The Beginning of the End?

It was always going to happen. It was only a matter of time. That’s the When. The other variables to consider were the Where and the Who. Both would likely be connected. Some had previously guessed answers. Wrongly. And here we were. Still awaiting the When that would provide us with the Where and Who. The great and the good had arrived as guests, were vanquished and departed. There were welcoming arrivals on foreign shores too. Still nothing. We waited. It would come. Time moved on. And then it arrived. 10th October 2014. That’s the When. The Where was a less than salubrious location. Picturesque but not grand. The stadium under the hill. The Duben hill to be precise. The home of MSK Zilina in north western Slovakia. For some it was a new sensation. For three individuals, this had occurred before. Casilas, Iniesta and Fabregas. They had experienced this sensation before. A defeat in a qualifying game. 35 games and 8 years since the last defeat in qualifying. Then it was Sweden. Now it was Slovakia.

We know the When, the Where and the Who but Why? That’s the question.

For so long, selecting the Spanish side took care of itself. The spine of the team arrived from Barcelona with key personnel from arch rivals Real Madrid. One or two others took the final places. The first XI took care of themselves. That Barcelona were leaned upon so heavily enabled the seamless transfer of their style of play to the national set up complemented by the likes of Xabi Alonso offering his long range passing in midfield. The building blocks were positioned. And almost permanent.

Now though, the spine of that has been removed. Not incrementally but immediately. The lynchpin and the fulcrum of the side has departed. Xavi Hernandez has retired. Add to this the loss of Xabi Alonso, Carles Puyol, David Villa and the decline of Casillas and Torres and the issue is brought sharply into focus. Yet for each of the players mntioned thus far there is an able deputy, willing to take up the vacated slot. One position remains to be filled.  There is nobody sitting in deep midfield to cajole and prompt. We are left with a plethora of central attacking midfielders shoehorned into the side at the expense of both width, and more importantly, a clear idea. For the incorporation of that Barcelona spine brought a clear ideology to la Roja, exemplified by Xavi, who sat deeper and was able to dictate play. Now Spain has plenty of possession but no clear vision of the game. They are not in control. Moments arrive on the back of individual play as opposed to the collective.

Now, we see the Spanish side drawn form a number of teams, each with their own competing ideals. The passing of Barcelona is still there, the influence of Real Madrid has reduced and we have the counter attacking, combative element from Atleti. There is no clear defining idea now. No winner amongst the competing ideologies. The mix has become wider, the style blurred. And we arrive at the central dilemma for Spain now. It’s not about the style they pursue, that much is obvious. The central tenant of play that brought them this far will remain in place but evolution is needed. Therein lies the issue. Who will be the man that leads Spain to find that revised style.

Many labelled Spain’s exit from the World Cup as the final nail in the coffin of tiki taka. An assertion that is sensationalist, lazy and wrong. You don’t overthrow your entire footballing philosophy because of a few performances. This style of play, the possession dominated short passing of Spain, has brought la roja this far. It needs further evolution and not a revolution. The style has to adapt.

Sadly, I doubt that Vicente del Bosque is that man. A loyal coach and a man who has overseen a period of unprecedented success following on from Aragones. A coach who will remain faithful to the men he trusted time and time again to deliver for Spain but he probably went too far this time. A period of adjustment was required, ideally during the qualification for this World Cup. A time for the gradual adaptation of the squad. Changes were needed but these were limited and constrained.

The inclusion of Diego Costa has been a grave error. It led to Spain beginning to abandon their style and beliefs as they tried to hit long through balls for Costa to run down. No other side at the 2014 World Cup attempted as many through balls as Spain, averaging 10 per game. It’s a convenient falsehood and lends weight to those who would support this argument. It ignores the fact that the through balls have always been a part of the Spanish game. Remember Torres running onto a pass to score in the Euro 2008 Final? Or Jordi Alba running behind Italy to latch onto another through ball in the Euro 2012 Final? At Euro 2012, Spain averaged 15 attempted through balls per game, higher than the World Cup in Brazil.

The problem is teams sit so deep against Spain that space in behind is at a premium. Costa has little room to work. The challenge for Spain is enabling Costa to find that space. The formation needs altered to help create the space for Costa to thrive in. With no dictating force in midfield, the play will inevitably be a little more direct. And chaotic. Nobody is organising. Nobody is taking control. And players all fight to occupy the centre ground.

