3 Atletico Madrid Players Who Must Hit Form After International Break

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3 Atletico Madrid Players Who Must Hit Form After International Break
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Atletico Madrid's season took a big hit last time out against Sporting Gijon, losing 2-1 before the international break to all but end their hopes of winning La Liga.

Add in the fact Barcelona are their opponents in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, and it's fast looking like an all-or-nothing situation for Los Rojiblancos against the reigning European champions. The problem is injuries have decimated the defence, so they are struggling to get senior players available to face Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

When Jose Gimenez went off injured against Sporting, he joined fellow centre-backs Stefan Savic and Diego Godin on the sidelines. The latter should be back for the first leg against Barcelona, per Marca, but that still leaves Saturday's game against Real Betis to navigate.

Worse yet, young centre-back Lucas Hernandez was injured on international duty for France under-21s, fracturing a back vertebra. Emergency centre-back Saul Niguez was also injured on under-21 duty, spraining his ankle.

It means others need to hit peak form extremely quickly if Atleti's season isn't going to be ruined in the space of a few short weeks.

Nacho Monsalve

First and foremost, the defensive problem needs to be solved. Saul and Lucas likely would have been the centre-back pairing against Betis, but with neither available it will mean an entirely new pair of faces in front of Jan Oblak on Saturday.

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The natural procedure would be to look to the youngsters in the Atletico B team, where Nacho Monsalve is the standout name. The 21-year-old played his part with the seniors in pre-season and has been involved in the odd matchday squad over the course of the campaign, including being on the bench against Sporting a little over a week ago.

He hasn't, however, played a single competitive minute for Atletico's first team yet, meaning Diego Simeone probably has to throw him straight in at the deep end. Simeone rewards those who shine in Atletico's darkest hours of need, though, so this could be the best break Monsalve could've hoped for.

Alongside him, it's probably going to be a more experienced head from midfield dropping out of position, presumably Gabi.

Augusto Fernandez

If Gabi does move out of the midfield line, there'll be two spots to fill, with Saul having brilliantly occupied another for the last three months.

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January signing Augusto Fernandez needs to make this the time he steps up and shows his best form; since arriving from Celta Vigo in January, his time in red and white has been splintered and inconsistent, battling injury and more competition for places and not showing why he was a wise investment.

At his best, he's a combative and reliable trooper in the centre who can also help the team push forward with repetitive, safe passing into advanced areas. He hasn't done that so far, and there's no guarantee he will even start against Betis, having been left on the bench again last time out. Matias Kranevitter might have jumped ahead of him in the pecking order, but if he gets a chance, Augusto absolutely must start playing to his top level.

Without a strong defence in place, the next line has to be even more resilient, and Augusto needs to lead it.

Luciano Vietto

With Atletico's strongest point decimated, the other areas need to step up even more, and that goes double for the attacking support players to Antoine Griezmann.

We could have gone for Fernando Torres. We could even have gone for Koke or Yannick Carrasco, both of whom have been good without being absolutely stellar in every match. It's Luciano Vietto, though, who needs to find his absolute top level quickly.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The young Argentinian forward consistently links the play well in the final third, but once inside the penalty area, he seems to lose all concentration and composure. He does well in getting behind the defence into channels, occasionally putting good balls across the six-yard box. But shooting for goal himself? Rarely. And when he does, he's off-balance, unsure and inevitably fails to hit the target.

One goal in La Liga this season is a desperately poor return. He has the same number in Europe too.

Combining play nicely is important, and he does serve a purpose in the team. But the offensive players need to shoulder more responsibility in the final weeks of the season, and Vietto is one of those who most frequently starts. Now he must show why he deserves to.

Atletico Madrid

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