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Tactical Preview: Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid

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Cristiano Ronaldo Fernando Torres Copa del Rey – Round of 16 Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (Courtesy of Flickr/DSanchez17)

Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid were seconds away from European supremacy.

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Projected Starting XI’s

Following a remarkable La Liga triumph over Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos last second header ignited an extra time onslaught, ultimately depriving Simeone’s men of an historic double. Carlo Ancelotti’s attack-minded substitutions – introducing Marcelo and Isco, which pushed Luka Modric into a deep-lying role – offered constant pressure against a fatigued Atletico side lacking a legitimate counter-attacking threat, and Simeone’s men couldn’t cope in the remaining 30 minutes of extra-time.

Though Atleti were so close to the unthinkable, it always felt like Real would notch an equalizer. What occurred subsequent to Ramos’ goal doesn’t reflect what occurred two years ago in Lisbon, yet this Saturday’s rematch at the San Siro offers a chance for both Madrid clubs to claim their first piece of silverware since that pulsating final.

“Revenge is a negative word, because it harks back to a defeat; on the other hand, opportunity is about optimism, confidence and what’s to come, and that’s what we want to show in the Champions League,” said Simeone.

“It was also perhaps a more mature squad, with the likes of [David] Villa, Raul García, Diego Ribas, [Jose] Sosa and Mario Suarez. This squad is different because it’s full of young players who are going through all this for the first time and will undoubtedly come out much more mature for the experience.”

Although the general pattern of the match will remain unchanged, the contrast in the paths both clubs have undergone is disparate. Where Real’s starting XI is fairly similar, only six Atleti players remain from the 18 named to the matchday squad two years ago. Certainly that highlights Simeone’s wonderful work at the Vicente Calderon, whilst eliminating tournament favourites Bayern Munich and Barcelona to receive another opportunity to claim the one trophy eluding the Argentine during his four years at the club.

Then, Atleti were without the clever Arda Turan, while Diego Costa’s hamstring resulted in the Spanish international’s premature departure within the opening five minutes. Atletico had developed the ideal formula to suffocate rivals Real through physicality and tackling – there 24.6 tackles per game is the highest in Europe –  but Simeone’s current side have evolved into a much better unit.

Still initially operating in a 4-4-2 with Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann dropping ahead of the opposing midfielders to clog spaces in midfield and cut off passing lanes, Atletico now assemble themselves higher up the pitch, and are capable of employing an aggressive press in the early stages of matches – this was illustrated in Saul’s opener against Bayern in the first leg of their semi-final clash. This could fluster the Real centre-backs and defensive midfielder Casemiro, as they’re culpable of committing errors when pressed, and forced to receive the ball in tight spaces. Yet, Simeone often makes mid-game adjustments which witnesses his side revert to a 4-5-1 by pushing Antoine Griezmann wide and Koke into midfield to help protect central areas, while the former joins the attack from deep or charges into the channels.

While the defence remains well-drilled – Simeone’s men conceded 18 league goals this season – the midfield offers improved technical ability, and the combination of Torres and Griezmann ensures they enter Saturday’s final with a legitimate goal-threat. Griezmann’s pace is vital when Atletico quickly turn defence into attack via transitions, and he provided 22 league goals as evidence.

Then there’s Torres. Once regarded as the world’s most revered striker, the Spaniard rediscovered his goal-scoring form following his return to his childhood club. Although Torres’ pace has been an afterthought in recent years, he currently serves as a battling centre-forward capable of linking play with the midfield, whilst developing a deadly partnership with Koke when the Spaniard operates in an advanced central role.

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ver en vivo En Directo 

This is a younger, flexible Atletico side to the one that stumbled with literally seconds remaining of full-time, and Simeone deserves credit for the club maintaining an elite level despite several key departures. Perhaps Atleti head into the final as underdogs, but in terms of natural balance, organization, tactical discipline, and cohesion, Simeone’s men are far superior to their city rivals.

