The annual Into the Calderón tradition returns.
Our seasonal player ratings are back, starting with a look at how Atlético Madrid’s defenders and goalkeepers performed during the 2022/23 campaign. Atlético survived season-ending injuries to Jan Oblak and Reinildo Mandava to finish the season with LaLiga’s second-best defense as Diego Simeone shuffled between 3- and 4-defender formations.
All statistics cited below are culled from FBref.com.
The 20-year-old Elche native started his preseason as a forward and ended it with a substitute appearance in the season’s final game against Villarreal. Gomis shipped the Yellow Submarine’s 92nd-minute equalizer on Sunday, but given his rushed entrance into the game, it would be cruel to blame the Atlético B goalkeeper for an inability to protect the lead. N/A
Grbić finally got a run of games for Atlético after signing for the club in 2020...with mixed results.
Grbić made 10 starts in LaLiga as Oblak struggled with injuries. The Croatian recorded six wins and a respectable save percentage (81.3) but really struggled when Atleti faced set pieces — four of the 12 goals he allowed in LaLiga came from corner kicks, and he let in three spot kick goals too. He kept just two clean sheets and didn’t always appear confident coming out to claim crosses or punch the ball clear.
At 27, Grbić should just be entering his prime, and he flashed premium reflexes on several occasions this season. Seeing as Grbić has only a year remaining on his contract — and given Oblak is, well, Oblak — Atleti are likely to receive and seriously consider offers for him this summer. 5.5
Oblak looked like himself again for the majority of the 2022/23 season — but injuries limited him to 28 starts in LaLiga, his lowest figure since the 2014/15 campaign.
Oblak shipped 0.72 goals per 90 minutes in LaLiga (20 in 28 appearances) and maintained a save rate of 76 percent in addition to 11 clean sheets (eight of which came after the FIFA World Cup). Oblak’s post-shot xG (22) indicated slight over-performance — but as I’ve written before, he has routinely out-performed his actual vs. expected goals conceded throughout his career. The Slovenian simply looked more confident and assured as the defense around him gelled.
I am worried about the neck injury that cost Oblak the final month-plus of action. Local media has said the expectation is the 30-year-old will be ready to start next season, and Oblak himself has said on Instagram that he aims to be in “perfect” condition come August. Simeone had better hope so — it’s not possible to compete for trophies without his vice-captain. 7
Doherty on Wednesday confirmed via his Instagram that he will be leaving Atlético, having played just 17 minutes after his Jan. 31 arrival. N/A
Felipe played only four times before Atlético sold him to Nottingham Forest in January. Los Colchoneros won exactly zero of those four games. In fact, even Forest didn’t win a game Felipe started until April 26 — although he did help keep the Tricky Trees in the Premier League somehow. 3.5
Would have been a ruinous signing had Atlético not made the unintentionally-wise decision to sign him on a dry loan. Reguilón did not debut until November (at Mallorca, the game before the World Cup) and couldn’t even get into the team following Reinildo’s ACL injury, failing to make a single start until May 28 (the season’s penultimate game).
The ex-Real Madrid and Sevilla full-back broke forward often (lots of progressive carries and shot-creating actions per 90 minutes for his position), but he showed no end product and little inclination to defend his position. He won’t be missed because he was barely here. 4
Witsel began the season brilliantly, especially considering he was most often playing out of position as a center-half. And he did end the season as Atlético’s most accurate passer at 92.5 percent (caveat: 94 percent of his attempted passes in LaLiga went 30 yards or less).
But the Belgian’s post-World Cup form was utterly disastrous. By season’s end, Witsel offered no positional security in central defense, and Simeone had long given up trying to play him as a pivot. If El Cholo had his way, Witsel wouldn’t have come close to the 2,258 league minutes he accrued — his highest total since 2018/19. The 34-year-old’s role next season — if he has one at all — should be bit-part. 4.8
The mustachioed Montenegrin is on the decline.