The problems have existed for some time now and become clearer with each passing game irrespective of the final outcome. Poor opposition can be overcome through individual moments of quality but that cannot be sustained. Defeat in Slovakia was followed with a comfortable win for a young Spanish side in Luxembourg. Early promise, however, must be tempered by the quality of the opposition on this occasion.

The first decision to be made surrounds del Bosque and if he is the correct man to take Spain forward once more. Were it not for limited alternatives, I suspect he would have already departed. The second issue revolves around squad selection. Some players, irrespective of how talented they are individually, need to be removed and replaced by technically inferior players but players who can help provide the correct balance for the squad. The experiment with a team packed full of midfielders is over. It’s time to move on. The question is When?

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Madrid vs Atleti – Where and When

Atletico Madrid claim their first victory over neighbours Real Madrid in the league since 1999. The margin of victory doesn’t reflect the superiority of Atleti during the game. This could easily have finished with a two or three goal winning margin to Atleti.

Line Ups

Ancelotti started with Di Maria on the right with Bale deemed fit enough only for the bench. Despite his poor recent form, Karim Benzema once again started in the striking role. The side lined up in a 4-4-2 with Ronaldo in attack and Isco operating from the left side of midfield.

Starting Line Ups

Starting Line Ups

Simeone named arguably his strongest starting eleven with the exception of Tiago replacing the unavailable Mario in central midfield. Atleti lined up in a clear 4-4-2 with Villa and Costa as the strikers, a clear difference from the 4-5-1 adopted by Simeone against Barcelona and one that illustrated El Cholo’s belief that his side could match Madrid in midfield. A clear statement that the side had no inferior complex with the Copa del Rey victory lifting a significant psychological burden from the side.

This game was all about Atleti implementing Simeone’s plan to near perfection.

Atleti System

In his brief spell in charge thus far, still under two years, Simeone has overseen a remarkable transformation in Atleti as they have become one of the most well drilled and disciplined teams in Europe. A counter attacking side, Atleti can struggle when they are required to take the initiative evidenced by the fact that since the beginning of last season there have only been seven league games where Atleti have enjoyed more possession than their opponent. Yet they have won just once, the recent 2-1 home victory over Osasuna.

Yet when the opponent moves onto Atleti, the side are resilient, organised and able to withstand pressure as they control space so effectively:-

Tackles

Tackles

The graphic above provides a glimpse into how Atleti press their opponents. Although Atleti make the vast majority of their tackles and interceptions in a band midway inside their own half of the pitch, the most interesting feature from Atleti is not the “where” but the “when”. If the side have advanced, Atleti will press an opponent who receives the ball facing his own goal or not fully in control of the ball. The only goal on Saturday was the perfect example. Di Maria took a heavy touch and allowed Filipe Luis to close him down midway inside the Madrid half. When the full back won the resulting tackle, Koke slipped the ball through a disorganised Madrid defensive line and Costa scored the winning goal.

Whilst the Madrid defensive line was uneven, this is sharply contrasted by how well organised Atleti are. If they cannot win the ball high up the pitch, they quickly retreat and regain their position. Did Madrid ever have a quick counter attack against Atleti during the game? No, Atleti recover so quickly and seldom get caught out during games with transitions. If no opportunity arises to press, the side drop off.

The graphic below shows the interceptions made by Atleti:-

Interceptions

Interceptions

Again, the line of interceptions across the middle of the Atleti half of the pitch is clearly visible and owes much to the manner of Atleti’s pressing combined with a huge work ethic by the side.

Atleti quickly fell back into two deep, narrow banks of four with little space between the lines. The space is on the flanks and opponents are able to find space here. When the ball went wide on Saturday, both Arda and Koke supported their respective full back. They were also aided by either Villa and Costa to help produce a triangle of pressure on Madrid. If Atleti cannot win the ball here, the passing lanes are closed off and with such little space between the lines, Madrid are forced to move back infield. What occurs is an opponent playing a series of lateral passes. This was strengthened by Benzema repeatedly moving deep and not sufficient movement from the midfield area into the Atleti penalty area.

This tactic is initially defensive by Atleti by it can quickly become an attacking tactic. A lateral pass is far more dangerous than a vertical pass and Atleti made numerous interceptions of lateral passes aided by Madrid recycling the ball slowly in possession. When they recover the ball, Atleti pounce.

