Atlético Madrid closed their pre-season tour with a trip to Monterrey and the Estadio BBVA for a 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad, followed by a journey to San Francisco for a 1-1 tie with Sevilla at Oracle Park.
Diego Simeone’s men faced Spanish opposition either side of the border after an intense tour of South Korea and upped the ante for their final tests, which meant that they ended their preparations with a run of three games without defeat since a late loss to the K-League All-Stars.
Here are some of the major talking points from those two fixtures.
1. Memphis Depay’s embarrassing penalty kick
A reflection on these two games wouldn’t be complete without discussing Memphis Depay’s appalling penalty kick against Real Sociedad. Up against 21-year-old Unai Marrero, Memphis failed on a Panenka attempt that the Basque goalkeeper stood and collected with all the composure in the world.
It’s hard to imagine quite how the incident would have gone down with the ever-competitive Diego Simeone. It reflected Memphis’ confidence and bravado which has brought something different to the Atleti frontline — and if the Dutchman had tried (and failed) with that effort during a league or Champions League contest, the consequences may have been severe.
Memphis failed Panenka sums up the whole Atletico Madrid game today! ♂️— Omar Garcia (@_ATM98) August 3, 2023
Meanwhile, Álvaro Morata missed sitters against both Real Sociedad and Sevilla, ending a summer that has made it clear he's not first-choice for Atlético. This appears to have dampened his confidence, especially combined with rumors linking him to Serie A. The man himself has spoken about his battles with mentality and self-belief, and right now he comes across as a centre forward devoid of belief.
But, finally, we have Ángel Correa. Despite coming on as a substitute in both games, Simeone could rely on him for an equaliser against Sevilla when his team most needed it. Once again he has shown a cutting edge to his finishing, and a professionalism that has made him a more reliable option than either of the other two forwards mentioned here. Despite that, it would be a surprise to see him start against Granada.
2. Rodrigo Riquelme at right-wing-back
Since returning from his impressive loan spell at Girona, Rodrigo Riquelme had played a bit-part role through the club’s tour of Korea. It was in the Americas where we really got an insight into where his future could lie — and it seems that he won over Diego Simeone.
Against both Real Sociedad and Sevilla, Riquelme started on the right in the wing-back role and offered incredible verticality, much more than had been offered by César Azpilicueta filling in for Nahuel Molina. His movement, energy and dribbling ability caught the eye and gave symmetry with Yannick Carrasco on the left.
The 3-5-2 shape has long been lop-sided for Atlético, but Riquelme’s presence on the right provided a threat down both flanks, which kept these two defences on their toes.
What has been most pleasing to see has been Riquelme’s work rate, as well as his commitment to the defensive cause. At Girona, his defensive responsibilities were minimal, and some have questioned whether he would be willing to adapt his game to take on defensive duties in a position that is not his own. In these two games, everything would point toward him being happy to do just that.
Riquelme was involved in 11 duels across the 116 minutes of action played, and while Real Sociedad tested him more intensely, he won 64% of those. The 23-year-old may not be ready to play in the role against some of Europe’s best, but as an option when Atleti look to be more offensive down both flanks, he has certainly put his name in the hat.
3. Where does Marcos Llorente fit in?
Having options across the park has had a negative impact on Mr. Versatile, Marcos Llorente. The midfielder has previously filled in as a wing-back but is no longer needed with Azpilicueta and Riquelme available, even as Molina missed the tour with a foot injury.
The former Real Madrid man has also fallen down the pecking order in his preferred position. Rodrigo de Paul’s form in the latter half of 2022/23 has seen him usurp Llorente into the line-up, Thomas Lemar has enjoyed a strong pre-season, Koke is a staple and even Pablo Barrios is coming through the ranks.
It was perhaps no surprise to see Llorente linked with a move away given the strength of competition, without even factoring in Saúl Ñíguez. He has struggled to recover his form from the 2020/21 campaign, and last season he had his most injury-hit season on record.
Atlético Madrid and Al Ahli sources are both denying any agreement in place for Marcos Llorente ⛔️— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) August 2, 2023
There’s interest but no deal in place and no formal bid to Atlético Madrid at this stage. pic.twitter.com/DFSK6ShpQp
Llorente came on at half-time against Real Sociedad and then played just under an hour from the start against Sevilla, but in both games went under the radar. He needs to find his place in this side if he is to be a regular again this year.
If not, Atlético may well do well to consider cashing in. The 28-year-old’s ceiling is clear, but he remains a player who does not reach his full potential regularly enough and could well start the season as a bench option, something Atleti are not short of in midfield.
4. No sign of a clear back three
What is also clear is that Cholo Simeone is still not entirely happy with his defence.
Despite having two new arrivals, injury has robbed the coach of José María Giménez in pre-season, with the Uruguayan arguably the first name on his team-sheet. That’s meant that there has been a series of changes in the back three throughout the friendly fixtures, and it does seem that Simeone himself is not convinced by any of his available options at present.
It could be seen as a positive to have the likes of Reinildo and Giménez coming back into this defence, but it does mean that at present, Simeone doesn’t have a settled backline.
Forced to make a prediction of who could start against Granada next Monday, there has only been one back line to start a match together twice in pre-season. That is with Stefan Savić, Çağlar Söyüncü and Mario Hermoso. This trio played together against Manchester City and, significantly, started together against Sevilla.
Azpilicueta came in at half-time for Söyüncü in the final game of pre-season and, with Riquelme impressing as wing-back, could have chances to start the season opener, especially as Simeone already considers him an important player. With Söyüncü not yet registered for LaLiga, it may be the Spaniard who gets the nod.