Tactical analysis Atlético Madrid Valencia 1-1 LaLiga

Atlético Madrid – Valencia CF: Atléti Lose Control Of The Game In An Attempt To Play For A Classic 1-0 Win (1-1)

Atlético Madrid created some half chances in the first half in an interesting looking scheme that benefitted from Valencia’s confused defense. After gaining the lead, Simeone asked his side to retreat, ultimately allowing Valencia to equalize through a Dani Parejo free kick.

Tactical analysis and match report by Om Arvind.

With seven goals in eight LaLiga games going into their encounter versus Valencia, Atlético Madrid were having their worst goal scoring start to a league campaign in the Simeone era. For reasons that have been repeatedly put forth by much of Between The Post’s LaLiga staff, this was unsurprising. Atlético have continually signed capable offensive players in the past – see: João Félix, Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins, Kévin Gameiro, Antoine Griezmann etc. – but their “actions on the pitch (have) reflected very different intentions from those shown in the transfer market.”

Simeone has always chosen to re-center his game plan around a defensive ethos after failing to spark an offensive new age at the start of each season. That failure has a lot to do with his own faulty attacking tactics, as opposed to a lack of individual quality as Simeone may want to claim.

His instincts are solid – to break lines by accessing the center and halfspaces 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. while his fullbacks rove forward – but his execution is poor. He seeks to go excessively vertical without first disorganizing the opposition shape in order to create the passing lanes that will allow his team to find players between the lines.

But at least Atlético Madrid have a manager who, while offensively flawed, is still one of the best defensive tacticians in the world. Over at Valencia, chaos reigns. Following Marcelino’s sacking in early September, Los Ches’ defense has been a mess. They started off the Albert Celades era with a 5-2 thumping at the hands of Barcelona before drawing with Leganés and giving up three goals to Getafe after a surprising win over Chelsea. Things looked up again after a 1-0 win over Athletic Club before they promptly lost 3-0 to Ajax. Their most recent game against Deportivo Alavés resulted in a win, but their defense looked as unstable as ever.

Against Atlético, Celades completely changed his back line from the aforementioned victory over Alavés, going with Ezequiel Garay and Gabriel Paulista in the center of defense and Daniel Wass – an attacking midfielder – and Jaume Costa as fullbacks. Geoffrey Kondogbia returned from injury to anchor the midfield behind another defensive-minded individual in Francis Coquelin and crown jewel of the side Dani Parejo. The attack was made up of Ferrán Torres and Denis Cheryshev on the flanks and Maxi Gómez up front. Jasper Cillessen, who was another to return from injury, started in goal.

Diego Simeone stuck with his classic 4-4-2 formation. Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata led the line ahead of a Koke-Thomas Partey double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. and wide players Saúl Ñíguez and Félix. Fullbacks Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier got rest due to the upcoming match against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, meaning Mario Hermoso and Santiago Arias took their places, respectively. Felipe and José Giménez sat between them as the team’s center-backs and guarded world class goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s slight offensive adjustment threatens Valencia’s shaky defense

At the beginning of the season, Simeone experimented with a 4-4-2 diamond shape that saw João Félix playing as the team’s number ten. Recently, he has decided that Félix is best utilized out wide. However, Simeone’s offensive structure versus Valencia still contained some similar characteristics to a diamond shape thanks to Koke’s role in midfield.

Atlético’s asymmetric attacking shape with Koke and Félix occupying the halfspaces.

Atlético’s asymmetric attacking shape with Koke and Félix occupying the halfspaces.

Instead of keeping the double pivot that is characteristic of Simeone’s possession structure base, Koke moved in-between the lines like a left-sided interior, while Félix occupied the right halfspace. Arias kept the width on the right while Saúl did the same on the left. Hermoso assumed a more reserved role and was mainly positioned to stop the counterattack. With Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata also willing to drop to receive vertical passes, Valencia’s shape was constantly worried about getting penetrated through the center of the pitch.