However, Real’s strengths, particularly the midfield zone, have also shifted along with their manager. Similar to the 2014 final, Zinedine Zidane’s men are likely to include a natural holding midfielder in Casemiro with hopes of negating Atleti’s threat on the counter-attack. But opposed to having a direct runner capable of linking midfield and attack in Angel di Maria, now Real covet two exceptional ball-playing midfielders ahead of the Brazilian.

Modric was pivotal to Real’s dominance in the final half hour of normal time two years ago, and his short penetrative forward passes will be decisive against an Atleti side that rarely concedes space between the lines. Kroos, on the other hand, must also have a good game due to Atleti’s compact shape as a possible option to overcome a congested midfield zone is to overload the flanks and quickly alter the route of attack with diagonal balls – Real’s key players operate in wide zones so this is a logical attacking ploy.

“It’s one of these matches in which anything can happen, it will be very complicated.” Zidane said Tuesday.

“We are not talking about a team that only defends well. It’s a very complete team. It knows how to play. It can create a lot of difficulty to the opponent when it has the ball.”

Ronaldo and Bale have struggled to influence derby matches in recent years due to Atletico’s excellent organization, and where Juanfran and Filipe Luis have been excellent this season, they equally receive additional cover from their wide players. This means Ronaldo and Bale will often be outnumbered in wide zones, and with the full-backs likely to be cautious with their positioning, the aforementioned wingers’ aerial prowess could be significant via crosses and set-pieces.

Set-pieces were decisive in Lisbon two-years ago, and Atleti still possess a legitimate threat with Diego Godin attacking balls in the box. Real haven’t necessarily replaced Iker Casillas with a commanding goalkeeper, and though Keylor Navas’ shot-stopping skills are amongst the best in the world, Simeone may aim to exploit this area.

Real once symbolized the superior club in Madrid, but constant turnover via managers and players has suddenly resulted in a slight decline. Simeone’s four-year spell at the club has been the difference, and through assembling the best defensive unit in Europe, he’s transitioned the 2014 finalists into arguably the best club in the world.

The ability to mount challenges on both fronts with a completely new squad signifies the culture Simeone has instilled at Atletico, and his side represents a template for what Real should aspire to become. But a moment of individual brilliance from Zidane’s star players can shift that belief, and where Simeone has built a sustainable elite side despite financial restraints, a Real win would be the fitting end to an era that is slowly appreciating the commencement of their neighbours’ dynasty.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ver en vivo En Directo

Despite an ineffective first half display, Real Madrid came from behind to claim their 10th European title.

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Pattern

With this being the fifth meeting between the two sides this season, there was a good chance that the pattern of the match would be the same. Both sides prefer to play on the counter, but the manner in which they attack on the break is slightly different.

As displayed against Bayern Munich and Barcelona this season, Real prefer to sit deeper and utilize the pace of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to punish opponents. Atletico, on the other hand, press the opposition in midfield and look to facilitate the ball to their forwards, as they’re positioned to receive the ball while running due to their deep positioning.

Simeone’s side, though, won La Liga averaging less than 50% of possession, and similar to previous encounters, Real dominated possession and was forced to unlock an organized Atletico defence.

Madrid’s issue

The main issue Madrid encountered during three of the four meaningful matches with their cross-town rivals this season was the ability to create goal-scoring opportunities. Even their 3-0 victory in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal was flattering, as two of the three goals took heavy deflections.

Ancelotti opted to play Khedira –– who featured in 117 minutes of action since his return from a six-month layoff –– ahead of Illarramendi who’s been exploited in high-profile matches on a few occasions this season. Experience was a factor in Ancelotti’s decision, along with the German’s mobility, tenacity, and strength. Khedira, however, was fielded as the single-pivot in midfield.

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Similar to the first Madrid derby at the Bernabeu, Khedira’s presence was futile as he constantly decreased Real’s passing tempo, and his distribution was conservative. Atletico dropped into their traditional two banks of four to limit productivity in their third and central areas.

