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Several thoughts from Atlético Madrid’s friendly loss to RB Salzburg

A first half goal sank a team made up mostly of Atlético B players.

FC Red Bull Salzburg v Atletico Madrid - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid travelled to Austria for a return engagement with Red Bull Salzburg. This meeting didn’t go quite as well (and wasn’t nearly as important, to be fair) as December’s Champions League group stage showdown.

Karim Adeyemi’s 34th minute goal was all the Austrian champions needed to defeat their Spanish counterparts on Wednesday night, as Atlético came up just short in a hard-fought 1-0 defeat. Below are a few thoughts from the game.

Mario Hermoso’s injury

The slick-passing center-back exited the game with 20 minutes to go, a move precipitated by a probable muscle pull he sustained around the hour mark. According to Mundo Deportivo, Hermoso is set to undergo tests that will determine his injury’s severity.

It’s potentially bad news for Diego Simeone if Hermoso is ruled out, because his other central defenders aren’t doing too hot right now. Felipe (knee injury) and Stefan Savić (quadriceps) are already sidelined and questionable for the season opener at Celta Vigo in a little over two weeks’ time. Meanwhile, José Giménez has just returned from vacation and is still preparing for his own return to action at the team’s training facilities in Madrid.

This leaves open the possibility that Simeone will have no fit first-team central defenders available for the friendly against Wolfsburg on Saturday, and potentially only two when the season opener against Celta rolls around. This is a great chance for Javi Montero to step up and win a place as the fifth center-back — his two preseason appearances have been encouraging, and he can slide right in for Hermoso in the meantime as a left-footed and left-sided central defender.

(Update: Cadena Cope’s Javi Gómez has reported that Hermoso is OK and only received a cut to his knee on Wednesday.)

Saúl Ñíguez’s errors

No clear offers have materialized for him yet, but Saúl is still on the Atlético “exit ramp” this summer. While waiting for a transfer to come together, the 26-year-old has started both preseason fixtures thus far — and he has committed a mistake leading directly to a goal in each.

Against Numancia last Friday, Saúl misplaced a pass from deep within the defensive third, leading to a quick counterattack and a sharp finish from Diego Suárez. On Wednesday, another poor pass — this time further up the pitch — led to a Salzburg break and an opportunity that teenage forward Adeyemi did not miss.

It’s hard to read too much into this mistake given it’s preseason, most of the team is still absent, and Atlético in general didn’t match up well against Salzburg’s manic, high-pressing style. But all eyes have been on Saúl since his form dipped so drastically in 2020/21. Given his publicized desire to leave — and his annoyance over the subsequent media speculation — an error like this becomes a bigger story given the context around it.

How select youngsters fared

  • Giuliano Simeone had scored his first (unofficial) Atlético goal...until he hadn’t. Sergio Camello picked out the coach’s son on the counterattack, but a VAR check (in a friendly, I kid you not) ruled the Atlético B forward had knocked the ball down with his drawn-in hands. No goal.
  • Eighteen-year-old midfielder Javi Serrano stood out — and not just due to his long, curly hair. The Juvenil A pivot nearly assisted a last-gasp equalizer with a long pass over the top for Ricard Sánchez, but the full-back lifted the shot too high and couldn’t trouble goalkeeper Philipp Köhn.
  • Right-back Sergio Camus had a good first half, though he was somewhat limited after picking up a yellow card for a shirt pull. The 24-year-old is an older B-team player and started this match over Santiago Arias, while Šime Vrsaljko was not named in the squad given his recent return from vacation. With this performance, Camus built off last Friday’s friendly at Numancia, in which he scored the winning penalty in the shootout.

I still suspect the deputy right-back battle is far from settled. Camus might be a wild card given the uncertainties around Arias and Vrsaljko — as well as Atlético’s need to save on player wages, not to mention Arias’ non-EU status.