The final installment of our player ratings for the 2021/22 campaign takes a look at one of Atlético Madrid’s unexpected weaknesses: the defence.
This was Diego Simeone’s worst season in charge in terms of defensive performance. There was a real mix of top-notch performances, and some that Atleti fans will spend all summer trying to forget.
Here are the ratings:
The stats to know: Three errors leading to goals in LaLiga in 2021/22 is as many as he made between joining in 2014 and the start of this campaign.
Rating (out of 10): 6
What a bizarre season for the Slovenian goalkeeper. Where he has single-handedly saved Atleti’s lives time and time again over the years, this campaign saw him look like a liability. While some cases showed truly woeful mistakes (take Cádiz away as he fumbled the ball into his own net as the example), others were just more akin to that of a lower-level goalkeeper (see Manchester United’s late equaliser at the Metropolitano in February).
It must be said that as the defence became more settled, consistent and reliable in the second half of the season, Oblak’s form picked up in response. Whereas the season leading up to and including the 1-0 defeat to Levante saw Oblak concede 1.27 goals for every 1.0 of xG conceded, after that the ratio changed to 0.68 goals conceded for every 1.0 xG.
Momentum is in Oblak’s favour to come bouncing back next season, and he ended the season performing well. But the chaos of mid-season in particular mean that Oblak looked vulnerable for the first time since he truly established himself as first-choice at the club.
The stats to know: Lecomte became the first second-choice goalkeeper not to play a single minute of football for Atlético since Ricardo in 1995/96.
Rating (out of 10): N/A
What is there to say about a goalkeeper who didn’t make it off the bench for a single minute of action all season long? We’ll never know what Lecomte could have brought to Atleti, but he was at least an excellent cheerleader from the touchline.
The stats to know: His 95 headers won was 17 more than the next-highest total from an Atlético player.
Rating (out of 10): 7
For much of this season, Stefan Savić was the glue holding Atleti’s defence together.
Savić was the Atleti defender to rack up the most minutes this season, one of the few constants stationed on the right in Diego Simeone’s 3-5-2. His highlight came against Manchester City, where he defined Cholismo in its purest form, winning the mind game battles even if the end result didn’t work out. That fighting attitude inspired the rest of his team to pick up their levels and match his desire to win.
The truth is Savić was rarely particularly outstanding, but he was one of few players who could be relied upon for a consistent seven out of 10 performance. That was exactly what was missing from the Atleti defence for much of the campaign.
The stats to know: Only tackled 42.3% of dribbles faced, the lowest of any Atlético defender.
Rating (out of 10): 4
No Rojiblanco has fallen from grace in quite the same way as Hermoso this season. He went from the edge of the Spain squad and one of the first names on the team-sheet at the end of 2020/21, to starting just two of the last 19 games of the 2021/22 season.
Defensively, the insecurity and lack of confidence across the backline seeped into Hermoso’s game perhaps more than anyone. His positioning was way off, and his reading of play was woeful at best. Most infamously, Hermoso became a social media meme after his inability to defend his position properly became frighteningly-clear in a February loss at Camp Nou, when Adama Traoré made his FC Barcelona debut and tore Hermoso apart. Traoré barely featured again for the Culés.
Hermoso’s best moments of the season came when scoring late goals against Valencia and Getafe while operating as a left-winger. That says everything about the quality of his defensive performances.
José María Giménez
The stats to know: 13 games missed through injury takes his tally to 62 matches missed across the last four seasons.
Rating (out of 10): 7.5
When available, Giménez was arguably Atlético’s best defender. He finally looked like a Diego Godín successor — imperious in the air, positioned well in the centre of a back three, and marshaling the organisation of the entire back line. He improved upon last season, bar a few lapses of concentration.
But Giménez was too often missing in action. The usual injuries plagued him throughout and even when he was on the field, he was often playing through the pain with injections and painkillers easing him through. That took its toll on his performances.
It’s frustrating because Giménez is one of few natural leaders within this squad, but his presence is undermined by his tendency to be unavailable in big games. How can anyone dominate a dressing room when they aren’t even in their kit for one-third of the season?
The potential is there, but it was another season of the same old story for the Uruguayan.
The stats to know: 1.63 tackles won per 90, the second-highest figure of any player in the Atleti squad.
Rating (out of 10): 9
The only defender who can feel particularly proud of himself this season.
Reinildo’s arrival completely changed Atlético’s fortunes. He arrived from Lille in February, in the middle of a run of 16 goals conceded from seven games. The next seven games saw Atleti concede only three goals.
The upgrade from Hermoso to Reinildo was significant. He immediately built up a rapport with Renan Lodi and, later, Yannick Carrasco on the left. The 28-year-old shored up the left side of defence, reinstating the sense of security that is a trademark of any Diego Simeone team.
