“Against Sevilla we had 37 percent of the ball, but we had more shots, more corners and scored more goals. We have less of the ball because it suits the players we have.”
Real Madrid and Barcelona were announced as football’s richest clubs in terms of revenue for the fifth consecutive year last month. The Galacticos recorded a revenue of 518.9 million euros ($703 million), while Barcelona had revenues of 482.6 million euros ($654 million). Over the past decade, the Classico rivals have had an incredible net spend of over €1billion. To add to that, Real Madrid and Barca spend almost 200M on player wages compared to Atletico’s 65m, showing the gulf of class between players, at least on paper. To compete with these two gargantuan clubs on it’s own is an unbelievable feat, to be top of the league however after 22 gameweeks is quite simply, staggering.
For many years, Spanish football has been dominated by the famous ‘big two’ – Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Money, huge television and commercial deals, world class players & managers have of course been the major factors for their dominance, however the sequential superiority of the two Spanish titans is on the verge of being broken by a well drilled team from Madrid, Diego Simeone’s Atletico. Upon his arrival, El Cholo said: “I always had it as an objective to return to Atlético as coach… I’m going to bring the work ethic and enthusiasm I have always had. The responsibility is enormous but it doesn’t scare me. It excites me. I have always risen to challenges and this is just one more.” The 43 year old Argentine has moulded the club into his own image, something most top managers down the years have seem to have done. At a considerably young age for a manager, El Cholo is portraying attributes to suggest he can compete with the very best around. Prior his arrival, Atleti were suffering in mid-table. 26 months after his arrival, Simeone has won Atleti three major trophies, including their first domestic title since 1996.
“I’m always optimistic. I always enthusiastic and when I came, I said I wanted to rediscover the essence of the club: An Atlético team that was always aggressive, intense, competitive, counter-attacking and fast… I think that’s what we’ve been giving. That’s something that excites me and gives me the energy to keep improving and I keep seeing that the team is responding to all this. My players don’t need words to motivate them – they need security, decisiveness and ability to try and get the best out of them all. I admire these players. I admire their dedication and the way they work together as a team”.
Simeone explains his famous “one match at a time” philosophy.
“I compare it to a doctor who is going to perform an operation. He who pays, which is the patient, or in our case the fans, wants the operation to go well. The doctor needs the anaesthetist to do his job well, as well as the surgeon and the nurse… It’s the same for an architect, with the foundations and the columns of a building… We have to separate ourselves from the ones who are paying. It’s natural that the fans want us to become champions, but first, we have to dedicate our time to the construction of the house.”
Diego Simeone is a tactically astute coach who advocates the 4-4-2 formation, in a time where the 4-4-2 has lost it’s ubiquity. The general consensus is that, the 4-4-2 isn’t the most effective formation to deploy in the modern era due to the focus on midfield dominance and concession of spaces between the lines.. Diego doesn’t comply with this analogy. His Atletico Madrid team play a very compact and narrow 4-4-2 shape. The formation is only the starting point however..
Throughout the course of the game, Atleti instructed by Cholo switch to a variety of formations. From 4-4-2 to 4-5-1, 4-3-3, and many other systems. executing them all faultlessly. In defensive phases, the wide players Koke and Arda Turan tuck infield to prevent numerical advantages centrally, while forwards Diego Costa and David Villa drop deeper – restricting spaces in between the lines.Atleti’s defensive compactness under Cholo is what makes them unplayable. They make it difficult for opposition to attack them in central zones, forcing them to go wide and often putting unsuccessful crosses into the box – mainly due to the aerial prowess of Miranda and Godin.
Also they make it difficult for opposition to play through them by making the pitch as narrow as possible. For example the photo below. When the ball is switched to the left flank, Atleti collectively shift to the right side of the pitch and are able to regain possession
Ancelotti: “Atletico Madrid play like Diego Simeone played: tough, focused, and tactically perfect.” A robust midfielder during his youthful days, Diego Simeone has galvanized a solid team which plays with immense intensity and grit. El Cholo is a manager who strives for absolute perfection, and as a result has got his players giving their absolute all for him. Atleti’s relentless and insane pressing being a testament to this.
They stay very tight to players and block all passing lanes. This photo highlights their high press vs Barcelona. Pinto plays the ball to Mascherano who is quickly pressurized by Raul Garcia. All Atleti players stay tight to their man – blocking every possible passing lane and angle – including the goalkeeper, thus prompting a long clearance.
They pressurize collectively, almost like a swarm of bees. When the ball gets to the opposition playmaker, they increase the intensity of the press and are able to cut off all passing angles. This photo against Barca again, highlights Atleti doing just that. Three Atleti players quickly swam the player in possession with Adrian the most forward blocking passing option to the goalkeeper.
If opponents somehow manage to survive Atleti’s first wave on intense pressing, Atleti quickly recover into their deep shape to limit space for opposition to work through.
In attack, Atleti’s directness is another impressive quality to be admired. Unlike his fellow Argentine counterpart in Catalonia, Diego Simeone doesn’t play with slow build-up and intricate passing, rather they play a very direct approach, particularly in the final 3rd. When Atleti break, Villa and Costa in particular play right off the shoulder of the last defender and are very good at making timely runs into space behind. More often than not, they are found by the midfielders. Despite having less than 50% possession per match on average, Atletico Madrid have had the most shots from the 18 yard box and create a chance every 10 minutes on average. A staggering 72% of their shots this season have come from within the 18 yard box, highlighting the quality of chances created. I’ll tell you what, Atletico Madrid are more comfortable without the ball, than most teams are with the ball.