Atlético Madrid – Valencia: Routine Atlético win turns frantic following video-assistant referee penalty (3-2)
Diego Simeone’s excellent use of the wings allowed Atlético Madrid a strong start, but a lulling deep block let Valencia back in it. The second half was more of a boxing match, with each side trading blows until a magnificent strike nine minutes from time sealed the game.
Tactical analysis and match report by Tom Quartly.
This game between second and fifth in LaLiga saw two hard-to-beat sides pitted against each other. Twelve points behind leaders Barcelona, the robust Atlético Madrid had conceded just two goals in the last five games and, despite the continued absences of Diego Costa (suspended) and Antoine Griezmann (rested), they had managed to fend off Celta Vigo and Eibar. Manager Diego Simeone had experimented with a 4-2-3-1 formation, a rare alteration from his preferred 4-4-2 setup. This has been a positive sign from Simeone, who can often be described as a ‘one trick pony’ when it comes to tactical changes. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?
As expected Antoine Griezmann made his return to the starting eleven as did Simeone’s favoured 4-4-2 setup. Jan Oblak stayed in goal but an injury to José Giménez meant that Stefan Savić came into pair the perpetual Diego Godín. It seemed as though Saúl Ñiguez’s auxiliary role in left back versus Eibar was a one time thing, the Spaniard moving into midfield alongside Rodri, whilst Filipe Luis returned to left back.
Santiago Arias also made way for Juanfran at right back. The match-winner last time out Thomas Lemar, joined Koke on the wings. That left Álvaro Morata alongside the aforementioned returning Griezmann up top. Atlético have been blessed with goal scoring ability across the pitch this season; out of their last ten goals, there have been seven different scorers. Nevertheless, they would be happy to see Griezmann back.
On the other hand, Valencia have been driven by the mercurial Gonçalo Guedes, who had three goals in his last five games. This upturn in form from the Portuguese international has led to Valencia pulling together a decent string of results: beating Sevilla, Real Madrid and Real Betis. One loss in their last twenty-two games has seen them shoot up to fifth place in LaLiga. A win tonight would take them above Getafe and into the Champions League spots, however, to do it they will have to overcome a side that had conceded just four goals at the Wanda Metropolitano in LaLiga this season.
Manager Marcelino made three changes to his starting eleven. Continuing with the same 4-4-2 formation that beat Real Betis at the Benito Villamarín on Sunday, the Spaniard selected Neto in goal, with Ezequiel Garay and Mouctar Diakhaby covering him in the center. Left back Jose Gayá started his forty-fourth game in all competitions and central midfielder Daniel Wass continued to show his versatile manner, playing at right back. Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo partnered up for the second game in a row, with Carlos Soler and the dangerous Gonçalo Guedes on the wings. An injury to Denis Cheryshev last time out versus Betis allowed Kevin Gameiro to make his return alongside Santi Mina. Valencia have made a point of finishing their chances recently, highlighted no further than on Sunday. With 34% possession and just 0.66 expected goals, Marcelino came away with a 2-1 win, a testament to the quality of Guedes, who scored both goals.
Tonight’s game was always going to be interesting. The great minds of Simeone and Marcelino were to be tested against one another once again…
Flat start made to pay by dominant Atléti
An earlier kick off time and fleeting rain saw a sparsely populated Wanda. The subdued start from a flat Valencia side was pounced on by Atlético, who dominated the opening exchanges. What was clear from the start was Simeone’s game plan.
Despite a 4-4-2 shape on paper, it was more of his recently preferred 4-2-3-1 formation out on the pitch, Antoine Griezmann allowed the freedom of the park as a false nine A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten. and the 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’. of Rodri-Saúl just overwhelmed the seemingly unprepared Valencia. The idea was to control the ball, attempting quick switches wide in an attempt to isolate Lemar against the out-of-position Wass. This worked well and in the ninth minute, a rapid switch to Juanfran had him one against one versus Jose Gayá. The 34-year-old produced an outstanding cross and there was Álvaro Morata to prod home. 1-0.
The goal was excellent tactically from Simeone’s men, showed no better than by the elation of the Argentine manager, who by this point has probably covered more yards than all the Valencia players put together.
The away side’s flat 4-4-2 shape had proved to be their downfall. Cutting in from the left inside his own half, Guedes had no options going forward, ultimately losing the ball to an onrushing Saúl Ñiguez. This unleashed Atlético on the counter and the goal quickly followed. It is fair to say that the contrast in starts could be characterised by the body language of the managers: Simeone charging down the touchline like a bulldog, barking orders into the ears of his players. On the other hand, Marcelino is seen tucked away in the dugout, away from the rain. Timid.
