Diego Simeone's side have been showing a defensive fragility in recent times. But does the whole system need an update?
Diego Simeone has been one of the most familiar and impassioned managers on the job. Having joined Atletico Madrid in 2011, Simeone has led Los Rojiblancos to two La Liga titles and two Champions League final appearances.
❤️ 🏆 𝐂 𝐇 𝐀 𝐌 𝐏 𝐈 𝐎 𝐍 𝐒 🏆 🤍
Atletico Madrid win #LaLigaSantander for an 11th time!
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) May 22, 2021
Known for his steely defence and famous spirit of lifting his side up through sheer will, Simeone is also no slouch in the tactical department. Working on smaller budgets as compared to Barcelona (once upon a time) and Real Madrid to stay competitive has been quite successful.
Diego Simeone in 9 1/2 years as Atletico Madrid boss:
-2 La Liga titles
-2 Europa League titles
-1 Copa del Rey
-2 Champions Lge finals
& he’s done it all having to sell some of his best players along the way and having to rebuild.
Incredible longevity and sustained success.
— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) May 22, 2021
However, a downturn in results in recent times with eight goals conceded in the past six games has thrown doubts on whether he has taken the team as far as they can go. Atletico have struggled to play their composed game while opponents seem to have figured out Simeone’s style of play.
PROPONENT OF THE 4-4-2
Last season’s title win came with a solid base of players who knew their roles very well. Atletico under Simeone used the 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 extensively with both sharing more than a few similarities. With the former, the fullbacks would push forward with a central midfielder dropping back to make it into a three-man defence.
This helps in preventing an overload of the backline by the opposite midfielders while freeing up the wings. Coming to the personnel deployed, Yannick Carrasco and Renan Lodi interchange on the left with Kieran Trippier and Sime Vrsaljko on the right. This area has always been strong under Simeone, with Filipe Luis, Juanfran, and others serving brilliantly in the past.
Atletico Madrid's defensive record under Diego Simeone:
135 clean sheets
Absolutely bonkers! pic.twitter.com/bvYEgsfUjW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 27, 2016
Moving upwards, Atletico’s dominance lies in their goal scoring abilities nowadays with Luis Suarez, Joao Felix, and Angel Correa last season. Felix has been given a free role to operate in attack as he moves around all over the pitch which has helped his linkup play to flourish. The signing of Suarez was key as the Uruguayan remains a known goal poacher inside the penalty area.
A reminder that Barcelona sold Luis Suarez to Atlético Madrid for just €7m.
They told him he was too old to perform at the highest level.
He's scored 20 league goals this season 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/DhndxzOJED
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 16, 2021
He scored 21 goals and assisted a further three in La Liga while Correa added nine strikes and eight assists. The usage of two out-and-out strikers is always beneficial but what has worked even well is how quickly every player rearranges themselves when possession is lost. Atletico immediately drop into a low block of two lines in midfield and defence, given their immense workrate under Simeone.
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) February 24, 2021
The defenders bunch up close to each other, cutting off passing lanes as well as being in movement with the pace of the attack. The midfielders, namely Koke, Marcos Llorente, Carrasco and the like are extremely mobile, helping in double and triple-teaming the opponents.
It is impossible to pinpoint the true position of Llorente as evidenced by last season’s breakout stats. 12 goals, 11 assists, 3.19 touches in the opposite penalty box, and 5.87 progressive passes received (both P90) from a supposed right-back who played alongside Suarez at times. These are the kind of players that Simeone loves having, those who can carry the ball for longer periods of time.
ONE Marcos Llorente ❤️🤍 pic.twitter.com/2M2m9ew9lf
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) April 22, 2021
That is a big reason why Antoine Griezmann was also brought back, as he fits the mold. Working hard and being extremely clear about your roles is something that has highlighted Atletico for a long time but how relevant is it exactly in the current times? Simeone can surely deploy a more expansive style of play, one that utilises long balls and faster buildup more instead of relying on individual excellence.
João Felix – Ball progression and take-ons | Atletico Madrid vs Real Sociedad
Felix was spectacular last night on the ball, showcasing the elite talent that he is. He ran the show!
He recorded most prog. carries, most ball carries & most take-ons in the game.
Top talent! pic.twitter.com/T4W9iP3fLF
— Yash (@Odriozolite) October 25, 2021
The start of this season has brutally exposed Simeone’s defence, especially over the past two games. Liverpool cut through Los Colcherones like a knife through butter, with the defenders failing to deal with the intensity and press of the Reds early on. Two moments of genius brought them back into the game before needless giving away a penalty in the second half.
Atletico Madrid 2-3 Liverpool was the first time Atletico conceded 3+ goals in a home European game under Diego Simeone.
— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) October 19, 2021
Against Real Sociedad, they were once again 2-0 down before a brace from Suarez secured a hard earned draw. Simeone himself admitted that defence was a concern but should it really be more about his tactics, only time will tell.
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
The problem with using the same batch of players in every game is if one or two of them get injured, the team can suffer mightily. Furthermore, if the gameplay is not updated from time to time, opponents can figure out after a while what you are trying to do. Stefan Savic’s absence has been a glaring absence while Llorente also remains sidelined.
Atlético Madrid looking much more “back three of Felipe, Kondogbia and Hermoso” than “Diego Simeone defence” in these first 15 minutes. All over the place.
— Sam Leveridge (@samleveridge) October 19, 2021
Teams have been growing adept at figuring out the wide play of Atletico and when the midfield fails to provide a spark, the result is usually a loss. What has been even more eye-opening is how Simeone has often corrected his own mistakes after the match has started. Against AC Milan, Trippier was taken off after just 40 minutes in place of Felix, with two further substitutions at halftime.
Popular opinion: Diego Simeone is a defensive manager.
— Andy West (@andywest01) October 24, 2021
He has continued his trend of taking off non-performing players midway through the match, along with changing the formation or the style of play. Simeone’s over reliance on attackers saving the match has been brutally shown up over the past month, and maybe it is time for them to get a new defender in January.
Simeone 🎙️ pic.twitter.com/nmnMZhhinc
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) October 24, 2021
Moreover, he knows that the pressure is on in terms of defending their league crown but overfamiliarity of the system seems to be bogging them down. Atletico can beat lower placed teams on most days but winning silverware will be tougher than one anticipates with Diego Simeone leaning towards defensive setups .