Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao – Tactical Analysis

Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao met at the Vicente Calderon for the first time last night since that evening in May when Atleti won the Europa League crushing Athletic Bilbao in the process.

There were a number of key tactical issues during that game which can be reviewed here.

And, as inconceivable as it may seem, judging by last night’s performance, Bielsa and Athletic failed to learn anything from that defeat. The same mistakes were evident again as Atleti delivered a performance of incisive play and quality surpassing their display  in Bucharest and epitomised throughout by the superb Falcao.

Line Ups

Atletico made four changes from the side which drew 1-1 away to Levante on the opening day. Silvio, Cata Diaz, Adrian and Tiago all dropped to the bench to be replaced by Koke, Suarez, Luis Filipe and Juanfran.

Atleti Starting Line Up

Atleti change their system also, moving away from their opening day 5-4-1 to their usual 4-2-3-1. It appears likely that Simone will adopt a more cautious approach for away games this season whilst being more attack minded at home.

Bielsa made just one change to Athletic with Aduriz replacing Toquero as the striker but there were a number of positional changes within the system. Inigo Perez switched places with De Marcos moving from midfield back to left back.

Athletic Starting Line Up

In central defence, San Jose and Gurpegi also switched positions in central defence with San Jose moving back to the left side.

Despite the various alterations to the line up and within the line up, Athletic utilised their normal 4-3-3 variation at the Vicente Calderon.

The Stats

Athletic dominated possession yet failed to muster a single shot on target. The failings of last season returned with a vengeance for Athletic. More possession, more passes but ultimately less penetration as the opponent has more shots and wins the game.

First Half

Atleti began the first half pressing their opponents quickly with both Filipe and Juanfran pushing forward from their full back positions when the opportunity arose. This is important to note. Atleti are content to defend but will commit men forward when the opportunity presents itself.

In the defensive phase, Atleti would fall back to a fairly deep 4-1-4-1 with Falcao being their only  player remaining in the opponents half. With Falcao on such devastating form, it is easy for Atleti to retreat and Falcao to remain the reference point in attack.

The first warning for Athletic arrived in the 14th minute when Falcao collected a long pass and spun past two opponents before Gurpegi cynically blocked him. The resulting yellow card prevented Gurpegi from competing effectively for the remainder of the game, fearful of a second caution and the resulting red card.

The opening goal arrived via some woeful defending by Athletic combined with some lovely play by Falcao. A long throw in found Falcao. MIkel San Jose, who was now man marking Falcao, was turned far too easily before Falcao scooped the ball over Iraizoz.

Athletic gradually settled after this but offered little of an attacking threat. Despite the importance of Iraola and Susaeta last season, neither offered much in an attacking sense. It was on the left with Inigo Perez supporting Isma Lopez where Athletic offered patches of decent play. It was also the Athletic left which Atleti deliberately chose to attack down with Arda presenting numerous problems to Inigo Perez. In the absence of Aurtenexte, Simeone may have pinpointed Inigo Perez as a weak point. Despite the number of attacks in this area, Perez successfully won a number of tackles in the left back area as key battle developed between him and Arda:-

Atleti Dribbles vs Athletic

However, Inigo Perez was cautioned in the 35th minute for tripping Arda.

Throughout the first half, Los Colchoneros pressed their opponent in a highly structured and coordinated fashion. There was seldom any aimless pressing by just one player and when required, everyone dropped deep. With less possession, Atleti were much more vertical with an emphasis upon moving forward quickly but by interplay and surging runs rather than long passes.

Athletic by contrast to their hosts, played numerous passes but failed to turn their possession into territorial dominance or chance creation. Their first meaningful attack materialised in the 14th minute.

Defensively, following Gurpegi’s caution, San Jose man marked Falcao whilst Inigo Perez man marked Arda. This led to the bizarre scenario of Inigo Perez trailing Arda over to the opposite flank on one occasion in the first half, leaving the left flank completely exposed.

