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Simeone no closer to solving Atlético’s defensive paradox

What can we are saying about Atlético Madrid this season?

Effectively, they’re objectively not excellent.

For the primary time beneath Diego Simeone’s watch, they misplaced 4 occasions in a row in LaLiga. On Sunday evening, Unai Emery’s Villarreal gave them a shower at La Cerámica (though the sport ended 2-2). Each week feels just like the erosion of the great work accomplished over the past decade. There have been setbacks and doubts throughout that point beneath Cholo, however this feels extra important than any of these mini-crises.

Atlético Madrid are misplaced.

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Regardless of the uncertainty over taking part in fashion, Atlético’s ‘xG towards’ is the most effective in LaLiga (by some margin) and the third-best in Europe’s top-five leagues, according to StatsBomb by way of FBRef.

However that doesn’t inform the total story, as a result of Atlético have conceded 24 targets to their 15.8 anticipated targets towards.

So, congratulations to Atlético for beating the xG mannequin, for a begin.

Again in 2018, there was speak that Liverpool had found out a manner to create probabilities that the anticipated targets mannequin couldn’t seize.

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“A part of [Liverpool’s 2018-2020 over performance vs xG] is somewhat little bit of luck. However I believe there’s stuff Liverpool try this’s not within the anticipated targets mannequin,” Statsbomb founder Ted Knutson mentioned.

Atlético have accomplished the identical…in reverse. They don’t surrender a number of probabilities, however they concede a number of targets.

Ben Torvaney has written about this, so I’ll piggyback off his work and take a look at to get the guts of what’s unsuitable with Atlético.

Torvaney concludes, after some heavy-duty modelling, that the reality a couple of staff’s efficiency is someplace between the 2 extremes under.

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The quote that stands out from the article is that this one:

Nonetheless, this implies that groups with giant variations between their xG tallies and precise targets are doing good/dangerous issues that the xG fashions aren’t selecting up on.

Up to now this season, Atlético have allowed 24 targets (together with two personal targets) from 127 photographs, according to Understat. They’ve conceded 13 large probabilities, eight of which turned targets. That consists of three penalties, two open-play targets, and two set-piece tallies.

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So, what are Atlético doing so unsuitable to outperform the xG mannequin?

Through the years, Atlético have develop into a extra possession-based staff, partly out of necessity and in addition as a result of Simeone has higher gamers with a capability to do extra on the ball.

Simeone has acquiesced to this evolution, however Atlético beneath the Argentine have by no means actually taken on the identification of a possession-based aspect. It’s an inauthentic identification. The extra Atlético attempt to faux it, the more severe they get, as a result of they merely can’t defend towards fast transitions.

(It’s ironic {that a} supervisor who wrote the instruction guide on how to counter-attack groups within the trendy recreation doesn’t know the way to defend towards them.)

You may’t count on Lemar, Félix, Koke, and Llorente to be at their inventive finest once they know they’re one failed move away from being humiliated on a counter-attack.

Within the two examples under, Atlético coughed up the ball in midfield, and Granada and Actual Sociedad countered efficiently towards a scrambling protection.

Simeone’s determination to play three on the again means Mario Hermoso tends to get caught up the sphere, Geoffrey Kondogbia is compelled out to cease the crosser/passer, and Felipe is left to choose up the striker steaming into the penalty space.

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There have been numerous different shut calls this season, and Atlético are always taking part in with a concern of getting pounced upon. You may’t count on Thomas Lemar or Joao Félix, or certainly Koke and Marcos Llorente, to really feel fully assured and at their inventive finest once they know they’re one failed move away from being humiliated on a counter-attack.

You could possibly additionally level to Atlético’s attackers being unable to give them a big-enough lead the place one counter wouldn’t lose all of them three factors. When the sport is on a knife-edge towards a staff with nothing to lose and every part to acquire, anxiousness will increase considerably.

The issues for Atlético are manifold, and concern appears to have gripped the squad. Felipe is an instance of a participant whose performances have nose-dived. However he’s one among many gamers being requested to do one thing he isn’t snug doing — taking part in in a again three, always switching between three and 4 on the again.

Simeone doesn’t have the gamers to substitute him or patch up the leaks. That is thematic in Atlético’s 2021/22 squad. The coach has to be extra proactive towards groups sitting deep, however he can’t appear to implement a system that doesn’t go away his defenders uncovered to transitions. And round and round we go.

Throw in Jan Oblak’s steep decline and a risk-averse midfield, and also you see the entire system, squad, and season as a complete begin to crumble earlier than our eyes. The problems are critical on their very own, however amplified even additional when mixed.

Atlético had been as soon as a staff with nothing to lose. However now they do have one thing to lose, and it’s not clear if they will shake the concern earlier than it prices the staff extra silverware or a spot in LaLiga’s high 4.

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