Atletico Madrid changed their opposition from Galatasaray to newly-promoted Crotone for their third and final preseason game for security reasons given the situation in the moment at Turkey. As per usual, for these kinds of fixtures with players still searching for peak fitness and coaches still carrying out plenty of work, it is best to take a more relaxed view and not draw too many conclusions from the result. Thus, we will take a look at the tactics and lineups Diego Simeone opted for in order to get an overall view of what he is thinking as we head into the 2016-17 season opener with Alaves in two Sundays time.
The technical staff decided on a squad made up of 20 players before travelling to Italy and several players rested in Madrid for different reasons. Josema Giménez, Miguel Moyá and Kevin Gameiro are working to recover from injuries while Óliver Torres and Borja Bastón were still working to reach agreements with other clubs to decide their futures. (Baston has since agreed to join Swansea)
Regarding the starting XI for the game, the boss opted for a lineup based on players who have been part of the team from the beginning of preseason and went for the tried and tested formation: 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Tiago played the closest to the centre-backs and Thomas closest to the forwards while Saúl and Gabi played wider in more midfield positions. As for the defensive line, Filipe Luis and Sime Vrsaljko occupied the wings and enjoyed the free spaces which had been left absent due to the lack of wingers. Godín and Savic paired with each other in the central defensive positions and appear to be the chosen two to start the season given what we have seen in preseason. Fernando Torres and Santos Borré played up top to round out the XI with the Slovenian Wall, a.k.a Jan Oblak in goals.
This was the lineup during the entire first half of the match. A first half troubled by a lack of precision in passing situations and a certain feeling of fatigue. Atletico did have some goals chances during set plays and played well for the most part in opposition territory with Filipe Luis the stand-out player for the first 45.
Diego Simeone changed everything for the second half and gave debuts to quite a few players who had not featured at all during the preseason. Yannick Carrasco played his first minutes since his return from Euro 2016 and Nico Gaitan wore the rojiblanco for the first time in his career too. In addition, the coach put some of the players in who had not travelled to Australia to face Tottenham and Melbourne such as Koke, Augusto and Juanfran and let Lucas accompany Godín in the centre of defence.
Cholo also took the advantage of half-time to introduce some tactical changes in the team in order to try to change the pace of the game. The manager achieved his objective with aplomb; the change to 4-3-3 and the introduction of the rested players gave Atletico a more dynamic look and feel. Koke and Saúl made some good combinations and appeared close to the Italian’s penalty area on a number of occasions while they caused damage in the opponent’s defence adding strength in attack to the wide positions.
These wide positions helped them to create diagonal passes like the one that resulted in Atleti’s first goal. Carrasco won the ball in Crotone’s half and started the counter before finding Gaitan who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The Argentine shot between the goalie’s legs and marked his first appearance for Atletico with his first goal. What a way to make a debut. Nicolás was the main talking point of the game and was not a disappointment in any respect. He was also involved in several good drives forward while showing off several of his abilities.
Augusto Fernández performed the same playmaker role as he did last last year and Filipe, probably the MOM, along with Juanfran displayed several combinations in attacking play too.
In the last quarter of the tie, which coincided with the Italian side’s best patch as they pushed hard for an equalizer, Simeone introduced the last two substitutions: Hector for Torres and Diogo Jota for Saul. The entrance of these two players forced the manager to put Gaitán into a more central midfield position with the corresponding change of tactics.
We were able to see Gaitán playing a central role with plenty of freedom and Koke playing in a “pure” midfielder spot.
This tactical system may be a statement of intent and there is a sense that this could facilitate the implementation of Gameiro, Griezmann, Carrasco and Gaitan at the same time in the same lineup. Although that might seem far-fetched because it would mean leaving out more than two of Gabi, Koke, Saul, Tiago and Augusto.
Diogo Jota was another one of the protagonists snatching a goal in the final seconds of the game. The new Portuguese arrival picked up possession in the Italian area, dribbled beyond the goalkeeper and scored his first goal almost unopposed. The young striker declared his intention, despite rumours that indicate a possible loan to Leganes, as his purpose is to stay in the squad and continue fighting until a decision is made.
The feelings after the game are that despite the excitement generated by the team, there is still plenty to work on and several adjustments to make. Moreover, you can guess that it will be very difficult to be a guaranteed starter in Atletico’s starting XIs and Cholo Simeone will have many good options on the bench.