Diego Simeone has turned an Atlético Madrid team that ground out 1-0 wins in its first two fixtures into a wide open, attacking side almost overnight.
Just a week after a 1-0 win against Leganés, Atletico scored their biggest comeback under Simeone — rallying from down 2-0 against Eibar to win 3-2.
The mattress makers’ failure to emphasize the attack was signified by last weekend’s 2-0 loss at Real Sociedad, a game that included poor performances from almost every player on the pitch. The back door was left open again versus Juventus in the first Champions League fixture on Wednesday. The Old Lady went ahead 2-0, and while Atlético did well to rally for the 2-2 draw, the team missed an opportunity to start off the European campaign with a home victory. Those two missed points could loom large in a group which looks difficult.
With so much attacking talent, Atlético’s long-anticipated move to a more open system makes sense. Atleti have more talent in the midfield and forward positions than most teams they will face and should therefore try to get those players as involved as possible. This combination of players is likely to outscore other teams in the long haul, so they can be willing to surrender some goals over the course of a match.
That being said, Atletico should make one major change in its lineup: Vitolo for Thomas Lemar.
According to understat.com, Vitolo sits fifth in La Liga in expected goals per 90 minutes (among those who have played at least 100 minutes), but he was kept out of the starting lineup against Juventus in favor of Lemar.
The Frenchman has started over Vitolo in four out of five matches this season, despite Vitolo’s large lead of 0.81 expected goals (0.82 to 0.01) per 90 minutes. The Spaniard is in fact second in the team in xG/90 yet remains on the bench.
Clearly, Simeone still believes Lemar can work things out and live up to his €70 million price tag. And the Argentine may deserve some credit here as the ex-Monaco attacker rang up 0.16 xG/90 in the 2018/19 campaign, good for fifth among Atlético’s players with 1,000 minutes or more. Vitolo sat back in 2018/19 with 0.09 xG/90, albeit over a small sample size of just 732 minutes.
Atlético are dealing with some fixture congestion, coming up on the third of six matches in 17 days. This gives Simeone a chance to experiment against two teams from the bottom half of the table, Celta Vigo and Mallorca. The Celta match on Saturday makes more sense as another opportunity to bring Vitolo in the XI, since it is the home fixture rather than the one that involves a flight to Palma.
After such an intense game Wednesday, Cholo could opt to get creative and dole out minutes differently — which can only be good news for Vitolo, whose performances show that he at least deserves a platoon runout and continued chances to prove his worth, health permitting.
Does Vitolo need to start for Atlético?
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