Atlético Madrid’s penultimate pre-season friendly saw them lift the Trofeo Ramón de Carranza (already their second title of the season, kind of) in Cádiz.
It was the 11th time that the Colchoneros lifted the exhibition trophy, beating Cádiz by four goals to one in a routine victory that keeps Atleti unbeaten with three friendlies played.
The first goal came from some smart play down the right, with Álvaro Morata taking it past his man and slotting into the bottom corner.
Fellow returning loanee Saúl Ñíguez then pushed the ball into the net from a set piece (quite literally, with his arm), but the lack of VAR in this fixture meant that no one noticed and play continued.
Daniel Wass scored a rocket just after halftime before Antoine Griezmann nodded in a header inside the box. Cádiz’s Álvaro Jiménez pulled one back with a one-yard tap-in during the dying moments, but the result had not been in doubt for some time.
Here are three things learned from the encounter.
Get used to Morata-Félix-Griezmann
At the beginning of the summer, there were arguments made for all three of these men to be sold. Instead, it looks likely they will start Atlético’s 2022/23 kick-off against Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.
It’s even better news for Griezmann, whose goal was his first since January against Rayo Majadahonda in the Copa del Rey, but also for Morata — who has looked increasingly at home throughout this pre-season campaign. João Félix has shown moments of quality, such as scoring the winner against Manchester United last weekend, which will truly befit his level of potential and Atleti fans’ greatest hopes for him.
Ángel Correa and Matheus Cunha could both, quite rightly, feel hard done-by as they take their seats on the bench. But that aforementioned trio has had the most frequent and coinciding run-outs this pre-season.
It’s an intriguing combination, primarily because it takes Atlético back to an asymmetrical systemnow with a 5-3-2, compared to the 4-4-2 Simeone favored up until 2020/21.
This time, Griezmann drops far deeper, operating almost as an interior wide midfielder, while Félix on the other flank operates in a more advanced, and wider, role. He then drifts centrally in behind Morata and looks to carry the ball into spaces he opens up.
The early signs are very promising. Even on paper only, this front three should strike fear into the hearts of opposition defenders. Putting it into practice in real competition is the next big challenge.
Diez and Wass will give options
Daniel Wass had his best 61 minutes in an Atlético Madrid shirt at the Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla. So did Sergio Díez, across his 46 minutes. What became clear in Cádiz is that Simeone does have options at right-back after all.
Nahuel Molina has shown plenty of positive signs since his arrival from Udinese, both against Man United and against Cádiz. But this was a night for the understudies who are fighting for a reserve spot
Molina played the first 45 and Díez replaced him, operating as a right-wing-back. Wass played a flexible role, starting on the right side of a back three and later evolving into a more offensive role.
The headline-grabbing moment came when the Dane smashed a 25-yard effort into the top corner of the net, while Díez also got his name in many match reports with a fine cross to set up Griezmann for Atlético’s fourth goal.
Both players looked more than capable of mixing it with sides like Cádiz, and those are the kind of games where Simeone may turn to his reserve options to rest and rotate Molina this season.
Wass has only played 45 minutes of competitive action for Atleti and Díez is yet to record a single one. But if we’re basing it on these showings, both could compete for more regular action in the team next season.
That would be one major worry removed for El Cholo, and potentially some major money saved for the club, who were linked with a free transfer move for Serge Aurier as a second-choice right-back.
Still, Simeone is crying out for a central defender
The starting line-up said it all.
The back three was made up of Wass (the makeshift full-back signed in January), Mario Hermoso (he who started only one game following Reinildo’s signing last season), and Axel Witsel (the midfielder signed this summer).
Felipe hasn’t played a minute this preseason and is so past his best that even if you put him in the refrigerator he’d start growing mold. Josema Giménez is injury-prone. Stefan Savić is injury- and suspension-prone. Reinildo is a Mozambican God among men, but…come on, you can’t expect him to play every minute all season.
This is by no means a criticism of any of the three that started in Cádiz. As previously mentioned, Wass excelled, and Witsel turned in a third consecutive standout performance in the heart of the defense. That could reflect the fact that Simeone genuinely considers him as an option there. The Belgian played centre-back for a five-match spell at Borussia Dortmund in early 2021/22 (and kept just one clean sheet), and this transition could suit a player who has lost that extra yard of pace following his horrific Achilles injury but is famous for his vision and reading of the game.
Alternatively, it could be Simeone’s form of protest at the club’s stubborn refusal to even consider signing a central defender. At no point this summer have Atlético even been linked with such a player, despite the clear deficit in that department.
This wouldn’t be the first time Simeone makes such a protest statement, but this time seems to be particularly unsustainable. With almost a month left in the transfer window, there is still time to act. If Atleti don’t, they may well live to regret it.