Atlético Madrid – SD Eibar: Simeone’s Changes Prove Decisive As Atlético Come Back to Beat Eibar (3-2)
Uncharacteristically poor penalty box defending from Atlético left them 2-0 down within twenty minutes. It took Atlético a while to finally break through the Eibar defense as their game relied somewhat on directness, even though they often created the structures for more intricate play. Diego Simeone made changes in the second half, including the introduction of Vitolo and Thomas Partey, both of whom repaid him with a goal each as Atlético completed the comeback to win 3-2.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Atlético came into the game with two wins from two in LaLiga so far. This season’s Atlético is a new look one – they have lost key players such as Lucas Hernández, Rodrigo and Antoine Griezmann in big money sales, and long serving veterans such as Juanfran, Diego Godín and Filipe Luís also ended their time at the club.
They now look to rebuild with new talent, most notably with one of Europe’s top young players, João Félix, being central to their plans. He was one of five new signings in the starting lineup for this game against Eibar. Three of these were in the defensive line, as Kieran Trippier, Mario Hermoso and Renan Lodi lined up in the back four alongside José Giménez. The other new signing, Marcos Llorente, lined up in central midfield alongside Koke and Saúl in a 4-3-1-2 formation for Atlético Madrid.
Meanwhile Eibar were without a win in their first two outings, securing their first point of the season with a 0-0 draw at Osasuna last time out. For this game they started nominally in a 4-2-3-1 formation with a trio of Pedro León, Fabián Orellana and new arrival Takashi Inui behind Brazilian striker Charles.
The possession structure which emerged from the 4-3-1-2 formation that Atlético started the game with.
Atlético’s starting formation
Atlético started the game with a 4-3-1-2 formation. Koke was the deepest midfielder in the number six position, Marcos Llorente was to his right, and Saúl to his left. Thomas Lemar then took up the number ten spot, behind a forward partnership of João Félix and Diego Costa.
The system was somewhat asymmetrical, tilted towards the right as Llorente interpreted his role as right central midfielder quite cautiously, dropping deep in the right 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. alongside his center-backs. This provided cover for Trippier as he took up advanced positions on the right wing. It also left the space between lines in the right halfspace for Félix to drop into, meaning both him and Lemar were usually occupying the space between the lines. Meanwhile Costa would usually stay higher challenging the space behind the defense, and Saúl also moved often into higher positions.
Eibar stretch the game in possession
Atlético’s possession game then, usually featured quite a high presence in central areas and often condensed the game with attacking players positioned in close proximity to each other. In contrast, Eibar’s possession structure looked to stretch the game, with often quite large distances between teammates.
The wingers of the 4-2-3-1 formation were usually close to the touchlines to start with, only moving inside later into attacking phases once the fullback on their side overlapped. Orellana, the number ten, was often the lone presence between the lines.
It was the vertical distances between units that was also noticeable though. As the front four looked to challenge the space behind the Atletico defense, they could often end up somewhat disconnected from the rest of the team. This was likely intentional though to an extent, as Eibar are comfortable with direct wing play as an attacking strategy.
Atlético being in a 4-3-1-2 formation also opened up a bit more space on the wings to start with, especially for the Eibar fullbacks. Indeed, Eibar were able to find two early goals originating from their right wing. First from a direct switch of play leading eventually to Orellana’s cross being headed home by Charles, and second from an effort outside the box effort by Anaitz Arbilla after Atlético failed to properly clear a cross from Eibar’s right side.
Simeone switches formation
The 4-3-1-2 shape for Atlético was short-lived. After Eibar scored their second goal to go 2-0 up, Simeone decided on switching to a 4-2-2-2 shape. Now, Llorente played alongside Saùl as the two deeper midfielders, while Koke moved further forward to play as a right sided number ten, and Lemar played on the left.
They still maintained their strong occupation of central areas, as Koke and Lemar both occupied space between the lines of Eibar’s defensive 4-4-2 shape, with Costa and Félix ahead of them. The fullbacks were relied on to take up high positions and provide the attacking width, while the central midfielders remained relatively close to the center-backs, usually with Llorente slightly deeper than Saúl.
Atlético struggled to create breakthroughs though. Even though they had decent occupation of spaces in Eibar’s shape, and players like Koke, Lemar and Félix who can play short combinations, they still often went for the direct options in possession, arguably too often and too early. The switches of play to the fullbacks went on to become a useful tool for them in the second half especially, but in the first half Atlético were not profiting from them.
Atlético did manage to claw a goal back before the half hour mark though. They caught Eibar in transition, as the ball was quickly shifted into the feet of Félix on the halfway line. He released Costa in behind the defense, who eventually squared the ball back across goal for Félix at close range to score his first Atlético goal.
Atlético in the second half.
Atlético’s match-winning substitutes
At half-time Simeone opted for a personnel change, bringing off Llorente and replacing him with Vitolo. This meant that Koke would move back into a deeper midfield position alongside Saúl, while Vitolo slotted in on the left of midfield with Lemar on the right initially.
Vitolo had an instant impact too, scoring just after the fiftieth minute to level the game at 2-2. Atlético did well to switch the ball from right to left to the feet of Lodi who then threaded the ball behind the defense for Vitolo to slot past the goalkeeper.
Lodi continued to impress as the switches of play to the fullbacks continued to be a key part of Atlético’s attacking plan. There was also a slight tactical switch early in the second half as Félix seemed to moved to the right attacking midfield slot, and Lemar into a central number ten position, so Atlético were now essentially using a 4-2-3-1 system.
Félix nevertheless had some trouble getting involved in decisive areas for spells of the game though as Atlético created relatively few breakthroughs and shots despite having more possession and generally controlling the game.
Eventually both Lemar and Félix, in theory two of Atlético’s most creative players, were substituted as time began to run out for Atlético. Their replacements were nineteen-year-old Rodrigo Riquelme and Thomas Partey. Partey, who came on in the number ten position, was the one to finally make the difference for Atlético as he combined with Saúl to bundle the ball through a crowded central area and breaking into the box, showing good skill to finish past the goalkeeper for 3-2.
The win for Atlético was probably deserved in the overall balance of play, but their chance creation in organised attacking phases is still something that can be worked on if they have LaLiga title winning aspirations.
Eibar profited early on from their directness and wing play and were hard working throughout as one would expect. They made it difficult for Atlético but ultimately were the lesser quality team and Atlético were able to make it show, even though it took them until late on to grab the winner.
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