Thomas Sorensen is back with a detailed analysis of the La Liga match that ended Atletico Madrid 5-0 Gijon.
Saturday saw Atlético Madrid face Sporting Gijón in the Spanish capital. After a 4-0 win against Celta Vigo in the last league game and a 1-0 win at a tricky away game in Eindhoven at the midweek, things were starting to look better for Atlético who delivered a professional display against Sporting Gijón by winning 5-0. Gijón who had started the season quite well with two 2-1 wins against Athletic Bilbao and Leganés and a 0-0 away at Alavés.
Atletico Madrid: 13. Oblak; 16. Vrsaljko, 15. Savic, 2. Godin, 3. Filipe Luis; 23. Gaitan, 6. Koke, 8. Saul, 10. Carrasco; 7. Griezmann, 21. Gameiro.
Gijon: 1. Cuellar; 16. Castellano, 4. Mere, 5. Amorebieta, 18. Lopez; 10. Cases, 6. Lopez; 2. Pereira, 7. Rodriguez, 14. Burgi; 24. Cop.
The central battle
Sporting coach Abelardo Fernández is well known for wanting his team to play out of the back. But quite as expected, Diego Simeone and his men wouldn’t make that easy for them. But for their pressing to succeed they had to find a solution in the midfield, being three against two in the central part of the pitch. They did so by making one of their strikers put pressure on one of the central midfielders and force him towards the sideline, whilst the other striker would keep an eye out for the other central defender but, but also have an eye on the opposition defensive midfielder. The four midfielders behind them would stay compact and make ball-oriented shifts in order to prevent Sporting Gijón creating overloads on the sides and instead forcing them to play long. The placing of the players in this picture below is outstanding, as three of the players are within a distance to put immediate pressure on two different players depending on the next pass from the defender.
If the ball was passed on to the defensive midfielder, in most cases Álvarez Díaz, one of the Atlético central midfielders would step out to put pressure on him and the other three midfielders would quickly put their opposition players under pressure to force the opposition playing backwards. If there the Gijón defensive midfielder would get the time to turn, there would be space behind the midfield four and then Sporting would be able to take advantage of the numerical superiority in central midfield.
This successful way of pressing from Atlético ended up in Sporting kicking a lot of long balls from either their central defenders or from the goalkeeper. But if there are two guys you don’t want to have your attackers doing aerial duels against in La Liga, it must be Diego Godín and Stefan Savic.
Atlético switches formation
Due to their quick start being in front with 2 to nothing after 5 minutes, Atlético changed from a 4-4-2 without possession to a 4-1-4-1 deep block and took the top off their pressing. They did so for most of the remaining game.
Now they just stood back and only started pressing inside their own half, with one of the central midfielders going forward and then the defensive midfielder covering the space he left.
Defending the Argentine way
If you take a look at Sporting Gijón’s shot map from www.fourfourtwo.com, you can see that Sporting had 7 out of their 10 shots blocked whereby 6 of the 7 blocked shots are blocked quite shortly after the shot itself had been taken.
This may seem rather lucky or random to some people. But really this is a strategy of defending for Simeone and lots of other coaches. Getting a lot of his inspiration from the Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, this is something that Simeone and other coaches like Berizzo and Pochettino have taken with them into their own football philosophy. In this video from Marcelo Bielsa’s time as a coach for Argentina’s national team, you can see how it’s practiced.
By defending this way you will sort of turn things around for the attacker. Most attacking players will wait for the defender to come against them and try to tackle them. By moving up towards the attacking player and not try to tackle them, the defender forces the attacker to make a decision whether to shoot or to go for the 1v1. In the ideal scenario, this will make the attacking player “panic” and go for the shot, as he’s afraid to slow the play too much down and get tackled, which will make him think he should finish the attack.
Atlético in attack
Atlético in this game managed to balance their attacking methods quite nicely between long balls, counterattacking and established buildup-play.
When Atlético were in established buildup-play, they did really well to overload the sides. Especially on the left-hand side, they did really well to create overloads and triangles. Here’s an example of how Griezmann drops down, Filipe Luis tucks into the half-space and Carrasco stays wide. In this case, it gives Koké acres of space in the center of the pitch.
The overload on the left side is also what led to the 2-0 goal by Kevin Gameiro. Though on that specific attack they also showed one of the benefits of overloading areas around the ball, as they counter pressed after the lost the ball on the overloaded side.
The 3-0 goal was also scored from Atlético’s left side but was mainly due to good play by Filipe Luis, who played a fantastic game, contributing with great dribbles and good movement inside the pitch for Atlético.
At times Sporting Gijón did also try to press Atlético high up the pitch. This could seem like a good idea, as Diego Godín and Stefan Savic best abilities aren’t in the build up play but mainly in the physical part of defending. Though opposite to Sporting, Atlético had no problems with kicking it long towards the speedy duo of Griezmann and Gameiro.
Though Griezmann runs deep a lot, in this game, he contributed a lot to Atlético’s positional play. As you can see on this FourFourTwo-dashboard over his received passes, he received the ball quite a lot in the middle of the pitch and by the left side.
Sporting fail to find Cop
Besides their obvious problems with playing out of the back against Atlético’s pressing, Sporting did not find their main man in their offence either. Having been involved in three of Sporting’s four goals this season (2 goals, 1 assist), new signing Duje Cop is set to be one of the attacking main men in this season Sporting Gijón offence. Though in this game, they did not manage to find him much before he was subbed off in the 69th minute.
As demonstrated on this FourFourTwo-dashboard over his received passes, he only received the ball once inside the opposition box, only managed 1 shot, and was mainly restricted to get the ball on the left side.
Most of the second half went by without any major tactical changes. It was clear for Sporting that the game was already lost, and it was only about controlling the damage in second half. Though that did not quite go that well for them letting Atlético score two more.
Atlético, who got a very slow start to the season with drawing 1-1 and 0-0 to promoted sides Alavés and Leganés, now have a 9-0 goal difference from the last two league games against Celta Vigo and Sporting Gijón. After the two first games, their problems with breaking up a deep block from the opposition were exploited as they only manage to score on a penalty against Alavés. So these two games must be a relief to Simeone. Though you could argue that not all is up and running smooth again, as Sporting Gijón doesn’t have the style of the usual small clubs, neither does Celta, though they’re not considered a small club. They both want to have the ball and press high, which cost them at Saturday as Atlético benefitted from two big mistakes and a penalty for three of their goals.
For Sporting, the pressure Atlético put them under was just too much, creating only one chance by the 80th minute with the scoreline at 4-0. They couldn’t find their way out of the pressure and it led to big mistakes, which in the end cost them. The goals for 1-0 and 3-0 were balls given away by their own players. If there’s one team you shouldn’t do that against, it’s Atlético Madrid.
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