Last weekend Atletico travelled to Seville to face Betis. Since the appointment of Quique Setien as the new manager, Betis Sevilla is a pretty interesting team to watch. Setien worked quite successful at Las Palmas, implementing a good working possession game with many principles of positional play. The same playing style Setien tries to implement at Betis as well. Against Atletico they showed how dominant they can play and how good they are in overplaying a high pressing. However, Betis lacked the quality up-front, they could create some chances but were not able to convert one of those. The main issue in their offensive play is the injury problems. Without a real striker, Betis lacked an option in the box for crosses or a player who can secure the ball up-front on a regular basis. In the end they lost this game against Atletico, but they were very impressive in the way they played that game. Betis was the dominant team while Atletico used their defensive quality to secure the win.
Quique Setien lined-up his team in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1, however, the formation never really locked like that, especially in possession. Adan played in goal, while the back-four in front of him included former Valencia player Barragan on the right, Mandi and Zou Feddal as centre backs and Durmisi on the left full-back position.
Andres Guardado played in front of the back-four. Guardado got supported by Fabian who often fall next to the two centre backs on the right side to form a back-three with Feddal and Mandi during build-up phase. Ryan Boudebouz was the other central midfielder and interpreted his position more offensively. Normally he positioned between Atletico´s defence and their midfielders, when Atletico pressed higher he often got deeper to support the defenders.
Joaquin as always played in an inverted role on the right side, regularly positioning in the right halfspace between the lines. Tello on the left side was more passive in the combination play but as well as striker Sergio Leon he positioned in the space between defence and midfield of the opponent.
On the other side Diego Simeone lined-up his team in his classic 4-4-2 which sometimes could switch into a 4-3-3. Jan Oblak played in goal, in front of him Diego Godin and Savic paired up as the two centre-backs, while Filipe Luis played on the left full-back position and Vrsaljko played on the right side.
In front of them Saul and Gabi were the two central midfielders. Depending on the formation Partey sometimes played also in midfield while in other scenes he was positioned on the right side. Koke played on the left side and supported the two attackers Gameiro and Correa, who also could play on the right side in some scenes.
What happened before Atletico´s lead
The game can easily be divided into two parts. The strategy before and after Atletico´s lead. During the whole game Betis Sevilla had a lot of possession while Atletico mainly defended and tried to be dangerous through counter attacks which were rare opportunities in this game.
Atletico tried to press higher up the pitch before the first goal, Betis always plays with a bit of a risk because they try to solve all situations through combinations. Simeone hoped to win the ball near the opposition goal, therefore, he let his team press Betis during their build-up phase. As always, they used their 4-4-2 formation. This time with flexible man orientations. Gameiro usually pressed one of the centre backs, when Betis formed a back-three Gameiro pressed Mandi, the central defender. The other partner pressed Feddal who positioned as left half-back while Fabian who played in the central midfielder position took charge of the right half-back position. To press Fabian, Koke sometimes pushed out of position creating a 4-3-3. However, Koke couldn´t always press higher due to the movement of Joaquin in the halfspace between the midfield line and also because of Barragans wide position.
In midfield Atletico also used man orientations especially to defend Andres Guardado the Atletico midfielders momentarily followed him to avoid a turning possibility for Guardado when he receives the ball.
As I mentioned above Real Betis reacted to Atletico’s high pressing with creating a back-three in the first line. Fabian dropped deeper and positioned as right half back. Together with the two other defenders and Guardado in midfield they created a diamond which provided different diagonal passing options for all players in the first line. Durmisi and Barragan, the two full backs stayed wider to stretch Atletico’s defence. Normally Filipe Luis and Vrsaljko pushed out of position to press the opposing full-back, that’s why Atletico could stay compact in the centre of the pitch. That was important because Betis attacked with four players between Atletico’s defence and their midfielders. Boudebouz and Joaquin rotated with dropping deeper to support the defenders when Atletico pressed higher and more aggressively. When this was not the case, Betis tried to overload the ten-space and the right halfspace with their high number of attackers.
In this example, we can see a scene in which Atletico pressed higher. The variable man orientations are observable, for example, Saul followed Guardado while Koke and Thomas focused on the opposing half-back. With Adan being part of the build-up, Betis had a 5vs4 situations, a key principle of positional play is to create superiority. Here Betis creates a situation of numerical superiority due to their use of the goalkeeper. Adan played the ball into the middle to Guardado. When Guardado received the ball, Atletico immediately started to press him. He provoked pressure in this space which opened up space for his team-mates. By using the play over the third, Betis could find Mandi with little time and space. Mandi now was able to face the game, by passing the ball to the dropping Boudebouz who quickly passed the ball on to Fabian, Betis created a free man by double using the play over the third man.
