Atletico Madrid have a strong history of world-class strikers pulling on the red and white.
The club have an equally impressive record of replacing those name; of the past two summers, Diego Costa has replaced Radamel Falcao, with a meagre fee being spent on David Villa merely to bolster the squad, while Costa has this summer been replaced by Mario Mandzukic, who had two stellar seasons with Bayern Munich, collecting eight domestic and international trophies along the way.
Far more understated and arguably undervalued are those at the other end of the pitch. That’s not to say Atletico don’t (or didn’t) know what they have in their outstanding back four, but rather that it took a league title win for the rest of Europe to wake up to the excellence of the Filipe Luis-Miranda-Diego Godin-Juanfran defensive stable.
In addition, it goes well beyond just a shame that Luiz Felipe Scolari looked past Filipe Luis for his World Cup squad, opting for the defensively inferior but better known Marcelo from city-rivals Real Madrid.
Marcelo had a little over a month to show the two extremes of his game: against Atletico in the Champions League final, he came on as a substitute and helped changed the game in his side’s favour, scoring the third goal in a 4-1 win. Against Germany in the World Cup semi-final, he was at fault for gifting the German attack an open motorway on the Brazilian left flank, with even less defensive effort being put in when he was in the correct position.
That wouldn’t have been the case with Filipe Luis, who has been one of many to excel under Diego Simeone at the Vicente Calderon. For the past two seasons at least, the Brazilian has been La Liga’s most consistent left-back, though often lost in the whirlwind of excitement from the league’s two biggest clubs, particularly after Jordi Alba’s performances at Euro 2012 and his subsequent move to Barcelona.
But Luis is now tasked with replacing Ashley Cole at Stamford Bridge, and while there have been a host of full-backs on the move thus far this summer, the 28-year-old represents the best option for Chelsea, the most Mourinho-like of all of the possible candidates.
The drawback is his age. Luke Shaw went for double the Brazilian’s £16 million transfer fee, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Mourinho prefers those who are fully established over players who still need nurturing. Shaw, snapped up by Manchester United amid plenty of interest from Chelsea, would have obviously been the better choice with a view to five or six years into the future, maybe even a decade. But Filipe Luis hits the same notes as the club’s signings of this summer: readymade and good for a challenge on numerous fronts.
The Brazilian has a La Liga winner’s medal around his neck, as well as the Copa del Rey and Europa League. He is vastly more experienced than what Chelsea could have landed this summer, and just as good as any left-back you wish to reel off.
At Atletico, Luis was a vital part of the team’s attack. Without any natural width from the regular forward starters, the full-backs were urged to push forward. In his absence, it was telling just how much the team missed Luis’ wing play in the final third.
It should bode well for Chelsea, with Eden Hazard the preferred choice on the left side. The Belgian can and will tuck in, allowing for overlapping runs from his new left-back teammate.
But it’s his defensive efforts that should stand out the most. There are multiple reasons why Atletico had the best defence in Spain’s top flight last season, one of which was Luis’ expertise in defending in and around his own penalty area, averaging 4.1 tackles per game in the league.
However many years Chelsea get out of their new full-back signing won’t take away from his standing in the game at the moment. He will benefit from the increased exposure afforded him by his surroundings at Stamford Bridge and the Premier League.
But he has been one of the top two left-backs in Europe over the past two seasons, one who will round out the Chelsea team and help make them the most effective unit in the Premier League.