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Likewise, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria were forced to receive the ball near the halfway line to avoid Atletico’s press, thus impeding their impact on the match. Simeone’s side also pressed Madrid higher up the pitch –– more often in the earlier stages and when Costa was on the pitch –– as they aimed to quickly break into Real’s box. Villa and substitute Adrian Lopez harried Khedira when he received the ball, and the former also applied pressure on Modric in these areas.

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In the first half, Real failed to test goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Real’s best chance was created through Tiago’s misplaced pass at the half-hour mark. The pass fell to Bale, but as the Welshman ran into the box, desperate lunges from Tiago and Miranda forced the 24-year-old to steer his shot wide of the net.

Equally, Atletico’s shape without the ball must be lauded. Simeone’s men have impressively contained Bale and Ronaldo’s threat this season, and that continued in Lisbon. Both wide players prefer to drift into central areas to score goals, and while the Atletico wide players closed down passing lanes, Gabi and Tiago protected their back four admirably.

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Bale occasionally dropped deeper to retain the ball, but in the opening half neither Karim Benzema nor Ronaldo touched the ball in Atletico’s box.

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Adrian replaced Costa in the ninth minute, and suddenly Simeone was left with the XI many expected the Argentine to initially field. Ultimately this left Atletico’s attack limited in open play. It’s likely that Simeone would play Garcia behind Costa –– for his defensive pressure and offensive aerial threat –– with Turan on the flank, but with his best offensive options unavailable, set pieces appeared to be their best hope.

Prior to the goal, Atletico continuously aimed to overload the left flank, and deliver crosses to Garcia at the far post, as he attempted to isolate Fabio Coentrao. David Villa no longer offers the goal-threat he once did a few years ago, whereas apart from Adrian’s pace –– which forced Varane into conceding the corner that led to Diego Godin’s opener –– the 26-year-old’s threat upfront was scarce.

Subsequently, Varane half-heartedly cleared Gabi’s corner, and Juanfran instantly nodded the ball back into the box, but with Iker Casillas yards off his line, Godin out jumped Khedira and nodded the ball into the net. It was Godin’s eighth goal of the season –– all headers –– and without Costa it was the likely source for an Atletico goal.

Di Maria

Nevertheless, Real’s success always lied in the hands of Di Maria and Modric. Heading into the match they were two players that were required to perform if Real intended on claiming La Decima. The duo was outstanding in Real’s first leg Copa del Rey triumph, and in their draw at the Calderon, Turan and Koke nullified their strengths.

Here, however, Di Maria was the best player on the pitch. Often referred to as underrated, and rarely considered a big game player, the Argentine has developed into one of Madrid’s most important players since Ancelotti implemented the 4-3-3 system at the turn of the year.

Initially, Di Maria was instructed to play crosses from deep positions into the box. Although Atletico’s back four is dominant in aerial duels, the Argentine’s deliveries from deep have tormented Simeone’s men in every encounter this season. In the first half, though, a mixture of poor crossing, and lack of movement in the box meant Di Maria’s deliveries were ineffective.

Real required the Argentine’s dynamism in midfield, and his sharp runs from deeper positions tormented Atletico’s back four. In the early stages, referee Björn Kuipers, wrongly awarded advantage following Di Maria’s sensational run –– where Gabi fouled him –– which led to Coentrao breaking free into the box from the left channel.

That was a warning to Simeone’s men, as Di Maria forced Garcia and Miranda into bookings with his powerful runs from midfield. Meanwhile, in the second half, Juanfran feared that the Argentine would once again cause havoc in the final third, thus resulting in a cynical challenge subsequent to Di Maria’s first touch.

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Di Maria’s dynamism in midfield made him Real’s most proactive player on the field, as he produced another breathtaking performance.

