Tell all your friends – Atletico Madrid aren’t a team that simply “parks the bus” anymore. Their 5-1 thrashing of UD Las Palmas last weekend is proof of that and the confusion surrounding Atleti’s tactical plan in last week’s draw against Girona is all but gone.
Los Rojiblancos are furthering their tactical transformation as one of the best pressing teams in Europe and Atletico fans everywhere are happy for it.
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) August 26, 2017
Young Argentine prospect Angel Correa was leading the forward line with Luciano Vietto after Antoine Griezmann was serving his red card suspension for last week’s antics, but that wasn’t the only difference in Atleti’s lineup. Thomas Partey, who was everyone’s Man of the Match, replaced Gabi in the pivot role while Diego Godin and Sime Vrsaljko came in for Stefan Savic and Juanfran.
Along with the new personnel came a familiar 16/17 season approach for Atleti – high-pressing – and it paid off big time. After five minutes, Correa and Yannick Carrasco were on the board and Las Palmas were in deep trouble.
Manolo Marquez’s men, still playing possession football, still in love with quick passing, were caught off guard and showed the weaknesses in their game plan. Poor management with the ball hurt them on both opening goals.
They’re still a team that is exciting to watch, but they play a brand of football that won’t produce a good fight for the title with the players they have. They don’t have enough firepower to reward all their possession (they finished with 62% possession to Atleti’s 38%) and they don’t possess a strong enough defence-to-midfield build-up to overcome opposition sides with good pressing play.
HT: 2-0 Atleti. Palmas struggling to break Atleti's counter-press in and can't break Atleti down in attacking half. #LasPalmasAtleti
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) August 26, 2017
The second-half, however, saw Las Palmas regain some more control and saw their possession-play pick up some decent creations, but Atleti’s low-block was too strong and the home side could only score one goal to end the match while Simeone’s outfit capitalised on a Koke brace (his first ever) and a Thomas effort from long-range.
2 – Koke Resurreccion has scored his first brace for Atletico in all competitions. Superb. pic.twitter.com/5Z42MJrHDE
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 26, 2017
All in all, this wasn’t new. For the second season in a row, Atleti went to Gran Canaria and put five on the hosts and arguably gave Thomas Partey his greatest ever social media exposure. The Ghana international has raised his stock with one phenomenal performance and Atleti fans couldn’t be happier.
Thomas Partey vs Las Palmas
90% pass accuracy
4 tackles won
Underrated midfielder. pic.twitter.com/VE6NPC5grN
— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) August 26, 2017
Anyway, the bulk of this tactical report will only be about Atleti’s high-press, counter-press, and their transitional play. So read on for annotated videos and breakdowns of those three phases of Atleti’s tactical model.
Atleti’s pressing phases of play
Right from the opening whistle, you could see that Atleti were going to press aggressively and their pace and energy were going to be a problem for Las Palmas.
However, it was their counter-press that proved most effective in the first two minutes with one particular counter-pressing phase leading to Correa’s opener. Below, you’ll find comprehensive videos explaining two core tactical phases:
1. Atleti counter-pressing.
2. How Atleti transition to attack once they have won back possession and how it changes depending on where the ball is won.
Atleti counter-press against Las Palmas
Atleti transitions | counter-press in midfield into direct attacking phase
Atleti transitions | counter-press in Palmas lower-third and Correa rotation for goal
Atletico’s zonal high-press against Las Palmas
Atletico’s high-press is a thing of wonder. It contains the perfect mix of zonal and man-orientated marking while setting up the occasional trap to manipulate the spaces and ball-movement in their favour.
The video below breaks down how Atleti’s 4-3-3 high-press works. I found this high-press interesting because Atletico deliberately left one of Palmas’ pivots open to trigger a zonal trap. Watch below.
The reason why Atleti often go long when building out the back
Loads of Rojiblanco supporters were upset with how Simeone deployed his side against Girona in the opening weekend of LaLiga, and while this 5-1 thrashing was the result of excellent pressing and counters, many fans are still complaining about their long-ball approach.
But, here is what those fans need to remember. Simeone likes to minimise risk and he sees defence-to-midfield build-ups as risky in terms of defensive shape. He feels Atleti would have more success playing the long-ball, winning the second-ball if needed, and attacking an unorganised defence that way.
The video below explains how Carrasco’s goal was the result of a second-ball and why Atleti chooses to go directly over teams that high-press them.
Atleti’s thrilling performance was a pleasure to watch given the fact that it illustrates Simeone’s desire to keep evolving and showed them actually finishing the chances that came their way in Gran Canaria.
It’ll be interesting to see just how far Atletico Madrid can go with their new arsenal of tactics and if it can work against tougher Spanish and European opposition.