In gameweek 35 of La Liga, relegation threatened Celta Vigo faced Champions League chasing Atletico Madrid in what turned out to be an intriguing affair and this match report will provide tactical analysis on their encounter.

Celta Vigo have won only seven games all season and although they were six points ahead of 18th placed RCD Mallorca, a win against Atletico Madrid would give Oscar Garcia’s side breathing space between themselves and the teams in the relegation zone.

Atletico Madrid entered the match in brilliant form, having been unbeaten since La Liga restarted and had won five of their previous seven matches. The points gap between themselves and top two Barcelona and Real Madrid meant that Atletico Madrid’s chances for an 11th La Liga title were all but gone this season, however a win at The Estadio Municipal de Balaidos would guarantee Atletico Madrid champions league football next season, after Villarreal slipped up at home to Barcelona at the weekend.

Line ups

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics

Oscar Garcia switched to a 5-3-2 formation to counteract Atletico Madrid’s defensive tactics and to stop themselves being exposed on the counter-attack. Garcia likes to switch between a variety of formations and consequently made four changes from the team that drew with Real Betis at the weekend.

In defence Hugo Mallo, Joseph Aidoo and Jorge Saenz all came in to replace Kevin Vasquez, Nestor Aruajo and goalscorer on Saturday Nolito to allow for an extra defender in the Celta Vigo defence. Additionally, Brais Mendez replaced Rafinha giving the Celta Vigo side more of a physical presence in midfield.

Diego Simeone stuck to his favoured 4-4-2 formation for the game and made four changes from the side that beat RCD Mallorca at the weekend.

At full-back Renan Lodi and Santiago Arias replaced Manuel Sanchez and Kieran Trippier respectively. In midfield Thomas Partey replaced Yannick Carrasco with Koke being pushed out wide giving Atletico Madrid more stability on the left flank. Angel Correa was recalled replacing Joao Felix which forced Marcos Llorente to play as a second striker with Alvaro Morata, and Correa playing as a right midfielder, where one may assume that Simeone may have altered his tactics from the previous match.

Simeone’s style

Atletico Madrid’s defensive resolve is well known across Europe and although some may feel their performance in the game was under-whelming, from this analysis it became obvious that their compactness was effective in limiting Celta Vigo to chances in non-threatening areas and this was particularly apparent in the first half where all five Celta Vigo shots had an expected goal value of less than 0.01. The average distance between the Atletico Madrid backline and forwards was 37 metres which explains why Celta Vigo struggled to make goal-scoring opportunities particularly in the first half as they couldn’t break Atletico Madrid down.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Atletico Madrid compact the centre of the pitch

Atletico Madrid pressed aggressively in all areas of the pitch as a unit and this particularly effective in the opposition half where made them very hard to be broken. The two wide midfielders Angel Correa and Koke defended narrowly to force Celta Vigo out wide and this worked well for large periods of the game because although they allowed the Celta Vigo wing-backs space out wide as shown above with Mallo. When Celta Vigo players received the ball in wide positions Atletico Madrid players were very quick to react to this to close them down.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Celta Vigo goal

Atletico Madrid played a high defensive line averaging 63.1m from goal however this can expose their weakness at defending crosses by giving attackers more of an opportunity to run onto the cross. The Atletico Madrid midfield was able to position themselves a few yards higher than they were to defend this cross in the image above due to there being no apparent danger to defend outside the 18-yard box. If they had dropped deeper they would have been able to contest the cross and potentially stopped Fran Beltran scoring. Celta Vigo defended well from these situations compared to ‘Los Rojiblancos’ as they crowded their 18-yard box to contest the ball better.

Celta shoved

Atletico Madrid’s compactness meant that Celta Vigo struggled to produce passes cutting through the middle of the pitch before the introduction of Rafinha in the second half. Celta Vigo’s main aim was to move the ball out wide, mainly to the right-hand side of the pitch where 84% of Celta Vigo’s attacks came from. Captain Mallo, who played right wing-back received 63 passes, the most of any player on the pitch and attempted 10 crosses however only one of those crosses were accurate. Mallo’s inaccuracy limited the Celta Vigo attack because they struggled to create good enough crossing opportunities on the left hand-side which meant that they were reliant on crosses from the right hand-side.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics

When the Celta Vigo Centre-backs had possession of the ball they would look to pass the ball wide to either wing-back or alternatively would look to pass to one of the three central midfielders who would position close to one another(above). This allowed Celta Vigo to complete 76% of their forward passes because when Celta Vigo had the ball, there would generally be an extra Celta Vigo player in midfield compared to Atletico Madrid which allowed a forward pass option as the midfield three were fluid in passing transitions.

