Axel Witsel has become an increasingly-peripheral figure at Atlético Madrid. The Belgium international initially excelled out of position at center-back and competed for minutes in central midfield with Geoffrey Kondogbia, but his superb start to the 2022/23 season is starting to feel like it took place long ago.
Witsel has been an unused substitute three times across Atlético’s past eight games, including Saturday’s drab 1-1 draw versus Getafe. And when Witsel has received minutes lately, top-tier opponents have been able to exploit his lack of foot speed — such as when Real Madrid’s Rodrygo Goes dribbled right through him on his way to equalizing in last month’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal.
But according to a report in MARCA on Sunday, Atlético are happy to keep Witsel around for next season as he closes in on an automatic one-year contract renewal.
Isaac Suárez says:
Although it will not be official at least two more rounds of LaLiga, the Belgian international will become Atlético’s first addition for next season, as his automatic renewal for one more season is imminent — specifically, as soon as he participates in two more games, playing a minimum of 45 minutes in each.
This was stipulated when last summer, after Borussia Dortmund released him, Witsel signed a one-year contract with Atlético until June 2023 plus another season depending on his performance. (The extension clause) is triggered after Witsel participates in 25 games with at least 50% of the minutes played.
Witsel has played 27 of Atlético’s 31 games, but hasn’t surpassed 45 minutes in four of them. The 34-year-old will need to do this twice more in Atleti’s final 18 games this season, all in LaLiga, to trigger the extension. Seems simple enough.
The report adds that club leadership and Simeone’s staff are delighted with Witsel’s attitude and professionalism, so they are keen on keeping him around. Though the quality of his performances has only been so-so since the World Cup, Witsel has played out of position for most of the season and has accepted his substitute role in recent weeks.
Though he is Atlético’s most accurate passer in LaLiga at over 93 percent, I would be concerned that Witsel, after nearly 800 career appearances for club and country, cannot keep up with faster and more skillful opponents (especially when at the base of midfield). But there figures to be a substantial reshuffle of Atlético’s squad next year anyway, with young players on loan coming back to the club and older high-earners potentially on their way out of the Metropolitano.
Atlético likely will not be challenging Madrid or FC Barcelona for LaLiga in the immediate future, nor are they particularly close to any of the other top teams playing in the UEFA Champions League’s latter stages. From now, the goal for Simeone — or for Atleti’s next coach — will be to develop the youngsters coming through the ranks (like Pablo Barrios) as well as the prospects on loan around LaLiga (Sergio Camello, Samuel Lino, Roro Riquelme). Witsel does not figure to take a ton of playing time away from those kids, particularly if he’s in central defense most of the time anyway.
Should Atlético renew Axel Witsel’s contract?
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