Some of Atlético’s key characters fall into this category, but not all have impressed, as we elaborate upon here.
The stats to know: With 6.66 out of 10, WhoScored’s ratings based on statistics put this season as Koke’s worst since 2011/12, when he made only 11 league starts.
The rating (out of 10): 5
The captain is the lowest-rated performer of the season among Atleti’s midfield.
This season was a difficult one for Koke. Despite a strong start, he became a victim of circumstance, often dropping into a pivot role that doesn’t play to his strengths in any way.
Koke also found himself as the scapegoat for the team’s struggles. One of the major areas where the change in his game was noticed was in ball progression. He completed an average of 1.32 dribbles per 90 last season, a figure that plummeted to 0.72 per 90 this season. Staying in the more-reserved role in midfield stopped him from catching the eye, and instead he was left to do the basics, at times showing a clear lack of confidence and leadership.
Despite that, he still started 41 of the team’s 46 games and showed no sign of losing Diego Simeone’s faith. What’s evident is that Simeone needs to identify just how Koke fits into this Atleti midfield going forward, because this season felt like a prolonged series of ways to fit a square peg into a round hole.
The stats to know: With 47 tackles won in LaLiga, Kondogbia registered 14 more successful tackles than the next best player in the squad (Marcos Llorente, 33).
The rating (out of 10): 8
Atleti’s France-born midfielder was one of this season’s best performers, a select few to have improved upon his displays from 2020/21.
Now looking settled and with a well-defined role within the squad, Kondogbia went from make-shift central defender early on in the season to establishing himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet with a holding role in a midfield three.
It was his performances in Europe that really stood out, with the Champions League tie against Manchester United catching the eye in particular. Up against “superstars” like Paul Pogba or Bruno Fernandes, Kondogbia single-handedly took the game by the scruff of the neck and dominated the midfield battle.
Kondogbia’s performances were of a very high level, and arguably the most consistent of any midfielder in these ratings. But his form has also underlined the lack of competition in his role within the squad. With no alternative, when he was forced out due to injury or suspension, Atlético looked a visibly weaker team. That was in part testament to his form, and in part owing to the lack of depth in the holding midfield role.
Rodrigo de Paul
The stats to know: At 261, no Atlético player made more passes under pressure than De Paul.
The rating (out of 10): 6
This may have been his first season at the Metropolitano, but following his move from Italy, many expected more of an immediate return.
De Paul may not have helped himself in that regard, comparing his playing style to Simeone’s. He struggled to settle, and at the team’s low point, his arrival and almost-undisputed starting spot were highlighted as reasons why Atlético became so unbalanced.
The 28-year-old’s campaign was mixed. He showed flashes of brilliance and moments of mediocrity, struggled to stand out in games and looked overwhelmed by the intense defensive work demanded of him. His work rate was sufficient and, a few sloppy passes aside, he wasn’t necessarily poor, but he didn’t bring anything new to the team.
Arguably his best form of the season came in the final few games. Given a more-advanced role, with less defensive duties and more freedom, de Paul’s creative side showed. He played more through balls and shorter passes, rather than the longer balls he had been focused on to that point. de Paul scored 2 goals from 2.37 xG leading up to the final games of the season, then recorded 2 goals from 0.43 xG in the final three games. There’s reason to be optimistic.
The stats to know: Llorente went from a goal involvement once every 145 minutes in 2020/21 to a goal involvement once every 1,082 minutes in 2021/22.
The rating (out of 10): 6
Hopes were so high for Marcos after last season, and it’s ended up being the case that, through no fault of his own, he failed to match the new expectations.
Llorente was at his best in 2020/21 with Kieran Trippier in behind, giving him the perfect connection and building a fine bond. Trippier was far from his best in the first half of this season, and left before the second. Llorente was often the man to replace him at right-back.
Just under a third of the 27-year-old’s minutes this season came in the right-wing-back role and, to be fair to Llorente, he was a reliable option. Not entirely comfortable defensively, he was solid enough and provided an option with pace which handled some of LaLiga’s quicker wingers well.
