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Simeone no closer to solving Atlético’s defensive paradox

What can we are saying about Atlético Madrid this season?

Nicely, they’re objectively not excellent.

For the primary time beneath Diego Simeone’s watch, they misplaced 4 instances in a row in LaLiga. On Sunday night time, Unai Emery’s Villarreal gave them a shower at La Cerámica (despite the fact that the sport ended 2-2). Each week feels just like the erosion of the nice work performed during the last decade. There have been setbacks and doubts throughout that point beneath Cholo, however this feels extra vital than any of these mini-crises.

Atlético Madrid are misplaced.

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Regardless of the uncertainty over taking part in model, Atlético’s ‘xG towards’ is the very best in LaLiga (by some margin) and the third-best in Europe’s top-five leagues, according to StatsBomb by way of FBRef.

However that doesn’t inform the complete story, as a result of Atlético have conceded 24 objectives to their 15.8 anticipated objectives towards.

So, congratulations to Atlético for beating the xG mannequin, for a begin.


Again in 2018, there was speak that Liverpool had discovered a means to create possibilities that the anticipated objectives mannequin couldn’t seize.

“A part of [Liverpool’s 2018-2020 over performance vs xG] is a bit of little bit of luck. However I feel there’s stuff Liverpool do this’s not within the anticipated objectives mannequin,” Statsbomb founder Ted Knutson stated.

Atlético have performed the identical…in reverse. They don’t quit a number of possibilities, however they concede a number of objectives.

Ben Torvaney has written about this, so I’ll piggyback off his work and take a look at to get the guts of what’s mistaken with Atlético.

Torvaney concludes, after some heavy-duty modelling, that the reality a couple of crew’s efficiency is someplace between the 2 extremes under.

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The quote that stands out from the article is that this one:

Nonetheless, this implies that groups with giant variations between their xG tallies and precise objectives are doing good/dangerous issues that the xG fashions aren’t choosing up on.

To this point this season, Atlético have allowed 24 objectives (together with two personal objectives) from 127 pictures, according to Understat. They’ve conceded 13 huge possibilities, eight of which grew to become objectives. That consists of three penalties, two open-play objectives, and two set-piece tallies.

So, what are Atlético doing so mistaken to outperform the xG mannequin?

Over time, Atlético have develop into a extra possession-based crew, partly out of necessity and likewise as a result of Simeone has higher gamers with a capability to do extra on the ball.

Simeone has acquiesced to this evolution, however Atlético beneath the Argentine have by no means really taken on the id of a possession-based facet. It’s an inauthentic id. The extra Atlético strive to pretend it, the more severe they get, as a result of they merely can’t defend towards fast transitions.

(It’s ironic {that a} supervisor who wrote the instruction guide on how to counter-attack groups within the trendy sport doesn’t understand how to defend towards them.)

Within the two examples under, Atlético coughed up the ball in midfield, and Granada and Actual Sociedad countered efficiently towards a scrambling protection.

Simeone’s determination to play three on the again means Mario Hermoso tends to get caught up the sphere, Geoffrey Kondogbia is compelled out to cease the crosser/passer, and Felipe is left to decide up the striker steaming into the penalty space.

There have been numerous different shut calls this season, and Atlético are always taking part in with a worry of getting pounced upon. You’ll be able to’t count on Thomas Lemar or Joao Félix, or certainly Koke and Marcos Llorente, to really feel completely assured and at their artistic greatest after they know they’re one failed move away from being humiliated on a counter-attack.

You possibly can additionally level to Atlético’s attackers being unable to give them a big-enough lead the place one counter wouldn’t lose all of them three factors. When the sport is on a knife-edge towards a crew with nothing to lose and every thing to acquire, nervousness will increase considerably.


The issues for Atlético are manifold, and worry appears to have gripped the squad. Felipe is an instance of a participant whose performances have nose-dived. However he’s considered one of many gamers being requested to do one thing he isn’t comfy doing — taking part in in a again three, always switching between three and 4 on the again.

Simeone doesn’t have the gamers to change him or patch up the leaks. That is thematic in Atlético’s 2021/22 squad. The coach has to be extra proactive towards groups sitting deep, however he can’t appear to implement a system that doesn’t depart his defenders uncovered to transitions. And round and round we go.

Throw in Jan Oblak’s steep decline and a risk-averse midfield, and also you see the entire system, squad, and season as an entire begin to crumble earlier than our eyes. The problems are critical on their very own, however amplified even additional when mixed.

Atlético have been as soon as a crew with nothing to lose. However now they do have one thing to lose, and it’s not clear if they’ll shake the worry earlier than it prices the crew extra silverware or a spot in LaLiga’s prime 4.

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