Espanyol – Atlético Madrid: Simeone’s Men Leave It Late To Grab Three Points (1-2)

Atlético Madrid started the match off slowly, going down to a Raul De Tomás goal late in the first half. Diego Simeone’s half-time substitutions would end up making the difference in the match, as they opened up this Espanyol side and were able to play through their tight defensive structure that had repelled Atlético Madrid for the first forty-five minutes.  

Tactical analysis and match report by Charlie Tuley.


Espanyol are still looking to find their feet in LaLiga this season, as Vicente Moreno’s men were yet to win a match (or even score a goal) coming into their clash with Atlético Madrid. What they lacked in offensive threat, however, they had made up for with their defensive solidity, as they’d only conceded one goal throughout their first three matches. Moreno has consistently been tinkering with his squad throughout the first few matchdays, as he’s still yet to settle on a squad that provides Espanyol with both goals and defensive fortitude.

He lined up his side today in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Manu Morlanes getting his first start for the club alongside Sergi Darder in midfield. Javi Puado was left out of the squad for the match against Atlético Madrid, so Adrián Embarba and Nacho Vidal flanked Óscar Melendo in attacking midfield, with Raul De Tomás leading the line. 

Atlético Madrid were coming off a lucky draw against Villarreal in matchweek three, as a late own goal from Aissa Mandi allowed the current title holders to stay unbeaten through three matches. Diego Simeone, who rarely plays the same lineup for consecutive matches, made two changes from the team that drew with Villarreal, as new transfer Antoine Griezmann made his second debut for the club, and center-back José María Giménez moved to the bench in favor of Felipe Augusto. Simeone’s side lined up in a very attacking 3-4-3 formation, with the wing-backs Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco playing fluid roles down the flanks. New signings Rodrigo de Paul and Matheus Cunha started the match on the bench.


Espanyol’s defensive solidity stifles Atlético Madrid for the first forty-five minutes

While Atlético Madrid may have had more of the ball in the first half, Espanyol were the better side. In the fourth minute, Espanyol nearly opened the scoring when Embarba got onto a misplayed backpass to Jan Oblak from Felipe Augusto. Stefan Savić and Oblak both failed to communicate who was going to receive the pass, and Embarba took advantage of their confusion and forced a magnificent diving save from Oblak to keep the scoreline level. This wouldn’t be the last time in the first half that Espanyol would capitalize on mistakes from Atlético Madrid. 

Diego Simeone brought a lot of attacking firepower against Espanyol. The front three of Griezmann, Luis Suarez, and Angel Correa were joined by Trippier and Carrasco to form a forward line of five as they threw everything at Vicente Moreno’s 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. defense.


Diego Simeone’s front five was met by a 6-2-2 formation in defense from Espanyol. The wide midfielders Vidal and Embarba dropped off to play as wing-backs, with the two banks of two restricting Atlético Madrid from playing in the middle of the pitch.


As the middle of the pitch was heavily congested, the vast majority of Atlético Madrid’s ball-progression and attacks were started from the left flank, with Carrasco being the main focal point. The most often-played attacking movement saw Carrasco drop off to receive the ball out wide from either Koke or Mario Hermoso, then he’d cut inside and try to play a lobbed pass over the top of the Espanyol defense to Griezmann. As Espanyol had six players playing on the back line for most of the first half, these attempts rarely troubled them.

After forty minutes had passed, Espanyol grabbed their goal. From an Embarba corner kick, Raul De Tomás made a front post run and distanced himself from his marker, Marcos Llorente. He expertly flicked the ball across the face of the goal, and gave Espanyol their first goal of the 2021/2022 campaign. 


Simeone makes his adjustments 

Diego Simeone recognized his side’s inability to open up the game and play through the midfield throughout the first half, and he was very quick to make changes to his team’s shape and personnel. He brought on Geoffrey Kondogbia, Thomas Lemar, and Renan Lodi (taking off Tripper, Hermoso, and Correa), and switched to a 4-4-2 formation.

This immediately opened up the game, and nearly earned Atlético Madrid a goal. In the fifty-third minute, Marcos Llorente got forward in a wide area and delivered a cross to Luis Suarez. Suarez, who ended up being narrowly offside, just missed the ball, allowing it to fall to an unmarked Thomas Lemar at the back post. Lemar put the shot away, but Suarez’ offside brought the goal back.


How Atlético Madrid and Espanyol lined up for the beginning of the second half.


Lemar and Kondogbia controlled the midfield for the remainder of the match, with Kondogbia’s distribution to wide areas and Lemar’s ability to quickly turn on the ball and carry particularly causing issues for Espanyol. Atlético Madrid maintained 64% possession throughout the second half, and outshot Espanyol eight to two.

After seventy-nine minutes had passed, Atlético Madrid finally found the equalizer. Renan Lodi received the ball on the left flank, played a quick passing combination with Carrasco that ended with Lodi on the endline. Lodi played a pass back to Carrasco again, now just outside the six-yard box. Carrasco fumbled the ball out of his feet, and Espanyol looked to clear it. However, Lluís Recasens was too slow, and Carrasco stuck a foot in and won the ball back in Espanyol’s penalty area. Carrasco turned and slotted the ball past Diego López and the game was level.


Heartbreak in extra time for Espanyol

After the full ninety minutes was played, the fourth official announced that there would be ten (!) minutes of extra time for Espanyol to try and hold on to salvage a point. They almost made it, but for Thomas Lemar in the ninety-ninth minute. Lemar picked up the ball near mindfield, and since he faced no pressure from Espanyol, he carried the ball all the way to the penalty area. There, he played a one-two-one combination with Carrasco that put him in a great shooting position, where he put a driven shot directly at López. The goalkeeper parried the shot up, but not high enough as it flew into the top of his net, gifting Atlético Madrid the winning goal. 



Takeaways

Vicente Moreno and Espanyol will be very disappointed to walk away from this match without a point. Though it is still the beginning of the season, the outlook doesn’t seem too bright for Espanyol. They currently sit sixteenth in the LaLiga table on two points, but could fall as low as nineteenth after matchday four is over, a far cry from their pre-season expectations of finishing midtable. Moreno will need to quickly find some goals in this squad if he wants to keep his side from partaking in the relegation battle.

Atlético Madrid on the other hand, are flying high. They’ve shown in their past two matches that they have the grit and will to win that will be needed to retain the LaLiga Title this season. It was also an excellent display from Diego Simeone against Espanyol, as he recognized his side’s issues with playing through the midfield in the first half, and rectified these mistakes through personnel changes and a formation shift in the second half. They’ll finish the weekend tied for the top spot in LaLiga with ten points. 



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