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Pablo Barrios shows the way for Atlético Madrid

The Atlético Madrid academy player starred in the Copa del Rey victory over CD Arenteiro.

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

After getting knocked out of the Champions League by finishing last in their group before the World Cup break, all that’s left now for Atlético Madrid in 2022/23 is LaLiga and the Copa del Rey. Only one of those seems even remotely possible.

Atlético got off to a rocky start in this season’s Copa, beating Almazán 2-0 last month and following it up with a 3-1 comeback victory over Galician side CD Arenteiro on Thursday night. But Atlético beating the lower-league Arenteiro wasn’t the subject of the headlines. Pablo Barrios Rivas was.

The 19-year-old midfielder started for Diego Simeone’s side and starred in an energetic, if not talismanic, performance. He didn’t score the last of the three goals, but he broke the deadlock at 1-1, which essentially won the game for Atlético.

It has been a long time since Simeone gave a player his debut who has gone on to do extraordinary things for Atlético. Lucas Hernández and Saúl Ñíguez once roamed the Calderón, but that feels like a lifetime ago.

But necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention. And a young player like Barrios is an absolute necessity for Simeone’s Atlético.

Barrios’s role

Atlético Madrid have been crying out for a midfielder who understands what Simeone wants for years. The players they tend to recruit have had one of, or a selection of, the following defects: too old, too creative, or too much of a mercenary.

Simeone likes his players like the bears in Goldilocks like their porridge; just right. This has been one of the main struggles between the ideal Cholo is trying to find and whatever Atlético have been trying to do over the last two years.

So why not promote a player steeped in the structure of the club since he was a 14-year-old?

Barrios on Thursday played in what now might be known as the Antoine Griezmann role. The teenager’s performance was also reminiscent of a young Saúl: a box-to-box threat with plenty of technical skill.

Average positions for Atlético Madrid vs. Arenteiro.

Here are a few highlights from Barrios’s statline:

  • Most tackles (5).
  • Most tackles won (4) — along with Axel Witsel.
  • 2nd-most passes attempted (46) and completed (37) behind José Giménez.
  • 3rd-most passes inside the final third (12) behind Thomas Lemar and Marcos Llorente.
  • 3 shots on target behind Álvaro Morata and Yannick Carrasco.

We know Atlético Madrid are entering a rebuild. Matheus Cunha already said goodbye via Instagram on Thursday and João Félix has had one foot out the door for a while. Defenders Felipe and Mario Hermoso might be next.

Simeone has the chance to inject ‘pure energy’ into the team, as he said himself. Barrios got a chance on Thursday night and he took it. Every other Atlético Madrid B player should thank him for showing Simeone and the club that there is a way out of the hole they have dug themselves — all without spending serious money in the transfer market.

Simeone doesn’t give chances to kids, but after Thursday, now he might not have any other options.