Madrileño Derby is a specific, regardless where it has been played.

International Champions Cup is a type of friendly pre-season tournament for the World-class football clubs; this year one of the most entertaining matches on a schedule was Madrileño Derby. However, when you mention Madrileño Derby, the word ’friendly’ doesn’t exist.

The pre-season is still on, and we don’t have many matches behind us to say that some lineups, systems and formations are weird or unexpected, so it’s probably time to see how teams were lined up for this season’s first Derby. This tactical analysis will show you how Cholo’s tactics overcame Zinedine Zidane’s ideas.


International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
Credit by: Soccerway

Madrileño Derby was the third Real Madrid’s match on a pre-season tour, but the second match which they played in the classic 4-3-3 formation, without expressed defensive midfielder or deep-lying playmaker (popular: Regista). The only big difference relating to their first pre-season match when they used the 4-3-3 formation, against Bayern Munich, was Luka Jovic, who played as alone striker.

At the same time, it is important to mention that Alvaro Odriozola started his first pre-season game ahead of Dani Carvajal. Alvaro had a pretty hard and complicated job to do – to guard Renan Lodi whenever he got higher to attack, and also to follow Lemar’s movement in halfspaces with an idea to close him channels and space between himself and right-centre defender.

Diego Simeone started with his recognizable narrow 4-4-2 formation. This time, as you can see on a graphic, he apparently used Joao Felix as the right-winger and Thomas Lemar as the left-winger. That made sense if you look abilities of Atletico’s fullbacks. Both of them need very large vertical space to join attacks of their team – especially Kieran Trippier, who was used to play the right wing-back during his Tottenham time, and during National team games.

The Joao Felix role – defensive and offensive movement and positioning

I really have to say that I wasn’t impressed with some of Felix’s apps and characteristics, generally.

From my point of view, he was too lethargic, slow and uninterested for participating in the build-up, but it seems that Simeone has found him the role which doesn’t burden him and gives him clear situation to show his skills and offensive talent in the final third (Red zone).

Simeone’s standard narrow 4-4-2 will probably be transformed because of Felix and his new role – it seems that they will try to adapt to classic 4-3-1-2, but only in the offensive phase.

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
Joao Felix’s positioning in the final third

The above picture shows Atletico’s new offensive structure, with two strikers and Felix as a so-called Shadow striker. In the offensive phase, he was desperate to go between the lines, and to be constantly behind Morata and Diego Costa, as their support.

The progress of attacks and moving of the other lines was also very important to him and his participation in the final third play. When the ball was on the wings, he didn’t go inside the box, waiting for the ball on about 15/16 meters.

However, one of the best things I saw about Felix against Real Madrid was his responsibility and attitude in a defensive shape.

We will now do an analysis of Atletico Madrid’s transforming from offence to a defensive block. Cholo wanted to transform their offensive 4-3-1-2 shape in the structural, well-organized 4-4-2 defensive block, in every possible moment – so it was a very logical just to push Felix deeper in the middle and form 4-4-2 defensive block, but Cholo had different ideas…

His idea was to push Felix on the right-wing in defensive shape in every possible moment, except Real Madrid’s counter-attacks when Felix didn’t have enough time to position himself that way.

The fast reaction for a counter-attack

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
Joao Felix’s fast body reaction.

The above ’collage picture’ shows a very fast body reaction from Felix in the situation when his team won the ball in the middle of the pitch.

He was positioned on the right-wing during Real Madrid’s attack, and at the moment when Atletico won the ball, he cut inside with an idea to open the space for right fullback and with an idea to be Shadow striker once again.

Using the narrow positioned midfield to trick the rival

In the first fifteen minutes, Atletico Madrid showed an amazing way to trick the rival.

Considering the Atletico’s type of positioning of midfield in the defensive block, with the left and the right-wingers who stay very narrow, Real Madrid’s midfielders or central defenders were spotting the space behind them and tried many times to skip the short pass play and to send long diagonals to their wingers.

In each of these situations, Atletico’s fullbacks stopped these diagonals because of great timing and level of aggression. One of these mentioned situations is in the picture below.

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
Atletico’s defensive trap in two pictures. In this situation, Renan Lodi intercepted the long diagonal ball using good positioning and good timing.

Three seconds of genius

 Considering the Diego Costa’s physicals, ability to open the space and the level of his play when he turns his back to the goal it’s always better to use him as deep-lying forward instead for an example his teammate – Alvaro Morata.

Because of the said characteristics, Diego Costa indirectly created the one on one chance for his forward partner. In the picture below we can see how Diego Costa positioned himself to open the space for his teammate.

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
Diego Costa came very deep to make a very large space for Alvaro Morata, who immediately used it.

As we can see, Diego Costa came very deep to participate in the early build-up, and to drag out his guard who followed him. Nacho, who was guarding, marking and following Costa in this area of the pitch made a giant hole in defend, which was enough for Morata’s run in that space. In the picture below, we can see Morata’s one on one chance only three seconds after Costa had released the ball.

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics

Using the halfspace to make your fullback more dangerous

After Filipe Luis’s departure and Renan Lodi’s arrival, and his decision to make the position of the right-back stronger with Kieran Trippier, Cholo Simeone indirectly has said that he wants their fullbacks to be more dangerous and attacking ones.

If you want to achieve that, you need to give your fullbacks large offensive verticals to run and win the space. That’s possible only if you have wingers playing as inside forwards, who are able to cut inside, move-in halfspaces and attack into channels.

In this game, Thomas Lemar was an ideal example of the player who could open the space for fullback on his attack side, and to be equally dangerous and useful when worked narrower.

It was great to see his movement in halfspaces, his ability to always be an option for the pass and to see how he went into channels. Sometimes, when the ball was on the right-wing, he sneaked between opposition’s right fullback and right central defender trying to get inside the box.

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
Thomas Lemar’s movement in the halfspace. The way he made space for Renan Lodi to join the attack

Unlucky in the USA, but with a great perspective

This Madrileño was the first time we could see Serbian striker starting as the only striker in the lineup. For more than one and a half years in Eintracht Frankfurt he usually played with a partner who could ‘’work for him’’, but in Real Madrid, there are probably two solutions for him:

  1. To play as the only striker in the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation, or
  2. To play in the (probably) 4-4-2 formation with Karim Benzema who is fantastic deep-lying forward with great physics and abilities to open space and work ‘dirty jobs’ for Luka who is a great finisher…

Luka was very unlucky during the current pre-season tour. When he was in starting lineup against Arsenal, Nacho was sent off in 16. minute, so Jovic had to come off the pitch as the victim of Zidane’s tactical plans, and last time out, when he started against Atletico, he picked up an injury, so he came off the pitch after half an hour.

International Champions Cup, pre-season 2019/2020 Tactical analysis: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, tactics
The moment Jovic got injured


Joao Felix’s impressive game in terms of movement, responsibility and well tactical job helped Atletico to win. Real Madrid has also displayed some very negative things on the pitch, like lack of communication, or very bad organized defending of set-pieces.

Atletico had some very good chances after corner kicks because Real Madrid tried to use a man-to-man type of defending set-pieces but in a very lethargic and confused way. Every move which was made by Atletico’s players in offensive corner kick actions made big problems to Real Madrid.

Atletico won this amazing match against their historical rivals in New Jersey, but can they repeat it in Spain, within La Liga?

Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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