Atletico and Simeone is a match made in heaven, mainly due to their similar footballing philosophy. Throughout their history, Atletico have been known for their walls-to-the-back style of defending and the reluctance to copy the tactics of popular Spanish clubs. However, in 21/22 La Liga, Atletico have conceded 13 goals in 12 games. One does not usually associate these statistics with Simeone’s Atletico, but the numbers are indeed true.
Simeone is by far the longest-serving manager in Europe’s top five leagues. Almost 10 years have passed by since his appointment as Atletico’s manager. It must be said he has over-achieved amidst fierce competition from two of the world’s richest clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Right from his first full season, he ensured Atletico never finished below the third spot in the league and won two Europa League trophies. But by the end of the 2019/20 season, it was clear his methods have become old. In this article, we will first take a look at Simeone’s style and how he is changing his game plan in accordance with the demands of modern football.
The Simeone ball
Simeone’s preferred formation is a 4-4-2 with a low or mid defensive block. He likes one of his strikers to work hard when the team is out of possession. That role has been fulfilled by Antoine Griezmann to good effect. Simeone has preferred his main striker to be a physically imposing presence, someone who can shrug off central defenders and play-in others. Even if they lack significant pace, Simeone wants his center-forward to press and make a nuisance of himself in the penalty area.
Needless to say, Simeone’s defenders are dogmatic and committed to the team’s cause. They barely take any risk while passing out from the back. At their peak, Atletico’s dominance in midfield was built around hard-working and efficient players such as Gabi and Koke. Simeone has also worked with two world-class shot stoppers, Courtois and Oblak.
Simeone enjoyed a lot of success in his first 5 years as Atletico reached two Champions League finals, won the League, Copa del Rey and Europa League. However, after losing to Real Madrid in the 2016 final, Atletico went without a major trophy for four seasons. Simeone understood that the old-fashioned 4-4-2 has become predictable and decided it is time for a change.
From the 2020/21 season, Simeone started favoring a three-man defense with attacking wing-backs. The defense consisted of Savic, Hermoso and Gimenez. Trippier and Carrasco were favored as the wing-backs. Carrasco was given the license to use his pace during transitions, while Trippier was more cautious with his runs forward.
Luis Suarez, almost forced out of Barcelona, was the focal point of Simeone’s Atletico in 2020/21. He scored 21 goals, which include several game-changing strikes. The breakthrough performer was undoubtedly, Marcos Llorente. He was used as a wing-back, central midfielder, second striker and thrived in all the roles. In the league, he scored 12 goals and provided 10 assists.
Atletico scored 67 goals in the 2020/21 La Liga, not a big number by any means. But the more shocking aspect was how coordinated the attacking play was and how often Atletico had numbers in attack. A team known for putting defense first throughout their history suddenly looked like they wanted to shed their identity. Simeone’s Atletico was no longer the team that sat back for 90 minutes. They wanted to take the attack on the opposition, albeit in their own way.
This brand-new version of Simeone’s Atletico has endured problems this season. The fact that teams expect Atletico Madrid to play in a certain way worked in their favor last season. Atletico Madrid sits at the fourth position in 20/21 La Liga, even lower-tier teams have defeated or drawn against them. Simeone has even fielded an ultra-attacking 3-5-3 at times with Felix, Griezmann and Suarez forming the forward line. This has resulted in pockets of space that teams have exploited well until now.
Periods such as this will truly test Simeone’s patience. There will be a heavy temptation to go back to the old ways, but he also knows that modern football is progressing in a different direction. Only time will tell whether Atletico can enjoy sustained success in their new avatar.