The final graphic below details the defensive clearances in the game. Again, Atleti make numerous clearances from a central area:-

Clearances

Clearances

It’s also worth noting how there were just two clearances from inside the six yard area and the area out to the penalty mark was relatively clear compared with Madrid who had to make a number of clearances. Madrid simply did not put enough pressure on the central defensive pairing of Godin and Miranda until the introduction late on of Morata.

The above outlines Atleti’s defensive strength, the side also possesses a counter attack that is becoming increasingly potent led by a man who has stepped out of the formidable shadow left by the departure of Falcao. Indeed, the pre season murmurings focused on how Atleti would cope without Falcao. Who would score their goals. September is just ending but we already have the answer.

Diego Costa

Is there a player that is loved more by his own fans whilst being despised and vilified by opposing players and fans than Diego Costa? The frontman produced an excellent performance with his unselfish running into the channels a key aspect as he caused Ramos and Pepe numerous problems which often resulted in him winning free kicks and relieving the pressure on the side:-

Diego Costa Fouls

Diego Costa Fouls

Costa led the line throughout combining his physical attributes with some lovely play including the improvisation that saw him loft a pass from the goal line back to Arda who shot over the bar.  Always looking to run off the shoulder of the last defender or able to hold up the ball acting as a reference point and ably supported by the second line of attack.

Last season Falcao spoke of competing with Messi and Ronaldo for the Pichichi but never managed to. Costa is presently level on goals with Messi.

Madrid Issues

Ancelotti has issues to resolve at Madrid. The Italian will know this as he has sought to overhaul the playing style, moving away from the reactive counter attacking style developed under Mourinho to a style that is comfortable in possession. Along the way there will be problems which the side are demonstrating currently and which are most manifest in attack.

Madrid now have Ronaldo and Bale in the side, both superbly talented players but both players who like to run with the ball and move into space. They are joined by Isco, a player who wants to help build play and Benzema, a striker who looks short on confidence and who drops deep seeking possession. The outcome is a front four that is unbalanced and lacks a presence in the opposition penalty area.

One of the biggest problems is the movement of the attacking players is not counter balanced by the intelligent movement of Ozil to fill in the void created by the likes of Ronaldo moving out of position. It leaves the attack uneven.

The midfield pairing of Illarramendi and Khedria didn’t work. When they sat too deep, Atleti had space to play in with pressing non existent amongst the Madrid forward players and when they pressed high it opened up a gap between them and the defence which Atleti tried to get into. Illarramendi was sacrificed for Modric at half time but he failed to build play sufficiently with Madrid still playing long passes and bypassing him at times.

The introduction of Bale at half time didn’t bring any alteration to the game. Both Bale and Di Maria well marshalled well by Filipe Luis who moved high up the pitch to offer width enabling Koke to move more centrally and influence proceedings.

The Futures Red and White?

Seven wins from seven league games and Atleti sit joint top of the league and the inevitable question arises again of whether Atleti can sustain a challenge for the title. Simeone has repeatedly, and correctly, stated that Atleti are at a massive financial disadvantage compared against the big two. There is a significant gulf in available resources. Yet on the pitch, Simeone has narrowed the gap. The only question that remains to be seen is whether Simone can eliminate the gap completely. The coming months will provide the answer.

Sevilla vs Atleti – Some Thoughts

Atleti left the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan with full points after a disappointing game which was tetchy, lacked any real flow and neither side was able to provide the quality required to make the difference until Raul Garcia’s shot was flicked home in the 75th minute.

Line Ups

With no Gary Medel to anchor the midfield, Emery went with Kondogbia and Rakitic as the double pivot and Reyes as the central point in the attacking trident behind Negredo. It never really worked with Reyes having a limited impact upon the game.

Sevilla vs Atleti Starting Line Ups

Sevilla vs Atleti Starting Line Ups

Simone opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation with Diego Costs supporting Falcao in attack. It was very familiar from Atleti. Maintain shape and control space whilst waiting to exploit Sevilla on the transitions.

Lack of Flow

As stated earlier, this game never really developed any real flow. There were a number of petulant fouls conceded and many further incidents of players going to ground easily trying to win free kicks etc. There were 30 fouls in the game and 6 cautions with 5 of these going to the away side.

