Real Valladolid – Atlético Madrid: Classic Atléti Performance Seals LaLiga Crown (1-2)
Ninety minutes stood between Atlético Madrid and the league title. In classic Atlético style, the game took a rocky turn, as Valladolid’s deep defensive block took the sting out of their guests. But the away side held their nerve, turning around the game’s dynamic to wrap up domestic glory.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Real Valladolid entered this game with their lives on the line. Mired in a fight for survival, they sat in nineteenth place, lying two points adrift of safety. In a dismal season, the side have sealed victory just twice in the new year, failing to win a game in the league since the start of March. Now the job for the hosts was straightforward. Take the three points or give up any hope of holding onto top flight status.
Atlético Madrid, under the aegis of Diego Simeone, have built their success from struggle. So it has proven in the race to finish top of the pile in LaLiga. Inconsistent form threatened to scupper a superb start to the season, but the team have found form at the right time. Now coming into this game after a dramatic win at home to Osasuna, the guests hoped for a much calmer game to clinch the league title.
Sergio González lined up the home team in a 4-4-2 formation. Coming into this game after a 4-1 loss at Real Sociedad, he made a raft of changes. The manager only kept Jordi Masip, Lucas Olazo, and Óscar Plano in the side, hoping that the reshuffle would give his team the impetus they sorely needed.
Simeone again set up his players in a 4-1-4-1 shape. He then made one tweak in the back four to the starting eleven that beat Osasuna. The enforced alteration saw Stefan Savić miss out after picking up his fifteenth yellow card of the season, leaving a spot next to Felipe for Jose Giménez to fill.
Atlético seek the initiative
Looking to lay out their stall early on, Atlético controlled a large share of the ball. In these phases, Atlético would rotate into a 3-1-5-1 offensive system. On the left, Mario Hermoso stayed deep, from where he would contribute to the buildup phase. To this end, the left back tucked inside to create a diamond with Koke and the two central defenders at the back. Kieran Trippier then held the width on the right, leaving Correa free to move inside near Marcos Llorente. With Yannick Carrasco wide on the left, Saúl occupied the left 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. offering a third option to his teammates between the lines.
Atlético’s 3-1-5-1 offensive structure against Valladolid’s medium block.
Valladolid would then sit off in their 4-4-2 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. On the left, Toni Villa would drop off to cover Trippier’s advances up the flank, turning the coverage in defense to a back five. This could make Valladolid look like a 5-3-2 defensive shape at time. On the right, Saidy Janko would shift out wide to cover Carrasco while Plano tucked in to shield the space between the lines. As such, the midfield four would tilt more to the left.
The back three usually evaded the cover of the front two and pushed into Valladolid territory. On the left, the away team would look to the dribbling of Carrasco, isolating him in one-on-one duels with Janko. To the right, Giménez would briefly travel forward with the ball at his feet, looking to transfer the ball into Llorente or Correa while Suárez tied up the attention of the central defenders by lurking in the middle of the pitch.
Valladolid provide an early scare
However, an early goal to calm down the nerves eluded Simeone’s men, for whom quality chances were sparse. But a worse setback was to come. A direct transition in behind Valladolid’s backline saw Correa win a corner in the 17th minute. Koke whipped in a delivery from the right, but it beat all of his teammates. Carrasco then picked up the ball, only for Shon Weissman to rob it away from him.
The striker slipped a pass forward into Toni Villa, who flicked the ball with his heel into the path of Marcos André. He then released Plano in behind, turning Atlético’s scramble defense on its head. The winger bore down on goal as Jan Oblak looked to close down the angle, but the attacker composed himself to slot home at the near post.
Atlético’s future sequences on the ball were to no avail. Though Carrasco came into this game brimming with confidence, he often ended up with little support to progress down his side. To the right, the dynamism of Llorente off the ball was absent, leaving the guests able to produce little in open play. Outside of a blocked Suárez shot on the break, the best chances came from set pieces. Valladolid held firm till the end of the first half, leaving it all to do for the title challengers.
El Pistolero finds his range in rapid turnaround
Seconds in from the restart, Atlético seemed to have a new lease of life. Turning the play over high up the field, Koke set the tone before his teammates worked the ball wide into Llorente, who burst down the right. His cutback then found Suárez, whose header failed to trouble the goalkeeper. However, the visitors’ intent to kill off the title race on their terms was evident. They continued to probe and finally found their reward in the 57th minute.
From the left, Carrasco cut inside onto his right foot, pinning Valladolid back. He then switched the play inside to Correa, who turned to face the goal before jinking away from two markers. But as defenders closed a shooting angle, he prodded an effort at goal from the edge of the box, beating Masip between the posts to level up the scoreline.
With just under half an hour left to go, Simeone looked to force home the issue. Renan Lodi came on in place of Hermoso while João Félix replaced Saúl Níguez. As Félix entered the fray, he signaled another adjustment. The away team now shifted into a 4-2-3-1 shape, leading to a series of positional tweaks. Llorente moved into the double pivot Two central midfielders next to each other. with Koke while Félix played in a number ten role.
From the other dugout, González also made changes, bringing on three substitutes at the same time. Given his side’s need for the three points, all three players to come on were attackers. But despite this signal of intent, things went from bad to worse. In the 67th minute, striker Sergi Guardiola looked to lay off the ball to a teammate, but the execution was off, handing Suárez the ball. Lurking on the last line, he carried the ball freely into the box and beat Masip to put his side in the lead.
Atlético see out the game
Valladolid’s hopes of staying up were all but dead at this stage. But they still looked to make their guests work hard for the three points. The teams switched roles from the first part of the half, as Simeone’s men were now content to let their hosts try and break down their stern block.
Atlético’s setup off the ball showed adjustments we have seen before. On the right, Trippier would defend wide, whereas Hermoso stayed more centrally in a deep block. From here, his effectiveness in duels and front foot defending came into use, leaving Carrasco to drop off and cover wide on the left.
The introduction of Félix offered some additional elements to the away team’s block. As the team dropped off, he would drift to the left at times and help Carrasco in stymying the threat down the flank. But overall, his positioning varied, shifting the block between a 5-4-1 and 5-3-1-1 formation.
Thus, he could pick up the ball in areas to launch attacks on the break. In the 77th minute, his creative dribbling saw him weave away from markers to set away Suárez, who in turn slipped in Carrasco. However, the winger blazed over the bar, leaving the final result still up in the air.
But the miss did not prove to be costly. Simeone replaced Llorente and Correa with Geoffrey Kondogbia and Hector Herrera, shifting Félix to the right of the midfield. The fresh legs played their part, getting Atlético over the line to seal the win.
Aúpa Atlético! The campaign has not been without faults, but Simeone and his men will cherish this title. Suárez sealing the win was rather fitting as the side have managed to win LaLiga in a year where Barcelona and Real Madrid have been frail. But all credit to them for getting over the line as they look to develop in the off-season. This match symbolizes their season, as they were effective in both boxes and eked out yet another win.
Spare a thought, though, for Valladolid, whose three-season stint in the top flight has ended. The backline could not keep them up this time, but they will hope it is the base for a promotion charge next campaign.
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