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Analyzing six Atlético prospects’ first-team chances in 2021/22

Several youngsters got a run-out against Numancia, but which ones might garner in-season consideration?

Atletico de Madrid Celebrate Winning La Liga
Diego Simeone speaks with his son Giuliano during the league title celebration.
Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid’s first preseason friendly ended in a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Numancia on Wednesday. Only three senior players were named in Diego Simeone’s starting 11 — Saúl, Mario Hermoso, and Jan Oblak all exited at halftime. Ivo Grbić replaced Oblak and kept Numancia off the scoreboard in the second 45 — which sent the 1-1 match to a shootout. Then, Grbić stopped two spot kicks as Atlético won the shootout to claim the Jesús Gil Memorial trophy (named after the former, longtime, controversial president).

With so many first-team regulars still on vacation or just easing back into action, the friendly at El Burgo de Osma was a great opportunity for younger players to get game time and potentially impress Simeone. This includes Grbić, new signing Marcos Paulo, and the coach’s son Giuliano.

Let’s try to discern whether some of the players who appeared in Wednesday’s game have a chance to reappear further down the line.

Ivo Grbić

The Croatian spent the 2020/21 season backing up Oblak and thus played only one game — a Copa del Rey victory over Cardassar. Grbić is 25, with good athleticism and a sturdy frame, and he needs game time to develop. He’s not going to get much of that as long as he’s backing up the world’s best goalkeeper.

There is a possibility Grbić continues for 2021/22 if Atlético can’t bring in a veteran backup, but a loan can’t be ruled out and would benefit all parties.

Mario Soriano

A slippery, versatile attacker who made his debut in the Copa del Rey loss to Cornellà last season. Soriano scored Atlético’s opening goal in the fourth minute on Wednesday after great work from Giuliano Simeone (more on him below). The 19-year-old progressed quickly last season and seems likely to play for Atlético B next season — he can operate as an attacking midfielder or second striker.

Germán Valera

Arguably the crown jewel of Atlético’s academy setup, Valera debuted for the first team in January 2020 and spent the second half of last season on loan at Tenerife. Another 19-year-old who can play as a secondary striker or as a winger, the left-footed Valera started this friendly but is almost assured another loan spell for 2021/22, with hopes he’ll be ready to contribute in LaLiga after that.

RCD Espanyol v CD Tenerife - La Liga Smartbank
Valera during his loan spell at Tenerife.
Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Javi Montero

The left-footed defender has returned ready to impress from a loan spell with Turkish champions Besiktas — he was the captain in the second half on Wednesday and scored in the shootout. Though he played fewer than 1,000 minutes in the Süper Lig, Montero took big steps forward after an erratic 2019/20 campaign with Deportivo La Coruña.

Now 22, Montero has a serious shot to stay with Atlético this season — especially if the Spanish champions continue to deploy three central defenders. And like Mario Hermoso, he can also play a little left-back, which will increase his value.

Marcos Paulo

Diego Simeone confirmed in an interview with AS last week that Marcos Paulo was a club-engineered signing (thus explaining why the young Brazilian has been marketed extensively on Atlético’s social media pages). His first minutes as a rojiblanco came in the second half against Numancia, and he showcased a fiery, dribble-heavy playing style with edges that will have to be smoothed over.

The 20-year-old will be given a couple more opportunities to impress after not playing for six months. He has a shot to take Vitolo’s vacated place in the squad, but it seems the ex-Fluminense attacker will have an uphill battle for minutes anyway if he stays.

Giuliano Simeone

Finally, Cholo Simeone’s youngest son — a former ballboy at the Vicente Calderón — debuted for his father on Wednesday, and his hustle created the game’s first goal.

Giuliano, a forward, doesn’t turn 19 until December, meaning he will likely start the season with Atlético Juvenil A. While there, another club legend will be coaching him — Atleti announced Sunday that Fernando Torres will manage the under-19 side next season.