Atletico Madrid welcomed Lokomotiv Moscow to the Wanda Metropolitano in the UEFA Champions League Group A encounter needing to secure all three points. Atlético came into this game with four points, two points above the visitors. The previous fixture in Moscow ended in a stalemate.
With this, the two teams needed to come off with maximum points. However, the game ended in a goalless draw with Atlético Madrid not being clinical enough to put away their chances. In this tactical analysis, we will see the tactics used by Diego Simeone and how his Russian counterpart reacted to it.
Simeone lined up his team in his famous 4-4-2 formation. The formation later morphed into a 4-2-2-2 formation. The back-four comprised of Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savić, José Giménez and Renan Lodi. The midfield comprised of Marcos Llorente, Koke, Saúl Ñíguez and Yannick Carrasco. The front line comprised of Angel Correa and João Félix. The Russians lined up in 4-4-1-1 formation.
How ATM sought to progress the ball and create scoring chances
Atlético Madrid’s 4-2-2-2 formation allowed them to have four players between the lines with the full-backs holding width. The midfield pair stayed central and this set-up naturally gave passing triangles in wide areas. Therefore, Atlético Madrid used wide areas to progress play using wide combinations and overloads. From these overloads and wide combinations, Atlético sought to create chances through whipped crosses, cutbacks and shots from underlapping runs.
Atlético Madrid’s on-the-ball shape changed from a 4-2-2-2 shape to a 3-1-6 and 3-2-5 shape with optimum spacing in the first forty-five minutes. This enabled the Colchoneros to create wide overloads on both sides and progress play which improved their attacking dynamics.
Lokomotiv Moscow sat in a 4-4-2 narrow mid-block for the most part of the game. This subsequently created the necessary spaces out-wide. The ease at which these overloads and passing angles in wide areas were created was due to the spaces left on the flank.
In the left overloads/combinations as shown in the image above, it comprised of Félix, who positioned either high-up in the left half-space or most times in the deeper positions but still in the half-space. Lodi provided width due to the spaces left out wide.
Carrasco was positioned high-up in the left halfspace. A common feature in these overloads was the rotations and counter-movements which were used to progress play and subsequently create shooting opportunities.
On the right flank, it was more of wide triangles as opposed to the more overloaded left. Still, the wide triangles still gave them some sort of numerical advantage. On the right, progression could come from an inside pass from the FB. As seen in the image above, in the 3-1-6 shape which gives numerical advantage over Lokomotiv’s frontline of pressure and good passing angles. The wide CB, Savić, finds Tripper with a good outside diagonal pass. Tripper completes this pattern of play with a well-timed inside pass to the half-space player.
Apart from triangles, overloads could also happen on the right especially in scenarios of circulated balls from the left to the right. Here, a 4v4 occurs which features some rotation. Trippier receives a switch and drives inside. He gives Koke a pass and he holds onto the ball. Correa moves towards Koke so as to drag out his marker and creates that space highlighted in the image. As soon as Trippier spots this move, he makes a run away from the ball towards the flank and Koke finds him with a sublime pass. Llorente moves into the vacated space and receives a pass from Trippier. This move leads to a cut-back for a high quality which is fluffed by Félix.
As the game progressed into the second half, the overload and triangle on the left changed due to the change in shape. Atlético’s 3-2-5/3-1-6 on-the-ball shape changed to one with asymmetric full-backs. Lodi was changed for Mario Hermoso and Carrasco for Thomas Lemar. Lemar took the position and role of Lodi as held width and made whipped crosses in the final third. Hermoso slotted as a third centre-back in the 3-1/3-2 build-up shape.
In the scenario where these wide progressions broke down due to bad and inaccurate passes, Atlético counter-pressed and recovered the ball. They also used counter-pressing as a source of chance creation as it aided sustained attacks. This sustained pressure allowed Atlético to consolidate on possession which is indicated by their 64% possession stat.
Atlético were able to progress play and create shooting opportunities but they were let down by their poor finishing. This is evident in their 20 shots and only six on target.
How Lokomotiv Moscow defended against Atléti’s wide progression
As fairly mentioned in the previous section, Lokomotiv Moscow defended in a 4-4-2 narrow mid-block. Lokomotiv’s main aim was to block central progression route with their narrow block, thereby leaving spaces out wide. However, this was an ineffective strategy as Atlético decided to progress through wide areas.
The spaces left out wide led to Atlético accessing the wide players on the flank with late or no pressure on the ball. In other scenarios, it allowed the wide players time to cross as Carrasco pining the full-back and Saúl driving at the winger allows Lodi to position himself in free-space as shown above. This led to several successful wide combinations.