Bar a few rash challenges now and again, such as the one that led to a penalty against Mallorca, he was Atleti’s best signing this season. At just four million euros, he had a far greater impact than the likes of Rodrigo de Paul or Antoine Griezmann, despite coming at a fraction of the price.
The stats to know: Only 26 Atleti players have ever received more than the three red cards Felipe received in just one season.
Rating (out of 10): 3.5
No one at Atlético Madrid looked more out of their depth this season than Felipe. His performances were so bad that many Atleti fans called for youngsters from the B team in the fifth tier of Spanish football to be given a chance instead.
Yet, Simeone stuck with the Brazilian.
What was most frustrating was how predictable Felipe’s errors became. His dismissals in big matches, such as the European clashes with Liverpool at Anfield and Manchester City in Madrid, showed a lack of discipline that simply cannot be tolerated for a player at this level. At 33 his pace has gone, and his lack of in-match intelligence prevents him from adapting his game. Coming up against any kind of pace from an opposition forward would see Felipe pulled too far out of position and unable to get back without diving into a risky tackle.
If the club extend his contract, which expires this summer, it’ll be a bizarre decision.
The stats to know: After failing to score in 7,014 minutes for Atlético, he scored two goals in 520 for Newcastle United.
Rating (out of 10): 5
If we’re all brutally honest, it was in everyone’s best interests for Trippier to move on from Atlético last summer. With the benefit of hindsight, he could have left on a high for Manchester United as a league champion, giving Atleti time to find a replacement.
Instead, he stumbled through half a season and then left for Newcastle in a cut-price deal with no ready-made replacement.
Trippier’s performances reflected his desperate desire to move on and leave Atleti. He never hit the heights of his previous two seasons in the Spanish capital. His absence was certainly felt, but we could have said that in August.
The stats to know: Vrsaljko played 1,434 minutes this season, his highest figure for a single season since 2017/18 and his second-highest figure since joining Atlético.
Rating (out of 10): 8
Most were surprised to see the Croatian stay at the club following the 2021 league title conquest, but by the end of the campaign he had become a crucial member of the team. Vrsaljko had started only twice all season before a pivotal Champions League group stage win at Porto in December, where he fractured his cheekbone in central defense and played through the pain.
That almost seemed to prove a point to Cholo Simeone, who immediately placed his trust in Vrsaljko as a makeshift central defender or right-back. His versatility and commitment saw him become the first choice when Trippier moved on. Vrsaljko may never have looked like a world-beater, but Simeone knew he could count on him.
Vrsaljko proved that he is the kind of back-up option that Simeone values so highly. He can’t be the long-term solution for Atlético, as his struggles for pace and with injuries have shown, but he’s the kind of character that has always had a place in the dressing room.
The stats to know: Wass played fewer minutes than any other registered outfield member of Atlético’s first-team squad with 45.
Rating (out of 10): 3
Signed as the makeshift Trippier replacement, Wass somehow still found himself operating as the third-choice right-back in a squad that only had one right-back.
Thrown in at the deep end against Barcelona, former teammate Ferran Torres laid into him with a crunching tackle that left him with a knee injury, despite Simeone’s best attempts to get him back onto the field of play. Whether that rift had a long-term impact, only those at the club can know, but it certainly looked like it from the outside.
Wass would not return to the field as an Atlético player, and looks almost certain to move on only six months after joining the club.
The stats to know: Four goals from 1.25 expected goals is more than double his tally from the past two seasons with less than half the xG.
Rating (out of 10): 7
The Brazilian has developed a reputation for inconsistency. At times, his move forward into a more-advanced left winger looked as if it would get the most out of him. Lodi weaponized his pace, his defensive liabilities were hidden, and he even looked to be building up an end product that had been missing in his Atlético career.
The Metropolitano chanted his name as a tearful Lodi walked off after scoring a brace in a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo, his best display yet for the club. Less than a month later, his headed goal at Old Trafford guided Atlético into a Champions League quarterfinal.
Lodi’s potential is unquestioned, but he still struggles to string together good performances, and Simeone still seems reluctant to trust the 24-year-old. He still gets carried away focusing on the offensive side of the game and figures to be in another battle for playing time next season.
The stats to know: Saúl’s one assist (vs Celta Vigo) for Atlético this season was one more assist than he registered throughout his whole loan spell at Chelsea.
Rating (out of 10): 7
An odd inclusion, perhaps, given that he played only 201 minutes at the start of the season, but they were all played in the left-wing-back role and Saúl actually did a very solid job. Were it not for his substantial wages and his own complaints, you’d almost have been forgiven for thinking that he was the wing-back Atleti were so desperately seeking.
Long-term, it could prove to be the case that time away from home helped him appreciate what he has had at Atlético. Only time will tell.