Atleti scored their second goal shortly before half time. Although well finished by Falcao, Godin was offside in the build up. A corner was cleared and when the ball was returned, Godin opportunistically hooked the ball across the face of goal and Falcao scored from an acute angle.


Second Half

Athletic made two changes at half time with Susaeta and San Jose being replaced by Ibai and Muniain. This resulted in yet more shuffles of the team with De Marcos moving to left back, Inigo Perez going to midfield, Iturraspe moving to central defence (where he partnered Gurpegi, another central midfielder), Ibai on the right wing and Muniain supporting the anonymous Aduriz.

The changes had no effect upon the game failing to stem the tide which flowed towards Iraizoz. Ibai, as ever, looked lively when he arrived but with little meaningful possession his impact was limited.

In the 57th minute Gurpegi was penalised for handball, and judging by some earlier decisions, he was lucky to avoid a second yellow and remain on the pitch. Falcao scored the resulting penalty. Yet the penalty all stemmed from Atheltic’s inability to clear their lines following a throw in. Athletic had three separate opportunities to clear the ball and failed on each occasion.

There then followed a succession of chances for Atletico with a number originating down the Athletic right with Iraola caught extremely high on each occasion. Chances arrived in the 61st, 65th and 68th minutes all from the right.

The fourth goal was another example of poor defensive play from Athletic. The Atleti substitute Diego Costa ran across the edge of the penalty area evading pitiful attempted tackles by Gurpegi and Inigo Perez. Costa’s shot was eventually blocked with the resulting loose ball slammed into the net from twenty five yards by Tiago.


Its difficult analysis this game without some reference to the Europa League final given the striking similarities between both games. There were many differences that night but the performance of Falcao. Again, Falcao had a massive impact upon this game.

His ability to collect the ball and move into the channels whilst support arrives is invaluable to a team that wants to defend deep and with numbers.

Prior to the season commencing, Falcao was asked whether he could compete for the “Pichichi” this season:-

“Pichichi’? Why not?”

The heat map bellows shows where Falcao operates. He receives the ball just wide of either central defender outside of the penalty are. Then, when inside the penalty area, he is positioned centrally.

Falcao Heat Map vs Athletic Bilbao

Falcao collects the ball just inside the opponents half of the pitch and distributes to team mates running off him, quite often on the flanks before making a run towards the penalty area. From his 23 passes, only 4 passes were either into or inside the penalty area:-

Falcao Passes vs Athletic Bilbao

Almost all of Falcao’s passes are outside of the box yet all of his shots, with the exception of two, are from inside the box.

Falcao Shots vs Athletic Bilbao

There were suggestions when he arrived that Falcao would not contribute outside of the penalty area and the key issue for Atleti was developing a system which maximises his strengths and links the team to him. Simeon appears to have struck this balance perfectly.

With the likes of Arda, Adrian, Rodrigues and Koke running off him, Falcao has plenty of options and an excellent supply line.

Athletic Structure

Athletic were missing five key players against Athletic but the manner of their performance suggested something much worse than just missing players, however important those players may be.

The changes made in the second half were strange, bordering on the bizarre at times. Constant reshuffles must have a detrimental effect upon players at some point, when instructions stop making any sense through a confused haze.

The withdrawal of San Jose , who was not enjoying a good game, can be debated but why replace him with Iturraspe in defence? You then have two central midfielders operating in defence whilst Ekiza remains on the bench. What made this worse was positioning Inigo Perez at the base of midfield when he had already been cautioned. In a role which requires tackling, Inigo Perez was not going to be able to cope fully.

As the second half progressed, Athletic lost all sense of structure and became a collection of individuals on the pitch. Iraola was posted missing on a number of occasions, allowing Rodriguez to break into acres of space. Aduriz appeared totally isolated throughout with barely any combination play involving him and any other Athletic player. On the one occasion when he linked up, Muniain threaded a pass through and Aduriz moved behind the Atleti defence but his shot was blocked.

Athletic spent the entire game playing in front of Atleti but lacked the creativity and guile to unlock a defence. This was not the only quality which was absent from their game.

