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Tactical Analysis

Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis | Simeone & Ancelotti’s tactical battle in the midst of an all-out brawl

One of the fiercest rivalries in World football lived up to it’s name at the Vicente Calderon as the two title chasing teams from Madrid went head to head. The game could have so easily be mistaken for an all out wrestling brawl, as we got to see the alternative side of the ‘beautiful game’. Fouls, tackles, dives, clashes, it had it all – an all-out derby.

Real Madrid were leading the pack by a three point margin, with both Barcelona and Atletico tied for 2nd spot. Real were also looking to avenge their Copa Del Rey defeat, and the 1-0 loss earlier in the season against their rivals at the Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema put Madrid into an early lead, but it was all Atletico after that. Koke got them back into it with a powerful finish; and right at the stroke of half-time, Gabi pulled off a brilliant strike from 35 yards out. Ronaldo equalized late in the second half as the game finished 2-2.

There were plenty of incidents and penalty shouts, as you’d expect with a Madrid derby, but a fair result with neither side deserving more than a point. Real remain three points clear of Atletico.

Line ups

Atletico - Real

Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid

Atletico Madrid: Courtois, Juanfran, Luis, Miranda, Godin, Suarez, Gabi, Koke, Garcia, Turan (Rodriguez 83′), Costa

Real Madrid: Lopez, Arbeloa (Carvajal 71′), Coentrao (Marcelo 59′), Ramos, Pepe, Alonso, Modric, Di Maria (Isco 72′), Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema

Goals: Benzema 3′ | Koke 28′ | Gabi 45′ | Ronaldo 82′

Atletico thrive on their pressing game

Diego Simeone’s men came into this game with a realistic shot at breaking the duopoly in the Spanish league, they were a side hungry for victory against their fierce rivals who they’ve been matching stride for stride for the first time in years; and this showed in their football.

Atletico Madrid displayed immense desire & determination, along with urgency in their play despite going down to an early goal. They pressed the Real defence and forced them backwards, not giving them a hint of space. Atletico’s most advanced players when not in possession were Diego Costa, Arda Turan, Koke and Raul Garcia. Their work rate was incredible as they each had specific pressing duties. The ball was often played back from midfield into defence by Real Madrid, due to the compactness of the middle, and the Atleti players were quick to push up further to retain possession from the defence as well.

Diego Costa, defensively, was required to press at either of the two Real centre-backs, Koke & Arda Turan on either side pushed up against the Real full-backs while Raul Garcia prevented Xabi Alonso from having any time on the ball consequently nullifying his effect at creating from deep. This not only isolated Real’s attack from being connected to the deeper positions, but allowed Atletico themselves to gain possession in dangerous areas. This fact is reflected in the numbers as Atletico made 21 tackles and 18 interceptions compared to Real’s 15 tackles and 9 interceptions. Koke was particularly instrumental in this regard, doing a fantastic job down the right-hand side.


The image above shows Atletico’s successful interceptions, with a fair chunk in Real’s half, down the flank, coming from the young midfielder Koke.

Diego Simeone’s use of these four players pressing game, especially Koke, Turan & Garcia, was a contributing factor to the superb first-half display by Atletico Madrid. The same continued for much of the second half but naturally exhaustion took over the players and they weren’t able to keep up for the entire 90 minutes, with their energy levels significantly subsiding.

Carlo Ancelotti showcased his true Italian spirit by taking advantage after the opposition was worn out, but Atletico’s display cannot go unnoticed. It is for this reason I hold Atletico’s Champions League hopes in high regard, they can counter most sides with their defensive displays, right from the attacking third.

Atletico’s hold on midfield forces Real Madrid into long-balls

The home side had a clear hold over the midfield in the derby. With Koke and Turan utilising their defensive abilities in wide areas, Raul Garcia, Gabi and Mario Suarez took the centre of the field and formed a little triangle (as shown in the illustration). Their own pressing game forced Modric and Di Maria into wide positions, as they weren’t able to impact play from a central position.

Midfieldhold Image

Both the Croatian and Argentine midfielders were prevented from maintaining possession in the midfield and were forced into wide areas. This left the entire central area in Atletico Madrid’s hands. This was further detrimental to Real’s attack, with not enough service through the centre.

