clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

“He has a fantastic game”: Simeone full of praise for budding star Barrios

The 20-year-old seems firmly in the plan for this season — and for future seasons as well.

Barrios battles for the ball with Sergio Gomez during the Manchester City-Atletico Madrid friendly in Seoul.
Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Diego Simeone on Friday spoke to the media at Oracle Park in San Francisco, as his Atlético Madrid side prepares for Saturday’s preseason finale against Sevilla FC. The coach was asked about potential transfers (“the club will do what’s important in the best way it can”), playing Saturday’s friendly on a baseball field (“it’s tougher than usual, but we have to adapt”), and the amount of travel this preseason (“all the teams travel...we have played more than we have trained, but the preseason is going well”). But I was most intrigued about a question that AS journalist Jesus Colino asked, about the development of Pablo Barrios in central midfield.

“I’ve talked to him about his role,” Simeone answered. “He has a fantastic game, and I told him that we’re going to work to shape it. Koke is there now (at the ‘5’) and we are trying to bring out Pablo’s full potential. He has to grow, but he’s doing very well. I’m excited. He’s a kid from the academy, and he can play several roles.”

RC Celta v Atletico de Madrid - LaLiga Santander
Simeone instructing Barrios during February’s game at Celta Vigo.
Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Atlético will have a competitive midfield this year, especially if the club eventually seals the deal for a new pivot. But El Cholo’s words about Barrios make it clear he has a plan for the 20-year-old, who got in the first 21 league appearances of his career last season, when Atleti weren’t competing for anything but third place after January.

There has been talk that Simeone sees Barrios as Koke’s eventual successor at the base of a three-man midfield. Watch the glimpses Barrios flashed last season, and you can see why — he’s creative (2.5 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes), his passing is dynamic (6.4 progressive passes per 90), and he’s nimble on the ball.

As Cholo himself admitted though, Barrios is still coming into his own as a top-flight midfielder — things have happened really fast for him, and seeing as Koke is still going strong at age 31, this change needn’t be so dramatic.

Barrios walked by me on his way to the changing room after Friday evening’s training session at San Francisco State University. Up close, he looks about 13 years old — you wouldn't have thought he appeared in more than half of Atlético’s games in LaLiga a season ago for a total of 724 minutes. In what should be a good test for both, coach and player can take their time here — Simeone will be challenged to mold an in-house replacement for his captain, while Barrios will learn the ins and outs of arguably the most important role on the pitch.