The concerns are widespread and palpable among the rojiblanco faithful. Though Quique Sánchez Flores recently brushed off the team’s weak summer showings by dismissing them as mere experiments, he later conceded that he would’ve liked a pre-season with stronger opposition.
Our challengers included a Thai All-star team, semi-pro squad Alcalá and 13th ranked Uruguayan side Montevideo Wanderers. With all due respect to our opponents, this wasn’t exactly the type of test one would’ve hoped for in advance of an epic final against European goliaths Inter Milan.
This pre-season’s opposition was a stark contrast to the hefty foes we faced last summer. With Abel Resino still at the helm, we tested our mettle against such household names as Arsenal, Liverpool, Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain, in preparation for our Champions League qualification playoff with Panathinaikos.
In that first trial of the season we convincingly beat the Greeks, looking sharp and in fine form in the process, prior to embarking on our worst Primera División start in history.
Maybe we should’ve learned the lesson last year that pre-season results and performances provide no indication of what is to come, but we didn’t.
Our match against second division side Real Betis was won by a minimal margin, and it took a penalty kick shootout to defeat third division squad Cádiz in the Trofeo Carranza semifinal. The apprehension didn’t quite set in however, until we confronted probable mid-table sides Espanyol, Mallorca and Sporting Gijón, in a set of games that resulted in three consecutive defeats.
But perhaps most troubling – but also the most encouraging – was that throughout the summer, Atleti never once featured its complete starting eleven. Quique experimented with every possible combination, except for the one that is to be fielded against Inter. The tactician said he didn’t want to give away a single hint to the European champions.
Another unsettling point is the fact that Álvaro Dominguez and Diego Godín never paired up in the centre of the defence. It seemed inevitable that at some point during the Trofeo Colombino, Quique would showcase our new back four. Much to our dismay and confusion however, the unit, which will also feature Ujfalusi and Filipe Luís on opposite defensive flanks,was never on display.
Fans will be considerably less worried about our lethal attack duo Kun and Forlán’s lack of time spent on the pitch together. The strike tandem, upon returning from post World Cup vacation, only shared a grand total of 13 minutes of action, a stint that came in Wednesday’s friendly against Sporting Gijón. The Argentine sat out the entire encounter versus the Wanderers, while the Uruguayan played the whole second half. These two should once again strike up their wonderful partnership come game time next Friday though, that is, if Forlán is fit to start.
An unfortunate aspect of pre-season was the little opportunities given to the canteranos Keko, Koke, Pulido, Ibra and Regalón. With the exception of Alberto Perea, none were really given a chance to impress Quique enough to remain with the first team, and promising canterano midfielder Rubén Pérez was shipped out to Deportivo as a consequence of the deal for Filipe Luís.
Tiago, who thankfully managed to arrive prior to the closing of the transfer window, didn’t get a single minute of competition play this summer due to his tardy arrival. The midfielder expressed strong doubts about his availability for the bout with Inter Milan.
Inter will be coming into the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco with a huge advantage over us having already played a Super Cup final against Roma. The Nerazzurri will battle it out with the Romans tonight for the Supercoppa Italiana at the San Siro – a bout that will likely draw an audience upwards of 40,000.
Our last preparation friendly meanwhile, came against the Montevideo Wanderers – a clash that resembled a library study session in the silence generated by the roughly 200 spectators in attendance.
The summer wasn’t one of all gloom and doom, and we have plenty of reasons to rest easy. The arrivals of Fran Mérida, Filipe Luís and Diego Godín, along with the return of Tiago for at least another year, can give us all a renewed sense of optimism and permit us to dream of a return to elite status.
Also on the bright side is the fact that we were very fortunate not to experience any severe injuries during our friendly play. Quique will have his entire arsenal at his disposal to begin the 2010-11 campaign.
Atlético 2010 Complete Pre-Season Results
17-07-10 RSD Alcalá 2-8 W
24-07-10 Betis 1-2 W
01-08-10 TPL Allstars 0-3 W
06-08-10 Cádiz 1-1 W (Shootout)
08-08-10 Espanyol 1-1 L (Shootout)
14-08-10 Mallorca 3-2 L
18-08-10 Sporting Gijón 0-1 L
19-08-10 M.Wanderers 3-0 W
Please feel free to express your own pre-season concerns.