ModricDiMaria narrow

It also meant that Modric and Di Maria had to drop into deeper positions to receive the ball, especially with Xabi not able to influence the game as much as he would have liked either. Sergio Ramos thus completed the most long balls, 14 in all with Modric completing 11 and Di Maria 8. Many of these passes by the midfield men were lateral passes to each as they tried to take wider position and take advantage of the space offered there. In total Real completed 67 long balls, compared to Atletico’s 34.

The image above shows Modric and Di Maria in a narrow position, to counter Atletico’s attack through the centre. They appear deep above as it is a defensive phase, but generally as well they were seen dropping deep.

‘B-B-C’ unable to influence play

Real Madrid’s now established front trio have been commonly labelled as B-B-C (Benzema, Bale, Cristiano). But the deadly three man attack was unable to get into the game as much as they would have liked. Gareth Bale had one of his most quietest games in recent times, and Benzema barely got into the game after the early goal. Ronaldo too, despite scoring, wasn’t able to impact play and seemed a largely hidden figure.

As explained above, Atletico made it really hard on the defensive third and midfield ahead of them to get involved with play, this naturally isolated the front-three.


One third of the B-B-C’s heat map is displayed above. Benzema was completely isolated in the game, and he was infact supposed to be the most advanced players in the front three.

This deadly B-B-C duo have been showcasing their abilities right from the start of 2014. Prior to this, they weren’t quite as offensive. Simeone realised this and made adjustments to ensure their effect is negligible. For this he utilised a complete flat-back four with both full-backs, Filipe Luis and Juan Fran, not encouraged to run forward/press but instead were made to defend deep.


Here above, one can see how Atletico’s defenders were sticking to a flat-back four plan, thus preventing Real Madrid’s attackers from having any significant space in the attacking third. Forcing them to drop deeper and wider, but Atletico’s midfield had it covered in those areas as well.

The lack of space to work with, and lack of possession prevented the deadly trio from having a considerable impact. Masterstroke again from Simeone, but Ancelotti did get a point out of it with a B-B-C member scoring the equaliser.

Real fail to use the wings & peculiar inclusion of Coentrao

Atletico Madrid deploy themselves with the aim of narrowing play, keeping the ball in midfielder and ensuring compactness of the game which results in a solid defensive display preventing the opposition from playing a creative game in midfield. The natural avenue thus is exploiting the wings on either side.

With both Atletico full-backs sitting deep, added to the narrowness of Atletico’s midfield, Real Madrid had a clear chance to play it from the wings. And despite Modric and Di Maria forced wider, they looked to get back into narrow areas to influence play. Both Bale and Ronaldo did step wide, but not deep enough as the width provided by them was covered by Atletico’s full-backs.

Coentrao and Arbeloa from full-back would be the natural answer, but Atleti did a brilliant job with Koke & Turan countering their runs as well (as explained above). It has to be said that Marcelo and Carvajal would have been the better options to attack down either side; it seems as though Ancelotti went with a defensive mind-set for his wide full-backs as well. Despite that, Arbeloa’s inclusion was justified, however Coentrao’s wasn’t. The Portuguese defender started for the first time since November 2013 and had a pretty poor game, prompting his substitution, being replaced by the obvious choice – Marcelo.

Thus Simeone forced Madrid wide, they didn’t take the chance but instead looked to be defensive in wide areas as well. Simeone gets the plaudits there as well.

Where does this leave them?

The title race still remains tight, but with a 2-2 draw in the derby, Barcelona seem to be the biggest winners. Real still occupy 1st place but 3rd place Atletico are still only 3 points behind with Barca in between the two.

As the season draws to a close, experience and depth will be telling factors (especially since there’s Champions League football to consider too). Real and Barca seem to have the factors to go on for the title in a long season, but Atletico’s tactics make them a difficult side. Personally, I believe their tactics are better implemented in the Champions League.

It’s hard to call it between Real and Barca but the factors listed above suggest Atletico will have to make do with 3rd spot. Despite their superior performance, a victory would have been crucial for their title chances.

Real Madrid on the other hand can be confident of their hopes, the draw was a positive result and they can continue to build from here on.

If you’re interested in more Tactical Analysis articles, head over here

Sami Faizullah

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