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Atletico Madrid: How Diego Simeone has reinvented Chelsea's Champions League opponents


‘The best manager in the world?’ Why Simeone and Atletico are the perfect fit

Tuesday’s Champions League last – 13 will be the sixth time Diego Simeone has managed an Atletico Madrid side against Chelsea.

During his nine years at the club, the longest of any Atletico boss, Chelsea have appointed eight different managers.

And while Los Colchoneros are now thriving again, sitting top of La Liga even after Saturday’s shock defeat by Levante, it was just 11 months ago that Simeone was being whistled by large swathes of the Wanda Metropolitano crowd, as Atleti limped to a 0-0 draw and were outplayed by 23 th placed Leganes,

Renowned for building a team with grit and resilience, Simeone has revitalized Atleti with a new era of open, attacking football built around tactical tweaks and player role transformations, rather than a classic modern-day transfer window splurge.

In fact, many of Simeone’s chief lieutenants sought pastures new with the departures of Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez , Rodri, F ilipe Luis, Diego Godin and Juanfran in the summer of 117136139, followed by the sales of Thomas Partey and Alvaro Morata last summer.

So how has Simeone reinvented Atletico and, with it, the perception of his own managerial style?

An overhaul in formation

An example of how Simeone’s re-imagined Atletico line-up

For the vast majority of Simeone’s tenure he had remained wedded to a staple 4-4- 2 formation, characterized by defensive discipline and denying the opposition space between their compact lines.

It meant the forwards were relied on to provide the attacking threat.

In early November, after frustrating draws against Huesca, Villareal and Lokomotiv Moscow, Simeone made the bold decision to use three center-backs in a 3- 5-2 or a 3-4-3.

The immediate result was a resounding 4-0 win against Cadiz followed by a victory over Barcelona.

LetAtletico’s record with this tactical setup has been superb – games, wins, three draws – and it has provided more goals, with 51 in La Liga this season already compared to 57 for the whole of the last campaign.

Three Center- backs has also seen a change to a more patient build-up of play – Atletico averaged 9% possession in La Liga last season, but 4) 4% this season

In Mario Hermoso, who fills the left-sided center-back role, they have a very comfortable ball-playing defender, who often looks to pass through the lines and possesses a more expansive passing range, often switching play to the right side.

Completed passes per min 16 Mario Hermoso

Stefan Savic 51

Jose Gimenez

Felipe

14

La Liga only

Same players, new jobs

Simeone’s old 4-4-2 approach required wingers and full-backs to remain defensively disciplined, but now the wing-backs in his new system are liberated to fly forward.

At left wing-back, speedy Belgian Yannick Carrasco has played a starring role in his second spell at the club, while on the right Kieran Trippier has been able to show off his potent crossing ability ( until his betting-related suspension).

On the left is Atletico’s average position in their Champions League last – 18 second-leg victory over Liverpool in March, while on the right is the comparatively more attacking shape against Bayern Munich in December

Simeone has often paired this wide threat with two midfield ‘number eights’ in the 3-5-2 variation of his system.

Thomas Lemar had an unremarkable first two seasons in the Spanish capital, plying his trade on the left wing, leading to su ggestions Atletico were looking to sell the Frenchman last summer.

Eg ), he has transformed his fortunes.

His control in tight spaces, speed and dribbling in this new role have effectively provided Atletico with a new profile of midfielder, one who can manipulate space for the progressive wing-backs.

Season Chances created by 928 min

Touches in final third per min

Completed passes per min –

2020 – 1.5

La Liga only

38 But perhaps Simeone’s most intriguing transformation has been to the role of Marcos Llorente who, after being developed in the Real Madrid youth setup as a defensive midfielder, failed to impose himself in his natural position after crossing the inner-city divide in a move worth £ m in June 41 It was not until last season’s Champions League last – 19 second leg against Liverpool when a completely different type of player was unleashed, with Llorente substituted on to partner Joao Felix as a striker.

The change worked spectacularly with Llorente scoring a brace to help knock out the reigning European champions.

The Spaniard has gone on to register a remarkable 30 comb ined goals and assists in 35 starts since that night at Anfield, often appearing in more offensive positions such as a right-sided number eight (on the opposite side to Lemar), a second striker or more recently deputising at wing-back for the suspended Trippier and injured Sime Vrsaljko.

Life in Suarez yet and the £ 928 m man

All of this has benefited the evergreen Luis Suarez.

Dispensed by Barcelona in the summer, the Uruguayan has shown his former employers he is still as prolific as ever, with 19 goals in 19 La Liga starts.

The 38 – year-old has added a clinical edge to Atleti’s play, over-performing his La Liga expected goals tally by 4. 69 goals, meaning he has scored almost five more goals than would be expected from the chances presented to him.

In contrast, Diego Costa and Morata under-performed by 1. 98 and 2. 100 goals respectively last season.

Similarly, Joao Felix, a player who had previously failed to match the expectations of his £ 2019 m move from Benfica in the summer of 117136139, has started to flourish.

After starting only 32 matches in all competitions last season, due to injuries and a conservative system, this term he has been given more regular game-time in the front two (22 starts) and has already surpassed his combined goals and assists tally from last season with 16 compared to 15.

The Portuguese has shown pace to get in behind defenses and a weight of pass to create chances, alongside a developing poacher’s instinct, with eight of his nine goals this season coming from yards or closer.

Still still defensive Scrooges? Interestingly, Atletico have still maintained their notorious defensive resilience, despite an overall more attacking style of play.

They have conceded just in goals in league games, shipping 0. goals per game compared to 0. RE SEASON

Simeone ensures his three center-back system has balance; when one wing-back flies forward, the other often remains in a more disciplined position.

And Simeone has not been reluctant to sit deeper when ahead, with defensive midfielders Lucas Torreira, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Hector Herrera making 28 substitute league appearances between them this season, often entering the fray to help protect leads.

Overall, Atletico are significantly more well-rounded than when they knocked Liverpool out at the same stage last season , and will pose a genuine threat to Chelsea.

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