Melbourne Defeat Is Part of the Learning Curve for Atletico Madrid Youngsters

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistJuly 31, 2016

Atletico's coach Diego Simeone reacts during the Champions League final soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, May 28, 2016.  (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/Associated Press

As Atletico Madrid have found out so far this summer, pre-season results are quite often taken in one of two ways, and that is entirely dependent and just how positive they have been.

If you win—as Atletico did against Numancia and in their first game in Australia against Tottenham Hotspur—then everything in the garden is rosy, the victory is a sign of the great things to come and your players have gained valuable minutes ahead of the greater battles ahead.

While if you lose—as Atletico did in the early hours of Sunday morning, European time, against Melbourne Victory at the city’s Simonds Stadium—then it all becomes a little different, and the actual result is often discarded in a search for the positives.

The crucial fact of the match was this: A header by Victory defender Nick Ansell from a Fahid Ben Khalfallah corner shortly before half-time was all that was needed to separate the teams.

The home side got to taste the warm glow of victory against a European giant, leaving Atletico manager Diego Simeone to search for those positives.

Luckily for him, they were easy to find.

Unlike against Tottenham at the Melbourne Cricket Ground two days earlier, this was an Atletico team almost completely full of players making their way in both the game of football and at the club itself.

The law of averages dictates that most of these players won’t end up having a future in the Spanish capital, but it is the duty of Atletico and indeed of Simeone to try to give them the best chance of obtaining one, and matches like this will be crucial in that.

Of the starting XI, only goalkeeper Jan Oblak could confidently claim to be a player who will start more games for Atletico than not in 2016/17, with the veteran Tiago also playing the majority of the first half and the likes of Saul Niguez, Thomas Partey, Oliver Torres and Stefan Savic all featuring over the 90 minutes.

But this wasn’t really about them.

This was about Santos Borre, Juan Moreno, Amath, Caio Henrique and others, all of whom were able to step up and play for the first team, with all the pressures and expectations that brings.

For young players, it can often be difficult when they are all thrown in together, all playing in the same team and expected to produce the type of football that their older counterparts find so easy.

It is much better for them to play alongside the stars, to spark off the household names and to raise their games at the same time. Atletico fans only need remember some of the great teenage talents to play for their team down the years, or look at some more recent examples such as the rise of Marcus Rashford at Manchester United.

But young players rarely let you down whatever the scenario, which is why Simeone was happy with what he saw in Melbourne, per AFP (h/t Dunya News):

I’m very happy. These matches are very helpful for the guys who have played.

I take from this many positive things. The youths are learning and this is the way to improve.

The experience in Australia is very good. We have been treated wonderfully.

From that it is easy to pick up on what he means, and that the match against Tottenham was helpful for the first team to sharpen their skills against a tough opponent, and the match against Melbourne Victory was helpful for the youngsters to pick up more experience.

And with that they were gone, with the next pre-season fixture to come against Galatasaray in Turkey next Saturday, before finishing off pre-season with a couple of games the following weekend.

By then most if not all of these young players will all have returned to the B and youth sides, but the key is that they would have been enriched by their experience, by the act of pulling on the shirt and of seeing Simeone gesticulating wildly on the touchline.

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

They’ll all be better players for what happened in the game against Melbourne Victory, even if the history books and more than a few rightly proud Australians will point to the scoreline.

It is Simeone’s pride in his young players which ultimately needs to win the day, though, and which needs to shine through whenever a pre-season exercise results in a disappointing defeat.

But the defeat won’t be dwelled on by Atletico’s youngsters.

When they look back at the game all they’ll remember is the experience they gained, and one of the key rules of pre-season will continue to be respected.

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