Atlético Madrid’s 2020/21 season is sure to be unusual given the unprecedented circumstances, and it kicks off Sept. 27 against Granada. This series will explore three make-or-break questions Diego Simeone and co. will have to answer in order to compete for silverware amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Question: Which player is most likely to have a breakthrough season?
Answer: We have three candidates here — Mario Hermoso, Víctor Mollejo (presuming he stays) and João Félix.
Mollejo starred for a terrible Deportivo La Coruña side, registering six goals and four assists across 2,500 minutes. The left-footed 19-year-old played primarily on the right wing, but also saw time as a second striker. His electric pace unbalances a defense, and he’s proven adept at drawing fouls — ranking in Segunda’s top 10 in that category. He needs more seasoning and may yet join Getafe on loan, but Simeone believes he’s talented enough to provide immediate competition for Ángel Correa and even toss his hat into the ring in the event of a Thomas Lemar departure.
Hermoso’s debut season wasn’t particularly encouraging. He appeared in under 40 percent of Atlético’s games following his excellent 2018/19 at Espanyol. The left-footed center-half’s long pass accuracy sank from 77 percent to 64 percent amid his uneasiness within Diego Simeone’s structure. His pressing success (wherein his team won possession within five seconds of pressuring the carrier) fell to 28 percent from 35 percent, and his clearances dropped from 5.4 to 4.4 per 90 minutes.
However, Hermoso was just one year removed from ranking seventh in LaLiga with 205 clearances and showcasing a progressive passing range. With Hermoso on the pitch, Atlético produced a +9 expected goal difference. The 25-year-old won 57 percent of his aerial duels (in a relatively small sample size) and will be the youngest of Simeone’s center backs if Nehuén Pérez is loaned out. Now a year wiser, he could be primed to take advantage of any injuries to the trio above him.
Though João Félix’s first season was far from poor, more was expected from him (fairly or otherwise) following his €126 million transfer. But his reward after a challenging year under Simeone is the chance to play with Luis Suárez — a duo that has serious potential. The kid knows how capable he is — and if his half-hour exhibición against RB Leipzig last month showed us anything, it’s that he’s more than ready to improve on an injury-influenced campaign in which he hit “only” nine goals and made three assists in all competitions.
Seeing as the duo didn’t get a preseason together, it may take time for Félix to find his footing with Suárez. Still, I expect the 20-year-old to ring up much more than 0.21 goal-creating actions per 90 minutes with El Pistolero next to him. If he can ditch those pesky ankle injuries, he’s in for a better year, and he is the logical choice to experience a breakthrough campaign ahead of Euro 2020 with Portugal.