Atletico go 4-2-3-1 

Simeone wasn’t getting the best out of Adrian as the highest attacker in Atletico’s 4-4-2, so the Argentine adopted a 4-2-3-1 in the second half. The alteration was beneficial to Atletico as they began to exploit key areas in Real’s third, whereas Adrian and Koke enjoyed a fine 10 minute spell on the left flank.

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Now Koke and Adrian were on the flanks –– with Koke drifting into central areas to become a third passer in midfield  –– and Garcia sat behind Villa as the main target man. Garcia played this role to perfection in the 2-2 draw at the Calderon this season, but the two wide players thrived in the early stages of the second half.

In the 49th minute, Filipe Luis dispossessed Dani Carvajal in Real’s third, and then played a pass to Koke who drifted over to the left flank to create the overload. Koke then delivered a cross towards the far post for Garcia, but the Spaniard side-volleyed his effort over the bar. Afterwards, the 22-year-old delivered another promising cross into Real’s box, and Coentrao’s header cleared the ball into Adrian’s feet, but his shot deflected off Khedira for a corner.

Equally, Adrian’s pace and ability to evade challenges in tight spaces enabled him to get the better of Carvajal –– along with Isco and Modric –– on a few occasions, but the 26-year-old lacked an incisive final ball. In terms of attacks created from open play, this was Atletico’s best spell, but their habit of not finishing their chances in big games led to their downfall.

Swapped formations

Ancelotti quickly reacted to Simeone’s changes by introducing Marcelo and Isco for Coentrao and the underwhelming Khedira. Madrid effectively transitioned into a 4-4-2 with Isco and Modric sitting in midfield, while Di Maria was positioned on the left flank.

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Seven minutes later, Simeone replaced the fatigued Garcia for Jose Sosa, thus leaving Villa upfront on his own. Atletico were now shaped in a 4-3-3, but due to Real’s superiority in possession, Simeone’s men were pegged into their half and they were more of a 4-5-1. 

Atletico’s limited options on the bench may have forced Simeone to preserve his lead, and unlike previous meetings he reacted to Real’s offensive changes.

Real dominate

However, Ancelotti’s changes were identical to the ones made in the league showdown at the Calderon. There he started the match with two defensive-minded fullbacks before introducing Marcelo and Carvajal. Marcelo’s passing, dribbling and goal presence is superior to Coentrao’s, which explains the logic in the substitution.

Real also lacked a link between midfield and attack without Alonso, so Isco was introduced to exploit pockets of space as Atletico’s press decreased. Atletico’s players tired –– which is understandable due to their dynamic style of play and it being the final game of the season –– and with Simeone lacking match-changing options on the bench, or a threat on the counter, his men were forced to hang on.

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Modric was now the deepest midfielder and the Croatian dictated the tempo of the match. Isco also served as a reliable passer, as well as comfortably retaining possession in the final third. Modric’s run towards the box led to Ronaldo and Benzema exchanging passes, before Isco fired a shot wide of the net. Isco also received a glorious chance to win the match courtesy of Carvajal’s chipped pass and his wonderful first touch, and turn, but Godin made a remarkable last-ditch tackle to maintain their slender lead.

Real camped in Atletico’s half for the remaining 25 minutes, and their were two variations to their attack. The first being quick combination plays around the box. Modric’s pass into Ronaldo saw the Portuguese forward play in Bale, but the 24-year-old fired his shot wide of the net. Subsequently, Bale and Ronaldo combined and the 24-year-old winger received a pass from the current Ballon d’Or winner behind the Atletico defence, but Godin’s pressure forced the Welshman to guide his shot into the side netting.

Secondly, Di Maria continued to play crosses into the box from the left flank, but last-ditch clearances from every member of Simeone’s defence preserved Atletico’s lead. Considering Atletico’s successful set-piece defending, it was surprising to see Simeone’s men concede a goal in this manner. However, Real’s inability to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities against Atletico, and Ramos’ imperious form decreases the shock value; it was one of the few ways for Ancelotti’s men to equalize.

