Atlético Madrid ran a collective 106.4km during their 2-0 victory away at Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday, and around one full kilometre of that total was racked up in the space of around five seconds just before half time.
Atlético were attacking with a free kick, seeking the breakthrough just before the interval. Logically, centre-backs Felipe and José María Giménez were up for the ball into the box. But the set piece broke down and the Russian side starting attacking, which left Atleti short at the back.
Only Koke and Renán Lodi were anywhere near Jan Oblak’s goal as Fedor Smolov advanced with the ball. But like a cheesy pop song, the rest of the Rojiblanco team shouted “I’ll run back to you” to their Slovenian goalkeeper and sprinted toward their own penalty area. Felipe, Giménez, Saúl, Thomas Partey, Diego Costa and Santiago Arias all made a beeline for Oblak’s goal, running in six lanes as if it were a 100m race.
Only Álvaro Morata and João Félix stayed up top to offer an out-ball, while the rest swarmed the Lokomotiv attackers who’d dared to launch an attacking move. Atlético quickly won back possession when Lokomotiv had to try their luck with a low-quality shooting opportunity which was blasted over the bar. Before that effort, a couple other players had shaped up as if they were about to shoot, but there were simply too many bodies in the way by that point and they backed out of it.
Still can't get over how Atlético Madrid completely and collectively ended this counter attack. pic.twitter.com/reYpvd6e4v— Euan McTear (@emctear) October 3, 2019
The clip has been shared around social media, and while I’ve never seen anything quite this extreme, but this is the kind of mentality we’ve seen at Atlético for years. Fitness coach Profe Ortega works the players so hard during the summer at their Los Ángeles de San Rafael base for moments like this. Sweat it out under the Spanish sun in the summer. Run, run, run in the Russian winter.
Los Colchoneros’ squad has technical quality in abundance, but what makes them more than the sum of their parts is the effort applied in every single match. This mentality comes from the top, from Diego Simeone himself, who was the kind of player to leave it all on the pitch.
When he took over in 2011, he had in his squad players like Gabi, Juanfran, Miranda, Filipe Luís, Diego Godín, Arda Turan and Radamel Falcao. What Simeone changed was their mentality. He got them to put in that one extra morsel of effort per game necessary to change the situation. In his first week, he told the players that they’d end up hating him. He told them that only in the dictionary does “success” — “éxito” in Spanish — come before “work”.
Simeone is Mr. Effort. Even during a family holiday he once grew angry with his wife when he felt she wasn’t pulling her weight in a beach volleyball game. When it comes to professional footballers, he obviously expects even more. He expects moments like Tuesday’s collective sprint back. You can bet Simeone beamed with pride as he watched those five seconds of action.