Depor vs Atleti – Is the Great Escape Still on?

A game at the Riazor on Saturday evening which offered so much and yet delivered so little as both sides played out a fairly uneventful goalless draw.

Line Ups

Fernando Vasquez made a number of changes form the side which drew away to Real Betis. Both Silvio and Pizzi were unable to player against their parent club and were replaced by Camunas and Ayoze. With Aguilar unavailable, Bergantinos took his place and Castro started ahead of Kaka in central defence.

Deportivo vs Atletico Starting Line Ups

Deportivo vs Atletico Starting Line Ups

There were two changes for Atleti with Diego Costa being suspended, his replacement was Adrian. Rodriguez came in for Koke.

The change in personnel meant a change in system for Simeone’s men. Movement away from the 4-4-2 which they have utilised recently and back to the 4-2-3-1 which served them so well early in the season with Raul Garcia positioned behind Falcao.


The most striking feature of this game from just how narrow and clogged Depor were. The graphic below shows the average player positions for the game:-

Depor vs Atleti Influence

Depor vs Atleti Influence

Atleti tried to press at times but if they lost possession, they tended to drop off and regain shape. Occasionally they pressed but not with any real conviction.

There was an industriousness to Depor with players tracking back and working diligently closing space. The problem though is that when players track back, there is nobody in attack when they win the ball and thus the team were not really able to move high as a unit and exert real pressure on Atleti.

Atleti Dropping Deep

One of the important aspects behind Atleti’s success thus far, and particularly, early on in the season has been their ability to control space and limit the opposition from getting too close to their goal. It also means that Atleti are poised to counter attack quickly through short passing. The team sits in two banks of four and becomes difficult to break down.

The graphic below highlights the tackles both side attempted during the game. Whereas Depor are making tackles very deep within their half, Atleti are more structured in the tackles they make, almost forming a barrier:-

Depor vs Atleti Tackles

Depor vs Atleti Tackles

Atleti close opponents down and tackle midway inside their own half. The difference as the season has progressed as been that Atleti have dropped off opponents much quicker to regain shape.

Look at how the tackles above compare to when the two sides met at the Calderon back in December:-

Atleti vs Depor Tackles 091212

Atleti vs Depor Tackles 091212

Atleti were making far more tackles in their opponents half of the field. True, Atleti have been more conservative away from home but dropping deeper present a couple of problems. Firstly, it isolates Falcao and moves away from the side being compact and having quick, short passes being interchanged. Secondly, it limits the ability to hit on transitions with much further to travel to the opponents goal.

The use of Diego Costa has facilitated this change with the side deeper and hitting more long passes towards the front man for him to pursue into the channels. Strange as it may seem having said that, Atleti could have done with the Brazilian on Saturday evening even if it was just for some of his more unsavoury habits to win up the opposition and gain a slight advantage.

Lack of Attacking Threat

This game was bogged down in the middle of the pitch with neither side really offering any creative outlet. Even Valeron was unable to inspire with the central area so crowded.

There were only three attempts on target in the whole game, all from Depor and all from outside of the penalty area as shown on the graphic below:-

Depor vs Atleti Shots

Depor vs Atleti Shots

Godin had Atleti’s best chance in the 27th minute but hesitated and Castro was able to block. Los Rojiblancos could not pressure a nervous looking Depor defence in the early stages of the game with the experienced Aranzubia looking particularly susceptible.

Valeron was slightly deeper for a Depor side who clearly missed Aguilar’s ability to recycle possession timeously. Without the Colombian, Bergantinos was an adequate replacement defensively but unable to construct attacks leaving a void to be filled. Camunas could not offer the attacking verve of Pizzi, operating further back with subsequent loss of balance for Depor.

These factors combined with the problems which Atleti were experiencing as detailed above and the game moved towards a midfield stalemate and the inevitable scoreless draw.

Moving on up?

Depor are now undefeated in their last seven league games with four wins and three draws yet this superb run of form has been unable to lift them clear of the relegation zone with surrounding teams also enjoying favourable results. And it’s been three draws in a row now for Depor. Are they losing momentum at the wrong moment?

The next two games must see Depor collect points away to Valladolid and at home to Espanyol. After this the Galicians finish with Malaga and Real Sociedad. Teams who will still have something to play for.

For Atleti, the season is begging to fizzle out. Simeone must keep his men sharp ahead of the Copa del Rey final and some rotation would not go amiss at this stage. Rotation which could, coincidentally, aid Depor’s Galician neighbours with Atleti facing Celta next.

Simeone knows the areas he must address for next season; the lack of creativity from the central area. It’s a tricky situation to get right however as he must find a creative player who can play at the same tempo of the team during transitions and not alter the dynamic.