Atletico Madrid could secure their first LaLiga title in seven years this evening — but Los Rojiblancos are already looking ahead to next season.
According to reports, Atleti want to add Liverpool’s Naby Keita to their ranks, with manager Diego Simeone set to revamp his squad this summer.
As Spain’s table-toppers prepare for their decisive clash with Valladolid, here is why the Reds midfielder is at the top of their shopping list.
Adding an ruthless streak
Atletico have racked up 25 wins in LaLiga this season, the most of any team in the Spanish top flight.
However, 11 of those have been by a single goal margin, including their last three victories.
They have also drawn eight league games in 2020-21, meaning their results have been far from emphatic in 19 of their 37 matches to date.
A touch of misfortune in a handful of those fixtures and the complexion of Atleti’s season could look very different indeed.
Simeone’s men need to add a touch of ruthlessness to their game — and recruiting an all-action midfielder like Keita would certainly bring that quality to the Wanda Metropolitano.
The need for depth
In the first half of the season, Atleti looked unstoppable. They dropped points in just three of their opening 14 matches and set the pace at LaLiga’s summit.
But things have not been as straightforward since the turn of the year. They have averaged fewer goals (1.65 per 90 minutes, down from 1.93) and conceded more (0.83 per 90, up from 0.36).
In fact, their total of 38 goals in 2021 is lower than that of Villarreal (40), Real Madrid (41) and Barcelona (55).
This decline indicates a degree of burnout in their squad after an intense and truncated campaign — and bolstering their midfield with someone as energetic as Keita would help avoid a similar drop off next season.
Goals from midfield
Keita, 26, is by no means a prolific goalscorer but he is a gthreat.
He scored 14 and assisted 11 across two seasons in the Bundesliga while patrolling the centre of the park for RB Leipzig.
The Guinea international also averaged a goal or assist every 276 minutes in the Premier League during his first two campaigns with Liverpool.
If allowed, he will influence things in the final third — a quality distinctly lacking in Atleti’s other midfielders.
Saul Niguez is their top scorer from midfield in LaLiga with two strikes to his name, while Lucas Torreira and Koke have both found the net on just one occasion.
The burden is very much on Luis Suarez to score Atletico’s goals, so a bit of help from elsewhere would certainly add to their threat in the final third.
Adding a wildcard
There is no other way to dress it up — Atleti disappointed in the Champions League this season.
Humbled by Bayern Munich in the group stage, Red Bull Salzburg also gave them a scare and they failed to beat Lokomotiv Moscow.
They were then knocked out by Chelsea in the round of 16.
The aftermath of that 3-0 aggregate defeat saw the Spanish side labelled as a little too predictable, so they will be keen to change that dynamic this summer.
Simeone’s squad possesses many talented players but they do not have a midfielder like Keita.
When compared with other midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues and in continental competitions, he ranks in the 95th percentile for progressive carries (9.15), dribbles completed (1.94) and expected assists (0.19) per 90 minutes.
He is also in the 85th percentile for shot-creating actions (2.92), progressive passes (5.91), pressures (22.6) and interceptions (1.86) per 90.
A statement signing
It is easy to forget that the signing of Keita was viewed as quite a coup for Liverpool.
Following the announcement of his signature being secured, manager Jurgen Klopp revealed he was flooded with messages.
That deal may not have worked out as planned but Keita is still a serious talent.
If Atletico manage to get the best out of him, they will have a world-class midfielder on their hands.