The annual Memorial Jesús Gil y Gil game, played for a trophy named after the infamous former Atlético Madrid president, saw Atlético beat Numancia by four goals to nil in their first pre-season run-out at the Estadio Municipal de Burgo de Osma.
Diego Simeone fielded two different teams, giving his players a first chance to impress on a field of play since ending the 2021/22 campaign by securing third place in LaLiga.
Here are three things learned from the first outing of the season.
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Simeone doesn’t know which formation to use... yet
Atlético changed their line-up at half-time in this encounter — and it wasn’t just the personnel who changed, but also the shape.
In the first period, Atleti fielded a 5-3-2 shape akin to that which we have become accustomed to over the last 24 months, with Daniel Wass and Yannick Carrasco playing as the two wing-backs.
In the second, Atleti returned to a more-traditional 4-4-2 shape. Rodrigo Riquelme acted as a more-offensive winger on the left, with Marcos Llorente as an interior wide player on the right. It was just like watching 2018/19 Atlético Madrid, and not just because Antione Griezmann missed some chances.
It raises questions over just what El Cholo has planned for this season. The pre-season training camp in Los Ángeles de San Rafael would suggest more of a tendency toward 4-4-2, but then squad planning would point toward a 5-3-2.
We are likely to get a much clearer idea against higher-level opposition, like Manchester United in the next friendly, and that could provide a real test to whichever — or both — of the structures that Simeone trials.
But the real highlight wasn’t a 5-3-2 or a 4-4-2, it was the final substitution.
Antonio Gomis, Atleti B’s 19-year-old goalkeeper, came on as a substitute to replace the injured Mario Hermoso as an outfield player, wearing the also-injured Felipe’s unused number 18 shirt. To summarise his 14 minutes of action, you shouldn’t be surprised if Barcelona put in a €100 million bid to take his silky footwork to Camp Nou to bolster their midfield.
Set pieces leading to goals!
An unbelievable headline. Or you might think so watching Atlético last season, who scored fewer set-piece goals than Espanyol and only one more than relegated Alavés.
Of the four goals against Numancia, three came from corners, and the Rojiblancos once again looked dangerous from dead-ball scenarios. First, Ángel Correa converted a volley at the far post, then Geoffrey Kondogbia deflected in a Rodrigo de Paul shot after Numancia failed to clear. Finally, Matheus Cunha got in on the act just after halftime.
The confidence in particular marked a significant change from last season. De Paul’s effort, which ended up going beyond diving Numancia goalkeeper Gaizka Ayesa, was the kind of attempt on goal too often missing from Atleti’s midfielders last season.
This game saw three set piece goals without them necessarily being towering headers from centre-forwards, but rather players who were pouncing on split-second chances and small spaces to score. It was a welcome change from the lethargy of Rojiblancos players in some similar scenarios last season.
Granted, Numancia won’t be the most challenging of tests when it comes to set piece organisation and coordination, but it’s a promising sign. If the Colchoneros can strengthen this area of their game, both offensively and defensively, it will provide a welcome boost.
Morata under pressure did what Morata does under pressure
You can’t judge any players on 45 minutes of a pre-season friendly, of course not. But that’s good news for Álvaro Morata more than anybody else.
He was on the ball just 12 times in his 45 minutes of action, less than any other Atlético player, and had the lowest pass completion rate at 44%. He also failed to register a shot, nor did he touch the ball in the box, and he looked isolated as he lost possession seven times.
For a man who — it could be said — is playing for his future (although Atlético deny that they want to sell him), Morata didn’t do much to impress. He is more than capable of producing, but he struggles when the pressure is on. And his return to Atlético is forcing him to face up to previous struggles, including a reported falling-out with Simeone before he left the club in 2020.
However, the Spain forward can have few complaints about his treatment from the coach in this early stage of pre-season. Given his starting role against Numancia, he could be higher in the pecking order than was first thought.
All of the club’s available forward options were given opportunities to shine, with João Félix remaining in Madrid to continue regaining fitness after missing several days of running work due to a knock. This was a first opportunity for Morata to stake his claim, but he didn’t quite take it.