Ramos’ well-timed run towards the centre of the box allowed the Spaniard to get ahead of Tiago and nod Modric’s corner past Courtois with seconds to spare. Ancelotti’s offensive changes altered the tempo and pattern of the match, and Real were rewarded with a stoppage-time equalizer.

Extra-time

Simeone’s final change occurred minutes prior to Ramos’ equalizer as Toby Alderweireld replaced an injured Filipe Luis. Likewise, an injured Juanfran was forced to continue the match hobbling, as Atletico utilized their three available subs.

Nevertheless, the pattern of the match didn’t change. Villa did well to hold up the ball at times, but he doesn’t offer the physical presence Costa possesses, and he couldn’t outpace Varane and Ramos. When Atletico lost the ball it was immediately cleared back to Real, and with Simeone’s men wary of being exposed on the counter, they opted to soak up the pressure and play for penalties.

But in the second half of extra-time Real were rewarded for their persistent attacking. Di Maria evaded Juanfran and Miranda’s challenges following his run from the left flank, and while Courtois saved his initial effort, Bale nodded the rebound into the open net. Marcelo and Ronaldo added two more goals as the final 10 minutes was drab.

Conclusion

This match was similar to their league encounter at the Calderon. Atletico controlled the opening hour, but Ancelotti utilized his bench effectively in the second half to exploit Simeone’s side.

Costa’s ability to work the channels, break on the counter, and disturb Real’s centre backs were missed, and Atletico didn’t possess an attacking threat in open play.

“It was my responsibility to have [Diego Costa] play and obviously I made a mistake because I had to switch him as early as I did; obviously he wasn’t as good as he had been the day before. That was my decision to make. We looked at each other, we caught each other’s eye, and we didn’t want to waste part of the game with one less player,” Simeone said.

“What was most difficult was to get the equalizer. We didn’t have any space, Atlético defended very well, but we tried every way possible, right to the end – we managed to do it and then the game changed completely. The goal we scored gave us a lot of strength and after that perhaps we wanted the victory more,” Ancelotti said.

Frankly, the score-line doesn’t do Atletico justice; this was a remarkable season –– winning La Liga and reaching the Champions League final ––  in which the likes of Porto, Milan, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real failed to beat them in normal time.

Still, this was a straightforward tactical showdown. In ways Simeone is similar to Mourinho –– from the petulance to the methodical approach –– but here, defensive organization and tactical discipline couldn’t overshadow a meager bench and minimal transitional attacks.

That enabled Ancelotti’s side to dominate the latter stages of the match, and with the help of Di Maria’s dynamism and key changes, Real emerged victorious.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid: Champions League final preview

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Courtesy of Flickr/avalaisure

A year ago, Diego Simeone’s side defeated Real Madrid for the first time in 14 years at the Santiago Bernabeu to claim the Copa del Rey. After winning their first La Liga crown in 18 years with a draw at the Camp Nou last weekend, Atletico Madrid travel to Lisbon to participate in the first-ever local derby Champions League final against Real.

Although Real are in search of La Decima, an Atletico victory would complete an unprecedented double, and be classified as one of the greatest triumphs in football history. But Carlo Ancelotti’s men will arrive in Lisbon as favourites with Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo aiming to claim his second Champions League crown, and increase his record-breaking 16-goal tally.

This is expected to be a high-octane, scrappy affair, between two sides that thrive on the counter-attack. Stylistically, Atletico’s ability to maintain a high level of play and compete with Europe’s richest clubs is remarkable, and it’s fair to say that they’re not underdogs.

Atletico possesses one of the best defensive records in Europe, and they prove to be a difficult outfit to beat when their back four is fit. Equally, they shift and press as a unit, and quickly transition into attack with quick intricate combination passes.

Simeone’s men drop into two banks of four without the ball and the two strikers stick goal-side to the opposition’s deepest midfielder’s to close down passing lanes. The wide men –– Koke and Arda Turan –– adopt narrow positions to limit space between the lines and central areas. Full-backs, Juanfran and Filipe Luis, also decrease space between themselves and the centre-backs, and encourage the opposition to play through the flanks, as Miranda and Diego Godin consistently dominate aerial duels.

