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Season Preview Roundtable: Breakout candidates and staff predictions

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Plus, will A Stadium Called Wanda actually open on time?

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Name your breakout star for 2017/18. (And how many times he’ll change his hairstyle, if you so choose.)

Robbie Dunne: José Giménez and about four, I’d say.

Jeremy Beren: Yannick Carrasco. I believe this is the year he hits 15 league goals and 20-plus across all competitions while becoming one of Europe’s top wingers. He’s had two full years under Diego Simeone’s tutelage, and despite the occasional lapse in judgement his effort without the ball improved last season. This is his time.

Rob Walker: Thomas Partey, a fan favorite who got his chance to impress last season and made good on it. Despite being played out of position at right back, he still performed well, and being able to play multiple positions is a trait that Simeone values in his players. In the offseason, Thomas inherited Tiago's #5 shirt, hopefully a sign that he will take Tiago's spot as the rotation central midfielder, his preferred role. He has a strong skillset, both physically and technically, and could be well suited to play in a midfield three, should Atlético Madrid shift to this system as anticipated.

Stu Lindberg: The defense will need the support of younger talent, so I will be looking for Lucas to justify his contract extension with an increased role this year. In midfield, Thomas Partey has received increased minutes during the preseason and has looked good (but perhaps not great). He will be an important depth piece for us, and could see some solid minutes when the Copa del Rey and European fixtures start piling up. In attack, youngster Victor Mollejo received a buzzy run out versus Leganés last weekend. I don’t expect him to play much this year, but I can see the excitement around him building off of a few appearances.

I see three hairstyle changes between the three of them, which likely means either Lucas or Thomas will need to pull double duty, as Victor has alopecia areata.

Conor Coyle: I’d love to see Ángel Correa really stamp his authority on the team this year. I always get excited when I see him come on but he’s found it difficult to start games regularly with so much competition in that area. It may take a loss of form or injury from one of the likes of Carrasco or even Saúl for him to get an extended run but I think he has the raw attributes to be a top player.

Adam Saladino: Saúl Ñíguez will be the breakout star this year. After an amazing showing in the U21 Euros and with more experience in the first team, he will be more confident and impact games more. And he won't change his hairstyle.

Which player(s) need to improve the most from 2016/17?

Robbie: I think Atlético’s entire attack needs to improve. Maybe Kévin Gameiro if we’re picking one player. Griezmann needs help and Gameiro was given plenty of chances. Rarely, if ever, did Atlético go into a game with Gameiro firing on all cylinders.

Jeremy: Gameiro is a popular choice, as he did not live up to his ~€40m price tag last season. But I’m going with Ángel Correa. Yes, he tied for the team lead in assists last season, but he hasn’t carved out consistent minutes or a berth in the starting XI in two seasons under Simeone. He scored just four times last season, his last two goals coming seven months apart. He must be better, or he could have a new home come February.

Rob: Kevin Gameiro and Koke. Starting with Gameiro, coming from Sevilla in a big transfer, his debut season with Atlético can only be described as disappointing. It became clear early on he is not a world-class striker, but a competent yet streaky player. He has to take a step forward if he hopes to stay once next summer rolls around. A successful season would be 15 Liga goals, a barn burner would be 20.

Koke is a sensational player who has yet to find his ideal position at club or international level. We now know that he cannot function in a midfield two against an upper echelon side, but could work in a three. Last season was disappointing for the Spain international, as he failed to hit double figures in assists for the first time since 2012/13. That stat shows how good Koke is, but also how difficult last season was for him. Hopefully he can rediscover the form he has had in recent years, and put on show the talent he so clearly has.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Stu: While it would be unfair to say that Gameiro had a bad season last year, I will say that he seems to often fall just slightly, and frustratingly short of his potential. He will start the season injured but should return before too long. Given ongoing questions about the attack, a big showing from him once he returns could go a long way towards helping this team put together some important wins.

Conor: Gameiro. He was a real let-down for me last season as I thought he was going to score bags of goals after a natural progression from Sevilla and a partnership with Griezmann. Even more so with Griezmann playing deeper than before, he needs to take on more responsibility in his second year.

Adam: Juanfran and Gameiro definitely need to improve the most. Juanfran is getting older and Šime Vrsaljko could be in position to start over him if he starts to play poorly. Gameiro didn't have an amazing season last year. He needs to turn it around and show that he is the right man for the job.

Will Estadio Wanda Metropolitano open on time?

Robbie: I believe so, yes.

Jeremy: Yes, but it will not be 100 percent done and finishing touches will be applied into 2018. The infrastructure and transport links around the stadium are still in progress, and it’s still feared that traffic near the airport — which is less than seven miles from the stadium — will plunge the city into chaos ahead of big fixtures. Which is just awesome.

Rob: Yes. Wanda will open on schedule, however the switch from the Calderon to Wanda will be much rougher than anticipated with fan unrest as well as a lack of atmosphere. The move will not be comfortable.

Stu: I do think the stadium will open on time. However, I’m not sure the first night will be smooth sailing. The last big thing inside will be the pitch installation and putting down new turf isn’t always a simple thing. I could see a lumpy, clumpy first night if the new surface doesn’t take right away. Outside the stadium there are still some infrastructure hurdles to overcome, so I won’t be surprised to hear about a mighty traffic jam come game day.

Conor: I’m no construction expert, but after driving past it last week it certainly doesn’t look like it.

Adam: No, the Wanda Metropolitano will not open on time just like every construction project.

Give your predicted finish for Atlético in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

Robbie: I think they will finish third again. It’s hard to hope for anything more with the big two. They won’t do great in the Copa del Rey — knocked out in the quarterfinals — and they will make it to a semi-final in the Champions League.

Jeremy: I’m going to stay grounded amid all the talk that Atlético could leapfrog Barcelona for second. Atleti will finish third in LaLiga, make a Copa del Rey quarterfinal and a Champions League quarterfinal.

Rob: La Liga - 2nd

Copa - Quarterfinals

UCL - Final

Stu: In terms of LaLiga, the first month of this season could be huge. With Barça struggling to secure a replacement for Neymar and Real Madrid facing a month without Ronaldo, it is not inconceivable that those teams could drop some unexpected early results. To be fair, Atlético face three straight away fixtures followed by the grand opening of the Wanda, which will likely present its own emotional and logistical challenges. Whichever team weathers their various challenges the best will put themselves in the drivers' seat. All this considered I’m going to tip my hat to Atleti as slight early favorites. I see semifinal exits in the other comps unfortunately.

Conor: Third in LaLiga, winning the Copa Del Rey and semifinals of the Champions League.

Adam: Atlético will finish third in La Liga, make the Copa del Rey quarterfinals and win the Champions League.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!