Muniain can be a spiky character when things are not going well for him on the pitch but there was little aggression from him. There was a general sense of inevitability about Athletic from the moment the opening goal went in. The team lacked any sort of desire or mental strength.


Atleti can look forward to the European Super Cup game against Chelsea with confidence. The team is playing well and there are ample solutions on the bench which now contains real quality. The final scoreline probably flattered Athletic Bilbao a little and there will be real optimism within Atleti that under Simeone, this can be the season when they secure Champions League football once more.

The optimism and jot which engulfed Athletic last season is now all but gone. The performance was insipid and represents the low point of Bielsa’s reign in Bilbao. Bielsa recognises this:-

“At no time were we in this match. They were more powerful than us in most aspects of the game… we were impotent in the face of the dimension of our opponent”

And yet with the loss of Llorente and Martinez all but guaranteed, the solution for Athletic would be to sign quality replacements such as Benat but Bielsa, as ever, defies conventional wisdom:-

“For a team that is in the cycle we are, it is impossible not to be generate concerned. I have no expectations to resolve this through the arrival of signings.”

Unlike last season when Bielsa arrived and the team struggled at the start of the season, there was always hope that the season would improve. It looks like hope has all but drained from Athletic now.

Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao – Tactical Analysis

Atletico vs Athletic: Tactical Analysis

Atletico Madrid reclaimed the Europa League trophy they last won in 2010 when they defeated Athletic Bilbao 3-0 last night.

It’s often a cliché in football that any key game, such as a final, requires an early goal. The belief being that it provides the platform for an open and attacking game to develop with both teams freed from their nervous, shackled approach. The fear of conceding an early goal and falling behind is instantly removed.

Yet the reverse can equally be true.

An early goal can close the game down. One team is content to sit deep and counter attack. An opponent forced to answer the question of whether they can unlock the defence.

Atletico demonstrated such an approach last night.

Yet this was a highly entertaining game which witnessed a superb display of attacking prowess from Falcao combined with an excellent defensive performance from Atletico to stifle Athletic.

Atleti Fans Orgullosos – “Proud”

Line Ups

With only Tiago suspended, Simeone went with his expected line up in the usual 4-2-3-1 shape.

Meanwhile for Athletic, Amorebieta passed a late fitness test allowing Bielsa to select his strongest line up also. Athletic adopted a 4-3-3 shape.

Atletico vs Athletic – Starting Line Ups

The Opening Exchanges

For such an important game, the first few minutes were surprisingly open, both teams attempting to establish themselves although Atletico were clearly quicker to settle. Athletic were misplacing passes, a sign of what lay ahead for them.

Athletic had an early warning with Adrian’s header going wide. Arda crossed from the left, the Turkish international getting in behind Iraola.

Athletic have adopted a different style this season under Bielsa as outlined here with a key feature being the presence of Javi Martinez bringing the ball out from defence. Atletico recognised this and attempted to close him down and force Athletic to go long from the back.

Yet this initial approach was largely abandoned by Atletico and the structure of the game changed in the 9th minute when they took the lead.

Defensive Weakness Part 1: Falcao vs Martinez and Amorebieta

After scoring the winner in last year’s final, Falcao again delivered this year with two goals to finish the competition’s top goalscorer.

His excellent movement and workrate throughout the night continually caused the Athletic centre back pairing of Martinez and Amorebieta problems.

Falcao looked to pull the defensive pairing around the pitch, prepared to drop deep and hold the ball up before laying it off to a team mate or he would run onto forward passes always seeking to exploit the space between the Athletic centre back and his respective full back.

The opening goal was a clear example of this.

A loose ball was collected in midfield by Diego who released Falcao, who had pulled wide of Amorebieta. Aurtenexte was stranded in an advanced position and unable to provide any cover.

Once inside the penalty area, the Venezuelan International failed to close Falcao down sufficiently and allowed him to get his shot away which curled into the top corner.

