Simeone's team have been one of the most consistent sides over the past decade, not only on form but on system and style of play. This season, Atletico have been playing some fantastic football, with all of their top stars in full flow and introducing 3 at the back system. Ateltico currently sit top of the table, 5 points ahead and with a game in hand. They have won 18 games from their 24 in La Liga whilst having the best defence so far, only 16 conceded. Here is a Tactical Analysis of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in 2020-21.
SYSTEM OF PLAY
The Argentine manager has shown a high degree of fluidity with his formations this season. Atletico have operated in their usual 4-4-2 formation, but that has changed to a 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2, and a 3-4-2-1 formation. With the capability of players like Trippier, Lodi, and Carrasco to operate as wing-backs, Simeone might see the 3-5-2 as a long-term plan for his side. Before naming all of their key men, it is important to note that Atletico’s players have remained extraordinarily versatile as always, contributing to Simeone’s flexibility with his formations. Atletico so far this season have been better with possession on the ball, but don’t favour a slow build-up. Most of their goals are scored with only a few touches or passes on the ball but they are very capable of playing out from the back with players like Mario Hermoso in defence and Koke in central midfield. The two players are key. Mario Hermoso has the ability of a ball-playing-defender. He can bring the ball out, look for a risky pass, and when Atletico are in possession, he often stretches play and shifts out wide.
Koke is the playmaker in the side and receives the most touches of the ball (1618) and has completed the most passes (1265). When the ball is with the Atletico defence, Koke would be the player to drop deeper in order to receive the ball and to move forward, another player would not operate on the same line as Koke.
This season, Luis Suarez has been the perfect front-man for Atletico so far, scoring 16 goals in La Liga contributing 36% of their goals, while Joao Felix has improved massively for his side. The former Barcelona and Liverpool man is also adept at coming in deep and linking up with others. His excellent first touch and solid play with his back to goal has allowed a player like Angel Correa to get forward more often on the overlap, and contribute more goals and assists than he did at this stage in 2019-20. With a player like Yannick Carrasco also back at the club, Atletico suddenly look a more complete side again, particularly with Joao Felix finally filling the void left when Antoine Griezmann left the club. Positive football may not be the first thing to pop up in your mind when thinking about Diego Simeone but so far Atelti have scored the second-most goals in La Liga (45). They also average 11.7 shots per game which ranks them 5th and had 579 touches in the attacking penalty box which ranks them 4th. So before we talk about their compactness in defence, it was worth mentioning that this season, their attack has been just as effective.
COMPACTNESS IN DEFENSE
The low/mid-engagement is practically normailty with Atletico Madrid at this point, and it is still very much a feature of their play in 2020-21. They’ve improved in possession and goal-scoring, but the defensive structure hasn’t really changed. It’s either 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, sitting deep, narrow, and compact; or 3-5-2, with an extra midfielder and extra center-back compacting central areas. This narrow approach to their defensive structure forces their opposition to the outside, limiting the opposition’s ability to attack through central areas and get dangerous players like a ‘number 6’ or ‘number 10’ on the ball. This method of funneling their opposition out wide results in the fullbacks making a high number of tackles and interceptions per game. Left-Back Renan Lodi makes the most interceptions per 90 (1.98) and Right-Back Keiran Trippier makes the 4th most per 90 (1.21) for Atleti. They both also make over 2.50 tackles per game. Atletico are aggressive, they like to make tackles, and most of their tackles are made in their defensive 3rd (218) but they also make a significant amount of tackles in the middle 3rd (173) which would rank them 3rd. The key tacklers in this Atletico side, apart from their full-backs, are their midfielders as expected when playing with a low/mid-block. Saúl Ñíguez, Koke, Marcos Llorente and Thomas Lemar have all been excellent in winning the ball for the side.
WING PLAY FROM FULLBACKS
Atletico attack down the middle of the pitch with a higher frequency than most teams in La Liga. In fact, only Barcelona have utilized a more vertical approach in attack this season. But Simeone’s side still utilize the wings in attack like all top teams, and the role of their fullbacks is particularly key in these moments. Atletico have operated more and more in a 3-5-2 formation this season, making the role of the fullbacks/wing-backs even more imperative. In a 3-5-2, the wing-backs are virtually the only source of natural width. This offers Atletico a myriad of benefits in defence, such as having an extra midfielder in their low-block and the potential for a five-man defensive structure. But in attack, it means players like Kieran Trippier, Yannick Carrasco and Renan Lodi have a massive weight on their shoulders to contribute to the attack.
With their reliance on wing-backs, Atletico’s shape in attack may sometimes resemble something similar to a 3-4-2-1 (if playing with 3-5-2), with one of the central midfielders joining the front two and the wing-backs holding a relatively steady position as they get up and down the wings. Although Trippier has been such an important player for the team, Atletico actually favour attacks down the left to a greater frequency. This is because all of the team’s top dribblers operate on the left, and are usually essential to the team’s quick attacking transitions. Thomas Lemar’s completed 4 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, while Yannick Carrasco’s completed 3.9. Trippier by comparison is way down at 0.5 successful take-on’s per game, with only 0.9 attempted. This illustrates that Trippier’s role in attack comprises more of an emphasis on the crossing, switching play and keeping possession in attack, compared to Carrasco, Lemar and Lodi, who are tasked with running with the ball and breaking at speed.
JOAO FELIX’S IMPROVED ROLE
Felix’s role in the team could be seen as a number 10, drifting in between the lines to pick up possession. But he is also very capable and willing to hold a higher position up the field when Luis Suarez comes in deep to get on the ball himself. With this approach and balance, Atletico most often won't look like they have two forwards and with the team operating in a mid to low-block, Joao Felix dropping deeper in midfield is a further method of forcing their opposition having to go around Atletico rather than through. Joao Felix performances have visibly improved, he so far, is creating 2.72 shot-actions per game. He's a player who likes to progress play from deeper areas with most of his touches being in the middle 3rd of the pitch. But behind Angel Correa, he's the sides top dribbler and currently makes 4 dribbles per game and makes 6.84 progressive carries, 2nd behind Carrasco.
RDF'S QUICK SUMMARY AND MINOR DETAILS
Despite the outfield players opting to play out from the defence, the goalkeeper takes a different approach. Atletico goalkeeping has attempted the least passes from open play (18.4) and 58% of the keepers' distribution have been kicks over 40-yards. When it comes to goal-kicks, 69.5% of them have been launched (passes longer than 40-yards). They've been the most clinical side so far in the La Liga, they are ranked first with goals per shot (0.15) and are also first with goals per shot-on-target (0.39). In their 24 games so far, they have an xG of 1.32 (per game). In possession, Atleti attempt 541.8 passes per 90 with 216 of them being shorter passes completing 89.5% of those shorter passes. They also attempt 205.6 medium passes and 916 of all passes completed in total being progressive passes (3rd most in the league).
Atletico Madrid have started the season in fantastic fashion, and could very well be on their way to another 1st or 2nd place finish. The team’s improved attacking fluidity and goal-scoring has been matched by their ever-present defensive shape and aptitude, allowing Los Rojiblancos to achieve success at both ends of the pitch.