Despite the nature of the game, Sevilla only collected a solitary caution, surprising given their extremely poor disciplinary record in the league this season that has seen them collect 12 red cards already. Suspensions have cost them dearly this season.

Whilst many players become infuriated by a disrupted game, unable to develop any rhythm, there are those players who thrive in such circumstances and only add to the situation through their own calculated behaviour. Diego Costa is one such individual.

Anger Management

Diego Costa has earned quite a reputation this season to the extent that the LFP have offered to provide him with anger management classes, seemingly in an effort to curb the worst excesses of this behaviour. Somewhere along the way, everyone seems to have overlooked the quality that Costa can offer the team and also the small issue that Costa may actually enjoy performing such a role on the pitch. Why? It works.

The Brazilian, who has recently received his first two caps for his country, possess that rare quality. The ability to infuriate opponents through his demeanor, attitude and general play acting which often overlooks his quality.

Costa has weighed in with seven goals and six assists in the league so far this season but his caution count is more impressive standing at 10. Against Sevilla he was fairly quiet in terms of his quality committing one foul and being fouled twice.  He completed 9 passes from 12 attempted and managed just a single shot at goal which was off target.

Yet he was still the focus with his play acting after he and Navarro went head to head in the second half.

Some may say that Costa has to eradicate these unsavoury elements from his game if he is to reach the next level but there is most definitely a case to be made that those same elements are what makes Diego Costa so successful in the first place.

The Game

Much of what happened could have been easily predicted before the start. Sevilla controlled possession with 62% as Atleti dropped into their usual format away from home, retaining their shape and allowing the opposition to come forward.

Sevilla completed 468 passes from 576 attempted but the pass statistics from Atleti are surprising. Despite having just 38%, Atleti only made 134 successful passes form 194 attempted. The men from Madrid were very direct, going long as soon as possible. Simone is an advocate of doing something with the ball when you have it but this is still an extremely direct approach to take.

Yet Simeone would not have been concerned. For the first 75 minutes despite having so much possession, Sevilla could only manage seven attempts at goal with just one shot on target. The side were lacking in the final third with no real ideas and Negredo, in the first half especially, not linking with the rest of the team. The frontman made just three successful passes in the first half. He lacked mobility. The home side managed a further six shots at goal in the final 15 minutes as Atleti fell deeper to protect their slim advantage but just two shots were on target. Courtois was never placed in any real difficulties.

The poor forward play was also visible on the Atleti side too as the visitors had one shot on target in the entire game and scored.

The problem for Sevilla was in originating in the midfield are.

Sevilla Midfield

With Medel missing and Maduro on the bench, Emery went with Kondogbia as the deepest midfielder alongside Rakitic who could move higher. The problem was that this removed Rakitic’s passing from the final third and Reyes simply offered too little in an attacking sense.

The graphic below shows the Croatian’s passes:-

Rakitic Passes

Rakitic Passes         http://www.squawka.com

Sevilla needed Rakitic higher up the pitch and could have removed Reyes fro Maduro earlier, allowing Kondogbia to become more of a box to box midfielder. This trio may have been more effective.

Yet compare Rakitic against the Atleti central duo of Gabi and Mario. The duo completed 42 passes form 48 attempted, considerably less than Rakitic did on his own. Creation is not their role though. They are there to shield the back four. To always be in position. Gabi and Mario made 5 successful tackles from 6 attempted and completed 5 interceptions. Their job is primarily destructive and provides the platform for the team to play and they are highly effective at their occupation within the Atleti set up.

Conclusions

The possibility of a European place for Sevilla was always a long shot but it’s now almost certainly over. Their away form is very poor and they had to secure maximum points from their home games if they were to have any hope of clinching a place.

Atleti now have the ideal opportunity to move into second place in the league and end a horrendous run of form stretching back to last century against their cross city rivals when they host Madrid at the Calderon on Saturday evening. Just three points separates the sides but Madrid must contend with a Champions League semi final either side of the derby.

Week 18 Observations

A few observations from the key games played this weekend in La Liga:-

Deportivo 1 Malaga 0

A defeat for Malaga in a game they dominated in terms of possession yet still relied heavily upon goalkeeper Willy Cabellero to help them out with some key saves. Cabellero again demonstrating why he leads the race for the Zamora.

