Simeone’s Atléti : Taking Shape
No stereotypes, no cliches, no fuss. Just analysis with a Spanish flavour.
Heading into a meeting with cross town rivals Real, Atlético Madrid sit in 2nd position on the Primera table. Today on the blog ChalkOnTheBoots dissects their performance and how Diego Simeone has transformed the club.
Once again La Liga is developing into a two horse race. Barcelona lead the way with the team from Madrid tucked in second place and just three points behind. Whilst this may seem like the normal course of events for those who pander to the stereotypical view of La Liga, there is one crucial difference. This season, the team from Madrid is Atlético.
The resurgence from Los Rojiblancos over the past 12 months has been quite amazing and the upturn in form can be traced back to the appointment of Diego “El Cholo” Simeone as manager.
The Return of El Cholo
“As a player I never exchanged my Atléti shirt. My opponents would’ve had to offer me two because mine was worth more” —Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone
Simeone joined Atléti in December 2011. A player for Atlético Madrid on two previous occasions, between 1994 and 1997 and again between 2003 and 2005, Simeone was an integral part of the team which won the double in 1996.
In the press conference when he joined, Simone spoke very broadly about the style of play he wanted his Atléti team to produce. It would be an aggressive team. A team that would be strong and courageous and quick to counter attack opponents. Players would need to play for the jersey displaying passion and commitment. And that was it. There was no in-depth philosophical discussion. No debate upon his preferred formation. It was all very vague and many were sceptical.
Yet the results have been sensational. Simeone has taken charge of Atléti in 51 competitive games recording 36 wins, 8 draws and 7 defeats during which time he has won a Europa League title and the UEFA Super Cup.
The question everyone is now asking is can Atléti sustain a title challenge? And as wins continue to arrive, some are even beginning to quietly whisper the idea that Atléti could actually win La Liga.
A few of Atléti’s most convincing victories since the return of El Cholo have arrived against teams that have attempted to take the game to the men from Madrid in a pro-active fashion.
Athletic Club were soundly beaten 3-0 in the Europa League Final despite completely dominating the game, registering 69% possession in the process.
In the UEFA Super Cup Final, Chelsea were soundly swept away 4-1 despite having 58% possession against Atléti.
On both of these occasions, Atléti saw much less of the ball than their opponents but registered more shots at goal than their opponent.
Atléti use a relatively straightforward 4-2-3-1 formation although Simeone has been known to alter things for specific games. The away draw with Levante early in the season used a 3-4-2-1 formation aimed at ensuring defensive solidity whilst the 4-0 home victory over Sevilla was a straight forward 4-4-2. The change here was designed to force Jesus Navas further back.
El Cholo’s preferred starting line up (from this11.com) is displayed below:-
The two full backs, Juanfran and Luis Filipe are both converted wingers and look, when possible, to provide attacking width.
Gabi and Mario sit deep in central midfield, shielding the defence. Neither really commits themselves to attack, instead retaining their position to prevent Atléti being caught out during quick transitions. Their positioning as the double pivot is a key component of Atléti’s success. They are aggressive, industrious and are not afraid to be cynical if required. They are players in the mould of their manager.
The two wide players in the attacking trident are normally utilised as inverted wingers, cutting in to support Falcao. Atléti have numerous options here but Arda and Adrian are normally preferred. Koke or Raul Garcia can play in the centre of the attacking trio. Koke is the more technically accomplished player whilst Raul Garcia provides a more physical, robust figure that can compete aerially. The Columbian striker is the central reference point. His ability to hold the ball, link play and finish has seen him rise in the scoring charts and undermine his own belief that he can beat both Messi and Ronaldo to the Pichichi.
Falcao sits on 50 goals scored for Atlético Madrid in just 62 games, a fantastic scoring record but he arguably does not receive the coverage he should due to being overshadowed by the two greatest players in the world, Messi and Ronaldo.
Formations are inherently neutral. Their implementation is the key consideration. The 4-2-3-1 system can be interpreted in a number of ways. It can be either a defensive formation dropping in to a 4-5-1 or a very attack minded formation. Atléti under Simeone focus upon the retention of their shape positionally above the retention of the ball. Maintaining discipline and shape is more important than clocking up 60% ball possession.
The table below shows some key statistics (from WhoScored.com) for Atléti both defensively and in the attacking phase:-
|Atleti||La Liga Ranking|
|Shots Per Game||14.8||3rd|
|Crosses Per Game||25||4th|
|Tackles Per Game||22.8||7th|
|Interceptions Per Game||15.8||5th|
|Fouls Per Game||14.8||7th|
Possession is sometimes viewed as the most essential ingredient but a game can be controlled without possession if you can control space. Atléti average 47.6% possession per game ranking them 15th in La Liga but their use of space if the most important aspect of their play.
