Following on from Part 1, where I looked at Atléti’s defensive organisation, I have analysed Atléti’s offensive organisation but only when they play a 4-4-2 – it must be noted that Atléti do play with a 4-2-3-1 from time to time.
Diego Simeone has led his Atlético Madrid side to joint-top in the league after 19 games, accumulating 50 points from 16 wins, 2 draws and just 1 loss. Atléti are also through to the Round of 16 in the Champions League where they face an away trip to AC Milan in the first leg.
According to this article from Michael Caley, Atléti, in La Liga, have the highest average shot quality and the highest percentage of shots from inside the box and from the danger zone.
Atléti have undoubtedly been solid defensively but they have been very effective in front of goal too, creating 187 chances in the league. That’s just over 1 chance every 10 minutes, which is astounding considering the amount of possession they have – 48% on average per match.
19 goals in La Liga have come from Diego Costa alone, with strike partner David Villa contributing with 8 goals, whilst Koke has provided 8 assists. Atlético Madrid’s most successful passer of the ball with over 10 appearances in the league is Arda Turan – a key cog in Atléti’s system – with an 82.7% pass completion rate.
Atléti predominantly play out from the back with short passes but, due to their quality in transition, which is a consequence of their playing system, they can and often do play long, direct balls forward; a simple concept which has been termed ‘verticality’ by some. They play long passes more often when facing proactive teams who press high to: 1) Bypass the opposition’s initial 1st wave of pressure, 2) Exploit the space created by the high press, which results in the opposition being forced closer to their own goal.
Short build up [2-4-2-2 or 2-1-3-2-2]
Atléti’s system is deceivingly ‘simple’ at a quick glance, but looking closely at their shape and movements reveals a more complex system. Playing with a ‘4-4-2’ would give the impression that Atléti would be overpowered by increasingly common 3-man midfields, but Atléti’s centre mids, albeit one at a time on the strong side of the pitch, drop to the sides of the two centre backs, filling the space vacated by the full backs who have joined the midfield line. This allows Atléti’s ‘wide’ midfielders to be positioned more centrally yet more advanced than a traditional winger or wide midfielder in a 4-4-2. As a result of the shape and movements, Atléti’s midfield play on 3, or sometimes 4, receiving lines.
In the photo above, Arda Turan (interior) and Filipe Luis (full back) have temporarily swapped positions as a result of Luis cutting inside with the ball and playing a pass back to Miranda (centre back). This highlights Atléti’s appreciation of space, interchanging positions to ensure that no players occupy the same space, giving them good positional coverage of the pitch. The central midfielders who come wide and deep to receive the ball are allowed to do so because, although the centre backs split wide, they don’t split as wide as most teams who play with an expansive shape, so the space between the full back and centre back is considerably large.
When the full back is about to receive the ball, the strong side central midfielder checks wide to either receive the ball or to create space for the interior ahead of him. The central midfielder is able to drop into a wide position as the centre backs are fairly narrow.
Space has been created centrally for the interior to receive in, but because Turan (interiore) is marked, the pass isn’t on. This triggers Turan to run wide to receive a through ball and triggers both strikers to run into depth. In this instance, Luis turned back and Atléti built up the attack again. Rhythm in Phase 1 is slow but not entirely patient – Atléti show a willingness to play forwards as much as possible rather than adopt a possession-oriented approach.
Long build up
Long balls are only played when Atléti are pressed well high up the pitch, and the main target is usually Diego Costa due to his height and aggression. The positioning of the interior and supporting striker are important when the ball is played long centrally; one must come close and be ready to run into depth, the other must move away to receive a knock down.
Atléti prefer to use the long diagonal switch if possible, though, as it is generally more successful in terms of pass completion and creating space to play into.
By switching the play from a centre back to the opposite flank, the half space often opens up due to the opposition having to shift across with the ball. Atléti usually go long when the ball carrier and his nearest passing options are pressed or marked.
The half space can then exploited by whichever wide player [full back or interior] has not received the ball. For example, if the full back provides the width and receives the ball, the interior exploits the space or vice-versa. In this case, Juanfran has provided the width, so Turan makes a penetrating run. As Getafe’s centre back has to cover, a 2v1 overload in favour of Atléti is created in the box.
Phase 2 [2-2-4-2]:
Atléti usually enter Phase 2 of Offensive Organisation as a result of winning 2nd balls or being forced back in Phase 3, or from playing short to the central midfielder who dropped in wide in initial build up. Atléti’s full backs tend to play more direct balls when in Phase 1 so tend to skip Phase 2.
When the central midfielders are in possession, the interior ahead looks to get in between the lines and/or in a half space.
In the example above, the interior (Koke) attracts the opposition’s wide midfielder and full back, creating space in behind and numerical equality or even an overload if Porto’s centre back has to cover. Had the opposition full back not been marking Koke tightly, he could have received the ball in between the lines, where he could turn quickly on the ball to face forwards.
However, movement ahead of the ball in Phase 2 is quite poor and rhythm speeds up, which could explain why Atléti are not yet completely comfortable with controlling possession. Arda Turan often drifts across the pitch in search for possession and helps to create overloads centrally and sometimes even on the opposite flank. Perhaps a striker could have moved into the space available to receive the ball (above), which may have created space in behind the defence and also created a 1v1 for the other striker if his marker followed him.
Phase 3 [2-2-4-2 or 2-2-4-1-1]:
The strikers now start to make better movements, with one of them sometimes coming in between the lines. If marked tightly, space is potentially created in behind for the other striker to run into. If not marked tightly, the striker can receive the ball in a good position. The interiors, again, look to take up a “mixed position” between the lines and in the half space, whilst the full backs provide width and sometimes make runs into depth if necessary.
Atléti’s biggest weakness is probably their movement ahead of the ball in Offensive Organisation. Variations of movements such as a rotation between the two strikers and one interior, or even a simple cross-over from the strikers, could improve this aspect and add some unpredictability. However, this could compromise some of their defensive stability as rotating positions can lead to players being out of position and extra movements are more physically demanding, so could tire players out quicker.
Atléti have both strikers and the weak side interior attacking crosses. This means they have good coverage of the penalty area as 3 key areas can be attacked: the front post, the penalty spot and the back post. If the full back is crossing the ball, the strong side interior will look to position himself for cutbacks, meaning 4 key areas are attacked situationally.
Again, Atléti’s movements could be improved when attacking crosses. A cross-over between the strikers would be simple yet potentially very effective as it would give the defender a split-second decision to make of marking a zone or marking a man.
If you enjoyed this piece, please share it.