A changing of the guard?

Paulo Assunção and Mario Suárez are fighting a battle in midfield

Atletico Madrid midfielders Paulo Assuncao and Mario Suarez

Paulo Assunção and Mario Suárez

Ever since his arrival in the summer of 2008, Paulo Assunção has been an undisputed starter at the Manzanares.

The Brazilian midfielder played 64 league games in his first two seasons for Atlético, and started in all but one game.

The role Assunção plays is often misunderstood, but with Atleti’s recent success the admiration for the defensive midfielder has grown, especially among the rojiblanco faithful who recognize the value of Assunção’s dirty work.

In a team with four very offensive players and little balance, the 30-year old closes the gaps, wins duels in midfield and is willing to sacrifice himself for his team-mates.

Even with players like Forlán and Agüero at his disposal, it was Assunção’s name which Quique Sánchez Flores put on the teamsheet first.

Was, because things have changed in the past ten days. Quique surprisingly dropped Paulo for Mario Suárez in the derby against Real Madrid, arguably our biggest game of the season.

The change came as a shock to the fans, as it was only the second time Mario appeared from the start in a league match. At first it was assumed Assunção had suffered an injury, because it was unimaginable that he could be dropped for a player that had failed to impress since (re)joining us this past summer.

But Sánchez Flores explained after the match that he had opted for Mario because of his speed and passing skills, whereas Assunção’s ball circulation is lower. Suárez had a rather unremarkable performance, which is perhaps what’s asked of a player in his position.

However, it came as a surprise when Flores again started with Mario in Saturday’s clash against Osasuna. Under the scrutiny of the fans, the midfielder delivered an outstanding performance and came close to scoring, but his attempt hit the crossbar.

Despite debuting for the first team over five years ago, the 23-year old is still relatively unknown to most Atlético supporters. Mario was trained in our cantera, but was sent away on loan from 2006 till 2008, when he played for Real Valladolid and Celta de Vigo, both in the Segunda División.

When he was sold to Real Mallorca in 2008, it seemed Mario’s future had taken a definite turn away from the Calderón, but Atlético included an option to re-purchase the midfielder for €1.8m. After having played 60 games for Mallorca, being a key player during last season’s incredible campaign for the islanders, Atleti decided to activate their clause.

With Tiago, Assunção, Raúl García and Ignacio Camacho already at Atlético, Mario’s future was uncertain and until last week it didn’t seem likely Mario would soon obtain a position in our starting XI.

Given the fact that statistics point out Atlético are a lesser team without Assunção – 10 of our 15 games without him were lost – Atlético fans are now unsure of who should get the nod in midfield.

It seems unlikely that we’ll see the two of them together, so it’s either one or the other. Mario’s latest performance has us eager to see more of the canterano, but it must be said that this was only Osasuna.

As always we’re interested in your opinions! Who do you think will and should line up in midfield?

  • Martin Rosenow

    I love the idea of added offense in the middle with Mario, and he does have the speed to track back if need be.

    Paulo hardly ever threatened the opposing defense, though he did score on a spectacular counter attack against Sporting last season.

    It seems inconceivable that Assuncao will be benched for three straight games…we’ll have to wait and see this weekend. I’ll feel much more comfortable with Godín in the back should Mario start in place of Assuncao.

  • Mert

    i’ve always been a huge Assunção fan. i do agree Mario was great against Osasuna, but i vote for Paulo

  • javi

    Martin, I would also love to get Godin back, but knowing how conservative QSF is with players coming from injuries or excessive minutes, my bet is that he waits another week before bringing Godin in for a full game. Although I can see him playing the last 15-20 minutes of the game, especially if we are ahead by more than one.

  • Arjit

    Mario is great, always thought he was better than Raul Garcia n he’s proven it in the last few weeks. I think Mario n Paulo will keep switching to make there is fresh legs whenever needed, assuncao never gets any rest lol. I think this definitely means the end of camacho though, but maybe if we sell him we could put a buy back clause for him too cuz I’m certain he will become amazing in the future.

  • Both are good but none of them is great. Mario has one advantage over Paulo: he can only get better, and paulo can only get worse. Anyways its good to have two decent DMs in the squad.

  • Ringo Schut

    Paulo is probably a little better at defending, individually, but Mario gives some organisation to the play and the whole team. A good organisation makes the whole team defend in a better way.

    So in the end, it’s probably better to choose Mario Suarez.

  • starvs

    I’m running under the ‘anyone but Raul’ platform so I’m happy. I like Mario though, more offense in the midfield is somethign this team needs I think.

  • Ringo Schut

    Well, it’s not more offense that was needed, I guess, it was structure.
    Not only the physical part of the game has become more significant, the tactics are getting more important, too.

  • k14

    about the part that paulo will only get worse, i will have to disagree.
    Eventhough he is 30 now, the past couple of yours I only saw him improve, before he was ….. how should i put this delicately ….. umm …… an IDIOT when it came to passing, thats how he used to be, but now he can hold the ball without problems and he can manage to pass the ball successfully.

    So, hope he keep improving.