Classic Atlético allow Marcelino’s men to wake up
It took thirty-five minutes before Valencia finally began to play their usual football. Atlético Madrid tried to do what they do best – sit off and defend – but all this did was allow Marcelino to push his team onto them. Soon enough, the originally flat 4-4-2 formation had turned into a more dynamic 4-1-2-1-2 shape. Francis Coquelin was able to perform in his preferred incontrista role at the base of the midfield, quashing attacks. Captain Dani Parejo dictated the play from a more advanced position, distracting the initially solid Saúl-Rodri pivot away from the ball.
Once they got out that flat 4-4-2 shape, Parejo was able to dictate the play. Note Coquelin’s role as a ball destroyer.
The incredibly low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. from Atlético ended up doing more harm than good. A long ball to Soler found its way to Santi Mina, who deftly flicked the ball over Godín’s head, the Uruguayan buckling to the floor. All that was left was to slide the ball across to Gameiro, who lifted the ball out of his feet and past Oblak. Just the fifth home goal conceded by Atlético this season.
What ensued was a surprisingly frantic close to the half. Lemar and Koke swapped wings in an attempt to find an instant reply but sloppy play from Rodri in particular allowed to Valencia keep hold of the ball. Half time could not come soon enough for a fuming Diego Simeone.
Griezmann takes advantage of stationary defending
Valencia began the second half like they ended the first. A strong press in the first two minutes penned Atlético Madrid in but it was to no avail. A swift counter from Madrid saw the ball file out to the impressive Thomas Lemar just inside the area. A simple enough ball from the Frenchman found his compatriot Griezmann and just like that Atlético Madrid were back in front. They will do that to you if you are not careful. Statue-esque defending from all six Valencia defenders in the box and Griezmann pounces for his fifteenth goal of the season. Thomas Lemar had started wide but gradually began to sit in the 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 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. creating all sorts of issues for the Valencia defense.
Thomas Lemar constantly picked up dangerous positions in the narrow channels. Note Griezmann as a false nine.
What followed was a barrage of possession from Madrid. Similar to the first twenty minutes, Valencia were subdued. Still, a skewed pass began a rogue counter-attack. Parejo caused Atlético immense issues finding Guedes on the right hand side. Guedes’ reverse pass found the underlapping Soler, who fired a weak strike straight into Oblak. The Slovenian keeper fumbled it but Santi Mina was unable to slide in the rebound. These underlaps, from both Soler and also Gayá on the left hand side were dangerous but way too much of a rarity to trouble Atlético.
The introduction of Partey with twenty minutes to go gave the general consensus across the ground that Atlético were not going to allow Valencia a second chance. Koke became a narrow shuttler, retaining possession easily and Partey held up a solid position at the base of what was now a 4-3-3 formation. Six minutes later, the plan well and truly flew out the window.
No one moved as Lemar grabbed space and chipped a ball to the back stick.
Video-Assistant Referee and a long range stunner
Madrid in the driving seat was perhaps an understatement, yet here we were. A certain penalty from an incredibly rare counter from Valencia once again showed why football is so beautiful yet so unpredictable. A ball across from a this time overlapping Jose Gayá picked out Gameiro just inside the penalty area on the half-volley. His driving strike found the arm of Saúl Ñiguez. Penalty. Parejo stepped up and beat Oblak for power, firing into the bottom left corner. 2-2.
An Atlético-heavy second half soon exploded into life, Griezmann nearly equalizing with another header straight from the resulting kick off, much to the frustration of the Atlético fans. They were not, however, frustrated for long. Thomas Partey picked up the ball, successfully holding off Ruben Sobrino before firing a splitting pass to substitute Ángel Correa, who struck a wonderful effort right into the goal. A motionless Neto could only watch on. Partey’s ability to shield the ball has been nothing short of remarkable and has returned a steel to Atlético that they have perhaps been missing.
This match was a duel between Simeone and Marcelino but, for the final ten minutes, all tactical nous disappeared. Valencia launched men forward but a Gayá free kick was as close as they got. The individual brilliance from Correa was the coup de grâce in what became a boxing match. The rugged Madrid escaped with three points, just.
In a way, Valencia should feel satisfied with their performance. A clear issue, however, still is Daniel Wass. A simple description of the situation was found in the words of the commentator in the first half: “It is clear that Valencia have an attacking midfielder at full back”. Nevertheless they managed to seriously trouble a usually sturdy Madrid and more surprisingly Diego Godín.
Godín’s career is quite clearly coming to an end. Multiple mistakes from the Uruguayan, including in the buildup to Gameiro’s goal was worrying to see for someone that epitomizes Atlético Madrid. Barcelona will still win the league but once again Madrid’s resilience has been noted.
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