Away from all the headlines and the MSN vs BBC battles, Atletico Madrid are steadily gaining ground in La Liga’s title race. Madrid’s second club is on top of the league even though rivals Barcelona have a game in hand and Diego Simeone’s side has only conceded 8 goals so far this season. Are they on their way to another league title just two seasons after their surprise win?
In football, the attackers always tend to be the ones under the spotlight. Real Madrid have Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo while Barcelona have Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. The two trios are scoring for fun and are by far the best two front-lines in European football but we’ve been ignoring one thing. What about defensive display?
At Atletico Madrid there’s Antoine Griezmann and that’s it. The Frenchman is leading his club’s attacking line alone, the club’s second top scorer, Yannick Carrasco, scored only three goals. One would be forgiven to think that Griezmann is the club’s best asset. The Rojiblancos’ main weapon is their defense as they’ve only conceded eight goals in 20 games. No other team in Europe’s top five leagues has conceded less than Atletico, even PSG who are playing in a league of their own have conceded 9 while Bayern Munich conceded 8 in 17 games.
Atletico tend to alter between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 formation. Whichever formation is being used, the midfield is always packed to stop opponents from penetrating into their defensive third. The Rojiblancos rarely dominate in terms of possession. In fact they defend just on the top of their half making their opponent unable to make use of the ball for long parts of the game. The midfielders are quite dymanic and they tend to alter with the wingers when out of possession as they fend attackers off. Perhaps the main key to the success of Simeone’s formula is the lack of big names in the team. Every player is ready to play for the team and where his team needs him the most rather than ask to play in his preferred role.
Atletico’s defensive leader at the back, Diego Godin, is neither Messi nor Ronaldo bu his leadership on the pitch and his strong tackles, strength in the air and power make the opposition’s attackers ineffective. Moreover, the chemistry between him and his partner at the back is superb. After all, Jose Gimenez is Uruguayan as well and has proven himself as a consistent performer for both club and country. Finally, Jan Oblak’s heroics cannot be ignored, he’s been superb in between the posts much like most of Atletico Madrid’s goalkeepers in recent history.
Defending is an art in Italy but it’s becoming an art in Spain as well. Atletico Madrid rely on a solid back-line and fast counter-attacks. It’s no surprise whatsoever to see Atletico at the top of the league despite their reliance on one single star player in terms of scoring goals, Griezmann. The Frenchman is likely to finish the season with less goals than all of the six players that form ‘BBC’ or ‘MSN’ but his goals are likely to be of much more importance thanks to his team’s decisiveness in the league.