In the 44th minute and 79th minute there were similar opportunities for Falcao, on both instances dragging Martinez wide before beating his opponent and creating chances for himself.

Falcao – Super Fun Slide Time

Changing Structure

The opening goal allowed Atletico to sit deeper and counter attack. Gabi and Suarez, in particular who had a very good game, operated just in front of the back four. Adrian and Arda offered support to their full backs yet always looked to move forward in support of Falcao. Diego remained central behind Falcao.

Atletico dropped off into their own half, only pressing Athletic when they crossed the halfway line. In the 24th minute during an Athletic attack, only Iraizoz was within the Athletic half. The closest Athletic player being Martinez on the halfway line.

Athletic Response

The response from Athletic failed to materialise in the first half. There was energy and workrate but it lacked focus and direction. The shape and balance of the team was wrong.

Muniain performed his normal role, initially starting on the left and drifting laterally but he increasingly took up a central position. When he did this, on occasion De Marcos or Herrara broke left but not consistently. As a result, the centre became clogged. There were too many players from both sides. As Atletico sat deep, there was no space behind the defence either.

De Marcos and Herrara were far too direct, immediately moving forward at pace and offering nothing between the lines, admittedly there was little space to enter given how compact Atletico were.

Susaeta strangely moved inside to a central position also. One of the successes of Athletic this season has been the strength of the right flank with Susaeta moving outside, pulling the full back across and Iraola or De Marcos bursting into the space created between the full back and centre back. Yet this rarely happened. Neither Aurtenexte or Iraola moved forward and linked with their respective wingers to any notable effect.

Llorente offered little movement but given the congested nature of the area in which he operated, the only space was to move deep and seek possession. A tactic which Muniain adopted as the half wore on.

Athletic lacked poise as everything became frantic, which was only heightened after the second goal was conceeded.

Defensive Weakness Part 2: Caught in Possession

On certain occasions when Atletico broke forward in the first half, they did press Athletic if there was sufficient presence in that area of the pitch and if the opportunity arose to press without compromising themselves to a counter attack.

One such occasion was in the 29th minute.

Amorebieta failed to clear the ball when he had the opportunity at the edge of the penalty area, preferring to look for a pass. Previously, under Caparros, at this juncture the ball would have been launched forward but with the new style of play under Bielsa, a pass is sought. Suarez closed him down, won the ball and released Arda who cut the ball back from the goal line and Falcao scored after executing a lovely drag back to wrong foot Aurtenexte.

Athletic Changes

Trailing 2-0 at half time, Bielsa responded with two substitutions. Inigo Perez replaced Aurtenexte and Ibai replaced Iturraspe.

Athletic retained their 4-3-3 shape with De Marcos moving to left back. Inigo Perez became the midfield sitter replacing the disappointing Iturraspe. Finally, Ibai took up the left wing berth which allowed Muniain to be stationed in a central attacking midfield position.

The start of the second half was disrupted by a number of fouls. Given their tendency to push players forward, Athletic are prone to being caught out by the counter attack. However the majority of the fouls were conceded by Atletico. No Athletic player conceded more than two fouls in the entire game but they still accumulated four cautions with three of these resulting from late tackles in dangerous areas as Atletico attacked.

Atletico conceded twenty five fouls during the game with Falcao responsible for seven. If the final was a showcase of his attacking abilities, it also provided ample evidence of his workrate for the team, something which had been questioned in some quarters previously.

The substitute, Ibai, offered more width on the left and a willingness to run at opponents but the overall passing of Athletic remained too slow.

Torqero was brought on in the 62nd minute as Herrera, already cautioned, and becoming increasingly frustrated, was removed.

This necessitated another alteration to the system. Muniain dropped deeper again which offered him the opportunity to run with the ball towards the Atletico defence.

There were now two strikers ahead of him but Atletico countered this with Suarez dropping between the centre backs when required to do so, providing three centre backs against the two strikers, always keeping a spare man at the back.

