last season. Fans have had mixed feelings about the new direction, but the club are certain that they will be successful.

The Season to Come.

Whilst Atletico have one of the strongest squads in the league, Earle is also aware that several other teams will be right up with them challenging for the title and promotion spots. Wolfsburg, AC Milan and Borussia Monchengladbach have all been identified as their biggest competitors but Earle has also acknowledged the unpredictable nature of the league.
“Sure they have very strong squads at this point of the season, as do we, but that means nothing if the mentality and cohesion isn’t right. It would also be foolish to think they are the only teams who will challenge this season, Benfica are always improving, Ajax have a good looking team, and Hertha Berlin are going for their fourth consecutive title! And there are gonna be 13 other teams all looking to beat us week in week out and challenge all the way through the season, so to focus on a few, and think this will be an easy season, is the complete wrong attitude”.
Atletico will kick off their season against newly promoted Galatasaray SK at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. Earle has said it’s a fairly good opener in front of their home crowd but will be wary of the threats that the Turkish side have. Zenit (away), Valencia (away), Genoa (home) and Monchengladbach (away) make up the opening games of the season for Los Colchoneros. The domestic draws have also been tough as Earles side will face fellow Division 2 sides Villarreal and Genoa in Round 1 of the Cup and Shield. The team are also set to enter the World Club Cup and Youth Cup for the upcoming season.

The Ins and Outs.

One of Earles first challenges was to open up space within the team to allow for his planned arrivals. This saw seven members of the youth squad sold within a few days. These included Tony Ralston, Srdjan Babic and Hugo Keto.
The first major deal to be agreed certainly highlighted the clubs new direction as Bernardo Silva and Lucas Hernandez were sold to Juventus in exchange for five new additions. The biggest name arriving from Italy was Goncalo Guedes. The 21-year-old is being tracked by some of the biggest teams around but was glad to join Atletico where he could potentially break into the first team. Mahmoud Dahoud, Lucas Tousart, Barberan Maycon and Martin Terrier, all also switched to the Spanish side and have completely reshaped the youth squad.
Earle was quick to add further first team and youth depth with the sale of Paco Alcacer to his former side Espanyol in exchange for Abdoulaye Doucoure, Ezequiel Barco and Andriy Lunin. Alcacer 

made 27 appearances last season but it wasn’t enough to keep him at the club. Doucoure will add further support to the midfield while Barco and Lunin were both favourites of Earles in his time at Espanyol. The dealings with his former side didn’t stop there, however, as Atletico swooped in to sign 30-year-old Marwan Hitz in exchange for Nicoals Schiappacasse, Phillip Menzel and Bozhidar Kraev. The Swiss was also signed by Earle at his former club but made just one league appearance. Many have questioned the move but his new manager has come to the defence of Hitz, claiming how important he will be to the club.
“We have a great goalkeeping situation at the moment. Gianluigi (Donnarumma) is one of the top keepers around and is still not even 20. Andriy (Lunin) is another who has been improving massively recently and, again, hasn’t even hit 20 yet, and neither has Filippo (Marricchi). Having such a young set of keepers has positives and negatives, Marwan (Hitz) brings a whole new dimension to that. He can act as a tutor to them and they can learn from his experience. I’m also aware that anyone can go through a tough patch so having extra cover between the sticks is always a huge boost to the team”.
Standard Liege were able to sign John Stones and Julian Draxler after both were deemed excess by Earle. In exchange Matias Vecino and Hector Bellerin joined along with youth forward Emmanuel Dennis. Bellerin will fill a vacant spot at right back which had been half-heartedly filled by Jose Gimenez last season, the Uruguayan will now be played in his preferred role along side Aymeric Laporte at centre back.
This decision left Shkodran Mustafi considering his future. The German was a key member of the squad last season but wasn’t happy with a reduced role and was made available. There was strong interest from Liverpool, FC Porto and Roma but the 26-year-old will join AS Monaco. A key aspect of the sale was to bring in a replacement defender who would be happy to play a lesser role within the team. Milos Veljkovic fit that role well and has already worked with Earle during his time at Espanyol. The 22-year-old will likely act as the 4th choice centre back behind the starters and Andreas Christensen. Martin Montoya will also move to Madrid. The ability to play as a right back and left back will make him a useful acquisition and the 27-year-old could put pressure on Hector Bellerin and Jose Luis Gaya for a starting spot. The deal will also see Andreas Pereira head to Spain. He has also worked with Earle before and has a good relationship with the Englishman. His move wont be completed until mid-season but he will be on loan until then.
Theo Hernandez joined Draxler and Stones at Liege after the Belgians tabled an impressive offer. Mouctar Diakhaby, Arne Maier and Ferreira Evander will all bolster the Madrid youth squad after moving in exchange for the left-back. Earle has said Diakhaby will be key to the youth cup team while Maier could also play an important role.
FC Midjylland has sold Mads Thychosen to Atletico for £600,000. The 20-year-old can play anywhere on the right making him a useful addition. It is expected that he will compete with Robert Gumny for the starting right-back spot in the youth team.
Earle wasn’t done in the market and has now made a move which he has called his biggest risk in the market so far. Christian Pulisic will become a member of Earles new build. The 19-year-old has only made 2 league appearances in four seasons for Bayern but will be a key member of the first team in Spain. Bayern will receive Mateo Kovacic, Luka Jovic and Manu Garcia for Pulisic making it one of the biggest fees Earle has ever paid for a single player but he feels it will be worth it.
“Christian (Pulisic) is a great player and has an amazing future ahead of him. We’re giving a lot for a fairly unproven player but he will have my full support while here. I expect he will be able to make a big difference and his arrival will be a boost to the whole squad”.
This looks to be Earles final deal as he now has a squad which he believes is fully capable to compete for the league while maintaining a young starting squad.

Season Targets.

The chairman of the club has said he expects an immediate return to Division 1. A target which Earle has agreed is realistic. 
“With this squad, we should be achieving promotion. But its a new environment for a lot of these players and we will be putting a lot of faith in some fairly inexperienced lads, but I think they will cope and I think they will handle it well”.
While league targets are high, Earle has said that the Cup and Shield aren’t of major importance this season and he wont be willing to jeopardise success in the league for either competition. He has also said that there is no pressure on the players in the World Club Cup, but that it is more an opportunity for them to impress him and potentially move up in the pecking order. 
There is one  other competition that Earle is keen to do well in. And that is the Youth Cup. After having to build a squad from scratch at Espanyol, Earle was very happy with the youth side he inherited at Madrid. Add into that the new signings and there is a good chance at a strong fight for the Under 21s. Gianluigi Donnarumma has been named as the youth captain despite being linked with a move away from the club. However, Earle has now said that the Italian is almost certainly going to remain at Atletico. 

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