Atlético Madrid are unbeaten in three to start to the 2021/22 season, though a 2-2 draw with Villarreal before the international break tempered the excitement that followed wins over Celta Vigo and Elche. Diego Simeone’s side needed a late calamity from Aïssa Mandi and Geronimo Rulli to earn a point against the Yellow Submarine, and now, Atlético will play six games in September — four in LaLiga and two in the Champions League.
This column aims to add a little context every week to Atlético’s state, discussing interesting stats or offering food for thought. In this week’s installment, we focus on Ángel Correa’s form, Atlético’s pressure and Joao Felix’s durability.
Is Correa’s level sustainable?
It might not matter in the long term because Atlético bought plenty of goals in the summer transfer window, but Ángel Correa is the top scorer in LaLiga (along with three others on three goals) with a rather-low npxG of 1.1.
It is unfair to think Correa will drop to the bench because of Griezmann’s arrival. The Argentine has toiled and worked hard to earn his place in Simeone’s starting XI. He is also one of Cholo’s most trusted attackers.
But the fact is there are a lot of mouths to feed in that Atlético attack now, and Correa will have to prove himself all over again despite his good start to the league campaign.
A return to the old school
Atlético have evolved from the defensive 4-4-2 tactics that helped pull them into the ranks of European’s elite.
The league champions switched to three at the back last season and have been developing as a team since. This season, with games against Celta Vigo, Elche and Villarreal, Atlético have seen their PPDA — passes before a defensive action — increase to 13.35, up from 10.32 last season.
This basically means they are not pressing as high as they used to.
The sample size is very small. Atlético played away at Celta, who love a chaotic game, and Simeone probably decided to go back to basics against them. Cholo also adjusted for Villarreal, who enjoy 57 percent possession on average.
It will be interesting to see just how Antoine Griezmann and João Félix’s return from injury influence Atlético’s high press. What Cholo does after Saúl’s departure — and with a seemingly bigger role for Rodrigo De Paul — will also be key to determining the next stage in Atlético’s tactical evolution.
João Félix is back
You could make a very convincing argument that Félix has been given a soft ride in the press ever since his move from Benfica in July 2019. The 21-year-old is entering his third season under Simeone and has not come close to fulfilling his potential. We have seen flashes but for a player that cost €120 million, Atlético need more.
There are three types of Simeone substitutions: those required because of injury, those required in search of a goal and those required to kill a game. Too often in his two years at the club, Félix has been taken off when Atlético were looking for a goal. This year, he needs to start more often and be on the field in those final 30 minutes, when games are decided. He averaged just 58 minutes per appearance last season and that number has to increase.
Griezmann’s transfer has stolen the headlines but João Félix needs to make a statement this season, and he can do that if he stays fit and earns more of the coach’s trust.