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Atletico’s shape when Madrid maintain possession. The wingers tuck in centrally, and the two forwards allow the Madrid centre-backs to circulate possession.

Atletico are capable of winning the ball higher up the pitch, or sticking to the aforementioned tactic, but under both circumstances their ability to quickly break into attack is pivotal. Both wide players are technically astute, hardworking players, with Koke drifting infield to express his creativity, while Turan evades challenges and motors forward. The positioning of the two forwards usually enables them to receive the ball while running towards goal, or dropping off to receive the ball and pull defenders out of position.

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Atletico maintain the same shape, but Turan is ready to press Arbeloa when he receives the ball. Diego Ribas and Diego Costa have closed down Xabi Alonso’s passing lanes and Juanfran has also adopted a narrow shape closer to Miranda.

Diego Costa and Turan, however, are both injury doubts ahead of Saturday’s final following their early first half departures against Barcelona. While the latter is likely to feature against Madrid, Atletico are working hard to ensure the former is also fit. In both league fixtures this season, Costa worked the channels admirably and consistently tormented Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Likewise, Costa’s physicality, and eye for goal –– scoring 36 goals in all competitions –– is unmatched.

Adrian Lopez or Raul Garcia will be the likely replacement for the 25-year-old striker, and both men offer different threats. Similar to Costa, the former relies on pace, but in terms of strength and finishing he’s not quite at the Spaniard’s level. Still, when called upon Lopez has delivered, scoring goals against Barcelona and Chelsea en route to the final. The latter, on the other hand, could field on the right flank or upfront, and his physical presence would see Atletico play direct. In previous rounds he targeted Jordi Alba and Ashley Cole to utilize his aerial superiority, and the Spaniard’s 17 goals in all competitions is only bettered by Costa.

Atletico, though, isn’t the only side heading into Saturday’s final with personnel concerns. Gareth Bale and Ronaldo passed fitness tests earlier this week, but Pepe and Karim Benzema are both unlikely to feature, meaning Raphael Varane and Alvaro Morata will be included in the starting XI. Carlo Ancelotti will also be forced to decide between Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi to complete a midfield trio for the suspended Xabi Alonso.

Khedira has featured in Madrid’s final two games of the season –– 117 minutes –– after tearing a cruciate ligament in his knee six months ago. Khedira was in the midfield that lost to Atletico in at the Bernabeu in October, but he failed to trouble Simeone’s midfield. Illarramendi, 20, has struggled against physical sides that intentionally target the Spaniard, and it’s likely that Ancelotti may go for Khedira’s dynamism and tenacity, despite the German’s scarce match fitness.

Madrid have been at their utmost best in this tournament when given the opportunity to play on the counter –– most recently displayed against Bayern Munich –– but Ancelotti’s men will likely dominate possession, and the pattern of the match will be identical to previous encounters this season.

In three matches of significant value this season –– the tie was over in the second leg of the Copa del Rey –– Madrid struggled to break down and create legitimate goal scoring opportunities against Simeone’s men. The one match that Madrid won two goals stemmed from major deflections, and a well-worked move from Angel Di Maria and Jese Rodriguez. Atletico, on the other hand, pose a legitimate threat through set pieces, and if Costa is unavailable, Simeone’s men will aim to exploit Madrid in these situations.

Considering the circumstances, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria will be the key men for Madrid. Both men provide the dynamism and creativity in midfield that steered Madrid to the Copa del Rey final, but were equally nullified in their second league encounter at the Vicente Calderon. With Ronaldo and Bale keen on drifting into central areas, Atletico’s narrow defending nullifies space for the wide players to cut into. Both men have failed to produce quality performances against the newly-crowned Spanish champion, with Bale struggling in 1v2 situations, and Ronaldo lacking service and space to create shooting angles. With that being said, Modric’s ability to dictate the tempo of the match, and Di Maria’s willingness to spring forward and provide a goal-scoring threat will be key.

