After last week’s poor showing, Atlético Madrid needed to prove that what happened in Catalonia was not part of a larger trend. Within five minutes of the opening whistle, Atlético proved that they were not going to let the start of this season be marked by another poor performance. They nabbed two early goals, one from Ángel Correa after he showed very quick feet to dribble around four defenders, and another from Yannick Carrasco with some help from poor defending and a great finish with his left foot. Those goals set the tone as Atlético cruised to a 5-1 win on Gran Canaria.
Diego Simeone made five changes to his starting XI from week one. Diego Godín made his return from suspension to help bolster and lead the back line. El Cholo decided to play the youngest, on average, side in La Liga this week. The Argentine selected Correa, Thomas Partey, Luciano Vietto and Šime Vrsaljko to replace Gabi, Juanfran, Fernando Torres and a suspended Antoine Griezmann.
Simeone stuck with his 4-4-2, but regularly shifted to a 4-1-3-2 /4-3-1-2 with Carrasco moving from the left center midfield position to attack directly behind the forwards. There was a very clear delineation between the tactics we saw in Girona the week prior and the tactics implemented against Las Palmas.
From the opening kick, Atlético immediately sent five men rushing forward, showing their intent to play much more on the front foot. They counter-pressed aggressively and looked to spread the field to create more space for Carrasco and the forwards. Atleti focused 48 percent of attacks down the left side and another 33 percent on the right.
Koke and Saúl Ñíguez positioned themselves a bit deeper to help counter press when Atleti were dispossessed. If the ball moved into the 18-yard box, then one of them, usually Koke, would make a run and join the attack. And Thomas’ ability to cover more of the field and Godín’s return allowed Simeone’s full backs to be more involved in the attack than they had been against Girona.
Simeone’s more aggressive early approach against Las Palmas could be attributed to several different things, but Godín’s return undoubtedly made an impression. His presence gave Simeone someone he could trust at the back, allowing him to give more freedom to his full backs to move out to the flanks and push forward. Carrasco showed that when he’s not being mobbed by four or five defenders, he remains one of the better players on the ball.
Thomas, the MOTM for many, was given the nod over Gabi, which was a pleasant surprise. He showed that he now has the all-around quality to be an integral part of the team this season and should remain a regular in Simeone’s rotation. As a holding midfielder, Thomas made four tackles, recorded three interceptions and completed 90 percent of his passes. On several Las Palmas possessions, he stopped an attack and distributed the ball well to trigger an Atlético counter. He even scored his first goal of the season in the 88th minute with a great finish between a couple defenders.
Thomas’ emergence as a solid and athletic defensive mid gives El Cholo additional options in how and where Koke and Saul rotated going forward. His ability to cover and read the game gives Atlético more flexibility in attack. Early on, as Vrsaljko pushed forward, the ball was lost in midfield but Thomas tracked back to beat his man to the loose ball.
Saúl’s on-field performance was quiet, but looking at his statistics you can see his impact on the match. He completed 94 percent of his passes (45-48), made four tackles, four interceptions and assisted Carrasco’s goal. He looked comfortable in attack and played well defensively alongside Thomas, often positioning himself slightly in front of the Ghanaian international.
Manolo Marquez’s Las Palmas lined up in a 4-3-2-1, but as Atlético’s pressure began to cause problems, he looked for ways to help his team move the ball out the back and began to put more men behind the half-way line. If they broke through El Cholo’s press, however, they didn’t have the numbers going forward as fatigue became a factor.
In the 55th minute, Simeone subbed out Vietto for Gabi and moved to a 4-5-1. Vietto played well, with a lot of energy, but after a yellow in the first half and a couple of rash challenges early in the second, it was the right decision to get him off the field. Shortly after Gabi came on, Las Palmas finally broke through after some loose defending by Vrsaljko. Jonathan Callieri headed in a well-placed cross from Momo to make it 2-1. The goal was very similar to Stuani’s first goal for Girona, and in just two matches, Atlético have conceded three goals through the air. Let's see if this becomes a continuous issue and if Simeone addresses it during the international break.
This game was a huge improvement on what we saw from Simeone’s side last week and should give Colchoneros hope that the transfer ban could end up being a net positive for the club, as it could give some young players much-needed minutes. Correa and Thomas look set for big roles this season, especially since the team is unable to sign players until January. Las Palmas isn’t the strongest side right now but the match up provided many insights as to what El Cholo could be thinking for the future against sides like Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao.