Atlético Madrid – Juventus: Early clash between two Champions League contenders turns into quality rollercoaster ride (2-2)
Juventus and Atlético Madrid put up a show of organized defending for the entire first half, before all hell broke loose and both teams started taking shots in quick succession. Hector Herrera’s equalizer finally restored order in a game that got progressively open and ended up as a high quality entertaining show of football.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Juventus and Atlético share a lot of similarities in their starts to the season. Despite being just three and four games in respectively, the feelings around the teams’ results show how impatient and inconsistent fans can be in their opinions.
Juve’s draw at Fiorentina – during the course of which Sarri’s men looked utterly powerless – painted a clear picture of a team still being built brick after brick. However, rather than standing out as an exception, the performance in Florence was part of a rapidly extending streak of underwhelming showings, something very far from the reality that Juve fans have been living in for many years.
By contrast, Atlético Madrid have been going through their usual seasonal transitional phase. This has been the case in the last few years, since Simeone has tried to transition to a style more adept to the peculiar profiles the club has brought in – in vain so far. This year things have looked different though. The signings of teenage talent João Félix and ball-playing fullbacks Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier have added the personnel Simeone had been looking for to replace the declining duo Filipe Luís and Juanfran and Atlético’s most important departure, Antoine Griezmann.
The standout feature of Atléti’s matches so far has been very representative of Simeone’s umpteenth attempt to shift style in their statistical record. Although their shot volume has been quite low in every match bar their most recent one at Real Sociedad, the quality of these shots – expressed as expected goals per shot in the stats page – has been extraordinary. Therefore, although their shots haven’t been too many, they still created good enough chances to ensure wins. Only time can tell whether we should worry about the low shot volume, or cheer for the high quality of chances created.
After a positive start, Atléti’s loss to Real Sociedad came in the worst possible moment and deflated a lot of the positive aspects taken from the opening games. Perhaps responding to this defeat, Simeone replaced Vitolo with Thomas in the starting lineup.
Sarri not known for rotating his starting elevens lined up the same eleven from the previous outing, bar the injured Douglas Costa.
Juventus played in Sarri’s classic 4-3-3 formation and faced Atlético’s 4-4-2 shape out of possession. Simone chose to stick to the formation that guaranteed the better cover of the field and thus did not pick the 4-3-1-2 shape used previously in LaLiga. During pressing, though, Juve bypassed Atléti’s first line quite easily by circulating the ball horizontally and then finding Pjanić behind the strikers. This was possible as Félix and Costa pressed the center-backs, while the midfielders mainly stayed in their positions when Juve had possession in their own half. If Thomas did follow Pjanić then Juventus circulated the ball horizontally to draw Atléti’s shape to one side before quickly switching play to the furthest man. Juve’s vast array of solutions, either through their playmaker, switch passes A pass from one side to the other. or third man combinations A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. gave them a substantial upper hand over Simeone’s men during buildup play.
Juve’s 4-3-3 attacking formation against Atlético’s 4-4-2 defensive shape.
The difficulty for Juventus consisted in breaking in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. though, as the possession often stalled on the flanks and Juve were rarely able to reach a player between the lines. Consequently, Atlético controlled the center in the defensive structure quite easily while allowing Juve a majority share of possession. Moreover, due to such struggles, Ronaldo was forced to move towards the ball to receive, leaving his team – no longer playing with the physical presence of Mario Mandžukić – without an aerial threat in the box to pounce on Alex Sandro’s crosses.
Atléti gain more confidence on the ball
The first chance of the game came from a vintage Atléti move. A Diego Costa hold up play, followed by João Félix’s run on the ball towards the opposition goal. What Griezmann used to do has now been picked up by Félix, who keeps looking like the best possible replacement for the Frenchman.
During buildup, by dropping in the halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. Atléti’s midfielders could either free themselves or draw Juventus’ central midfielders out of position. This situation was of common occurrence and gave Atléti the chance to either find the dropping João Félix between the lines or otherwise the fullback on the opposite side of the field. Juve’s ball oriented defending was identified by Simeone as a weak point to exploit, as both Trippier and Lodi were asked to stay wide and alert for switches.
Atlético’s insistence on switches was dealt with well though; both Alex Sandro and Matuidi on the left side, and Danilo on the right controlled the aerial balls and closed down their opponents well. Eventually, Juve started to be pushed deep by Atlético’s possession though, which made it harder for them to leave their half as the match progressed. Furthermore, their inability to create when in the opposition half made it virtually impossible for them to be in charge of the play. When Ronaldo dropped deeper, Matuidi took his place in the halfspace, providing an option to Alex Sandro. However, he was rarely accessible and the Frenchman’s positioning ended up exposing the left side when Juve lost possession and failed counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. actions.
Juve shoot in quick succession
The second half was opened by Juve’s goal to break the deadlock. The rather random buildup to it and the excellent finish by Cuadrado did not see the game take a different turn from the first half though. One could have expected Atlético to step up, take control of the ball and apply immediate pressure to a Juve possibly retreating in more defensive positions. However, such dynamics did not occur, and Juve soon after had another chance to attack the hosts with space.
Renan Lodi’s missed interception on Cuadrado allowed the Colombian to attack the Atlético defense, only for Danilo to squander the shot. An interesting move that developed after the break saw Juve being able to switch the play quickly through ground passes thanks to runs in-behind the defensive line from the ball-side. This way Khedira and Matuidi could attract a midfielder in the process and make a passing lane available to the striker, who could then pass the ball out wide himself.
To increase his team’s offensive presence, Simeone subbed out Thomas Lemar for Ángel Correa. The Argentine slotted into the right side with Saúl Ñíguez moving out wide on the left instead. Perhaps this choice was made to strengthen the side through which Juve were constantly breaking into Atlético Madrid ’s defensive structure. Not much changed though, as Juve accessed the third man regardless of the unfavorable conditions imposed by Atléti’s pressing.
The home side often isolated the fullback on the touchline, especially in the second half when their intensity inevitably increased. Despite this, Juve’s vertical passing along the touchline always found either Cuadrado or a runner behind the winger. Lodi’s aggressive stepping out certainly played a part in it, especially considering the limited support from the closest midfielder or winger, which left the ball-carrier facing the defensive line.
Subsequently, after scoring again through Matuidi to move 2-0 up, as was the case against Napoli, Juve gifted the opponents a goal from a poorly defended set-piece in a relatively secure circumstance. Immediately Atlético, carried by their fans enthusiasm, stepped up a gear. From Atléti’s first goal onwards, both teams started losing their compactness by feeding the possession to their opponents with wasteful passes. This favored Juve’s attacks in particular, as they could find the attackers quite easily in depth. In a situation similar to the one described above, Higuaín had a chance to make the score 1-3, but he did not take it. Needless to say, Juventus ended up paying the cost.
Some sloppy passes in buildup and disorganized defensive movements to deal with Atlético’s possession game kept Atlético in the game overall, making the final minutes a rollercoaster of emotions for fans of both teams, and a spectacle for neutral watchers. Atlético kept their cool, switching the ball cleanly from side to side to free the wide-men: Vitolo on the left and Trippier on the right. Finally, Héctor Herrera’s header from a corner kick in the ninetieth minute set the score on 2-2.
Atlético’s consistency during the course of the game rewarded Simeone’s men with a deserved draw. When two strong teams face off it is natural for each of them to phase in and out of the game, and that is exactly what happened at the Wanda Metropolitano. Although Atlético arguably had the most consistent spells of the game, Juve’s flashes were so quick that the home side was stunned and required time to adjust to the newly introduced flow of the game. Eventually though, everything balanced out, at least in open play, until Atlético dominated their opponents from set-pieces in unsurprising fashion.
Simeone and Sarri put up a great show for the opening Champions League game, showcasing both teams’ strengths and weaknesses in a group stage that has all the premises in place for an exciting storyline.
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