Malaga now face Barcelona at home before eminently winnable games against Celta, Mallorca and Real Zaragoza.

The noteworthy element of this game, however, arrived via Deportivo with new coach Domingos Paciencia securing a much needed three points in his first match in charge of the Galicians. Having spent the bulk of his career in Portugal, his first managerial appointment in Spain has the bonus of being in charge of a squad with a considerable Portuguese contingent.

Paciencia utilised the same system as his predecessor Oltra with a 4-2-3-1 with one key difference. Juan Carlos Valeron was on the substitutes bench. Was this a tactical ploy or a technical reason?

At the age of 37, Valeron is very much in the twilight of his career. The mind and the skills are still as sharp as ever even if his legs began failing him a long time ago. Within a squad marked by limited quality, Valeron is still a standout. The statistics verify this. Valeron has the highest number of assists this season with four whilst he averages 2.1 key passes per game. In terms of the number of passes, he is second only to Aguillar.

Perhaps it’s what Valeron does not provide you with that Paciencia, a coach who believes in defensive solidity and hard work as a base, values. Valeron has made just one tackle and committed just one foul this season. Not attributes for a team fighting relegation. And then there’s Valeron’s weary limbs again.

True, Valeron has completed 90 minutes on just two occasions this season but a player of his quality cannot be overlooked.

Whatever the reason for his omission at the weekend, if Depor are to avoid relegation then a player of Valeron’s quality will have a role to play in that battle, even if it is only fleeting moments.

Real Madrid 4 Real Sociedad 3

Forget the inclusion of Adan in goal again for Real Madrid. Forget about his red card and the arrival, to rapturous applause, of Iker Casillas after just six minutes. Forget about the two Ronaldo goals.

Instead focus on one thing. The inability of Real Sociedad to take advantage of a a Real Madrid side lacking cohesion, reduced to 10 men for around 84 minutes of the game and with a makeshift defence.

This was a game marked by conflict within La Real. Arrive at the Santiago Bernabeu with little in the way of expectation or hope and concede a sloppy goal in the opening moments of the game. Yet after just six minutes you are presented with a glorious chance to equalise and then to seize the initiative in the game.

Hang on though. You would have gladly taken a point before your arrival. Now with an extra man, you could pretend you are still paying 11 men and just hold on for a point? And therein lay the problem. La Real failed to take the opportunity. Their desire to avoid defeat significantly outweighed their ambition to win.

Madrid retreated into a low defensive block after conceding the first equaliser yet Sociedad failed to retain a high tempo to their own game. Initailly playing with greater verve, they allowed the game to drift by. The game often had the feel of a training game with Madrid content to defend deep and strike during quick tranisitions.

Despite falling behind for a second time, Prieto once more drew Sociedad level and at half time, the onus was on Montanier to guide his troops towards a massive victory. The Basques could not take that next step. The choice between a more concerted attacking strategy possibly negated by the threat of Madrid on transitions.

“For me, this was a unique opportunity to achieve something here, but we did not deserve to because we played a bad game defensively. We have made many technical mistakes, we lost a lot of possession. We gave too many chances for Madrid to counter-attack”

And so Madrid secured the three points.

Mallorca 1 Atletico Madrid 1

No Falcao equals no three points for Atletico. Or is that simplifying matters too much?

A weakened Atleti team managed to control the game and create and spurn a number of chances before Raul Garcia prodded the ball home for the opening goal midway through the second half. At that stage, a second Atleti goal seemed the most likely outcome yet Caparros men struck back with Kevin scoring the equaliser in the 87th minute.

“El Cholo” Simeone was considerable in his praise for the side however, one more referring to the physical qualities which he spoke of when he took the hot seat at the Calderon back in December 2012:-

“The game is not won by just the football played, but for the attitude, the intensity, the game situations, I have nothing to say about the team because they played a complete game”

The game also demonstrated that Atleti have the skillset to control a game with possession and still create chances. Considered a counter attacking team, Atleti enjoyed 56% possession with 15 attempts at goal.

Atleti maintain a five point leads over Madrid but there has been a stutter in their recent form with two wins, two defeats and a draw now in their last five league games.

For Caparros, the rot appears to have stopped. After a horrendous run of form which has seen the Islanders collect just six points from their last 13 league games, they now have a win and draw in their last two games.

