Atlético Madrid have returned. The team’s pre-season preparations are underway for the 2022/23 campaign, with a series of three friendly matches slated before LaLiga action kicks off LaLiga against Getafe on August 15.
The Colchoneros first begin their pre-season with the traditional Memorial Jesús Gil y Gil game against CD Numancia in El Burgo de Osma before facing Manchester United in Oslo, then finalising preparations against Cádiz in the Ramón de Carranza trophy game at Nuevo Mirandilla.
That will see experiments tried, and Diego Simeone’s ideas put to the test in our first indication of what to expect from Atlético this season. Here, we pick out four storylines to keep an eye on.
What role Álvaro Morata plays (if he even stays)
Would it be an Atlético Madrid pre-season without a returning loanee that the club can’t get rid of, but don’t want to hold onto either?
This time, there are various candidates, but the most intriguing of all is centre-forward Álvaro Morata.
Juventus’s first-choice striker last season, and Spain’s leading number nine, is far from a bad option to have in the squad. But Atleti already have some packed attacking ranks.
João Félix and Antoine Griezmann will certainly start the campaign ahead of Morata in the pecking order. Ángel Correa and Matheus Cunha would hope to do so too. But pre-season will give us a measuring stick for how Simeone sees Morata fitting in.
In the initial training sessions held so far, Morata is yet to feature in the coach’s stronger line-up for training matches. A sideline role in friendlies would only further cement his position in the background.
That could raise as many questions as it answers, given Morata’s wages won’t be cheap, especially for a fifth-choice forward. Would Atleti be persuaded to give in to Juve’s demands for a cut-price deal? Or could he surprise everyone and re-establish himself in Madrid? Pre-season will give us the first indications.
What Simeone does at right-back
It’s no secret that Atlético desperately need a right-back. They have since Kieran Trippier left in January, and the departure of Šime Vrsaljko since. Combined with Simeone’s dislike for Daniel Wass, there is no present solution at the position the coach feels is the most important in the sport.
Atlético seem closer to securing a right-back, though, despite the club’s bizarre inability so far to cough up the cash required to bring in such a crucial player. Reporting from Italy and Spain has indicated Atleti are preparing an offer for Udinese’s Nahuel Molina, and the talks seem pretty advanced.
That means pre-season action will be essential for identifying exactly what Simeone plans to do. The most obvious in-house solution backing up Molina (if he arrives) is Marcos Llorente, but that would also mean losing his attacking talents. In 2021/22, we already saw the significant change in his game when he has the added defensive duties and no wing-back to link up with. He was a shadow of his 2020/21 self.
Wass was brought in as the makeshift replacement in January, but Simeone did not play him again after he was injured on his debut against Barcelona. Reports emerging since then suggest that the Argentine does not consider Wass to be a player of sufficient quality.
Teenager Sergio Díez has been called up to the squad’s pre-season training after impressing for Atleti’s B team in Tercera División RFEF last season, and he could be the wildcard choice. Offensively strong, but defensively reliable, his inexperience is a setback. But if Simeone relies on him in pre-season, we could see him more to come.
Where Reinildo features
Signed as a left-back, Reinildo Mandava has featured most prominently as a left-sided central defender in a back three. There has been talk Simeone could now switch him into a more traditional left-back, which might indicate a return to 4-4-2.
That’s important, perhaps more than anything else in pre-season, as Reinildo alone could indicate the set-up for the whole team.
In turn, the Mozambican’s position will almost certainly be decisive in guiding the club’s business to sign another full-back. It could also mean that Saúl Ñíguez and Llorente would be more adept in a central midfield role, rather than operating as wing-backs as they did in many of their most recent Atleti appearances.
Rarely has the role of one player been such an indication of a whole team’s strategy and shape. Since arriving, Reinildo has firmly positioned himself as one of the team’s most reliable and consistent performers, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed for Simeone either. Such importance in the side will almost certainly continue next season.
How many opportunities Cholo gives the youngsters
Returning loanees like Rodrigo Riquelme and Sergio Camello will be hoping to reposition themselves in the plans, transitioning from the roles of unproven youngsters to squad players who can add value to the team.
Riquelme in particular is one to watch, given the reported interest in his services from several clubs (including Juventus), and the club could look to cash in on him if Simeone isn’t convinced. Seven goals and 12 assists for Mirandés in Segunda last season show that he has the quality to be a valued addition to the squad. Simeone will put his talents to the test in pre-season.
Equally, Javi Serrano will be hoping to continue his development and gain more of a presence in the first team. Saúl’s return and Axel Witsel’s arrival could make that task even more difficult, but Héctor Herrera has also moved on. The homegrown talent was becoming increasingly-established at the tail end of last season and will hope to maintain some form of presence in the first-team setup.
In addition, the aforementioned Sergio Díez, as well as Carlos Martín and Germán Valero, will hope to impress after playing well for the B team last season. Martín made his first-team debut in 2021/22 and will be hoping to build upon that this season.
There is also young Samuel Lino, the 22-year-old winger who joined from Gil Vicente this summer, and Marcos Paulo, who joined last summer but spent the season on loan at Famalicão. The former will be playing to prove that he has a first-team role to play this season. The latter could be playing for his Atlético future.
Simeone is not a coach who regularly gives chances to young players, especially in recent years. These first run-outs in pre-season, particularly against CD Numancia, often serve as a springboard to catch his eye.