There were fleeting glimpses of Athletic’s ability now as the tempo increased and there were a number of scoring opportunities yet the threat of the counter attack was never sufficiently dealt with.

Adrian tripped by the backtracking Inigo Perez.

The Final Goal

The third goal for Atletico started as a counter attack initiated by Diego in his own half. Yet Diego collected the ball just inside the Athletic half and moved unchallenged towards the box where he moved past a cumbersome Amorebieta and scored the final goal.

The only challenge Diego had to evade en route was from the rapidly backtracking Torqero. The space in front of the centre backs, normally patrolled by Iturraspe had been vacated by Inigo Perez.


For Athletic, the same failings that have existed all season remain in position.

The space behind the full backs, who push so high, was exploited by Atletico throughout with diagonal balls being played to the flanks where Arda and, Adrian especially, offered an attacking threat. The centre backs when pulled wide to cover for the full backs, struggle one on one.

The vertical movement of Iturraspe between defence and midfield did not produce any positive outcomes with his passing weak throughout. Yet when replaced with Inigo Perez, who did provide more vertical movement, the gap in front of the centre backs became apparent. Perez received a caution for his late challenge as Atletico broke through the centre in the 75th minute. The warning was not heeded and 9 minutes later, Diego scored.

And finally, the real issue facing Athletic. How do they convert their possession into chance creation and ultimately, goals. Yet again, Athletic dominate an opponent in terms of possession, enjoying 69%, and have a territorial advantage and yet again, the opponent has more attempts at goal and walks away with victory.

Athletic and Bielsa must rectify this issue.

On a wider level, it raises the same issues which adversely affect all of Belsa’s teams to a certain degree. The lack of defensive stability and the issue of fatigue at key points in the season. A number of Athletic players appeared to be carrying niggling injuries or simlpy cannot raise the level of their performance to that which is required.

Athletic now have two weeks to recover before the Copa del Rey final. Assured of Europea League football next season, the opportunity to rest key players for their final league fixture this season is a welcome respite.

Bielsa & Simeone – Bielsa gave Simeone 30 Argentina caps.

For Atletico and Simeone, the season is already a huge success folliowing the brief, failed tenure of Manzano. There is one more game to navigate with the prize of champions League qualification at stake before the real work begins ahead of next season. When Simeone attempts to install some consistency into this talented side.

Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis

And so the wait continues for Atletico Madrid. It is now 23 games since they last beat Real Madrid in a league or cup game. The year was 1999, Spain still had peseta’s and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored the winning goal. What’s stranger still is that Atleti were relegated that season too.

Line Ups

Atleti came into the match on the back of a disappointing 2-0 away defeat at Levante. Three changes were made to the team with Falcao, Perea and Tiago being recalled as replacements for Salvio, Suarez and Miranda. The inclusion of Perea was clearly due to his pace, Simeone obviously aware of the Madrid counter attack.

Atleti varied from a 4-4-2 when defending with Arda wide left to a 4-3-3 when attacking. Arda pushing forward and Adrian moving to the right.


The Starting Line Ups

Mourinho made four changes to the Madrid line up following their 0-0 draw at home to Valencia. Ramos, Kaka, Di Mario and Coentrao all came into the starting line up at the expense of Albiol, Ozil, Higuain and Marcelo.

The changes for Madrid indicated that Mourinho expected a tougher game than normal. A front four of Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema and Higuain would have been too open and attacking away from home against a better quality opponent. Di Maria was recalled for his first start after injury. The workrate of Di Maria on the right and his ability to tuck into form a midfield trio with Alonso and Khedira when Madrid are under pressure is highly rated by Mourinho.

In addition to this, Coentrao replacing Marcelo at left back signalled a stronger defensive set up. The Portuguese international is more defensive minded than Marcelo and provides greater stability here but there is a reduction in the attacking potential of Madrid as a consequence.

Madrid went with their default 4-2-3-1.


