Atlético Madrid dominated Real Madrid on their way to a massive 4-0 win at the Vicente Calderón today. The goals came from Tiago, Saul Ñiguez, Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandžukić. Let’s take a look at how Diego Simeone’s men triumphed–in emphatic fashion–over their cross town rivals.
Atlético, fully fit for the first time in almost three months, put out their best XI for this match. However, Real had five of their regular starters injured or suspended: Marcelo, Luka Modrić, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, and James Rodríguez. The injuries/suspensions to the backline meant that both Nacho and Fábio Coentrão made only their third La Liga starts this season. Nacho was joined at center-back by Raphaël Varane, who made his tenth start. The absence of the two CMs meant Real had to put Sami Khedira out in a a 4-3-3 for only his third start of the season. This is not to say that Atlético only won because Real were without five starters. It could have made a difference, but that is taking absolutely no credit away from Atlético’s dominance today.
Atlético Attacking the Right Side
Atlético, as they are wont to do, focused much more on channeling their attacks down the right side of the pitch than the left side. Better than one-third (34%, to be precise) of their touches came down the right flank, with only 18% down the left side. This is also evident in the fact that Arda Turan took 89 touches, while Saúl Ñíguez had 38 touches and Koke had 4 before being subbed off with an injury (more on Saúl later). Additionally, Juanfran complimented Arda on his side with 45 touches, while left-back Guilherme Siquiera had 28.
Koke’s injury–which may keep him out a month–after only 10 minutes made the decision to carve up Real down the right side that much easier. While Arda’s brilliance certainly was part of why Atlético did it, you must also consider who was down Real’s left side: Nacho at CB, Coentrão at LB, and Cristiano Ronaldo at left wing. Ronaldo is notorious for his lack of defensive awareness, and Coentrão/Nacho are a lot easier to attack compared to Varane/Dani Carvajal. Atlético’s first and fourth goals were crosses that came down their right side, and Diego Simeone confirmed post-game that this was Atletico’s focus, per Dermot Corrigan.
The Smothering Midfield
This game really was won for Atlético thanks to their brilliant performance in the midfield. Atlético never really allowed Real to establish consistent pressure in the attacking third. Real lost possession 25 times throughout the game. Gabi and Tiago were stalwarts in the middle of Simeone’s 4-4-2, recording 11 successful tackles along with 4 interceptions. If the midfield is unable to get the ball to attackers, then the attackers are likely going to struggle. Which leads us to our next point…
The BBC: Out of Service
Simeone’s men did a better job than any other team this season at keeping Real’s usually-dangerous three-headed monster of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo silent. The three of them combined for a grand total of three shots, zero on target, zero chances created and one successful cross in seven tries. This collective ineptitude was most evident after the lead went to 2-0. Bale and Ronaldo had combined for ten touches at that point. Benzema had six touches, but none of them placed him in a threatening position. While Bale and Benzema each had two successful dribbles, Ronaldo failed to record a single one. Those figures are pretty terrible for three world class players. It is worth noting that Ronaldo was missing the support that Marcelo usually offers, but it was still another great performance by Juanfran and the rest of the Atlético defense to keep him and his cohorts out of the game.
Better Call Saúl
Youth graduate Saúl Ñiguez put in a whale of a game. After starting last week at muddy Eibar (and acquitting himself well in a central role), Saúl entered for fellow academy member Koke, and it only took him eight minutes to provide something spectacular.
The 20 year-old’s day didn’t stop there. Over his one hour, he scored, set up Griezmann’s goal, and recorded three tackles and two interceptions before he went off with a minor knee injury in the 70th minute. We’ll have to see how Atlético adjust with no Koke, but Saúl looked mighty comfy on the left and has to be considered moving forward.