Wednesday evening’s early kick-off saw another disappointing tie for Atlético Madrid against relegation-battling opposition from LaLiga. This time, it was Granada’s turn.
Led by newly-appointed coach Aitor Karanka, who had only met his squad for the first time around 24 hours before kick-off, the Andalusian side left the Wanda Metropolitano with a 0-0 draw, threatened very little in a mind-numbing display.
Here are three things learned from the game.
Fitness levels are a problem
Atlético have had the fixtures coming in thick and fast in recent weeks, and they haven’t been helped much by injuries to players like Thomas Lemar, João Félix, Héctor Herrera and José Maria Giménez.
However, even with that in mind, the way Atleti’s players were worn out against Granada is a concern.
The first 10 or 15 minutes of each half were far and away the best periods of play Atleti had. As the clock ticked away, their chances faded. There was no energy, no spark and, most importantly, no pace.
Ángel Correa was the only central figure who offered any of those qualities, and Granada’s defence still easily controlled him. Correa continually dropped too deep, then looked to get onto the shoulder of the last man, but found himself easily marked by two Granada defenders in a three-man defence. With Antoine Griezmann already dropping deeper, Atlético’s attack had no cutting edge.
Much of the team’s tactics came down the flanks, relying heavily upon Yannick Carrasco’s pace on the left and Marcos Llorente’s down the right. In total, 75% of Atleti’s attacks came from wide areas, with more than half coming down the left. Reliance on such explosive players like these is never sustainable for any player, much less for one like Carrasco — who was completing 90 minutes for only the second time since early February and is clearly lacking match fitness.
The end result was that Koke and Rodrigo de Paul would drop deep, positioned almost like central defenders, to launch long balls into attack directed at static forwards. Atleti lacked pace, movement, and energy. Any low-block can defend against that.
Youngsters will get their chance
Suspension for Geoffrey Kondogbia, alongside the injury to Herrera, provided an opportunity for Javi Serrano as he made his first start for the club. Giuliano Simeone, son of Diego, then made his first-team debut in second-half injury time.
Serrano has made several substitute appearances and impressed with his determination and attitude, though little time has been afforded to judge the teenager’s technical ability. In this first real outing, it felt as though his attitude was far better than his ability. While he would chase down every loose ball and press high, his control and touch were poor.
Too often, Serrano was caught in possession, turning and putting himself into trouble. In total, he lost the ball five times, twice in his own half. Unfortunately, that makes him a vulnerability in such a fundamental role as the holding midfielder in a Diego Simeone system.
Later on, approaching injury time, Giuliano Simeone was also brought on to replace a limping Marcos Llorente. Only on the field for five minutes, Diego’s 19-year-old son made an immediate impact. His energy and movement hadn’t been provided by any of the more-experienced options. Within a minute, he had already won a free-kick on the edge of the box after being bundled over.
Giuliano’s record of 23 goals in 32 games for the B team is against opposition at a much-lower level than LaLiga opposition. But his goal-scoring form has given him a confidence and belief that other Atlético forwards are clearly lacking. He made runs off the shoulder and added that aforementioned cutting edge that had been missing. He made Atleti a threat again, albeit too late in the match.
Cholo doesn’t know what to do in attack without João
Forced off at half-time against Espanyol at the weekend, João Félix’s absence provided a conundrum for Simeone. He opted to handle it by starting Griezmann and Correa, but the pair was unconvincing to say the least.
As mentioned previously, Atleti found themselves up against a low block that was happy to sit and wait for attackers to run at them. The issue was that Atleti never did run at them, at least centrally. Instead, the three central defenders were left to occupy one attacker, or even to double up down the flanks.
Correa, in particular, has been off the pace in recent weeks, and is lacking that pizzazz that sets him apart. He was almost invisible, and Griezmann’s runs from deep did not cause consistent issues for the defensive Granada set-up.
Substitutions saw the approach change again, with Luis Suárez and later Matheus Cunha introduced before Giuliano’s late debut. Suárez provided more of a presence and outlet, at least occupying Granada defenders as a physical nuisance. The Uruguayan won two of Atlético’s fouls in the match.
Cunha’s movement provided something different and did begin to exploit spaces, as his 89th-minute run through onto a through ball and shot against the post proved. That was what finally caused some problems for Granada. Atlético lacked this kind of forcefulness and clever movement for most of the match, and once found, they lacked the vision and passing ability to make it count.
Atleti’s failure to break down low blocks, a frequent occurrence this season, is largely down to this. Simeone has the personnel, but he fails to use them effectively or adapt the system to their strengths in order to make a difference against opponents like Granada, Mallorca, or Levante.