Advantage Barca – How Atletico Madrid’s timid approach cost them big against Sevilla

Sevilla beat Atletico Madrid this weekend. (imago Images)
Sevilla beat Atletico Madrid this weekend. (imago Images)

The result – a damaging defeat for Atletico

Atletico Madrid have done all the hard work since the starting of this season. They won 16 of their first 19 La Liga games, losing just once in that time. That made sure that they had a sizeable lead to work with in the second half of the season. But things have not gone to plan.

They have just 3 wins in their last 8 league games and their lead at the top of the table has been cut down to just one point. And their poor form continued when they lost 1-0 to Sevilla away, with a 70th-minute goal negating all their hard work from minute one to keep a clean sheet.

But how did this happen? Diego Simeone is not shy to take the defensive approach to games. His physical, defensive tactics, infamously referred to as ‘Cholismo‘ was on display against Sevilla. It seemed like after one point, they wanted to see the game out and settle for a tough away point. But all of it backfired and blew the title race wide open.

The set-up – before and during the game

Probably no one was surprised to see Simeone field a 5-man backline with two advanced full-backs. Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi were the wide-men in a 3-4-2-1 formation that has become a trademark of theirs in recent times. Luis Suarez was the lone target man in their set-up while the versatile Marcos Llorente was playing down the right-hand side of the frontline.

Sevilla’s 4-3-3, on the other hand, was a positive formation with attacking intent. And it translated into the game as well. This is why the average player position in Image A looked different from what was put on the sheet before kick-off.

Image A. (WhoScored)

This image shows how Sevilla’s full-backs were more advanced than Atletico’s full-backs despite the latter playing as a sort of wide midfielders in a midfield 4. Another interesting thing evident from both Image A and Image B is the intent of Los Palanganas to target Atletico’s left-flank.

Image B. (WhoScored)

Inviting pressure

Atletico are known to soak up pressure and they are pretty good at it. They have conceded the least number of goals in La Liga this year and are defensive giants. But this tactic of inviting pressure cannot work every time. And it really put them under pressure against Sevilla.

Image C encapsulates how the game was for the whole 90 minutes. There are so many Atletico and Sevilla players in the box that you would think it’s a set-piece situation. But it was not. This open play moment also shows how far up the pitch Jesus Navas, Sevilla’s right-back, was playing.

Image C.

It is obvious that Sevilla would play up the pitch if they see Atletico sitting back. And this is why they were keeping the ball more (56.6% possession for Sevilla), creating more, and getting in more dangerous positions. Image D is enough to tell just how attacking Sevilla were as compared to Atletico.

Image D. (Understat.com)

The full-backs

The most interesting position nowadays is that of the full-backs. They come to define how a team exploits spaces down the wings and take the game away from the centre of the field. This is why knowing how the full-backs of both teams played would tell us a lot about their approach to the game.

Image E complements Image C here to show how both of Sevilla’s full-backs were playing so high up the pitch. Image F further shows how attacking Marcos Acuna and Navas were. They really were the outlets of attack for Sevilla.

Image F. (SofaScore)

And surprise, surprise. It was the combination of those two players that finally broke down Atletico. Lucas Ocampos missed a penalty in the 7th minute but it was still all Sevilla when it came to attacking. Image G showcases the first 63 minutes of the game and the number of shots taken by the two teams.

Image G. (WhoScored)

This kind of incessant pressure is bound to translate into something. And if a team is allowed so many chances, it is increasingly likely that one of those shots will go in. That’s what happened in the 70th minute as well.

Image H shows that Atletico are overloading the centre of the box, so the space is going to come from the wings. Suso (red circle) cleverly sees, and finds, Jesus Navas (black circle) with a peach of a ball between two Atletico Madrid defenders. Navas crosses the ball from the touchline for Sevilla’s left-back, Acuna (white circle), to head it in.

Image H.

Defending the lead – Chasing the equalizer

The dynamics of the game, as proven above, were simple for the first 70 minutes. Sevilla were attacking for a goal, while Atletico were soaking up the pressure like a sponge; possibly looking to snatch a goal on the counter or just play for a draw. But once Sevilla cracked the code, courtesy of their full-backs, things changed.

It was now defence vs attack in the opposite way. Barcelona were four points behind Atletico after this result. Given Barcelona won their game in hand, the lead is now just one point. Now obviously, this would have worried Atletico during the game, and they would have to attack to at least get a goal back.

That is what they tried to do, but they did not succeed. It was Sevilla’s turn to defend, and they got men back. With just 20 minutes to go after they took the lead against Atletico, defending the lead becomes a good option, especially considering the fact that despite being 1st in La Liga, Atletico are tied 6th for most shots taken per game in the league this season.

Image I shows Sevilla committing men back and defending in lines of 4 and 5. Atletico players are well marked and are central. Sevilla are condensed in the middle of the pitch as a result, and with so little space, attacking situations become hard to convert into goal-scoring chances.

Image I.

The fact that Sevilla did a good job is shown in Image J. This shows the total number of shots taken by both teams after Sevilla went 1-0 up. They restricted Atletico to just one shot on target (inside the box). That was, however, a big chance.

Verdict

Their only shot on target in the last 25 minutes came in the 91st minute when Angel Correa struck first time after Luis Suarez found him inside the box. The shot was saved by Bono and Atletico, who created so little, failed to take their biggest chance of the game (Image J).

Image J.

Statistics don’t lie (Image K). Sevilla dominated in every important statistic and deserved the win for their positive, attacking approach. Atletico gambled and failed. A goal in the 70th minute was a hammer blow for them as they were now asked to create a goal, something that they did not look like doing in the first 70 minutes of the game.

Image K. (SofaScore)

With just a handful of games now left in La Liga, Simeone would have to carefully pick when and when not to deploy such a negative game-plan. Winning games is the way to win titles. And to win, you need to score. It remains to be seen who lifts the trophy at the end of the season, but it wouldn’t be Atletico if they continue to get results like this after being outplayed.

Written by Aniket Rai

An ordinary football fan, doing what he loves.

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