Player Of The Month – December

Young midfielder sees off strong competition to win monthly accolade

Saúl celebrates his goal against Athletic

Saúl celebrates his goal against Athletic

Despite missing the chance to go top of La Liga for Christmas with defeat at Málaga late in the month, December was a good month for Atlético as they won 6 of their 7 matches.

The rojiblancos secured Champions League qualification as group leaders with an impressive triumph at Benfica, and also came from behind to beat Athletic in an exciting league clash.

After losing Tiago to a broken leg at the end of November, many forecasted a difficult month for Cholo’s men but they came through strongly, and are looking like serious contenders in all three competitions.

In the Portuguese midfielder’s absence, youngster Saúl Ñíguez has really come of age, and his performances in December were enough to win our Player of the Month award.

The 21 year-old started all seven games and fulfilled a number of different roles, finally getting a run in his preferred defensive midfield position where he shone alongside Gabi.

His maturity is beyond his years, and his positional sense, physical prowess and versatility make him a perfect player to have in the squad – the type that Simeone loves.

Notably, he has also added goals to his game, and is second only to Antoine Griezmann in the scoring stakes with five in all competitions this season.

In the first game of the month, he headed home the winner in our Copa del Rey trip to Reus, before opening the scoring with a composed finish at Benfica the following week.

Four days later, he scored a crucial equaliser that started the comeback against Athletic in the Calderón, and helped us to the three points with an all-action showing.

The biggest compliment we can pay to Saúl that so far, Tiago’s absence hasn’t really been noticeable. Many feared the worst when it was revealed that he would be out long term, but his injury has allowed a few players to take a step forward.

Another who has emerged recently is Thomas Partey, who has been decisive in numerous matches and deserves a mention for his form and hard-work.

With the January signings of Augusto Fernández and Matías Kranevitter, we are well covered in midfield for the rest of the season and ahead of our looming transfer ban.

The usual suspects such as Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godín and Jan Oblak also all enjoyed solid months, but Saúl has gone above and beyond lately and deserves recognition for his efforts.

Do you agree with our choice? Who else impressed you during December?

  • Ringo

    Just after Tiago’s injury you could notice we were a little more vulnerable or fragile, but steadily the midfield has grown to its steady level – defensively speaking – again. There were some moments, of course, like the Málaga game, but overall, the midfield has been pretty solid in not giving the other team hopes of scoring goals, getting back to the team where it’s hard to even create a chance against.
    I am content with Saúl and hope he continues growing into this silent killer in midfield.

  • Koke

    Good for him. He is really coming of age fast now, and I hope he can be an example to his peers who used to be in the same boat, because if I recall correctly there was a time when Saul was impatient with his playing time too.

    The tricky thing about Diego Simeone is that he is guilty of having players in his squad that he will almost never play, but each player that doesn’t play might not be playing for one of two reasons:

    1) Cholo sees their potential but doesn’t think they’re ready, so he keeps them in the team and lets them train and practice with the squad until they learn to do exactly what he needs them to (i.e., track back, tackle, play their position, maintain fitness, etc.) Eventually he incorporates them into the team when they’re ready. Examples: Griezmann, Thomas, Saul, Carrasco, Gimenez, Oblak, Vietto, probably Correa.

    2) Cholo just simply doesn’t like them or don’t think they have much to offer to the squad, maybe for reasons we cannot see. He will just not play them and doesn’t care, because they aren’t part of his plans. Examples: Siquiera, Raul Jimenez, Cerci, Diego Ribas, Cani, Crisitian Rodriguez.

    The problem, I’m guessing, is that many players who sit on the bench don’t know which category they fit in: for example, maybe Oliver is wondering whether he is being groomed and will one day explode onto the scene like Griezmann, Saul, and Gimenez, or if he is being shunned and will eventually leave like Jimenez, Guilavogui, or Cerci. I dearly hope he stays, however, because Saul is such a good example of what can happen with hardwork, patience, and a bit of luck. Same goes for Correa. Right now I think Correa and Oliver are the only two players in the squad that have rights to be unsatisfied with their minutes, because everyone else is either playing more often or isn’t good enough to play more often. Really hope they stick around because all it takes is one MOTM performance and they could find themselves being one of Cholo’s first choices.