Atletico Madrid on the Attack in 2016
19th October 2016. By Ryan Baldi.
Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid are renowned for their defensive rigidity and organisation. Last season, Los Colchoneros conceded just 18 goals in the 38-game La Liga campaign on their way to a third place finish.
This gave them the finest defensive record in the entire division, and by some margin. The next most efficient rear-guard was that of champions Barcelona, who conceded 29 times, then Real Madrid who gave up 34 goals.
But Altéti were trailing their titles rivals when it came to putting the ball in the net. Simeone’s men scored 63 goals for an average of 1.66 per game; Barça, powered by their ‘MSN’ attacking trident of Liones Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, bagged 112 goals for an average of 2.95 per game, with Los Blancos finding the net 110 times for an average of 2.89 goals per game.
Atlético don’t have the budget to assemble an attacking line-up to rival the two La Liga super powers; they are not able to dip into their pockets and spend €100 million on a Gareth Bale or a Suárez.
But this season, Simeone has constructed a side that is able to close the goal-scoring gap on the Clásico pair, while still maintaining all of their customary defensive solidity.
With eight games of the 2016-17 campaign played, Atléti sit top of the table, ahead of their city rivals on goal difference. Los Rojiblancos have already scored 21 goals – just one fewer than Real Madrid and four behind Barcelona – for an average of 2.63 goals per game.
This increase in offensive productivity – they are scoring one goal per game more than they did last season – has come at no expense to their defence. In fact, Atlético’s defensive record has also improved, having conceded only three goals so far, giving them an average of 0.36 goals allowed per game, compared to last season’s 0.47.
After a slow start to the season which saw them draw their opening two matches against promoted sides Alavés and Leganés, Atléti got off the ground with a resounding 4-0 victory over Celta de Vigo at Balaídos.
Sporting Gijón were trounced 5-0 at the Vicente Calderón in the next league fixture and, most recently, last season’s Champions League runners-up smashed struggling Granada 7-1 last weekend.
So what is behind Atlético’s sudden potency?
Firstly, a couple of astute moves in the summer transfer market have rounded out Simeone’s attacking options, giving the Argentinian coach a greater choice of offensive weaponry.
Nicolás Gaitán was signed from Benfica for €25 million. The Argentinian winger has made five appearances in La Liga to date, with only two from the start, as he settles into his new surroundings. But the 28-year-old came off the bench to bag himself a brace against Granada, showing that he is beginning to adjust to Simeone’s system.
With his direct dribbling ability, eye for a killer pass and versatility, Gaitán’s signing adds greater depth in attacking areas as well as allowing Atleti to shift from their standard 4-4-2 set up should the situation dictate.
The other major arrival at the Vicente Calderón this summer was Kévin Gameiro, who was signed from Sevilla for €40 million, with Argentinian forward Luciano Vietto moving in the opposite direction.
Gameiro was superb for Sevilla last season, stepping up to fill the void left by Colombian poacher Carlos Bacca, who joined AC Milan in the summer of 2015.
As the Andalusian club’s primary goal threat, the Frenchman netted 25 times to help his side retain the UEFA Europa League for the third season in a row, despite their disappointing seventh place league finish.
At Atléti, Gameiro is beginning to forge a profitable understanding with compatriot Antoine Griezmann. The former Paris Saint Germain striker’s pace and willingness to run in behind and stretch defences has allowed Griezmann to operate in a slightly deeper second striker role, where his creativity and long-range shooting have flourished.
Gameiro has scored three goals so far this season, which is a return he will be hoping to improve upon. But his deadly finishing and poacher’s instincts made him the ideal foil for Griezmann.
In addition to the new signings, Atléti are also benefitting from the continued development of some of their young attacking stars.
Belgian winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco was brought in from Monaco last summer and showed signs of his supreme talent at times during his debut campaign in the Spanish capital.
This season, the 23-year-old appears to have added a new level of consistency to his game and, with his propensity to provide moments of match-winning inspiration, is becoming a key player for Simeone.
Whether playing on the left or right flank, Carrasco’s mesmerising dribbling skills and ability to shoot powerfully and accurately have made him one of the most feared young players in Spain. The nine-cap Belgium international scored his first career hat-trick against Granada, and his recent form has caught the attention of Chelsea, who are rumoured to be considering putting forward a big-money offer.
Atléti are not looking to sell Carrasco, however, and are thought to be lining up a new contract for their number 10, bumping his buyout clause up to fend off Premier League interest.
Young Argentinian forward Ángel Correa has also become an important figure for Atléti this season. The 21-year-old, who is able to play on either flank or centrally as a second striker, has earned a reputation as a super-sub lately, having come off the bench to make some key contributions.
The most notable of which was when he came on to score against Barcelona in Atlético’s 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou.
With his low centre of gravity and distinctive scuttling dribbling style, the former San Lorenzo player bears a similarity to fellow Argentinian star Carlos Tevez. After starting in the 7-1 win over Granada at the weekend, Correa will soon be in the conversation for a regular berth in Atléti’s XI.
Perhaps the most important factor in Atlético’s imporved attack, is the rise of Antoine Griezmann. The 25-year-old Frenchman was signed from Real Sociedad in 2014 and has been prolific since transforming from a winger to a striker for Los Rojiblancos, scoring 57 goals in his first two seasons with the club.
Griezmann’s confidence has never been higher after his stellar performances with France at the European Championships this summer, in which he was top scorer and named player of the tournament. And he has carried the momentum he gathered with Les Bleus into the new season.
The Mâcon-born star has already netted six goals from eight appearances so far this term and, in his slightly deeper role behind Gameiro, has registered three assists.
In the last six months, Griezmann has catapulted himself into the pantheon of the world’s truly elite footballers, becoming a genuine contender for the Ballon d’Or alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi.
And much like Griezmann, Atléti’s rise has accelerated recently. Simeone’s side have gone from hard to beat contenders, to an all-round package fit to thrill fans and strike fear into the opposition.
Atlético are ready to attack for La Liga and Champions League glory this season.