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3 things learned as Atleti return to action with a 4-2 friendly win over Ponferradina

A late rally was needed, with youngsters leading the way.

SD Ponferradina v Atletico de Madrid Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid returned to action on Wednesday evening as they took on Ponferradina in a friendly match to celebrate the Segunda División team’s centenary at the Estadio Municipal El Toralín, mere hours before Antoine Griezmann and France secured a spot in the 2022 World Cup final.

Ponferradina took a 2-0 lead against a starting line-up featuring seven first-team players, but the youngsters who came off the bench had the right impact. Goals from Reinildo, Alberto Moreno and Carlos Martín (twice) in an 11-minute span turned the game on its head.

Here are three things we learned from the tie ahead of Atleti’s return to competitive action in the Copa del Rey against Arenteiro next Thursday.

Matheus Cunha is on his way out

The only fit and available senior player not to be involved, it’s clear the Brazilian’s days at Atlético are numbered.

Cunha did not take part in training on Tuesday either, and all signs point to an imminent exit in the early days of the January transfer window.

There is a host of interest from the Premier League, with Wolves believed to be leading the chase. Leeds, Everton and Arsenal are among the other clubs to have been linked with a move for the 23-year-old forward.

Cunha started the campaign with high hopes after taking on the number nine shirt vacated by Luis Suárez. However, things haven’t quite worked out, and his absence for this game was just the latest sign of that.

Not only has he failed to score, but he has started only two games in 2022/23 — the 2-1 home win over Girona and the 2-0 win at Sevilla. He’s played just 27% of the minutes available this season, and now-former Brazil coach Tite opted not to include him in the Seleção’s World Cup squad, despite having counted on him for the country’s September friendlies against Tunisia and Ghana.

Now, Cunha’s spell in Madrid will come to an end with seven goals and eight assists across 54 appearances, but without ever having nailed down a regular starting spot and having failed to build upon a fairly-impressive debut campaign in the Spanish capital.

Carlos Martín and Alberto Moreno are talents to keep an eye on

This year hasn’t been a great year for Atleti B or the club’s youth prospects. Despite injuries and suspensions, Simeone has almost never turned to them as the salvation, with their presence in Segunda RFEF not helping matters as several of the more-talented players opted to go out on loan for opportunities at a higher level.

However, several made their claim to a role on the fringes of the first team in this friendly, and it would be easy to imagine that Simeone will have been left for some food for thought given the impact some of his substitutions made, up against a team who ply their trade two divisions higher than they are accustomed.

SD Ponferradina v Atletico de Madrid Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Carlos Martín is no stranger after making his first team debut last season, and he’s been in fine form for the B team this year. He’s recorded eight goals in 14 games in Segunda RFEF, and with a brace against Ponferradina, there’s reason to believe he’s capable of playing at a higher level.

Alberto Moreno also stood out. In just 26 minutes he was involved in three goals, scoring one to equalise and then assisting both of Martín’s strikes. His composure and precision in all three moments impressed, particularly with his second assist, as he cut the ball back from a tight angle to find Martín in the six yard box.

The Copa del Rey tie against Arenteiro presents these players with a real opportunity to shine before the full first-team squad are back in action. Simeone will likely be happy to give chances to some of these prospects in that encounter, given that Atleti B currently sit second in their group at the same tier as Arenteiro.

While the priority will likely be to rebuild fitness levels for the first team players, particularly those who did not feature against Ponferradina (such as Koke, Marcos Llorente and Álvaro Morata), this gives the kids an opportunity to shine.

The state of the defence

Well, what’s new? Atlético Madrid play, and we see some painful defending.

The starting line-up for this encounter saw only seven first team players, with four of them coming in defensive positions: Jan Oblak, Mario Hermoso, Reinildo Mandava and Stefan Savić.

Yet still, Atleti went 2-0 down before the hour-mark.

The opening goal was woeful. Two passes split the defence, and Savić did not cover himself in glory as he was caught out by a through ball that Heriberto Tavares tucked in past Oblak.

SD Ponferradina v Atletico de Madrid Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Similarly for the second goal, Hermoso stepped up and was left looking a fool as Ponferradina spun past him and found themselves with three men up against two. Oblak could only block the shot from Tavares straight back at the forward, and the ball duly bounced off him and over the line.

Arguably the pick of the back line was Sergio Díez. The right-back has yet to feature for the first team despite being a regular in pre-season, and it seems likely he will be in contention for next week’s Copa del Rey fixture. His energy and pace down the right flank were refreshing, and he looked like an option worth considering.

Despite that, there must be concern about the senior players. Savić and Hermoso were both turned inside out by second-tier strikers in a friendly match, and while they may blame rustiness and a break from the action recently (not to mention the rainy condiditons), there can be no excuse. Being out of the Champions League may just save them a humiliation.