Early in the second half of an already hard-fought battle with Getafe, Atlético’s most promising young summer transfer went to the ground after a blow to the ankle. The Belgian was able to walk off the pitch, but paramedics carried him to the locker room on a stretcher in the latest injury to an Atlético midfielder.
Just as Augusto and Tiago start to make their return to training, another midfielder goes down.
The team has always been deep in the central midfield positions, boasting young players such as Óliver Torres and Thomas Partey. Both have already found the back of the net despite limited time on the pitch this season.
However, the wing positions are much thinner as Carassco and Ángel Correa are the only true wingers in the side.
Manager Diego Simeone must call upon his bench and his regular players for more time and the option of playing out of position. If Simeone chooses a 4-4-2 lineup, Óliver Torres is the most likely replacement off the bench for Carrasco because Simeone needs a box-to-box midfielder rather than Correa, who tends to go forward more.
If the Argentine manager selects a 4-3-3 formation, Correa is likely to slot in as the third forward, a position he played well towards the end of the match at Getafe on February 14th.
He has develped a solid rapport with Griezzman when he has played and will take to the position quickly. Atlético have looked much more clinical in the 4-3-3 so this is probably the better of the two options for right now.
The injuries to Augusto and Tiago also mean more playing time for two of the youngest players on the team, Thomas Partey and Matias Kranevitter. Partey has only appeared in three league games this season, but had the winning goal against Levante.
Kranevitter just came over in January, but has already played four times for Atlético, making his league debut off the bench at Getafe. Both players look solid on the ball, but Kranevitter appears to be a more defensive option for Simeone. They both will need to step up off the bench and may even play themselves into the starting lineup in Augusto and Tiago´s absence.
The final and most important piece of the puzzle will be higher expectations from Atlético´s healthy regulars in the midfield.
Gabi probably has the most to do as the best and only true defensive midfielder left in the side. He now effectively picks up both Tiago and Augusto´s roles in the middle of the field because Saúl, Koke, Óliver and others have more tendency to go forward and join the attack.
That strain was seen on Sunday as he was not very involved in the match against Villareal, often sending long balls into a congested middle of the pitch.
Carassco´s injury means Atlético lack width, a position that Koke and Ángel Correa will have to step into with help from full backs Filipe Luís and Juanfran. While Correa has played in the wide position before, and is more used to using the entire pitch, Koke works best in the middle and has not yet adapted to this new role.
Against Villareal he all too often found himself running into Saúl and Fernando Torres´ lanes as Atlético only used the middle third of the pitch.
The high number of injuries mean that almost every Atlético midfielder has to step into a new role that they have not played before.
This affects the defenders and forwards as well as the partnerships all over the pitch. What Atlético could really use right now is time on the training pitch so that every player could fully understand his role in an eleven that looks a lot different from the team that went out against Las Palmas in mid August.
Instead, the fixture list heats up with midweek games and Champions League on the schedule. If Atlético advance in the Champions League they could find themselves playing 13 games over the next 52 days, with four days between each match.
The next two weeks are some of the toughest of their schedule with games at Real Madrid and home against Real Sociedad before they travel to Valencia and finally host Deportivo and PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League.
Wins in all of these games will be tough, but they are what needed to advance to the final eight and keep together any chance of catching Barcelona.
Those two results are high above expectations going into the season. Every team faces injuries and adversity throughout a given season, it´s how Atlético comes out of this rough patch that will define their final standing.