Key issues remain to be resolved. With 131 chances created from their opening 17 league games, Mallorca need to improve their attack and quickly. Only Levante has created less but their defence is not as porous. Shut the back door and Mallorca should survive. Leave it open and it could be a long end to the season.

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid – Tactical Analysis

After all the talking, after all the hype, after the 21,000 Atleti fans who turned up to watch their side’s final training session, after the Mourinho press conferences, this was it. The first derbi el madrileno of the season. Possibly one of the most important derby’s in some time. And one in which Atleti went, yet again, in search of that elusive victory against their more illustrious rivals.

Everyone knows the background to Atleti’s last derby win. It really was 1999 the last time Atleti were victorious and it really was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring in that game.

Atleti went into this game on form and with an eight point lead over Madrid in the table. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Madrid took all three points in an awful game illuminated only by a few fleeting moments of magic from Ronaldo.

Line Ups

Mourinho named arguably his strongest starting line up for the game, retaining faith in the side that had lost 1-0 away to Real Betis the previous week.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Diego “El Cholo” Simeone’s plans were disrupted before kick off when Filipe Luis suffered an injury during the warm up. Although he declared himself fit, Simeone was unwilling to run the risk of a greater lay off as a consequence of his participation. Cata Diaz came in at left back.

Atleti Starting Line Up

Atleti Starting Line Up

The only other change for Simeone was the return of Mario following a suspension. Tiago dropped to the bench.

Atleti started with the same 4-4-2 formation which had comfortably seen off Sevilla 4-0 in their last league outing.

The Game

This was a game which was instantly forgettable in so many respects. A game that never developed with neither side showing any real guile or craft until the latter stages when Madrid led 2-0. With both sides noted for their counter attacking abilities and preference to allow their opponent to open up and attack them, the opening goal was always going to be crucial. Yet there were a few bright interludes amidst a scrappy, niggly game.

Atleti started brightly if not cohesively when in possession. Both Gabi and Mario were prepared to support their attackers and press Madrid in defence to try and create more of a long ball style game, something which would suit Atleti with a number of their players superior aerially. Too often they went direct seeking their strike pairing.

On the few occasions that Madrid had to defend free kicks towards their penalty area, they held a very high line to prevent Atleti players being able to head at goal. If they lost the initial header, Madrid would still be able to compete or the second ball.

Madrid were unable to get their forward players involved in the game. Ozil feeding Benzema after 28 minutes was one of the few occasions when they found space behind the Atleti pairing of Gabi and Mario.

The one moment which lit up a drab first half was the opening goal by Ronaldo. Arda Turan inexplicably handballed around 25 yards from goal in a central position enabling Ronaldo to strike a perfect free kick up and over the wall for the opening goal. The expression on Casillas face when the goal was scored said everything about it.

And the second half continued in a similar vein. Petulant fouls were the order of the day with both sides cancelling each other out. Atleti struggled to get support forward to Falcao and Costa whilst Madrid were unable to break Atleti down with space between Atleti’s compact lines at a premium.

The key point in the second half again involved Ronaldo. Miranda missed a header near the halfway line enabling Ronaldo to gather possession. The Portuguese initial pass to Benzema was blocked but he cleverly reversed the ball to Ozil who was free to score Madrid’s second goal. Although he had a relatively quiet night in terms of the quality of his overall performance, Ronaldo’s contribution was still pivotal.

The goal changed the dynamic of the game with Atleti having to open up more and chase the game. The player who benefited the most from this was the goalscorer himself, Ozil.

Ozil’s Involvement

With Atleti very compact, space between the lines was scarce in the first half of this game and consequently, Ozil toiled to gain a foothold in the game.

The graphics below show his first and second half passes:-

Mesut Ozil 2nd Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 2nd Half Passes                                         http://www.squawka.com

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes                                            http://www.squawka.com

Ozil was forced to operate too deep in the first half, unable to break through Atleti’s lines and closely marked but in the second half with Atleti beginning to push forward more and with their players tiring, there was greater space available to move into. Ozil was now playing higher and making passes in the final third of the pitch. His perfectly weighted pass following a quick Madrid transition late in the game saw Ronaldo hit the post. It was one of the few counter attacks with real venom from either side.

Atleti Left

One of the key areas of the Atleti team is the left wing with the forward runs of Luis Filipe from left back. In league games, approximately 42% of all Atleti attacks originate on the left side.

