Pablo Barrios – Atléti’s Next Great Midfielder by Shay Hicks
Name – Pablo Barrios Rivas
Nationality – Spanish
D.O.B – 15.06.2003 (20)
Height – 181cm (5’11”)
Strong Foot – Right
Current Club – Atlético Madrid
Position – CM
Value – €5.00m (via Transfermarkt)
Atlético Madrid have a rich history of producing their own star players, giving youth the chance to pave their own path into the first team. Some of these players have gone on to make huge transfers, whereas others have stayed in Madrid and turned themselves into club legends. For example, current captain and record appearance holder Koke has been with the club from the age of six and has a good chance of reaching 600 competitive matches for the club. There are some very interesting prospects in Atléti’s current generation of youth players and in this report I will be focusing on a young midfielder who could end up becoming ‘the next Koke’ – 20 year old Pablo Barrios.
Born and raised in Madrid, Pablo would join local youth side Escuela Deportiva Moratalaz at the age of five. He would soon impress the scouts of Real Madrid, eventually joining La Fábrica in 2011. He would play in the youth academy for a number of years, competing for the Benjamín A and B, Alevín A and B, Infantil B and Child A teams between 2011-2017. Surprisingly Pablo was let go in the summer of 2017, joining arch rivals Atlético for free.
Once he joined Atléti, Barrios worked his way up the ranks of the academy, eventually lodging numerous appearances for the u-18s, u-19s and the B-team from 2019-2022. He would spend his first season in red and white in the Cadete B side, achieving a 4th-placed finish in their youth league (behind Getafe, Leganés and winners Real Madrid B). The following year he stepped up into the Cadete A side as they finished second, again behind a Real Madrid side.
Pablo would make the step up into the Atléti Juvenil B-side during the 2019/20 season, although their campaign would again end frustratingly. They were able to beat Real’s side during their league campaign and secured some important wins over league challengers such as Leganés and Getafe, but the league would be suspended in March, just as they were hitting a good stretch of form (three wins and a draw in their final four matches). Due to the premature ending of the season, Real Madrid’s B team were able to comfortably win the league by 6 points. Given the fact that the two sides were due to play again towards the end of the season, there is a good chance that Atléti would have been able to catch their biggest rivals if it wasn’t for thepandemic.
Pablo continued his rise during the 2020/21 season, being promoted to the Madrileño Juvenil A side. His side would perform fairly well, achieving a fourth-placed finish in their division. The following season Barrios would start off with the Atléti Juvenil A side, one level below Atlético Madrid B. However, he would not only make appearances with the B-team over the course of the season, he would actually make the senior squad and make his international debut.
His first recorded involvement in the 2021/22 season came in the UEFA Youth League. The Atléti u-19 side would make a push all the way to the semi-finals where they would suffer a heavy defeat to RB Salzburg. Pablo had his first signature performance over this run, scoring twice and providing an assist in a 3-2 win over Real Madrid. His second goal was particularly impressive, carrying the ball forward briefly before smashing a shot into the top corner from almost 30yds out. Around this time Pablo would make his first Atléti senior squad, making the bench for a league match against Levante in mid-February. Later that month he would make his debut for the Spain u-19 side, appearing in a friendly against Norway. This positive stretch would run into March, making the bench in two more senior matches as well as coming off the bench in two EURO u-19 Championship qualifying matches. Unfortunately he would have no further involvement in the run-in of the season, although it was clear that Atléti boss Diego Simeone was a big fan of both his natural talent and desire to succeed.
After making his initial steps towards the senior side in the previous campaign, the 2022/23 season would see Pablo blossom into the young star we know him as today. He would join the B-team to start the season, appearing in 7 matches before making his long-awaited senior debut in October. After being an unused substitute against Real Betis the previous week he would come off the bench in a 3-2 loss to Cádiz. He came off the bench again the following week in a Champions League group stage match, playing 5 minutes as Atléti lost 2-1 to Porto. After this he would again return to the B-team for a short stint before returning to the senior squad. This time he was given his first start, playing 79 minutes in a 2-0 win over Elche. He would make his first appearances in the Copa del Rey, scoring in back-to-back ties against Arenteiro and Real Oviedo. Despite his lack of experience, Simeone would keep him in the starting 11 as his side faced Barçelona in their next La Liga match, although he was unable to prevent his side from losing 1-0. He would be used primarily as a substitute following this match, but he would still earn a respectable amount of minutes for his debut season. On top of this he would make a step up internationally, making his Spain u-21 debut as a substitute against France.
