Atleti have a tall task ahead of them replacing the man who scored a whopping 36 goals in all competitions last season while drawing approximately 12,000 yellow cards with his timely dives in the box at the slightest of touches. Of course, I'm talking about Diego "Scumbag" Costa. However, their mission to replicate his output has been made easier with the astute signing of former Bayern Munich man Mario Mandzukic.
In his two seasons with Bayern, Mandzukic scored 47 goals in all competitions, and in just last season alone he scored 10 of those with his head. To say that he's an aerial threat might be a bit of an understatement as there might not be a better aerial striker than him in all of Europe. As Real Madrid looked fairly shaky on corner kick and set piece plays against Sevilla, Atleti will undoubtedly look to exploit this facet of Real's game with a heavy dose of crosses into the box whenever they have the ball.
Mandzukic is not only a threat in the air, but he's also an incredibly industrious striker, often making runs into his own half to help out on defense. Mandzukic is an adept passer as well, often using his tall frame to shield the ball before creating for others (he averaged a key pass per game last season) without turning the ball over much (less than one turnover per game last season). Costa matched Simeone's personality traits to a tee, but in some ways it's Mandzukic who might be an even better fit in his system given his jumping prowess, willing to work on defense for 90 minutes and his fiery personality.
With only Sergio Ramos and Pepe being strong aerial defenders on the back line, and with Real Madrid's relatively small midfield not being the most combative, it will be up to the CBs to corral the tall striker. If the rumors are to be believed that Pepe is hurt and that Raphael Varane is to take his spot, the onus on Sergio to man-mark Mandzukic will be even greater as young Rafa still needs to work on his aerial defense game. Mandzukic has had a pretty slow start to the preseason, let's hope it continues this week.
Last season, Daniel Carvajal not only established himself as arguably the finest young right back in the game, but arguably as one of the finest right backs in the game regardless of age. His endless supply of energy, willingness to learn from his mistakes and fiery enthusiasm showed as he undoubtedly won the starting spot from Alvaro Arbeloa as the latter was faced with injuries. However, preseason results for Dani have been mixed as he's picked up a bad habit of playing overly physical and drawing the ire from the referees while at the same time making rudimentary mistakes. Hopefully, this is just a phase and he'll be back to normal soon.
His counterpart for the Spanish Supercup will be highly rated French international Antoine Griezmann, who was at one point linked to Real Madrid as a potential signing. Additionally, if Griezmann is unavailable or roaming, talented playmaker Koke could slide into Atleti's attacking left and thus look to exploit any space Gareth Bale leaves behind him when he bombs forward to attack.
Griezmann is a highly talented player with the ball and not someone who gives it up particularly easily for being such an attack-minded player. Not only is he highly dangerous in front of net, as evidenced by his 16 league goals last season, but he's also adept at creating opportunities for others. One area where he's not particularly awe-inspiring is crossing the ball as he only completes around .5 cross per game. Of course, this could be a byproduct of the system he played in while with Real Sociedad, but Real Madrid will need to keep him out wide and prevent him from launching balls in to target man Mario Mandzukic, not to mention keeping Griezmann from cutting inside as he's prone to do. If Koke is playing on Atleti's wing, the need to clog his passing opportunities is even greater as he's a far more potent crosser (1.6 per game last season) and creator for others (13 league assists last season, 1.9 key passes per game).
No matter who Atleti chooses to attack with down the left, Dani Carvajal will have a tall task on his hand. What Dani has working for him is the stamina to keep up with Atleti's intense playstyle and the passing needed to shred their back line which will be missing Filipe Luis. Dani completed nearly 87 percent of his passes last season while contributing 1.1 key passes per game and a solid crossing rate. He averaged less than a turnover per game while also drawing fouls from the opposition at decent clip. He generally played quite well against Atleti last season, it was Barca who game him trouble, but his preseason form does provide a sliver of concern as his temperament has been explosive and Atleti thrive on agitating the opposition. Hopefully, Dani will curb some of that fury and channel it into a controlled Dani that we've all come to love.