Atlético Madrid secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday night at the Wanda Metropolitano. Renan Lodi’s brace put Atlético temporarily back into the top four, with FC Barcelona yet to play.
The result featured a string of so-called reserves shining brightly. Diego Simeone opted to repeat the line-up which performed well against Manchester United on Wednesday and the side produced an even-more impressive display.
Here, we take a look at three things learned on a positive night for Atleti.
Yannick Carrasco DOES have competition at wing-back
For only the third time this season, Carrasco wasn’t starting for Atlético when fit and available. Instead, the left wing-back role went to Renan Lodi, who excelled. With his brace, he built upon an already-impressive display against Man United in midweek.
Just as against the Premier League side, Lodi’s position was a very advanced one, and he replaced Carrasco well, replicating his daring in attack with plenty of dribbling and take-ons. He registered a 100 percent success rate with his three dribbles, and was positive every time he got on the ball.
“It’s a position I wasn’t used to, but I work and listen to my team-mates and the coach to play well like tonight and Wednesday,” Lodi said post-match. “My position is left-back, but it’s always good to learn other positions. I ask Carrasco a lot, because it’s new for me. If I can help the team, I’m willing to.”
Lodi’s finishing was superb, as seen through his two goals from 0.33 xG. The first was a pinpoint finish, while the second showed great composure, the kind of composure which has been absent from his game in the past. In doing so, he became the first Atlético defender to score a brace since Juan Valera against Málaga in 2006.
Also worth noting is the right flank. Šime Vrsaljko and Marcos Llorente are yet to truly connect the same way Llorente did with Trippier, but with each passing game their understanding seems to improve.
On Saturday, Llorente looked to get in between the lines much more. With more confidence in Vrsaljko’s defending, he looked to get ahead of the midfield pairing of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Héctor Herrera to carry the ball in transition. Shortly before half-time as Atleti upped the pressure, there was even the burst of pace into the box that became so characteristic of his play last season.
Getting more performances like that out of Llorente will be crucial for Cholo Simeone.
Geoffrey Kondogbia and Héctor Herrera are better right now than Koke and Rodrigo De Paul
Where Koke and De Paul bring chaos, Kondogbia and Herrera bring peace. A perfect equilibrium in the middle of the park, it seems unlikely they will be displaced anytime soon unless the muscular injury to Kondogbia is worse than first feared.
The mere presence of a holding midfielder makes a huge difference to how Atlético defended. Kondogbia’s ability to disrupt play and intercept movements ahead of the defence afforded more peace to the back three, who were less ragged than they have been for much of the season.
Over the course of 68 minutes, he made a stunning nine recoveries. That’s one every seven and a half minutes. It was no surprise that when he was withdrawn, Celta Vigo started to gain more control in the middle.
Also significant is that Kondogbia provided both assists for Lodi to score. His role is not just that of a midfield destroyer, but he’s an important outlet from deep too.
What was intriguing was Kondogbia’s replacement. Javi Serrano was kitted out on the touchline, ready to come on, only for Simeone to send him back to the dugout and instead bring on Thomas Lemar — a player of a very different profile, the polar opposite of a like-for-like replacement.
Meanwhile, Herrera again dictated the tempo, with 84 percent pass accuracy while looking to control the pace of the game. In the stands, comparisons were made to a more-limited Bernd Schuster. Few would have expected such a comparison to be made only a few weeks ago when many were counting down the days on his contract.
Add in a coordinated press, with Lodi and Llorente down the flanks behind a hard-working Ángel Correa in attack, and Atlético were defending proactively rather than reactively.
This was a performance more like Atletico Madrid 2016-2019 in nature, with Gabe, Koke or Saúl in the middle, than what we’ve seen the past few years. And it was a game in which Atlético’s midfield dominated the pitch, which hasn’t happened all that often this season.
The signing of Reinildo makes perfect sense
The deal to bring in Reinildo was very much like the one to bring in Daniel Wass. It was a cut-price bargain acquisition that made the squad stronger and deeper. At the time, it seemed it was an addition to enable Simeone to line up with a back four in defence.
Against Osasuna, Reinildo moved to the left of a back three, and it worked well. He’s played there since against Manchester United and Celta Vigo and impressed.
Defensively solid, he made four interceptions and five ball recoveries, showing the intelligence to position himself well throughout the match on Saturday. In fact, it was that positioning which allowed him to get back and clear the ball off the line in the first half.
José Maria Giménez looked highly-suspect and Stefan Savić joined the Uruguayan in the referee’s notebook inside the first 15 minutes, but Reinildo cut a more composed figure on the left of the back three. That was huge, as it enabled Lodi to bomb forward more freely and without so many defensive responsibilities. The understanding between the pair already looks sound, with Reinildo offering support in possession but covering efficiently off the ball.
Mario Hermoso’s form this season has left much to be desired and Reinildo appears to be the solution to that. Since Reinildo came on to make his debut at Camp Nou, Hermoso has played only 36 minutes, being left on the bench for a full 90 minutes when available for the first time this season against United and repeating that feat against Celta.
Reinildo was a make-do addition for Atlético that has given one more reliable option to Simeone. The 28-year-old is far from a star signing, but he is the kind of player who will guarantee consistency and reliability at the back. Hermoso is quite the opposite. Right now, Atlético need Reinildos, not Hermosos.