Key Dates In Pablo’s Career:
2008 – Joins the Moratalaz youth academy
09/01/2011 – Joins the Real Madrid academy
Summer 2017 – Joins the Atlético Madrid academy
15/09/2021 – Makes his UEFA Youth League debut
16/02/2022 – Makes his first senior matchday squad for Atlético Madrid
23/02/2022 – Makes his International debut for Spain u-19s
02/03/2022 – Has a breakout performance vs Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League (2 goals, 1 assist in a 3-2 win)
29/10/2022 – Makes his senior debut for Atlético Madrid
22/12/2022 – Scores his first senior goal for Atlético Madrid
28/03/2023 – Makes his Spain u-21s debut
For this report I focused on Barrios’ performances for Atléti in La Liga against Mallorca (26/04), Espanyol (24/05), Real Sociedad (28/05) and Villareal (04/06).
Barrios is a player who relies on passing to progress play, but he is capable of carrying the ball forward himself if he has to. In this moment he receives a lateral pass deep in his own half. Before the ball reaches him he is scanning for pressers around him. Multiple Villareal players close him down quickly, forcing Pablo to carry the ball towards the halfway line. Once he reaches halfway some passing options become available, but Pablo elects to hold onto the ball and beats another player before eventually playing a through ball into the final third.
In-game intelligence is key for any midfielder that wants to play at the highest level. In this instance, Pablo uses off-ball movement to outsmart his opposite man and spark an attack. As his goalkeeper plays a pass to a wide player, Barrios looks upfield and identifies a huge gap that he can exploit. Meanwhile, his marker is caught ball-watching and doesn’t notice him beginning a forward run.By the time the wide player recieves the ball and plays it inside, Pablo has already managed to separate himself from his original marker. A teammate plays a long through ball over the top of the defence for Pablo to run onto. Once he collects the ball he plays a low cross towards the near post that results in a corner.
Pablo’s biggest current strength is his link-up play from midfield, as he is capable of progressing possession into attack. In this moment he plays a short forward pass to a wide teammate before making a bending run past him and down the right touchline. He continues his run and eventually recieves the ball again in the final third, around 60 yards away from his starting position.
Despite being a late substitution in the match against Real Sociedad, Pablo still managed to impress fans with this cross-field pass. He brings down a headed pass with the outside of his right foot before smashing a beautiful pass over the top and directly into the path of an Atléti attacker.
In this last moment, Pablo displays his ability to avoid pressure whilst still maintaining a positive, attacking mindset. He first recieves the ball with a defender approaching him. He takes a touch away from the first challenger, however this leads him into a tighter spot with two more defenders closing him down. Barrios maintains his balance despite being pulled from behind and manages to play a pass to an open teammate. He moves forward immediately and recieves the ball again, this time quickly playing a lateral pass through the legs of a Mallorca player and towards a more central teammate.
When you see a boy who plays ball without fear of playing, with sacrifice, wanting to play forward, the boy is in very good condition … he has a very important present. Football doesn’t have age, but it has players who have the personality to play, and that’s what counts.Atléti boss Diego Simeone speaks about Pablo’s ability and attitude after a 2-0 win over Elche.
In my opinion, Atlético Madrid must have big plans for Pablo in the near future. Whilst Koke is still a brilliant player who should be able to maintain a high level for a few more seasons, he is the wrong side of 30 and will inevitably regress or retire one day. Barrios still has a long way to go before he reaches the level of his elder teammate, but at his core he has the talent, the passion and the potential to fill that role for Atléti one day. His passing and willingness to progress possession into attack with his link-up play is very impressive already and his weaknesses aren’t impossible to overcome or improve on. For those reasons it is hard to see him becoming anything less than a long-term starter for his team if he is able to progress even further.