Savić made only 22 starts in LaLiga this season due to several suspensions and injuries. He missed over two months of action combined with a hamstring strain and a broken pinky toe, and when he was fit, he was busy picking up red cards — three in 29 games across all competitions, one every 10 games.
Oddly, Savić has continued to improve as a passer as he’s gotten older. The 32-year-old recorded a career-best 88 percent passing rate this season, including over 70 percent accuracy on passes traveling more than 30 yards. But his ill discipline and annual fitness problems mean we’re seeing less and less of the steely defender who played such an important role in Los Rojiblancos’ title success two seasons ago. Hard to say if that guy is ever coming back. 5.5
Giménez made more than 25 starts in LaLiga for only the second time in his 10-year Atlético career. That in itself is worth celebrating. He also finished the season with a team-high 5.1 clearances per 90 minutes, and Atleti registered an impressive plus-31 goal difference (and a plus-18 expected goal difference, the second-highest figure on the team) when he was on the pitch. When the 28-year-old played, Atleti rang up 2.21 points per match — another strong indicator that having a healthy Giménez equals having a successful team.
Josema underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery last month, and he is optimistic about returning to full fitness in time for preseason. But as ever — especially as the club demurs over signing another center-back this summer — the question is “how long will he stay on the pitch in between injuries?” 6.8
What an amazing second half of the season for this dude.
Hermoso played in only seven games before the World Cup and very much looked on the outs at the club. Atlético seemed ready to listen to offers on the once-unpopular defender, whose assured attitude belied his bewildering inability to concentrate without the ball at his feet.
But Diego Simeone and Atlético’s coaching staff turned this rotting lemon into craft lemonade. Hermoso has found his role in the side and has probably earned an extension to a contract that ends in 2024.
Hermoso ended the season with three goals and two assists, but that only tells part of his story. Atlético had a plus-33 goal difference with the Madrid native on the pitch, the highest among any of Simeone’s players. Playing as a hybrid pivot/wide center-back, Hermoso led all Atleti defenders in:
- overall touches per 90 minutes (73.4)
- middle-third touches per 90 (36)
- passes into the final third p90 (3.8)
There’s still a sense that Hermoso has one big mistake per game in him, and he was sent off twice this season (including in September’s Madrid Derby — after scoring a goal, of course). But I get the feeling Hermoso really turned a corner after January, almost singlehandedly bringing Cholismo into a new evolutionary phase. Let’s hope this turns out to be more than just his purple patch of form. 7
Pre-World Cup Molina and post-World Cup Molina were, perhaps predictably, two different players.
Molina struggled in the season’s opening months amid doubts he was ready for the leap from Udinese. He gave away a goal and was shown a red card in his Metropolitano debut in August. He was picked on defensively and did not record a goal or an assist until Jan. 18 (against second-tier Levante in the cup).
But then the floodgates opened. In Atlético’s final 21 games between LaLiga and the Copa del Rey, Molina assisted three more goals and scored four (all after the March international break). No outfield player accrued more minutes in LaLiga (2,867) than the World Cup-winning right-back, whose form convinced just about everyone around the club that he is the long-term replacement for Kieran Trippier — or even Juanfran Torres. 7.2
Says a lot about this guy that he missed the final four months of the season and — in my opinion, of course — still grades out as Atlético de Madrid’s top defender for 2022/23.
The way Reinildo put his body on the line for this team each week kept this defense together. Although it wasn't apparent at first, Atlético badly missed him as the season drew to a close. Had the Mozambican been available at Elche and at Espanyol, Atleti would have ended the season in second place.
Reinildo showed improvement as an offensive left-back in a 4-4-2 this season, but his performance against Athletic at San Mamés in October epitomized the kind of player he is — nine tackles, five clearances, four interceptions, and three blocks, including one on the goal line. It ranks as one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen from an Atlético defender. His return to form next season will go a long way toward determining how close Atleti can get to silverware. 7.6
Who was Atlético’s best defensive player this season?
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