In eight of the last nine fixtures between the two sides, a goal has been scored within the opening 15 minutes. And while an early goal is expected, it won’t necessarily alter the predicted pattern of the match. Atletico’s system solely focuses on limiting space in their third, defensive solidity, and quick transitions, and Simeone is reluctant to stray away from his philosophy.

With Madrid’s recent issues in open play against Simeone’s side, and their tendency to switch off during matches, one goal may be the difference between success and failure. In 12 months, Atletico have snapped various droughts against their cross-town rivals, and on the biggest stage in world football, they’ll be seeking to avenge their loss to Bayern Munich –– in which the late Luis Aragones scored –– 40 years ago.

With Atletico’s limited financial resources and diminutive squad, Simeone’s ability to get his side to sustain maximum levels and challenge on both fronts –– domestic and European –– serves as a triumph for modern football. Meanwhile, Madrid’s return to the final for the first time in 12 years will be considered a failure if they don’t claim La Decima.

The sky is the limit for Atletico, whereas Real have everything to lose.

 
 

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Real Madrid 0-1 Atletico Madrid

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Atletico Madrid remains undefeated as they thoroughly outplayed city rivals Real Madrid.

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Carlo Ancelotti made one change to his starting eleven that squeezed past Elche midweek, as Asier Illarramendi started in midfield alongside Sami Khedira. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo led the line in Ancelotti’s 4-4-2, whereas Angel Di Maria and Isco played on the flanks – Luka Modric and Gareth Bale started the match on the bench.

Diego Simeone made three changes to the side that defeated Osasuna midweek, as Gabi, Filipe Luis and David Villa returned to the starting lineup. Simeone’s 4-4-2 saw Villa and Diego Costa form a partnership upfront, with Arda Turan and Koke on the flanks, while Gabi and Tiago played in midfield.

Atletico Madrid limited space in midfield, closed down their opponents quickly and were dangerous on the counter attack, yet their quality in front of goal prevented Simeone’s men from blowing out their rivals.

Atletico’s shape nullify Madrid

Real Madrid dominated possession for long portions of the match, but Atleti’s approach without the ball was significant to their success. They dropped into two banks of four, with a high-line, which saw Costa and Villa drop a few metres ahead of the midfield.

Atleti’s midfield sat narrow, keeping a compact shape, and Madrid struggled to push forward. Ancelotti’s men were forced to play sideways passes into wide areas as Madrid lacked penetration and activity in the final third. With Turan and Koke tucking into central positions, Illarramendi and Khedira struggled to assert their dominance in midfield, and Madrid suffered, as they didn’t possess a link between midfield and attack.

Isco started the match out on the left, and attempted to drift into central areas to find openings, but the young Spaniard was forced to combine with Madrid’s central midfielders in deep positions. Frankly, Di Maria was Madrid’s only legitimate attacking threat. The Argentinian winger hugged the touchline and drifted infield with the ball, providing Benzema with two lovely deliveries, in the span of four minutes.

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Atleti’s determination to keep a compact shape was pivotal to their success – Simeone’s men nullified Madrid’s attack, as their large portion of possession didn’t harm Atleti, while the likes of Ronaldo, Isco and Benzema were deprived of quality service.

Diego Costa

Diego Costa was by far the most influential player on the pitch, as he was a constant nuisance towards Real Madrid’s backline. Costa continuously made runs into the channels – attacking the space behind the fullbacks – he held up the ball for his midfielders to move into advanced positions, along with drawing a game-high eight fouls throughout the match.

Costa is a hardworking forward, who is slowly receiving the recognition he deserves. The Atleti striker scored the match winner – his eighth La Liga goal this season, equaling Lionel Messi’s league leading total – in the 11th minute, when he slid the ball past Diego Lopez, after being wonderfully played in by Koke.

