The defending La Liga champions have made a habit of impressing and often out-performing the traditional big two of Spanish football. Diego Simeone’s men have never disappointed in their performances, while the Argentinian coach has rarely gone wrong with his tactics. But never has an Atletico Madrid side in recent times so convincingly blown away their fierce neighbours as they did on Saturday night (though they did beat Real 4-0 in 1987).
Atletico Madrid 4-0 Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid: 1. Moya; 23. Miranda; 2. Godin; 20. Juanfran; 3. Siquiera; 5. Tiago; 14. Gabi; 6. Koke; 10. Turan; 7. Griezmann; 9. Mandzukic
Real Madrid: 1. Casillas; 2. Varane; 18. Nacho; 15. Carvajal; 3. Coentrao; 8. Kroos, 5. Khedira, 23. Isco; 11. Bale; 7. Ronaldo; 9. Benzema
Substitutions: Koke – Niguez; Niguez – Garcia; Griezmann – Torres // Khedira – Jese; Isco – Illarramendi; Chicharito – Benzema
Goals: 14′ Tiago; 18′ Niguez; 67′ Grizemann; 89′ Mandzukic
Atletico Madrid exploit down the right
The home side found joy down their right hand side, creating a flurry of chances, aided by Arda Turan’s impressive showing and further negligent display from Real Madrid. With Simeone’s system insisting more on the display off the ball than on it, the 4-4-2 was effectively utilized to achieve the objective in both phases of play.
And while it may be seen as a uniform tactic on both flanks in the two phases of play, in actuality, the attacking emphasis was more on the right, with Simeone ensuring against a counter by playing early substitute Siqueira in a more defensive role. Not only did this provide cover against a counter but also put focus on the right when Atletico were in attack, creating an overload defensively from Real Madrid to that side, freeing up valuable space centrally and on the left. While the overload should have contained the threat, often Arda Turan’s impressive ability saw him work past the Real defence, aided of course by players on that end.
The above instance shows a case of how a simple overload led to an over-commitment from Real Madrid allowing Atletico easily in, with three players pressing out wide ineffectively, and failing to track runners as a simple back-heel from Turan played Juanfran in to acres of space.
It was good work down the right again that created that crucial third goal with another over-load & over-commitment. With Real being without Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, the direct replacements (with the exception of Raphael Varane) are clearly not apt depth, failing to live up to the performances of the first-teamers.
As the heat-map above portrays, majority of Atletico Madrid’s on-the-ball activity was provided down the right hand side. While general creativity through the centre was lacking from the home side, with Gabi and Tiago primarily played in an off-the-ball defensive role, it was left to the flanks for much of their attacks to develop. Three of the four goals on the night were created down the right, with the other along the left channel.
Real Madrid fail to track runners
A couple of weeks back a discussion erupted via Outside of the Boot’s twitter account, at a time where Real Madrid were on their unbeaten run, looking unstoppable. A possible weakness suggested by us on Twitter, in a threatening Real side, was the lack of a natural (and fit) defensive midfielder. While the suggestion brought mixed responses, the Madrid derby on Saturday proved that there may well be cause for concern.
All four of Atletico Madrid’s goals came as a result of failure to track runners on the part of Real, with the offender often being from the away sides’ midfield.
The opening goal which was widely blamed on Iker Casillas should equally have been pointed towards that midfield, and the lack of a defensive cover from within it. A cross from the right towards the far post saw Mario Mandzukic comfortably control, hold up and lay the ball off to the edge of the box for Tiago to strike. As seen above, a herd of Real players were seen desperately covering the goal while all failed to contain the threat from midfield. Karim Benzema too here could be considered the guilty party, failing to track Tiago, having seen the Portuguese man run past him to meet the ball.
The second goal that came just 4 minutes later further deserves to be blamed on Real failing to track runners off the ball, with the day’s most central midfielder in Toni Kroos guilty on this occasion.
As Guilherme Siqueira ran down the left channel with substitute Saul Niguez making his way into the box, Toni Kroos is seen tracking the 20-year-old, until the left-back manages to cut the ball across. Niguez moves a step back with Kroos caught ball-watching inside the box, as Niguez acrobatically finished.
The third from the home side serve as the perfect example of everything gone wrong in the Real defence. A non-existing line sees Dani Carvajal play the Atletico Madrid attack on side, the right-back further guilty of not winning the initial ball towards Saul having tracked the youngster, while even Varane manages to track his fellow country-men but fails in dealing with the threat.
Worryingly it’s the 5 Real players at the edge of the box which further highlight the lack of defensive intelligence in Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Static midfielders attracted by the ball failing to oblige to their roles in the side. Despite the good work from Arda Turan, this should never have turned into a 2-v-2 situation from the eventual ball towards the far post.
A fourth goal late on was a more simple ‘losing your marker’ move by Mario Mandzukic, as he stepped back to meet Fernando Torres’ cross, faster than his marker Dani Carvajal did.
While Atletico Madrid fully deserved the four goals they scored, displaying competency both in defence and attack; but it was poor professionalism in terms of tactics from Ancelotti’s side (surprisingly) that ultimately decided the scoreline. While derbies are often 50% tactics and 50% aggression/passion, Real Madrid’s players seemed to have overlooked the former.
How did Atletico contain the threat of Real Madrid’s attack?
Though this particular analysis may require an article on it’s own, this section here can briefly divulge into how Diego Simeone once again managed to contain the famous B-B-C attack of Real Madrid.
Each of Real’s front three have come under their fair share of scrutiny in recent weeks, and rightly so. While Gareth Bale’s lack of effort and defensive contribution have been noticed even by the Real Madrid faithful, neutrals are quick to point out how lackluster Crisitano Ronaldo has been ever since being named the world’s best, a couple of weeks back.
But it wasn’t pure disappointment in performance that restrained the front three to just three shots between them, but rather a clear tactical approach compiled with the usual hard-work on display from Simeone’s side.
The graphic above illustrate in simple terms what tactic was used defensively by Simeone to contain the threat of Real’s attack. While the usual deep defensive line and two banks of four kept the attack to a minimum, it was the steps taken to further contain more intricate moves by a world-class attack that earned the Atletico side praise.
More often than not, two or more players were with the man on the ball and his immediate passing options, a common approach by Atletico Madrid. While Ronaldo, for example, started from a wide position, the direct full-back in Juanfran was on hand to provide cover with either one of the wider men (Turan) or central midfielder (Tiago) close-by to double up. Based on whether Ronaldo went down the flank or move in-field, either Turan or Tiago would provide the ‘tag-team’ support to Juanfran. This approach was replicated to similar results and far more easily on the other side.
Where does this leave them?
This result, more than anything else, threw the La Liga title race wide open, providing both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to close the gap on leaders Real Madrid in to touching distance, a feet that seemed impossible not too long ago. The result also saw Simeone again out-class Ancelotti, only adding to his achievements, having got one over the Italian both in the Super Cup and Copa Del Rey earlier in the season. Bragging rights in a derby are always popular among supporters, and with Simeone now proving to be Ancelotti’s Achilles heel, these fixtures will only further add to the existing spice, if it was at all needed.
Written by Sami Faizullah