Twitter may have been invented for the sole purpose of allowing people to jump to conclusions, but it was still strange to see so much reactionary panic over Atlético Madrid’s set piece defending on Saturday afternoon.
Diego Simeone’s men conceded at two corner kicks in the space of six minutes away at Real Valladolid to give up a two-goal lead — one which Antoine Griezmann restored late on, to the relief of many. Despite collecting the three points, the post-mortem was intense and the eyes of scrutiny focused in on the defending for the two Pucela goals.
There’s no escaping the fact that the defending was lax and that it was poor. On Fernando Calero’s 57th minute header, the Valladolid defender out-jumped Filipe Luís and directed the ball past Jan Oblak. At the second goal, in the 63rd minute, some Atleti players were too busy claiming that the corner kick had curled behind the goal line before Enes Ünal headed the ball off Saúl Ñíguez’s lower half and in.
However, there is no need to panic. Sure, Atlético conceded two goals from corners in half a dozen minutes, but it’s not like they’ve been conceding from set pieces all campaign.
The mattress makers have let in just three set piece goals this season — the two in Valladolid and Guido Carillo’s goal at a free kick in Leganés, plus one penalty. That’s one of the better records in the division, as only seven teams have conceded fewer. As for the Champions League, Simeone’s side did not concede one set piece goal in the group stage, something only 10 other teams can claim.
No team is ever going to go through a whole season without conceding from set pieces. There is an element of luck involved every time a ball is pinged into a penalty box containing at least 15 players, as was seen with the misfortune of Saúl’s own goal at Estadio José Zorrilla on Saturday.
Even when Atleti and their famously stingy defensive unit won the league title in 2013/14, they still conceded six set piece goals, not including penalties. This year they’re on course to concede seven from set pieces, which of course isn’t much worse at all.
There is always room for improvement and the fact that Atlético have conceded 12 total goals so far this league campaign is disappointing when compared to the seven goals conceded at this stage in 2017/18. However, set piece defending isn’t this defense’s main issue — that would be fitness, something that must be resolved before the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Juventus in February.
Still, Atlético simply had a very poor six minutes in this department on Saturday — and even then, los colchoneros came back to win and remain within striking distance of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.