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The 24-year old striker then turned Pepe easily on the left flank and cut the ball back to the top of the box for Turan, but the Turkish midfielder skied his shot into the stands. And in the 60th minute Costa received a glorious opportunity to put the match out of sight. The Brazilian born striker was handed a 1v1 situation with Lopez, but his first touch was heavy, thus forcing him to strike his shot directly at Lopez.

It was a classic, hardworking performance from Costa – he ran the channels exceptionally, caused Pepe and Sergio Ramos several problems, and scored the winning goal, which hands Atletico their second win against Real in the last four months.

Madrid goes 4-2-3-1

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Ancelotti made two changes at half time, as he tactically tinkered with his side. Bale and Modric replaced Illarramendi and Di Maria as Madrid shifted into a 4-2-3-1. The introduction of Bale was odd considering Di Maria’s offensive contribution in the first half, whereas Illarramendi struggled to impose his authority on the match.

Yet, neither substitute had a significant impact in the second half. Modric misplaced passes, was bullied in midfield and struggled to push forward, whereas Bale offered the same threat that Ronaldo does, and both men were tracked admirably.

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Isco preferred to move into central positions as he found more space between the lines and linked play in deeper areas, but in terms of creating chances, he was still poor.

From an offensive perspective Madrid grew into the match as the second half wore on – their passing tempo was quicker and they were getting into better positions, but Atleti coped with the small amount of chances that Ancelotti’s men created.

Atletico missed opportunities

For all the positive that came from Atleti’s work ethic without the ball, Simeone might be disappointed that his men didn’t kill the game off earlier. Simeone’s men created several legitimate goal scoring opportunities, but their decision-making and quality in the final third kept the match close.

In the 28th minute Tiago nodded his free header over the bar from 10 yards out, and 13 minutes later, Gabi’s header was saved, while Lopez stopped Costa’s rebound – an opportunity that stemmed from an identical corner kick. Costa’s 1v1 chance in the second half, along with Koke’s 80th minute shot off the bar was another set of missed chances that Simeone’s men created.

Despite Madrid’s superiority in possession, Atleti created the better chances throughout the match, which merited three points on the night.

Morata

Alvaro Morata entered the match with 17 minutes to play, as Ancelotti reverted back to a 4-4-2 with the departure of Isco. Unlike Benzema, Morata provided energy, mobility and an attacking spark to Madrid’s attack. The Spanish striker was chasing down balls, working hard to close down defenders, and his will to track back to win the ball in midfield delighted the fans.

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Morata was on the end of Madrid’s best chances to win the match – his 83rd minute acrobatic volley – from a Khedira cross – was saved by Thibaut Courtois, and minutes after Tiago hit the post, Morata beat Courtois, but the ball hit the side netting.

One of the issues Madrid is facing is the lack of options in the striker position, and with Benzema continuing to produce mediocre performances, Morata may earn himself a start in the upcoming weeks.

Conclusion

Atletico Madrid was worthy of all three points after producing a hard-fought performance against their bitter rivals.

Diego Costa’s magnificent performance, along with their ability to maintain a compact, yet narrow shape, nullified Madrid’s strengths. Costa’s movement into the channels was pivotal, but Atleti’s performance as a unit was miles ahead of a Madrid side that look disjointed going forward.

Ancelotti’s possession-based approach has seen Madrid encounter a few issues this season, one being their ability to break down compact backlines. They struggle to find a link between midfield and attack, thus leaving their attackers isolated as they lack cohesion going forward. Ultimately, it was an issue they faced last season, but their ability to attack on the counter bailed them out – but Simeone’s men were disciplined and quickly got back into their shape. In fairness, this is a fairly new squad being assembled, with a new manager looking to instill his philosophy, but Ancelotti will hope to get his team in unison before Madrid supporters get irritated.

It was an impressive Atletico Madrid performance that showcased a side that withholds unity, while Ancelotti’s Real Madrid is still searching for it.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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