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Ángel Correa’s moment of truth

The 22-year-old has scored two in two games to start the Liga Santander season. Is this the start of his long-awaited breakout, or will Diego Simeone again grow frustrated with the mercurial forward?

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - Audi Cup 2017 Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: the following is a guest post from Atlético fan and occasional blogger Jonny McConnell. Follow Jonny on Twitter @jonnysfootyblog.)

Diego Simeone and Atlético Madrid bought Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad in summer 2014. Griezmann’s signing was a statement from Atlético that they wanted to continue their recent success and build a team that could challenge over the coming years. That same summer, Atlético also confirmed the purchase of highly-rated San Lorenzo forward Ángel Correa. But, after signing, Correa was diagnosed with a heart condition which kept him sidelined for a full season. Despite coming to the club in December, he didn't get to play until August 2015.

Atlético have a habit of signing players, never playing them and then loaning or selling them within a year or two. Many expected this to be the case with Correa — while getting back to full match fitness after his time out, it was assumed he would leave temporarily for more football. However, this was not the case. The Argentine stayed with the squad and worked his way into regular substitute appearances, but rarely started over the next couple years. In fact, during Atlético's run to the Champions League final in 2015/16, he made just one start, with four appearances from the bench. During that league season, Correa started eight games and played a further 18 as a substitute. Now, this is relatively normal for a young player adapting to a new league, but realistically Ángelito has enough talent to be playing a lot more often. Even last season, presumably due to Griezmann's form, he started just 10 Liga matches and only two in the Champions League.

This is not to say that the 22-year-old has stagnated; if anything, he has showed continual improvement since joining los colchoneros. He has shown an ability to score, he's extremely comfortable playing directly and running at opposing defences and is among Atlético's most creative players. During the 2016/17 Liga Santander campaign, Correa played just 1218 minutes, equating to roughly 13.5 games over the full 38-game season. Now, compare this to Griezmann (3067 minutes, roughly 34 full games) and Koke (3161 minutes, equalling over 35 games). Each player finished with the same amount of assists (8) as Ángelito, despite playing ~2.5x more minutes. If you watched Atlético last season, you'll remember that creativity was something that was almost non-existent at times, making it even more difficult to see why the Argentine wasn't featured more.

It could be argued that the youngster's best moments so far have come as a substitute and that this is the reason he isn't in Simeone's favoured lineup, but his position is key to this as well. Correa thrives as a second striker, in the same way that Griezmann roams around the opposition final third, creating his own space. Obviously, Griezmann is one of Atlético's most important players, making Ángelito’s potential playing time suffer further, and it may yet reach a point where the player decides he has to move to help his career.

Billed as one of the best young forwards around when the Spanish club signed him, Simeone needs to realise that this potential star won't wait around forever. With Atlético looking to sign Diego Costa to play after their transfer ban and Griezmann likely to leave at season’s end, this is the perfect time to begin using Correa more. By giving him an extended run in the team (especially now that Griezmann has a two game ban), Ángelito would be able to play in his preferred position and build up his confidence in order to shine in 2018/19 and replace the Frenchman - further bolstering Atlético's reputation of developing elite forwards.