In Atlético Madrid’s disastrous summer of discontent, one concerning and forgotten story was Ángel Correa’s reported desire to leave Atlético at the time when they most desperately need him.
With Luis Suárez having moved on, Atlético are once again on the lookout for a leading forward to take up a leadership role in the front line. That man simply has to be, at long last, Correa.
Now set to start his ninth campaign in the red and white of the Colchoneros, Correa has never been one of the first names on the team sheet. Despite making a grand total of 49 appearances last season, Correa started only 55% of LaLiga matches and played only 54% of all minutes available in the league competition.
But, as we will examine here, Correa deserves more. We’ll explain why it should be the 27-year-old attacker who leads the line next season.
1: He’s earned this chance.
The fact this is even a debate is almost nonsensical. Correa scored more goals than any other forward in the Rojiblancos’ squad last season, and his goals and assists total was four more than any other player.
With a goal every 174 minutes and a conversion rate of 32%, Correa far outperformed any other player. For contrast, João Félix converted 23% of shots and averaged a goal every 204 minutes. Correa outperformed his expected goals by 4.47 in LaLiga, with 12 goals from chances totaling 7.53 xG. Félix was the next-best performer, scoring 8 times from 5 xG.
Last season started in the same vein, with a belief that Correa deserved his chance, and he went on to score three and assist another in three games before the end of August. Antoine Griezmann’s arrival saw him then banished to the bench and his opportunities limited.
2: There are no funds for better
A look around the other options show that there are, despite the big names, slim pickings. João Félix is getting better and better, but is still struggling with injuries. Álvaro Morata couldn’t convince Juventus to sign him permanently during his season-long loan. Griezmann hasn’t scored since January. Matheus Cunha is promising, but not quite there yet.
Atlético have to sell before they can even consider making signings. With four options available in attack, it seems almost certain that centre forward will not be a priority position — even if that is only the case because of the deficiencies elsewhere.
That means Diego Simeone is left with little choice but to stick with what he has. Sticking with Correa may be a case of better the devil you know, but it’s a lethal threat in his armour.
3: He’s as Cholista as they come
Correa knows, and loves, Atlético Madrid. His relationship with Simeone is as good as they come and he knows exactly what is required to form part of his coach’s system. He’s a player who believes in that approach and follows its demands to make the strategy work successfully.
Correa is in the top 9% of forwards in Europe’s top five leagues with 20.26 pressing actions per 90, and looks to defend from the front. Again, he ranks in the top 12% of forwards for tackles and the top 7% for both interceptions and blocks. This is a forward who isn’t afraid to put in the hard graft and commit to the defensive element of the game.
Correa played in all but two matches last season and was prepared to do whatever his coach asked of him, stepping up to the occasion even when there was no vote of confidence to start him from the off.
4: He’s the dressing room choice
There can be no question that Correa would have the backing of his team-mates. It’s the battler mentality that has been with him throughout his career and which has earned him the respect of his colleagues.
As Pablo Egea wrote in MARCA in March, “Correa is always there when his team needs him, and Simeone and his team-mates know that.”
“Correa played with his foot swollen, it shows what Atlético Madrid is. I don’t even know how he got his boot on,” Rodrigo de Paul said after Correa featured in a win over Cádiz days after a nasty injury against Real Betis.
That matters in circumstances like this. Morata and Griezmann are the superstars in the squad, but their recent performances do not suggest that they match up to their big reputations. Correa is entirely the opposite.
5: It may be Atleti’s last chance
With a World Cup on the horizon at the peak of his career, refusing to give Correa the game time he needs would likely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The Argentinian has been patient, waiting for his opportunity, and has never complained.
At the end of 2021/22, we heard the first sign of discontent as rumours circulated that he would be open to a move away. Such talk has since died down, but it was a warning sign at what could be to come if Simeone doesn’t yield.
There can be no doubt that Correa has done enough to earn more than the impact sub role that he has previously held. Failure to grant him more importance and influence would only mean that Atleti run a real risk of losing him for good come next summer, or even January.