In order to combat this, Lokomotiv changed to a 6-2-2/6-3-1/5-3-2 to defend against Atlético’s width. This shape gave Lokomotiv more bodies around the wide areas and half-spaces as they adopted a man-marking approach in defending against wide overloads since they had less space to defend.
The essence of the 6-2-2/6-3-1/5-3-2 defensive shape was also to defend the underloaded sides. On the underloaded sides, the far-side winger tucks back to mark the far-side opposition full-back or player holding width. In the image above, the far-side winger looks over his shoulder and takes note of the position of Tripper. As soon as a switch is made from Carrasco, the ball-far winger starts his press and tracks Tripper.
However, this was ineffective. Atlético’s rotations and combinations proved too much for Lokomotiv’s man-marking to handle. The Russians’ inability to defend inside passing lanes and the half-spaces proved detrimental to them. This is because Atlético were able to find these underlapping runs or progress the ball to the half-space player. In the image above, the two pressing players on Trippier fail to close the inside passing lane. This makes it easy for Trippier to find Correa with an inside pass.
Apart from this, the 6-2-2 and 6-3-1 allowed for easy circulation of the ball from the overloaded side through short passes. Atlético opted for more short passes in circulation as opposed to the switches with were being defended by Lokomotiv’s expansive defensive block. This ease at which they could circulate the ball was due to the weak midfield presence in the 6-2-2. This was exploited by Atlético as they started dropping their half-space players deeper into midfield. Here, we see Llorente dropping into the vacated space in midfield and receiving a pass from Koke.
However, as the game progressed, the Russians returned into their original 4-4-2 block. They stretched their block a bit wider and shuttled from side to side to defended against Atléti’s width.
Atlético’s defensive play and how Lokomotiv Moscow sought to progress play
Atlético defended in their usual 4-4-2 formation. The 4-4-2 block was used in a mid-press and high-press, although there was a difference in shape when it came to the high-press. Atéltico’s main aim in both scenarios was to block central progression routes and shuttle play out wide and trap the press, thereby forcing a turnover or a long-ball.
In Atletico’s high-press, the shape changed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-1-3-2. Here, Koke dropped deep to mark the opposition’s number 10. Carrasco, Saúl and Llorente formed the second line of pressure. The front two of Correa and Félix acted as the frontline of pressure.
Just as I said earlier, the Colchoneros looked to funnel the build-up out wide. Here, Correa presses so as to guide the build-up wide by pressing the ball-carrying centre-back. The ball-side winger, Llorente, presses the full-back. The central midfielder, Saúl, who pushes towards the flank, presses the dropping number 10.
Koke pushes up to press the pivot who offers himself as support for the build-up. Félix marks the space between far-side centre- back and far-side pivot. Trippier marks the opposition winger In all, you can see the nearby passing options marked which traps the build-up.
The Russians built-up in a 2-4-4 shape in the first phase. The goalkeeper build-up shape was two centre-backs wide in the penalty box. The double-pivot acted as the central progression route while two full-backs stayed deep but wide.
The Russians were able to exploit and bypass using the full-back as an outlet as they had a numerical advantage in a 4v3 in the second line of pressure. Apart from this, they also used long balls into their striker who was combative and could duel with the Colchoneros. As the game progressed, Atlético switched the high-press to a 4-4-2. In the case where they force a long ball, Koke is quick to read the game and drops deep to combat for the aerial ball or win second balls.
In the image above, the Russians progress through the central area. This is because they wanted to attract the press centrally from Atlético’s second line of pressure then leave the ball-side full-back as the freeman. As the pass comes towards the pivot, he sets himself by playing an outside pass to the full-back. He then takes the long ball route towards the striker who positions centrally, as soon as he’s pressed.
In the 2nd phase build-up, the Russians still maintained the 2-4-4 shape. They looked to progress through wide overloads/combinations, same as their Spanish counterparts. Here, they play a long pass into the penetrative run of the full-back.
In other to combat this overload/underload dynamics of the Russians, Atlético also opted for a similar solution to the Russians. They instructed the far-side winger to tuck in and act as an auxiliary full-back while the other midfielders stay compact around the wide areas to defend the overloads.
However, this left the half-space unprotected. The Russians were able to identify this space and exploited it but on very few occasions. Here, the Lokomotiv Moscow player moves into the vacated space. We see Carrasco tucking back and acting as a wing-back.
The game was mostly one-sided as the Spaniards had most of the ball. As mentioned in the analysis, they had good shooting opportunities. However, they squandered it.
This game has dealt a blow to Atletico Madrid’s qualification hopes as they still have to face Bayern Munich at the Wanda Metropolitano in their fixture and RB Salzburg away. These are tough fixtures for the Colchoneros but they have to prevail if they want to progress.