Such a concern did two things to Valencia: it prevented Torres and Cheryshev from being able to cut off passing lanes to Atléti’s fullbacks and dissuaded Coquelin and Parejo from pressing up the pitch. The latter effect seemed to be especially consequential, as Valencia’s midfield duo were clearly not happy with how much time and space Partey was getting, but were afraid of leaving Koke or Félix free to receive the ball.

So, instead, they adopted a kind of halfway stance that often saw them ahead of their wingers. This positioning was, obviously, far from ideal and Partey took advantage of it with smart passes to the center that allowed Atlético to combine in tight spaces against the outmatched Kondogbia.

Switches of play to the free fullbacks were also a healthy part of Atlético’s attack and that, combined with their combination play, produced threatening – but not clear-cut – moments of danger in the first half hour.

Then, in the 33rd minute, Morata won a penalty off of a clear handball from Denis Cheryshev, allowing Diego Costa to step up to the spot after a VAR check. Atlético’s legendary striker converted coolly from the spot and put Atlético up one goal to the good.

Atlético retreat and Valencia go for the win

Being a defensive specialist, it is Simeone’s nature to become conservative after leading in a game. In many cases, these types of defensive moves can actually be the wrong decision, as it allows the losing team to get back on the ball and mount increasing pressure on goal. For Atléti, it has often turned out positive, given how experienced they are when asked to compress space in their own half. Unfortunately for them, versus Valencia, it proved to be one of the rare instances where it was the incorrect decision.

The primary reason for this was that it meant the end of Atlético Madrid’s pressing, which had completely suffocated Valencia in the first half.

Atlético Madrid’s 4-4-2 wing-oriented press versus Valencia’s buildup.

Atlético Madrid’s 4-4-2 wing-oriented press versus Valencia’s buildup.

Originally, Atlético had executed their classic wing-oriented scheme, where they would guide the ball to the wing before closing in around all near passing options in order to trap play in that location. Valencia had few answers to this and often gave the ball up in dangerous areas, with Kondogbia being one of the main culprits.

When Atlético pulled back on applying this pressure, it allowed Valencia to progress up the pitch and test Atlético’s back line with crosses – with substitute Gameiro being an extra man in the box to meet them – or fire long shots on goal. It also allowed Cheryshev to get an excellent look at goal when he cannoned an effort off the crossbar after some good work by Gómez on the left. In the eightieth minute, it enabled Valencia to win a free kick that Parejo dispatched, levelling the score.

Earlier, Simeone had replaced Álvaro Morata with defensive midfielder Marcos Llorente, making it very difficult for Atlético to renew their offensive efforts. Thus, from that point onwards, Valencia poured forward in an attempt to steal a win while Atlético battened down the hatches and played for the draw.

Ultimately, the visitors created little of note following Parejo’s goal and shot themselves in the foot with a late red card, but ensured that the match ended on their own terms, with Atléti creating nothing after losing their lead.


Simeone’s offensive adjustments were interesting but did not fundamentally alter the way his team attacked. He still asked Atlético to go extremely vertical and congested the center of the pitch with multiple players. His side’s offensive success in the first half had more to do with a confused opponent who was unsure of whether to press Partey or to focus on closing the space between the lines.

Simeone then gave up the offensive advantages Valencia presented to him by ceding control of the game, which allowed Celades’ men to try to fire off shots and make good on one of them. As a result, Atlético have recorded their joint worst start in the league in the Simeone era:

If Atlético looked good for a time due to Valencia’s deficiencies, then it is only logical that Celades be criticized as well. That his side looked so vulnerable against a decidedly average offensive team is a big concern and, even though his team responded positively to come back and tie the game, it is worth noting that Valencia created only one chance of any real quality.

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Om Arvind (21) is a massive Real Madrid fan who works as a Managing Editor for managingmadrid.com. When not watching and writing about his beloved Los Blancos and contributing to Between the Posts, he spends his time crafting video analyses for the youtube channel The School of Real Madrid. He adores deep-lying playmakers, something that was molded by his time watching the likes of Xabi Alonso. [ View all posts ]


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