First Half

Despite starting at a high tempo, the opening minutes were fairly tentative from both sides with little in the way of scoring opportunities. Madrid seemed quite content to ease themselves into the game gradually and were quite direct in the opening period, happy to play long diagonals to their forwards with little in the way of build up.

Atleti looked for combinations from their three central midfielders before pushing forward, Diego often trying to run forward in possession with Arda and Adrian breaking wide and supported by their respective full back. The majority of Atleti’s positive play though, was being conducted away from the Madrid goal. Linking with Falcao further up the pitch was an issue for them.

Wide vs Narrow?

Madrid were far too narrow in the first half. This was a similar problem to that which they faced against Valencia and it was partly remedied then by the introduction of Di Maria in the second half to provide width

Although positioned on the right, Di Maria continually drifted in-field during the first half. This enabled Felipe to run directly at Arbeloa without worrying about leaving space for a winger to exploit. Arbeloa struggled as Atleti attacked down the left via Felipe and supported by Arda. Without adequate covering help from Di Maria, Arbeloa was cautioned on 34minutes for a foul on Felipe.

The narrow approach also assisted Atleti with their three central midfielders successfully winning the ball and working it towards the wide areas. The central area was far too congested and contributed towards Madrid’s direct approach.

By contract, Atleti sought to get width into their game. The lack of attacking threat from Madrid’s full backs during the opening period allowed both Juanfran, but in particular, Felipe to push further forward and provide width to the Atleti attack, allowing Arda and Adrian to move closer to Falcao.

Atleti were patient in their build up play, working 1-2’s to create space for crosses into the box aiming for Falcao, whose presence had caused concerns for the Madrid defensive earlier on when they defended two set pieces badly. Coentrao had appeared a little nervous with two rash clearances from inside the penalty area and needlessly conceded a corner early on.


Second Half

Madrid introduced Ozil for Kaka at half time. A straight swap but Ozil was much more willing to drift from side to side and adopt wide positions as and when required. This would become more noticeable as the half wore on.

The goal for Atleti was as expected. They were patient with build up play, working space before Adrian delivered a cross which Falcao, unmarked, converted. Madrid had been unable to deal the aerial problem posed by Falcao and were duly punished. Also worth noting though that Falcao was the only Atleti player in the penalty area at that time. Despite the success of the goal, Falcao was still quite isolated with Atleti’s best work continuing outside of the penalty area.

The equaliser had an energising effect on Madrid who increased the intensity of their play. Both Coentrao and Arbeloa began to push forward and with Ozil appearing on both flanks, the threat from Juanfran and Felipe was declining. This consequently pulled Arda and Adrian wider, further isolating Falcao.

The Madrid Left

The relationship between Marcelo and Ronaldo is a key feature of Madrid attacks. Marcelo is very attack minded and his overlapping runs help create the space for Ronaldo to cut infield. If Marcelo does not overlap, Ronaldo is faced by a full back who can track him either inside or outside and possibly supported by a midfield colleague.

When Marcelo overlaps, the full back is forced to track either Marcelo or Ronaldo but clearly not both. This prevents opponents from doubling up on Ronaldo without leaving space elsewhere. This season, 38% of Madrid attacks have come down the left side of the pitch. This figure increases to 41% when you consider away games only.

The second Madrid goal was greatly aided by an attacking run from Coentrao. When Ronaldo took possession of the ball on the left, Coentrao overlapped. This forced Junafran away from Ronaldo and provided enough space for him to shift the ball before shooting.


Another ruthless performance from Madrid. Similarly to the recent game against Osasuna, Madrid were not at their best, however in front of goal they were clinical.

Madrid took the initiative following Atleti’s equaliser and Simeone failed to respond.

The influence of Diego was already on the wane in the second half when Ronaldo put Madrid 2-1 ahead. Similarly, Adrian and Arda were moving to far away from Falcao to provide width. How Simeone rectifies the issue of Falcao and his poor link play outside of the penalty area will be crucial for Atleti in the last few games of this season but more importantly, if they are to progress next season.

An important step for Madrid towards reclaiming the La Liga title.