8 young or returning players vying for minutes at Atlético next season

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Atlético Madrid are entering a pivotal summer. The squad needs a refresh but the funds aren’t available for a complete overhaul, and it’s not clear if Diego Simeone even wants one. So, this summer might instead prove important for a number of Atlético’s prospects and returning players, as they try to earn minutes next season.

Atlético’s preseason starts on July 7th, when the players we’ll discuss here can begin to demonstrate their value to Simeone and fight for a place in the first team.

Samuel Lino

The Brazilian scored 11 times with five assists last season for Gil Vicente FC in Portugal last season. Atletico signed him for € 6.5 million in January. We haven’t seen much of him so we will attach an obligatory “skillz” video from YouTube to get at least some understanding of what Lino does.

“There were some big clubs interested in Samuel, but they arrived too late,” Gil Vicente president Franciso Dias da Silva said after Atlético signed the player.

It will be an uphill battle for Lino given the competition for places at forward, but he has all summer to convince Simeone that he is worth keeping around, perhaps as competition for Yannick Carrasco on the left-hand side.

Manu Sánchez

An academy product who the fans would no doubt love to see succeed in red and white. Sánchez spent the last two seasons at Osasuna, a team not dissimilar to Atlético Madrid in how they play. The 21-year-old played 33 times last season for the Pamplona-based side.

Atlético have left-back issues. Reinildo Mandava arrived last January and solved some issues at the position – but mainly as a left-sided center-back. Renan Lodi has been linked with a move away from the club, and he never truly fit Simeone’s ideal of an equally attacking / defensive full-back. He has not convinced as a left wing-back either, a position that might be obsolete for Simeone next season.

Real Sociedad v CA Osasuna - La Liga Santander

Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce / Getty Images

The other option is Mario Hermoso, who does not have Simeone’s trust and could leave the Wanda Metropolitano himself.

Rodrigo Riquelme

The midfielder spent last season on loan at Mirandés, and the move was a resounding success. “Roro” started in 22 games and scored seven times with 12 assists. The 22-year-old can play across the attacking line and most frequently played as a right-winger last season.

There is a backlog of attacking talent in Atlético’s squad, which does not bode well for the young Spaniard. But it is not a death knell.

Corngel Correa might fetch a decent price on the transfer market if Atlético are looking to raise funds, and Riquelme might just be old enough now to be ready for the rigors of LaLiga and Atlético’s style. The Madrileño has been with the club since he was 10 years old and will be hoping he can prove to Simeone that he is worth keeping around for 2022/23.

Sergio Camello

Another academy player who thrived at Mirandés last season. The 21-year-old struck 15 times for the Segunda side and chipped in with four assists too. Atlético have been linked with a move for Raul de Tomás after losing Luis Suárez but they would prefer not to have to spend big bucks.

Camello has already debuted under Simeone, scoring on his first league appearance in a 2-2 draw at Levante on the final day of the 2018/19 season. He said he is ready to play in LaLiga in an interview with Diario As, confirming that “we (Riquelme and Camello) need a guarantee of minutes” in 2022/23 to make sure their progress as young players isn’t impeded.

“If it isn’t at Atleti then I am ready to make that leap at another club in LaLiga,” he said.

Marcos Paulo

Atlético signed the young Brazilian last summer and sent him out on loan to Famalicão in Portugal’s top flight, where he struggled to break into the starting XI and finished the season without scoring.

The reason Atlético sent Marcos to Portugal was to ease him into life in Europe, and it did not go as planned. It is unclear as to what the next step is with the ex-Fluminense attacker, but he does not seem ready to play a role in Simeone’s team. A very good preseason could change that – but it’s highly unlikely.

Víctor Mollejo

Mollejo is currently involved in the Segunda Division playoffs with Tenerife, where he plays a functional role on the right under manager Miguel Ramis. The 21-year-old helped Mallorca get promoted last season and could do the same with Tenerife this year.

But getting a team promoted is entirely different to earning playing time under Cholo Simeone.

As an industrious winger, Mollejo might offer something at Atlético, but it’s too big a risk to keep him around for the express purposes of maybe playing some minutes here and there. He needs to keep developing and has proven himself in the second tier.

A loan deal to a top flight team might serve Mollejo well. He will need extra time off after a long season before he gets to work with Atlético, where he will try to convince Simeone. But another loan deal is most likely, with his contract not up until 2024.

Javi Serrano

Serrano is one of the few academy players who Simeone kept around last season. He switched between Atlético’s youth team and the first-team squad, and the result was some matches and no continuity. He played 68 minutes total for Simeone in five appearances (one start in LaLiga).

Atlético need a holding midfielder to compete with Geoffrey Kondogbia. Serrano already knows the club. But he is only 19 and Simeone typically likes a player with much more experience. Serrano might have a bright future in Spanish football, but he is probably not ready for the rigors of consistent top-flight minutes yet.

Saúl Ñíguez

There was a time when FC Barcelona and Manchester United were keen to sign the Spanish midfielder. He returns to Atlético after a disappointing loan spell with Chelsea FC, where he played a meagre 1,200 minutes across five competitions.

Saúl’s future is up in the air, and Atlético signed his replacement last year in Rodrigo de Paul. A Carlos Soler deal looks likely at the moment and would leave Atlético with too many midfielders and not enough minutes to go around.

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