It should really never be understated how impressive Diego Simeone’s tenure at Atlético Madrid has been. To maintain, across many years, a high degree of relevance – both domestically and on the European scene – is excruciatingly difficult in football. They’ve established themselves as clearly the third best team in La Liga, something that sounds like a backhanded compliment but really isn’t given the two juggernauts above them. Sure, they haven’t been especially close to winning the title since the year they achieved it but, again: Barcelona and Real Madrid.
This season though, things are starting to look a little dicey. It should be noted first off that there are a handful of slight concerns on the defensive site. Atléti are allowing a higher proportion of the opposition’s completed passes in their own final 18 yards – a measure they previously dominated – as well as allowing higher completion percentages than usual in zones closer to goal. Really though, these are pretty marginal and could easily be early season noise. The overall defensive numbers are fine. It’s on the other side of the ball where the clearest issues lie.
Defensive efficacy has always been Atléti’s bread and butter but you don’t maintain their level of competitive relevance without also having a potent attack. The drop off in this respect is sharp. 41% of their shots came from outside the box last season, that’s up to 50% this season (2nd highest % in the league). Where’s this stemming from then? A large portion of it can be found in their transition game. When you defend in a compact, relatively deep shape it’s imperative that you can break out and counter, lest you just spend the entire match defending. This season they’re struggling with that.
Similarly, there’s been a chunk shaved off the opportunities they get from turnovers closer to the opposition goal. Generating shots from winning the ball in these areas has never been a primary source for them, but they’ve squeezed bits out of it all the same.
Overall the speed just isn’t quite there.
If you give them the ball and treat them like a possession side they’re not so hot either. Last season they had the 8th most possessions that lasted 10 passes or longer, and the 6th most shots from those possessions. This season those numbers are just about the same: the 9th most of these possessions overall and also 9th in terms of shots from them. This would be fine production if the transition side were functioning as normal. It’s two flawed sides of the same coin right now.
Simeone’s a smart cookie. He’ll recognise all of this of course and has more than enough wherewithal to turn things around. It’s just that this is starting to feel like a lost season for the club. They’re already out of the Champions League at the group stages – barring some unlikely results – and their spot as Spain’s third best is under threat from a wildly improved Valencia (big love to my lad Marcelino). They’ll probably be fine come the season’s end, but for their first season in the new stadium (and possibly Simeone’s last in Madrid?) it’s all a bit anticlimactic.
Thanks you very much for taking the time out to give this a read. You can find me on Twitter @EuanDewar. Enjoy the week’s football!