Atléti concede the lowest number of shots per game (8.5) in La Liga combined with a high number of interceptions (15.8) and tackles (22.8) per game. The opponent has to work extremely hard for an opportunity at goal. The central positioning of Gabi and Mario is essential here as Atléti drop into a 4-4-1-1 without the ball. The two banks of four stay narrow and compact to prevent teams passing through them. Both wingers move deep to cover the opponents full backs.
Given that teams attack them Atléti more, discipline is essential and they concede 14.8 fouls per game, the 7th highest average number of fouls per game. This contrasts sharply with their disciplinary record. Atléti have accumulated 33 yellow cards and one solitary red card this season. In disciplinary terms, Atléti are relatively clean and rank 14th in La Liga. The difference between disciplinary sanctions incurred and fouls is perhaps explained by fouls being given away in fairly neutral areas of the pitch, far from goal. Although cynical in nature, it prevents Atléti succumbing to quick counter attacks.
In the attacking phase of play, the statistics are as impressive. Quick transitions are essential to their game and Falcao always remains the highest player up the pitch.
They have the 3rd highest number of shots at goal with 14.8 per game and are the 5th most fouled team in the division. With an average of 25 crosses per game, Atléti are ranked 3rd in La Liga and the aerial strength of Falcao is utilised fully as is his ability within the penalty area.
Atléti take 9% of their shots within the 6 yard box, the highest figure in La Liga whilst they take 37% of their shots from outside the penalty area, the lowest figure in La Liga. The team is shaped to focus upon Falcao’s strengths as a striker. To play front to goal and moving into space.
|6 Yard Box||9%||1st|
|Outside Penalty Area||37%||20th|
There is a slight reliance upon the left side for attacks with 42% of attacks originating on this side. This could be due to Filipe Luis being more defensively sound than Juanfran and being able to commit to attacks safe in the knowledge he can recover and fulfil his defensive duties. With Juanfran being less defensive minded, he is a little more circumspect moving forward.
The number of touches which Atléti take in possession lends further weight to quick transitions being key. Approximately 24% of touches occur in Atléti’s final third with 32% of Atléti’s touches in the opponents final third (the highest in La Liga). Whilst the figures are broadly similar to Barcelona, the possession figure is substantially less than Barcelona.
The graphic below shows this:-
With one of the lowest number of touches in their own half, Atléti get the ball and shift it forward quickly. They are a very direct and vertical team. El Cholo’s view is simple. There is no point having possession for possession’s sake.
When they recover possession, Los Rojiblancos seek to attack as quickly and directly as possible. Falcao is frequently used as a reference point to hold play up momentarily before support arrives.
Falcao seldom passes into the penalty area or when he is inside the penalty area. The majority of passes he plays are just over the halfway line. The graphic below (from Squawka.com) is common for Falcao during a game:-
He receives the ball, passes and turns to move into the penalty area awaiting delivery. Simple yet highly effective.
Perhaps one of the greatest compliments, albeit backhanded, towards this team came from the Osasuna coach, Mendilibar, following his side’s 3-1 defeat to Atlético:-
“The great thing about Atlético Madrid is that with the great players they have they can play like a small team, as they do in games like today, but up front, they can kill you”
Mendilibar’s quote is revealing. That the coach of Osasuna, a side normally associated with battling qualities and a final placing lower half of the league can liken Atléti to a “small team” signals how Atléti will fight for every ball, work hard and retain defensive shape.
Questions will persist over the strength in depth of Atléti’s squad but Simeone has been carefully rotating his squad especially in the Europa League where they have already qualified with a game to spare. This enables key players to rest and recover whilst giving fringe players valuable playing time maintaining match sharpness for when they are called upon.
And now the two big tests arrive for Atléti. Trips to the Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou await with a home game against Deportivo sandwiched between them. Survive unscathed from these trips and perhaps, just perhaps, people will take Atléti serious as potential challengers. Both games should, in theory, suit Atléti. Both Madrid and Barcelona will attack Los Rojiblancos allowing Atléti to play their normal game. Atléti have not beaten their cross town rivals this century. Indeed, Atléti have had 16 managers since their last victory over their rivals in 1999.
On Saturday evening at the Santiago Bernabeu, Simeone will be hoping that his 52nd match in charge of Atléti reaps his 37th win.
Follow Chalk On The Boots on Twitter: @chalkontheboots.
And read more of his work on his blog ChalkOnTheBoots.Wordpress.com.
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sadly it has just been as one sided as it has over the years between the two Madrid club. Aleti has a few good players but it's not the same level as what Real can come up with.