Saúl and Giménez taking lead roles for youthful Atleti

Carlo Valladares analyses two of the red and whites' brightest young prospects

Saúl and Giménez celebrate against Eibar

Saúl and Giménez celebrate against Eibar

When Atlético Madrid beat Eibar 3-1 this past Saturday, they did so with the average age in the starting XI being roughly 23 years-old.

Although Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal stole the headlines on the day, the game solidified the fact that José Giménez and Saúl Ñíguez are showing fans of los Rojiblancos that the future’s looking bright.

We at Atlé ranked both the Uruguayan and the Spaniard with a score of seven for their winning performance and for stepping up with Diego Godín, Filipe Luís, and Juanfran all suspended.

Pundits and fans pointed to the suspensions of key players as a cause for alarm, predicting that if Eibar could pull an upset, it would be now. It sure looked like that was in the cards after Saul made a mistake that resulted in Eibar’s Keko Gontán to score the first goal of the day.

However, after that, Giménez would score a header and Saúl, the midfielder turned center-back to make up for the absences, also used his noggin to put Atleti up 2-1. His ability to bounce-back from a mistake that reduces your confidence shows the quality and mental strength the 21 year old has.

The former Atlético Madrid B player has been used more regularly in La Liga this season, being capped 17 times, and with 15 games left in the Primera, he can certainly surpass his 24 games played last season. He is currently ranked second among all the more regularly used midfielders per

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Squawka ranks everyone based on their ‘Performance Score,’ combining their attack, defense and possession actions on the field into an algorithm. In addition to Saul’s Performance Score rank, he’s first in his Defensive Actions with a rank of 168.

It is that aspect of his game that Diego Simeone loves, but perhaps the only thing stopping him from being a regular as opposed to a semi-regular starter is his poor -60 possession rating.  Look for the Spaniard to try to improve his passing and through balls as he continues to progress in the engine room.

Nonetheless, the midfielder has made his mark on the scoresheet this season with six goals and two helpers across all competitions, surpassing his totals last year, and in the process getting endorsed by Spanish expert Guillem Balague to progress to even greater heights:

Saúl aside, his partner for the Eibar match has also elevated his play this campaign. Giménez shared center-back duties with Miranda last season, which could be why the Brazilian headed to Inter Milan this past summer, and truly trumped his teammate’s total score:

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Moving onto the current campaign, both Uruguayans have obviously topped the defense corps, but the 21 year old center-back has eight more blocked shots than his compatriot:

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Both players surely feed off one another, as the pairing are arguably the best in Europe today. However, Simeone isn’t the only one who is developing the player, as Godín also offers his leadership and tactical IQ to help his younger peer, and with the older of the two looking to be at the Vicente Calderón for life, Giménez will continue to learn from him for seasons to come.

As February rolls on and the ending stretch of the season comes up, los Rojiblancos will need both Saúl and Giménez to continue their stellar form. The youngsters could become staples for the Madrid side for years to come, and adding silverware to their young careers will surely have the badge grow on their hearts even more.

How impressed have you been with Saúl and Giménez this season? Could they be future captain material?

  • Kris

    We already knew what Gimenez was like since last season, really. As he matures, his game is starting to look more conservative and very effective. He still has various areas to improve upon – his hotheadedness, focus, and passing game- all of which may give Savic a slight edge, but by no means is he anything short of a great defender. At just 21 years of age, he’s playing for the best defensive team in Europe as a starting defender. I don’t think we need any more proof to say that he is a great player.

    Saul Niguez we didn’t know very much about. We have now come to know him as a versatile player who will do absolutely anything for the club. Ask him to be goalie, I doubt he’ll hesitate. Atleti blood runs through his veins. He works exceptionally hard, runs throughout the whole game, great physical strength and very good pace, and SCORES goals. He may not naturally be the most talented technically or the best passer on the field, but that doesn’t stop him from being a great center defensive mid or a box-to-box midfielder. I think he’s earned his place as a regular.

    Now, with all the young players in our team, it’s Cholo’s job to keep them all competing and giving them fair amount of time on the pitch based on their performances. This is the part where El Cholo lacks the most. While he has rotated a lot this season, he hasn’t really been fair(for a lack of better term) to all of his players–mainly offensive players.

    Welcome Carlo. Hope we also get to witness the growth of your sports journalism at AtleticoFans, as we get to see Gimenez and Saul’s growth on the field.

  • Koke

    I dream of one day seeing a Koke-Saul-Oliver midfield. Gimenez and Oblak behind them, making sure our defense is as strong as it ever has been. Brilliant talents in front of them, including Griezmann, Vietto, Correa, Carrasco, Borja. I’m really happy with all the young talent in this team, for once I am no longer concerned about losing our best couple players every summer. Because the thing is that I feel like in our current squad there is more LOYALTY. Most of our players really want to be here. Even Griezmann, who would be welcomed basically in any club in the world, seems enthusiastic to be here. Great things to come.

  • Ahmad Hossainy

    Great comment, although I believe many people did know Saul very well long time ago, I won’t say that many people have watched him with Atleti B or with Spain youth teams, but I’m sure many have seen what he has done with Rayo in 2013-14 .
    And I guess that was a big advantage for him, being loaned earlier than Oliver & Manquillo, while those two were spending a long time on the bench he was playing every week, 34 games and more than 3000 minutes he played in La Liga that season, and at the end of it he was named Rayo’s player of the season .
    And his versatility was shown there maybe even more than with Atelti, in fact, he was picked to play at CB against Eibar because he played several times in that position with Rayo .
    I really don’t think Saul was a surprise for many people .

    I totally agree that Savic is a little ahead of Gimenez and he really deserves more minutes than he is getting .
    It is very dangerous for a player to take his spot for granted, especially at such young age like Gimenez .

    And I even agree more about Simeone’s “unfair” rotation .
    I will give one example :
    Despite having the MSN, a player like Munir has played 1162 minutes in the 3 competitions : Liga, Copa & UCL, I didn’t count UEFA Super Cup or Club World Cup since Atleti didn’t play in those competitions, and I didn’t count Valencia’s game since Atleti didn’t reach the cup semifinals .
    While in a club struggling a lot to score goals like Atleti, a player like Correa played 912 minutes in the 3 competitions .

    Munir has played 250 minutes more than Correa, people really need to think a lot about this before saying that : “Simeone has finally learned to rotate”
    No, he didn’t .

  • Ahmad Hossainy

    I think players like Godin, Juanfran & Koke deserves a lot of credit for that LOYALTY among other players, they have big influence on them .
    Gimenez definitely looks up to Godin, Saul & Oliver to Koke, despite not being a lot younger than him, Grizi is a very good friend with Godin, those who follow them on social media will know that .
    I think those three have inspired many other players to stay, either directly by advising them, or indirectly by giving an example, since those three in particular have turned down several offers with much higher salaries than what they are getting with us .

    I also think that the way Torres is treated -despite his very long goalless run- had some effect as well .

    With that crazy amount of money in the EPL, PSG, Bayern and now China, I truly believe that we can’t survive without loyalty .
    We now can pay 50 or 60 million or maybe even more to sign one player, but we can’t pay him 10 million as a salary every season, rather than 20 .