The Power of the Collective
The best team in Europe this year won’t win their domestic league.
Until the weekend’s upset 2-1 defeat to lowly Levante, Atlético Madrid were tied on points at the top of the Spanish La Liga, without doubt the highest quality league in the world based on performances in continental UEFA club competition.
Good enough to knock out the reigning La Liga and Bundesliga champions (Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively) out of the Champions League, Atlético has been a revelation.
That they have managed to remain so competitive in domestic competition, while surging to the final of the Champions League (Sunday 29/5, 6.45am NZT) against Real Madrid is testament to excellent coaching, recruitment and player collaboration.
Atlético represent the strength of the collective.
The reason they are so good is simple.
They are one of the best team’s without the ball that you could hope to see.
It is easy to forget about the power of defence, but Atlético is built on it.
A never say die mentality linked to 100% intensity and desire to give all for the cause are the bedrocks of coach Diego Simeone’s squad.
Atlético make it incredibly hard to get close to their goal. The statistics bear out how good they are at making it difficult for opponents to make a completed pass into their penalty area, let alone have a shot.
In the major European leagues, only Juventus (dominant in Italy’s Serie A) nears Atlético when it comes to stopping opponents advancing into dangerous areas of the pitch. According to the highly informative Statsbomb website it takes an average of 114 completions (passes) for the opposition to get one pass completion into the high danger zone around the Atlético goal. That is a lot of passing for scant return.
In 2015 no other club team in Europe allowed fewer shots on goal than Atlético. They have conceded just 19 goals in 37 La Liga matches this season – a phenomenal effort.
So, how has this been achieved?
No Weak Links
Atlético have a hard working team and include one of the world’s best defenders, the Uruguayan Diego Godin.
More important than being a tough tackling squad is the players understanding and knowledge of each other – the core of the team has been together for 3-4 years with the same coach.
For defense or attack this understanding is invaluable and easily underestimated.
From an attacking perspective, knowledge of team mates allows a player to make instinctive passes that create chances. For a defensive player, this level of understanding builds immense trust. Having no weak defensive links through the team makes it very hard to be broken down, and this is why Atlético deserve to be respected.
They have applied vision and awareness to defense and flipped the model entirely. The focus is usually on applying those elements to attack, but Atlético have set out not to concede goals.
By spending time with players, understanding grows. That is something to remember at Top Flight Football Academy. The more quality time players spend working together, the better they will get, especially as they learn to understand each other.
The defensive approach of Atlético is a perfect set up for the counter-attack.
With French top gun Antione Griezmann possessing a razor sharp finish, Atlético’s approach of defending deep invites the opposition to commit numbers forward. This plays into Atlético’s hands, as the speed of their transition is so rapid that they can expose the attacking team.
With fullbacks Juanfran and Felipe Luis able to break at pace, Atlético can burn teams despite having just 30-35% possession during a match.
The Madrid derby in the Champions League final will be fascinating. In 2014 Atlético conceded in the 93rd minute before succumbing to Real Madrid in extra time. Two years later be prepared for a different result.
Some may say that Atlético are a tough side to watch but enjoy them for what they are – a side forged on commitment and desire deserves respect.
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