Cata Diaz Heat Map vs Real Madrid

Cata Diaz Heat Map vs Real Madrid     http://www.squawka.com

The use of centre back Cata Diaz as a makeshift left back created an imbalance in the Atleti team. Cata Diaz seldom pushed into the Madrid half to support Arda and naturally, gravitated towards the centre of the defence leaving Atleti narrow on the left. Should Simeone have used Cisma at left back? He would have been a more natural fit for the side. The inclusion of Cata Diaz created a real problem for Arda Turan. He was forced to undertake greater defensive responsibilities and offered little in a attacking role.

Arda Turan Passes vs Real Madrid

Arda Turan Passes vs Real Madrid          http://www.squawka.com

In his 77 minutes on the pitch, Arda completed just 9 passes from an attempted 13. A brief switch to the right flank was marginally successful but left Koke with the same problem on the left.

It was somewhat fortunate that Atleti were facing Arbeloa, a conservative full back, and Di Maria, an inverted winger and the defensive duties of Arda and Cata Diaz were never stretched but it came at the price of attacking verve. And with Atleti playing a front two, there was nobody in midfield able to shuffle across and lend Arda some assistance.

With Arda pushed back, who would supply the front pairing?

Diego Costa

The inclusion of Diego Costa was something of a surprise move by Simone. His inclusion meant that Atleti moved to a more orthodox 4-4-2 as had been deployed against Sevilla the previous weekend. This is a departure from the tried and tested 4-2-3-1.

If Atleti were going to maximise the ability and potential of both Costa and Falcao, they needed to get the ball forward but too often Atleti resorted to long hopeful balls rather than moving the ball wide and delivering crosses into the box via Koke and Arda. Just as Atleti had failed to support Falcao in the 4-1 home defeat last season, they again failed to support Falcao and Costa with no service from the flanks. For a side that relies heavily upon crosses, averaging 25 per game, Atleti only attempted 11 crosses. With limited possession and poor passing (only 190 successful passes from 302 attempted) Falcao and Costa were left to forage upon meager scraps.

Last season, whilst on loan at Rayo Vallecano, Diego Costa had produced an excellent performance against Real Madrid causing their central defensive partnership numerous problems that evening despite Rayo losing 1-0.

It appears that El Cholo believed that Costa could replicate that performance again but it failed to arrive. Costa should have been removed at half time with Adrian or Emre introduced to gain a better balance in midfield with support for Arda. Instead, Diego Costa remained on the pitch with a performance that is best summarised by an ongoing display of petulance towards his opponent, participating in a number of petty feuds across the pitch with whoever would indulge him. Sadly, given the importance of the occasion, too many players on both sides were prepared to become pre-occupied with committing fouls.

Lack of Rhythm

Important games seldom begin fluently, rather they take time to develop with either side keen to test their adversary before finding a sense of rhythm and patterns of play developing. At the Bernabeu last night, this was lacking:-

Madrid vs Atleti - Fouls

Madrid vs Atleti – Fouls                                                  http://www.squawka.com

A total of 42 fouls were awarded during the game with the most surprising feature being the leniency shown by referee Undiano Mallenco. The game rarely developed beyond a few passes before any flow was disrupted.

Conclusions

Madrid secure a 2-0 victory but were the real winners Barcelona? They maintain their 11 point advantage over Madrid but now enjoy a more comfortable 6 point lead over Atleti in 2nd place.

In a game that was instantly forgettable except for the Ronaldo free kick, the victory was the only thing that mattered and Madrid secured this. Will any Madridista’s complain about the quality of the victory if this is the catalyst to push on in the pursuit of Barcelona? No, the pragmatic will realise this is another 3 points in the bank and an incredibly important 3 points at that.

And so the wait continues for Atleti. Another year passes without a win against their great rivals. And Simeone awaits his first taste of victory against Madrid. Having never beaten them during his time playing, he now has two defeats in his short time as Atleti manager. El Cholo must ensure there is no hangover from this defeat. They still enjoy a 5 point lead over Madrid and have enjoyed a superb 12 month period under the stewardship of the Argentinean. They must remain focused and continue to perform as they have done so far if they have any intention of disrupting the hegemony of the big two in Spain.

All statistics and graphics taken from http://www.squawka.com