Atlético Madrid have wrapped up traditional preseason camp in Segovia and will play the first of four preseason friendlies on Wednesday, the Memorial Jesús Gil y Gil contest with Numancia. After that, Atlético will play Manchester United in Norway and against Juventus in Israel, with the Trofeo Carranza at Cádiz sandwiched in between.
Relevo’s José Luis Guerrero on Sunday published a Twitter thread (below) as the grueling 12-day camp came to a close, with observations that could give us an idea as to how Diego Simeone is preparing his side for the 2022/23 season — which will feature a packed early-season schedule thanks to the winter World Cup in Qatar.
⚪️10 ítems del 'stage' en Los Ángeles de San Rafael— José Luis Guerrero (@JLWARRIOR) July 24, 2022
1⃣ Importantes 12 días de trabajo para el Cholo, que pudo contar con toda la plantilla (hasta 31 jugadores) desde el día 1. Gran base de trabajo físico y táctico para toda la temporada.
- Simeone worked primarily with a 4-4-2 formation, and eight players seem more-or-less fixed in Cholo’s best 11. These eight players are: Jan Oblak, Stefan Savić, José Giménez, Reinildo Mandava, Axel Witsel, Marcos Llorente, Koke, and Yannick Carrasco.
Not many surprises here, except for Witsel taking a pre-eminent role from the first day of training. Simeone clearly sees the 33-year-old as a new Tiago Mendes — Witsel has a superior passing range compared to Geoffrey Kondogbia, and Cholo is obviously banking on the Belgian possessing enough mobility following his 2021 Achilles tear to hold up as the #5 this team has been missing for years.
(He probably read our Q&A with Fear the Wall about Witsel.)
Guerrero further reports that Atlético’s coaches were pleasantly surprised at Witsel’s physical strength and conditioning. Samuel Lino, who arrived in a €6.5 million transfer from Portugal’s Gil Vicente, also impressed as a supporting striker. However, Lino would occupy a non-EU slot if he stayed in the squad and is still likely to leave on loan.
- The “B” team is made up of players Simeone still considers “guarantees.” These players include Kondogbia, Ángel Correa, Thomas Lemar, Rodrigo de Paul, and Renan Lodi.
Those are some quality substitutes. There figures to be plenty of playing time to go around in the first half of this season, given there will be so many games crammed so close together in September and October.
Kondogbia and Lemar need to stay healthy, and Lodi’s penchant for showing up in big moments (see his goals against Osasuna and Man United) needs to translate into some level of overall consistency.
- João Félix suffered a blow to the foot shortly after Atlético reconvened for training, and right now, he’s considered one step behind Matheus Cunha and Antoine Griezmann physically.
The good news is Atlético’s forward depth is one of the team’s strengths, and Cunha’s production could go through the roof with more minutes this season. The Griezmann situation is what it is — I’ve said my piece on where I think he is as a player.
But João missed the start of last season after undergoing ankle surgery and didn’t really find form until February. As it stands, he is this team’s attacking star. Atlético’s domestic and continental ceiling is considerably lower if the Portuguese has another similarly-slow start this season.
- Mario Hermoso is emerging as one of the dressing room heavyweights, and the coaching staff were pleased with Saúl Ńíguez’s attitude — though he has no fixed place in the team.
Atlético better hope the lightbulb goes off over Hermoso’s head and he learns how to defend his position properly. This team must find another reliable center-back somewhere, and Hermoso was consistently unreliable last year (despite his swagger and self-confidence).
Part of the reason Saúl left Atlético for Chelsea is because he could not play in his preferred position at the Metropolitano. As much as I hope he triumphs in his return to the club he joined as a 13-year-old, the deck feels somewhat stacked against him. Simeone’s plan for him seems to be the same as it was before he went out on loan — fill in gaps on the left side of midfield or at left-back, or plug a hole in central midfield if there are injuries.
- Simeone is keeping a spot open for a new right-back — presumably, Udinese’s Nahuel Molina, whose signing should be confirmed this week.
Daniel Wass trained at the position throughout camp, but Simeone does not believe he is good enough to occupy the role on a regular basis. The Dane could still leave the club before the transfer window shuts in September.
Atlético’s coaches were also surprised with 18-year-old right-back Sergio Díez, described as a talented and very confident young defender. Sounds like a prospect worth keeping an eye on.