Diego Simeone’s men put on a very impressive display against a team which is considered arguably the best team in Europe at the moment. Atletico Madrid played incredible defense and focused on tight combinational play down the flanks in order to come out with the 4:0 victory.
Published on: Feb 11, 2015
Atletico’s Narrow Attack
Simeone once again proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the world in regards to tactics. Griezmann provided the vertical penetration as well as offering his talents in tight combinations. Mandzukic acted as a target man and moved horizontally towards the flanks and around the box. Meanwhile, the wide midfielders were very narrow in both offensive and defensive phases while both fullbacks pushed up and provided wider passing options and more numbers for combinations/counterpressing.
In attack, Atletico focused on playing the ball into wide areas and overloading the area numerically in order to break through the defense and put crosses in. Crosses in themselves are usually inefficient, but when there is penetration of the defensive line and a high number of attackers in the penalty area – crosses can become a good form of attack (especially against Real’s more offensive system on match day).
The Rojiblancos used long diagonal early crosses towards a great numerical situation at the far post very often. This even lead to their very first goal which stemmed from a cross to a 3 vs. 3 situation at the far post before Mandzukic laid off the ball for Tiago to shoot. They also utilized many cutback crosses which are particularly advantageous as they attack the goal by moving away from the goal and it’s defenders, not to mention the advantages of having many players flood the box.
This basic strategy in offense led to Atletico’s 4 goals against Real Madrid. Even though it seemed as Real’s strategy was to force the ball wide and isolate it before transitioning through their dynamic wingers in Bale and Ronaldo. Both teams sought to control the center on defense which made this game even more fitting for both teams’ wing-oriented strategies.
The overloading not only provided penetration, but allowed Atletico to utilize the extra man in various ways (such as direct balls in behind the defense) which added onto the overall instability from the Real Madrid defense.
The general structure of Atletico’s narrow combinations were with the fullbacks being positioned the widest, the wide midfielders moving inside towards the halfspaces, and the forwards making balancing runs. This fit Simeone’s team quite well overall as it used players like Turan in the most important areas, Mandzukic as a pass target for combinations, and Juanfran as a quick and direct penetrative aspect within the combinational scheme. Though the combinations varied overall of course.
Though it is in defense where Atletico truly shine. They moved well-coordinated in chain movements, were both vertically and horizontally compact,and defended aggressively once they isolated the opponent among other aspects.
Real Madrid Struggle Against Great Defense
Real Madrid played in a 4-3-3 and were forced wide quite often. Though their strategy in general is built around wing combinations and long switches or diagonals to attack the opponent anyway. Because of Atletico’s excellent defensive movements the wing players such as Cristiano and Bale struggled. They are quite strong in terms of athleticism and attacking the long switches of play, but they both struggle when in tight spaces. Missing players like Modric and Marcelo is a huge blow in this respect as they would most often create the imbalance against even the greatest of defenses in order to enable the wing attacks.
Coentrao and Carvajal pushed high up the field and even moved inside at times as Cristiano and Bale looked to be the primary receivers of passes towards the touchline at times. This was most likely due to the tactical tweaking by Carlo Ancelotti in regards to the structure of the combinational play on the wings against Atletico.
Khedira had quite a vertical role in the right halfspace as an 8. He is skilled in combinational play but the overall structure and characteristics of the players wasn’t optimal in most scenes throughout the game. Isco used his great pressure-resistant skills to help Real Madrid’s building game while Kroos played as the deepest central midfielder, the #6. These two provided high stability in the building phases of the attacks, but Real couldn’t find the right recipe against Atletico’s great defense.
Interesting changes from Ancelotti
Ancelotti made an interesting decision in regards to his team’s wide combination – moving Benzema into a supporting role for the combinations. He dropped quite deep and initiated many combinations himself which provided a varied form of entry against the Atletico defense and allowed for better dynamics in the combinations because of his talents. This allowed players like Isco to move forward more often – which is excellent if youre a Real Madrid fan. It was quite an impressive development made my Ancelotti, which also slightly improved Real’s counterpressing.
Later in the game Ancelotti subbed in Jese, Illarramendi, and Chicarito for Isco, Khedira, and Benzema. Real played in a more 4-4-2/4-2-4 shape for the ending phases of the game as well. At times there were some interesting scenes where Benzema moved wide left to support Jese and Coentrao in combinations. One scene in particular arose when Varane played an excellent first-touch diagonal long pass out into Coentrao to start an attack in an advantageous situation with Jese and Benzema. Though the attack ended with Jese dribbling loosely in the box and getting knocked down.
Atletico played impressively in all phases. Real Madrid attempted some interesting variations within their tactics on the flanks. Overall, it was a very enjoyable clash between two top coaches. Atletico are 3 points behind 2nd and 4 points behind 1st place now in La Liga. The battle for the La Liga title is still very much on between them. Barcelona defeated Atletico 3-1 recently with an excellent change in structure that focused on the wing play of Messi, Alves, and Rakitic (maybe something Ancelotti was trying to figure out?). It will be a very interesting finish in Spanish football this season, not to mention how successful they might be in the Champions League.