It was in attack where Llorente’s contribution and energy were so sorely missed, and this certainly seemed to be a case of a player struggling after a hectic schedule. A player so reliant on pace, energy and intensity paid the ultimate price for a full 12 months of football after Euro 2020. Suffering a muscle injury for the first time in his career, and struggling to overcome relapses after his return, typified a frustrating, goalless campaign for the Spaniard.
The stats to know: With 14, he completed more crosses into the box than any other Atlético player this season.
The rating (out of 10): 7
When Lemar played, he was great. His statistics put him up there alongside Yannick Carrasco for attacking output in many regards (he actually recorded an assist every 288 minutes, compared to the Belgian’s one every 432 minutes). He flicked between the wider role on the left and the more-central role, offering an attacking outlet in the midfield that couldn’t be matched by any of the alternatives.
The issue for the Frenchman is he struggles to stay fit. Lemar missed 18 games through numerous muscle injuries. November to February was the only period where he was fit enough to feature in five consecutive games.
Many Atleti fans tend to undervalue Lemar, who would likely be as surprised as anyone by his metrics, but will feel that this season was a missed opportunity to build upon his form of last season. Without regular fitness, he failed to secure a regular spot, and with only one year left on his contract, that could prove pivotal in deciding his long-term future.
The stats to know: No other player in the Atleti first-team squad all season long played fewer minutes than Herrera (1,321).
The rating (out of 10): 6.5
Herrera is tough to judge. Before February, he had only played more than 45 minutes three times, completing a full 90 only once in January’s Copa del Rey defeat to Real Sociedad. It was much like his Atlético career to date: entirely uneventful.
Following that unforgettable 1-0 defeat at home to Levante, the Mexico international came into the side and kept his spot, not missing a single minute of the next six games. Herrera looked an improvement on Koke, able to adapt to a deeper role and dictate the tempo of games. Those who had written off any chance of an extended stay were calling for a contract extension.
Then, there was mid-season confirmation of a move to Houston Dynamo upon the expiry of his contract. Then, niggling injuries appeared and he played only 95 minutes across the last 10 games. It was a disappointing end after arguably Herrera’s best spell in an Atleti shirt, but a fitting end for a signing who never really settled into the team.
The stats to know: With a shot-creating action every 24.4 minutes and 12 goal involvements, he far surpasses any other Atlético midfielder for attacking impact. He also accounted for 58% of all shots that came from a dribble.
The rating (out of 10): 9
The player of the season for many, and the campaign in which he announced himself as one of Atleti’s key players.
Carrasco was one of few signs of life in Atlético’s biggest struggles. His ability to break between the lines and his bravery to take on opposition defenders was something only Matheus Cunha and Ángel Correa could bring to the team.
Bizarrely, Atleti’s mid-season revival in February coincided with Carrasco dropping out of the side and Renan Lodi coming in at left-back. Once he returned, Carrasco showed what he was capable of, with a crucial April brace against Espanyol earning him a starting spot again amid one of the strongest individual displays all season.
Carrasco’s form recovered at the end of the campaign, and he built a relationship with Reinildo as the January arrival offered more defensive solidity than Mario Hermoso had. The Belgian has earned himself a place on the Atleti podium as one of the club’s most essential players, and he’s more than justified in asking for a contract to match his displays.
The stats to know: His red card vs Cádiz was the quickest for a substitute in LaLiga this season (4 minutes, 49 seconds).
The rating (out of 10): 7
Neither Simeone nor Serrano himself would have expected to end the campaign with quite such a prominent first-team role. The 19-year-old’s energy and desire as a substitute impressed in his early appearances, particularly at a time when such intensity was sorely lacking from the more-experienced pros.
Serrano hasn’t yet proven that he has what it takes to be a regular in LaLiga, as his rapid red card against Cádiz and his early withdrawal against Granada showed. More minutes and more experience will be crucial next season, though he’s not ready to challenge Kondogbia in the defensive midfield role.
The stats to know: 23 minutes across 2 appearances was a fine reward for a teenager who has been waiting 14 years for his first team debut.
The rating (out of 10): 6
Primarily playing as a centre-forward for the B team in the UEFA Youth League and in Tercera RFEF, he played his 23 first-team minutes in the right wing-back role against Osasuna in LaLiga and against Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey. He looked as out of position as that may sound, but added speed and an attacking threat down the flank.