Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid squad is back in preseason training at the club’s Majadahonda base — which means we will soon receive our first indications as to how Atleti’s 2023/24 iteration will look.
Los Rojiblancos will undergo their usual pre-season routine, including starting sessions in Majadahonda before a camp in Los Ángeles de San Rafael. Following that, match action will start as Atleti take on Numancia in the traditional pre-season friendly in the third week of July before travelling to face Manchester City on July 30th in Seoul, South Korea, and then heading to the US to face Real Sociedad on August 3rd and Sevilla on August 6th.
Here are five questions we will see answered in the team’s pre-season campaign.
1. What role will João Félix play?
The question everyone will be asking this summer is whether João Félix has a future at Atlético de Madrid or not — and we will likely see the answer in pre-season.
Before a ball has been kicked, we have already seen João’s number seven shirt handed over to Antoine Griezmann, but now we’ll see if he will don a red and white shirt again at all. Since leaving on loan to Chelsea, Félix has shown little sign of wanting to return to the Spanish capital and make a success of his time in rojiblanco.
Now, with pre-season on the horizon, his attitude in the next few weeks could determine whether or not Diego Simeone will give him another chance. And seeing as no suitors are ready to take him away from the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, it seems he will be hanging around in some shape or form. Even if he is to leave, it seems that his exit from the club may not materialise until late on in the transfer window.
Previous pre-seasons have seen the Portuguese forward flunk out with strains and knocks, seemingly unable to keep up with Profe Ortega’s intense training regimes, and it’s hard to imagine this summer will be much different. Even if he does get involved, Simeone will have to decide how much prominence he gives to the forward. There is competition for places in attack, and those who have replaced João have performed above and beyond anything he created in the early stages of last season.
2. Is Jan Oblak fully fit?
One figure who was absent for the final eight games of the 2022/23 season was the usually ever-present Jan Oblak. He was missing due to a neck injury which required treatment from physiotherapists and specialists to overcome an issue he had been managing for some time.
The Slovenian appears to have opted against surgery, with no confirmation that he went under the knife since a statement declaring that he would follow a conservative approach. He now seems to be ready for action after sharing photos of him in kit doing exercise.
What does remain a doubt is quite how fit Oblak is, and whether he has fully overcome his neck issues. The 30-year-old shotstopper was expected to be back in time for the start of next season, but some specialists questioned whether he would be fit for the start of pre-season.
His individual training regime before the squad returned to action would appear to suggest that Oblak is feeling positive about his recovery. Given how sorely he was missed at the tail end of the 2022/23 season, it is crucial for Atlético that he is back to his athletic, instinctive best by August.
3. Who will be in Diego Simeone’s preferred back three?
The arrivals of Çağlar Söyüncü and César Azpilicueta mean that Cholo Simeone’s back line has a whole new look to that which ended the season. And that’s before young Santiago Mouriño has officially joined, though whether he will have a first team role this season is yet to be decided.
What’s more, nobody from the 2022/23 defense has moved on. That means José María Giménez, Stefan Savić, Mario Hermoso and Axel Witsel will have competition for places after a period in which that was thin on the ground. And Simeone will have decisions to make on his first-choice line-up.
It could also be influenced by the wing-back positions, where Nahuel Molina and Yannick Carrasco are both attracting transfer attention from rivals. Javi Galán’s arrival on the left, and Azpilicueta’s flexibility to switch to the right, offers strength in depth, but neither are like-for-like replacements.
Even so, this question won’t be fully answered in pre-season. Reinildo, one of last season’s most consistent and strongest performers, will not return to action until October at the earliest, and will almost certainly be in contention.
4. Where does Axel Witsel fit in?
Linked to the previous point, it seems Atleti now have more than enough options in the defensive unit to not need a converted holding midfielder. But equally, Simeone seemed reluctant to trust Witsel in his preferred position at times last season.
Witsel started the final 10 games of the LaLiga campaign, even with little to play for, and was on the field for 94.4% of the minutes across that spell. That would seem to suggest he has an important role to play somewhere for Simeone.
So where will he feature this time around? If it’s not in defence, it could be to give more freedom to Koke in the midfield, but he could also enter into an even-more competitive position within the squad.
The Belgian’s contract was extended after he met a clause in his deal last season, but given he will turn 35 during the upcoming campaign, Simeone may be looking to give more minutes to younger options like Pablo Barrios.
5. How much of a role will Pablo Barrios play this season?
Twelve months ago, tongues were wagging about tenacious young midfielder Javi Serrano. He’d broken into the first team set-up and looked primed to kick on. Since then, he’s been loaned out twice and not featured for Simeone since.
Pablo Barrios is undoubtedly in a better position, having signed a first team contract and being highly rated by staff, but he still knows the importance of kicking on this summer. He completed 90 minutes for the first team for the first time in the final day draw with Villarreal, and will be keen to show that he can be a regular starter at 20 years old.
Barrios’ quality on the ball is undoubted, and Simeone has praised him for it repeatedly, but he must build out the stamina to maintain his quality for 90 minutes. The fact that Simeone repeatedly took him off after 45 minutes or so was in part down to his ability to keep up and maintain the rhythm of top flight professional football, and this pre-season gives him a chance to change that.
Simeone is almost certain to rotate and experiment in pre-season, as he usually does. But Barrios will know that building his fitness levels, particularly in Los Ángeles de San Rafael, could give him a head start in a competitive midfield with plenty of options.