After Celta Vigo equalised they were more successful down the flanks as Atletico left space in their final third chasing for another goal, Celta Vigo did well at overloading wide areas to create goalscoring opportunities and their goal was a great example of this as central midfielder Brais Mendez came into a wide area.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Celta Vigo chance

Celta Vigo looked more likely to score in the second half as Atletico Madrid chased the game with Celta Vigo having an expected goal value of 0.31 in the second half, compared to the first half where they had an expected goals value of 0.03. The image above shows Iago Aspas down the right hand-side and substitute Santi Mina making an off the ball run onto the resulting through ball. Jose Gimenez was pulled out of position because the Atletico Madrid midfield had pushed higher up the pitch to chase a second goal meaning he had to pressure Aspas leaving space behind him for Mina to run into.

Alert Atletico

Atletico Madrid appeared to be the most likely to score in the game having an expected goals value of 0.92 as they spent a significant amount of time in the Celta Vigo half. Only 12% of Atletico Madrid’s passes were in their own final third which shows how much they like the ball to be away from their own goal to reduce the impact of potential errors.

Atletico Madrid’s intensity and alertness were clear to see from the beginning with their off the ball movement being a real problem for the new formed back five. The first goal was a warning for things to come from Atletico Madrid as wide midfielders Correa and Koke and second striker Marcos Llorente often received the ball in gaps between the Celta Vigo defenders.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Atletico Madrid goal

The above image is an example of how Atletico Madrid players exposed the gaps in the Celta Vigo defence. Morata scored in this transition and the gap between Lucas Olaza and Jorge Saenz allowed for the run of Correa to receive Santiago Arias’ at the byline before cutting the ball back to Morata. This type of transition was frequent on the right and left hand side of the pitch as Atletico Madrid full-backs created the width for the team while the Atletico Madrid wide midfielders would play as inside forwards(shown below) to move into the gaps of the Celta Vigo defence.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Narrow Atletico Madrid wide midfielders

Central midfielders Partey and Saul would often look to pass the ball to target man Alvaro Morata, who won 50% of his 12 offensive duels. When Morata did keep possession of the ball, it gave Atletico Madrid’s attack another dimension because he could dribble with the ball or lay it off to his fellow attacking players who would be making off the ball runs between the Celta Vigo defenders to create opportunities as mentioned earlier.

Five at the back

The change to a five at the back formation by Oscar Garcia was an interesting one given the formations that Celta Vigo had played in previous games, where they have played four at the back. One may assume that Garcia changed tactics to counteract Atletico’s narrow style of play in an attempt to force the Atletico Madrid wide midfielders wider than they would like.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Celta Vigo crowding their 18-yard box

The three Celta Vigo centre-backs and three central midfielders allowed Celta Vigo to outnumber Atletico players when contesting a cross in the 18-yard box and this proved to be successful apart from when Atletico Madrid scored their first goal. Above shows an image of when Celta Vigo defended a cross. Celta Vigo forced Atletico Madrid players into crossing positions because they were confident that they could defend crosses successfully given the vast number of Celta Vigo players that were willing to defend in the 18-yard box. Only 33% of Atletico’s 21 crosses reached an Atletico Madrid shirt showing that Celta Vigo were fairly successful at stopping Atletico Madrid scoring from crosses.

La Liga 2019/20: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics

The low defensive block applied by Celta Vigo effectively frustrated Atletico Madrid. Celta Vigo’s backline was on average 48.9m from their own goal and meant that Celta Vigo strikers Iago Aspas and Fedor Smolov would drop deep to help their team defend. Celta Vigo players’ high concentration allowed them to hold their shape well and it set up Atletico Madrid to move forward with the ball before pressing with intent limiting Atletico to 8.6 passes per Celta Vigo press. This is impressive given that Celta Vigo could make 12.5 passes per Atletico press.

Atletico were able to exploit the two Celta Vigo wing-backs, particularly Olaza who won only 38% of his defensive duels and was exploited by Correa and Llorente who enjoyed spells down the Celta Vigo left-hand side and 86% of Atletico Madrid’s attacks came from their right hand-side. This meant that Celta Vigo had to defend many Atletico attacks from the right-wing and sometimes meant that Aspas or Smolov had to drop deeper to form a 5-4-1 when defending to help Olaza to defend which limited the team when they counter-attacked.


Before the game neither side would have taken a point. A win would heap pressure on those in the relegation zone and likely keep Celta Vigo in La Liga for at least another season where as a win for Atletico would have solidified their position of third in the league and a place in the Champions league for next season.

The match was a tentative affair with neither side wanting to commit too many players forward in attack and this provided more analysis on defence than attack. After this tactical analysis, a draw seemed a fair result with Atletico Madrid having more clear goalscoring opportunities however many of these came from crosses which were defended well by the Celta Vigo defenders.

What next? Celta Vigo travel to Osasuna knowing that a win will ease the pressure on Oscar Garcia and allow him start preparing for next season. Atletico Madrid face mid-table Real Betis and will look to keep up their unbeaten run ready for the return of the Champions League in August.