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Atlético Madrid and handballs — don’t throw your hands up in the air

Four of the seven penalties Atleti have conceded this season have been for handballs. 

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Valladolid CF - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

It’s quite clear which songs are on the Atlético Madrid pre-match playlist this season. They’ve obviously been listening to a lot of Fedde Le Grand, LMFAO and Taio Cruz because the players keep on throwing their hands up in the air sometimes saying “ayo, gotta let go.”

Los colchoneros have conceded seven penalties this season, and four have been blown for handballs. Yes, four. And it really should have been five as Santiago Arias was lucky that his Saturday afternoon naivety was overlooked in the final moments of the 1-0 victory over Valladolid.

Had the Colombian been punished, then he’d have joined Juanfran (against Real Madrid in the 4-2 UEFA Super Cup win), Stefan Savić (against Monaco in the 2-0 Champions League win), Filipe Luís (against Real Betis in the 1-0 LaLiga defeat) and Saúl Ñíguez (against Valencia in the 3-2 league win) in being penalised for a handball in the area.

Only the penalties in the 1-1 LaLiga draw against Girona, the 3-1 LaLiga defeat against Real Madrid and the 3-0 Champions League defeat against Juventus were actually given for mistimed challenges — even if not all of these were inside the area...(but no need to go into that here).

Still, there is a clear problem with the way Atlético have defended in this sense.

Most of these handball penalties were fair, too. Perhaps only the Savić pen in the Monaco game at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano could be considered harsh. For the other spot kick awards, the players’ hands were in unnatural positions and they couldn’t really have any complaints.

So what should be done as Atlético turn their attentions to next season? Well, interestingly, the handball rules are to be tweaked by the International FA Board and these alterations will come into effect before the 2019/20 campaign.

“We’ve changed it to say the body has a certain silhouette,” said David Elleray, the technical director of the board. “Players should be allowed to have their arms by their side because it’s their natural silhouette, but if the arms are extended beyond that silhouette then the body is being made unnaturally bigger, with the purpose of it being a bigger barrier to the opponent or the ball.”

Basically, referees are being told to focus more and more on the position of a player’s arm and less on whether or not they think it was accidental. It’s unclear exactly how these rulebook updates will be interpreted and you can never say anything with certainty when it comes to Spanish refereeing. But the likelihood is that all the penalties given against Atleti for handball this season minus the Savic one would be awarded next season. And there may be other handball instances that weren’t given this year that would be punished next season.

Diego Simeone, then, must consider this when it comes to instructing his defenders ahead of the new campaign. If we consider Saúl a defender — and we may as well given how often he has played left-back this year — then all four of the handball penalties conceded this season have been by defenders. It’s strange and it’s not even as if this is just a side effect of a great blocking team, as Atlético have made the sixth-fewest blocks of shots and crosses of all LaLiga’s teams. In other words, they don’t block many balls towards Jan Oblak’s goal — and when they do, it’s disproportionally with an arm.

So maybe there has to be a change in the music played on the coach and in the dressing room before matches. Don’t put those hands up. Keep those hands down by your sides in a natural silhouette for Detroit.