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Pablo Barrios injury: Midfield starlet undergoes surgery on torn meniscus

Barrios could miss three months after picking up the injury in Rotterdam.

Feyenoord v Atletico Madrid: Group E - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Late in Tuesday’s win over Feyenoord in the Champions League, Pablo Barrios tracked back into his defensive third to pressure a ball sent toward Ayase Ueda. The Feyenoord forward lost possession and Barrios cleared...but not before he grabbed at his left knee in obvious pain.

Barrios finished the match, but he played through a significant amount of pain to do so — on Friday, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn meniscus he sustained in that left knee. Marca reports that the “best-case” scenario is Barrios returns within six weeks. The “worst-case” scenario? He’s out until March.

If that worst-case scenario comes to pass, Barrios will have ended up missing roughly 40 percent of a crucial developmental season. No one wants that to happen, but Barrios’ long-term health is becoming increasingly important to Atlético Madrid’s future success. Koke will eventually retire or leave the club, and technically it could happen as soon as next summer when his contact expires. Barrios, at just 20 years old, is already pencilled in as the captain’s replacement.

Take one look at the way FC Barcelona have handled the likes of Gavi, Pedri, Ansu Fati, or even Lamine Yamal amidst football’s absolutely mad calendar and you’ll see exactly what not to do with a prized young player. I think Diego Simeone has done a fine job handling Barrios’ minutes, but this is the second injury he’s suffered this season that will cost him at least a month of action (following the hamstring injury he picked up against Lazio in September).

In other words — put him in bubble wrap. If he needs three months to recover from the injury, then he needs three months to recover from the injury.

A serious club would now turn toward the transfer market, sí o sí, to acquire a replacement for Barrios — not to mention Thomas Lemar, whose season-ending Achilles rupture is flying a touch under the radar amid Atlético’s continued good form. Diario AS on Thursday reported that Atleti have a bit more urgency now to acquire a new midfielder when the transfer window reopens next month. Imagine that.

Is the Guido Rodríguez pathway still viable? Will Atlético call Tottenham about Pierre-Emile Højbjerg? Could the club turn to the Portuguese well and move for Sporting Braga’s Almoatasem Al-Musrati, as was rumored over the summer? There are options out there, and Atleti have to activate a plan to sign one of them.

Also, while I’m here, it’s a shame that contract talks with Koke have dragged on for this long. The club captain and its all-time appearances leader cannot be four weeks away from being able to negotiate with other sides. He remains one of the first names on Simeone’s team sheet, and he’s made it clear over calendar year 2023 that he has plenty of football left in him. Even with Barrios developing at a rapid pace, Koke deserves more respect than this.