The key principles for the build-up of Betis against this pressing were the creation of wide to stretch the opponents pressing, the use of the third man which I mentioned as well as the provocation of pressure which goes along with the play over the third man. By provoking pressure in one space you open space somewhere else. Despite those three points, it is also important how Betis positions and offers passing options. Guardado positioned behind the first line of Atletico which led the creation of death and helped the team to overplay one line. Furthermore, Boudebouz who dropped deeper offered a passing option behind this block of four. The four players of Atletico who pressed higher didn´t see him coming because he was not in the visual field. With those principles, Betis was able to find the free player in Fabian, who could advance into midfield with a dribbling and a quick one-two with Boudebouz.
Offensively Betis focused the right side to attack. On the right-side Fabian moved forward with the ball out of the back-three sometimes Mandi also could push with the ball into the midfield. On the right-side Joaquin pushed into the halfspace while Barragan stayed wider and supported the attacks through forwarding movement. When Atletico pressed higher Betis attacked more vertical because of the pressure of Atletico. However, when Betis attacked faster they tend to make technical mistakes because Atletico was able to make the space around the offensive players very tight.
When Atletico’s high pressing failed and Betis could advance with their back-three to the midfieldline they tried to move the ball quickly in the first line. The goal was to move Atletico’s defensive block and create space. Quite often Boudebouz or Joaquin dropped deeper to support Guardado in the middle, again Betis focused the right side by overloading that space. Crucial was the positioning between the players. Betis was able to distribute the players in a way which generated passing options for all players. Setien already has implemented a few principles of positional play. Here in that scene, Guardado and Boudebouz supported on the ballnear side, one deeper (Guardado) one higher (Boudebouz). Both can be used to combinate and switch sides when needed, furthermore, when Betis should lose the ball they both can join to counterpress and deny a counter attack.
Important to mention is the movement of Joaquin who filled the high position in the halfspace. In this scene just two players of Betis positioned on the same vertical line in the halfspace (Fabian and Joaquin) Furthermore, they created depth by having Boudebouz and Leon in higher positions. The wide position of Barragan helps to open the space for Joaquin.
If you look at the course of the scene you can see how Betis could open the space on the far side due to the overload on the right side. Boudebouz and Leon pushed the defence in the depth while Correa missed that he should move to Tello who therefore received space on the far side.
With more or less no chance and no offensive game Atletico got the lead through a cross from Vrsaljko, Saul showed his class by using a blind side movement to surprise the defender and score the goal. From there on the course of the game changed quite a bit, because Atletico stopped pressing high and focused on securing the lead by staying deeper.
The game after Atletico’s lead
Atletico formed their 4-4-2 block very deep after they scored the goal. Atletico is probably the best defensive team in the world and Betis struggled to find a way through that ultra-compact shape of Simeone´s side.
Atletico has great players who can cover a lot of space through anticipation and therefore an enormous cover shadow. Additionally, their shape is well connected and Betis didn´t receive any space between the lines because Atletico´s defence positioned so close to the midfielders.
Betis here tries to attack through the right halfspace. Betis defenders got even more space in the second half and as a result they advanced with the ball to the midfield to allow the rest of the offensive players to position between the lines. But here you see how compact Atletico´s shape was. None of the offensive players is free, even if they could receive the ball between the lines Atletico could easily press the ball carrier with two or three men. This was observable many times.
Besides their individual defensive class, Atletico´s players always positioned perfectly to cut passing lines, they also are organised perfectly as a team. Look at the structure in the midfield line. The midfielder who has immediate access to the ball is the highest player, in this scene Koke, with his push out of position he enlarges his cover shadow and creates that diagonal shape. Diagonal to Koke Saul closes the gap into the middle and simultaneously protects Koke if he gets overplayed. Gabi is the lowest positioned player in midfield, so Atletico avoids all diagonal passing options while reducing the available space for the attacking team.
Betis struggled like more or less all teams in the world to find a way through that compact shape. With shots from distance or after Atletico pressed a little bit higher Betis could be dangerous. When Atletico settled deeper Betis struggled to get into the box. One issue was that especially on the left side they could accumulate enough pressure to create space on the other side. On the left side Betis only attacked with Durmisi and Tello and didn´t get a lot of support from the middle, the three offensive players normally stayed very central. So, Betis could open space somewhere else or even get Atletico´s defence to move because their left side was only a threat for Atletico if Tello has won a 1v1 situation. Besides the inability to really prepare a dangerous switch of sides by drawing the defence to one and then quickly switching the play to the other side, Betis also lost the structure in some situations. When they play through the wing they got isolated and Atletico defended the few crosses easily. When Betis played through the middle they sometimes got too close together so space could easily be reduced by Atletico and Betis had to try difficult combinations in tight spaces which didn´t work. In those situations, Betis lost the connection to the wings and therefore lost the wide in their game. In the end, Betis couldn´t find a way because Atletico was better on an individual level.
Betis played really good, especially before the first game they dominated the game, played out of Atletico´s high pressing scenes. In the first half Betis could also create a few chances to score, in the period in which Betis got stronger Atletico scored a goal with their first real attack. Before the goal Atletico rarely got counter-attacking opportunities because Betis counterpressing was quite strong.
After the goal Atletico settled deeper and defended the lead. All in all, it was a poor performance by Atletico while Setien´s team played strong but because of their defensive errors they again couldn´t get a point.