Scouting Juventus’ UCL opponent: Atletico Madrid

This article is supported by InStat


 Overall strength:


– Atletico create ~1.37 xG/game, ~ 8% more than that of the last season. Their offensive output is similar to that of Sampdoria, Real Betis, Real Sociedad, or Southampton, at a level worse than 80% of the teams in the big four leagues in Europe.


– They concede ~1.15 xG/game, ~ 6% more than that of the last season. Their defensive strength is comparable to Milan’s, Eibar’s, or Napoli’s, at a level better than 85% of the team in the big four leagues.


– Overall, their xG differential is ~0.22 xG/game, better than 64% of the teams in the big four leagues. Its strength is comparable to that of Wolves, Leicester City,  and Marseille.


– For comparison, Atletico’s offense is similar to that of Juventus last season. This season, Juventus’ offense, defense, and overall this season are better than 95% of the teams in the big four leagues.


 Offensive phase: 


– Per shot-wise, Atletico are the worst from a normal gameplay, as opposed to a free-kick or a corner. Their xG/shot from the free kick or the corner is better than 70% of the teams. In contrast, their xG/shot from the regular play hover around the average level.


– Atletico’s 4-4-2 differs from a typical one in that the winger doesn’t aim to attack the flank. Diego Simeone uses them to attack the center, run back and forth like a #8 box-to-box midfielder, and position exchanges with Antoine Griezmann so that the latter can be freed from the defender’s marking:



– In attack, Atletico transform into a narrow 2-4-4. The two central midfielders act as a double pivot to sit in front of the center backs and make the entry passes. Their fullback takes the responsibilities to attack the flank, but Atletico often try to penetrate through the middle. They rarely make cross-field switch, making their passes mostly vertical forward and backward passes in the center.


They counter-press ~4.6% of the lost ball in the opponent half, better than ~95% of the teams. The area they counter-press the strongest is the central center past the opponent’s half. The effect of Atletico’s counter-pressing isn’t clear, because they create and concede similar amounts of xG whether they counter-press or not.


– Atletico’s free-kick and corner create relatively more xG per shot, but they are still only above average. Looking deeper, Atletico have a hidden weapon: the short corner. They create ~0.06 xG per short corner, putting them at the top three percentile in Europe.


– Atletico are opportunistic when they orchestrate the short corner. The defenders are always going to assume that a cross is coming, therefore they will always pack the penalty box. Atletico will try to screen and let Angel Correa collect the pass from the corner taker, or they will hit a quick corner before the opponent has time to set up the defense. Either way, Atletico aim to create a numerical advantage or a 1 vs. 1 scenario inside the penalty box. Defender becomes so wary about committing a foul inside the box that they can’t be so aggressive defending the ball handler. Atletico can often take advantage of this situation, making their short corner so dangerous.


– Despite its potency, Atletico don’t use a lot of these plays; ~6% of their corners are short, about average in terms of the proportion. They may not want to use it too often to preserve the surprise factor. Nevertheless, it is a difficult weapon for the opponent to defend against. You have to focus at all time.


– Atletico’s other dangerous weapon is their counter-attack. They create 0.06 xG per shot using the counter-attack, better than 85% of the teams in Europe.


Defensive phase and the transition


– Their defensive-setup is designed to facilitate the counter-attack. Atletico’s defense constantly shuffles between a high-press and a mid-block. Their high-press involves forcing the opponent to pass to the flank to reduce the number of passing lanes available. It has been covered extensively in the last few years.


– Their mid-block defense receives relatively less attention than their high-press. It is however essential to their transitional play and counter-attack:


wing.pressure from Wan Luk on Vimeo.

– When they defend in a mid-block, Atletico quickly form a compact three-line defensive shape. The opponent’s ball handler is often allowed to control the ball in the middle behind the midline. When the ball flows to the fullback or the wide player who comes back around the mid-line, it triggers Atletico’s intense pressure on the flank. Their winger will aggressively pursue the ball handler.


– The goal for Atletico’s mid-block is that they don’t care about the opponent having the ball in the center; they are compact, and the three defensive lines are going to deter anyone from breaking through the middle. Atletico’s winger always runs at the opponent’s ball handler from the outside, forcing him to pass back to the defender/keeper or toward the center. When the ball is forced backward, Atletico will then be able to transition from the mid-block to their high press. If the ball is in the center, their crowded misfield has a massive advantage at tackling or intercepting the ball and hits back the opponent with the counter-attack:


Untitled from Wan Luk on Vimeo.

Atletico’s weakness


– Atletico is a decent pressing team. Normal PPDA-like index put their pressing stronger than ~80% of the teams in Europe. Similar teams are Sampdoria or Marseille. However, their pressing is leaky; for example, by calculating the efficiency of a team’s pressure using the ratio of the touches between the attacking and defensive half, Atletico are worse than 70% of the teams in Europe. By this measure, their pressing is comparable to Milan or Watford this season. Offensively, their pressing decreases their offense by ~25% in terms of the creation of xG while it increases their xG conceded also by ~25%.


– The space between Atletico’s defense and midfield is particularly vulnerable when they press high and the opponent’s playmaker drops from the midfield. One of Atletico’s central midfielder will follow, leaving only his teammate guarding the midfield. Many teams carry out the same defensive movement when they press, but Atletico’s midfield becomes vulnerable because their center backs are hesitated to move past the mid-line to support the midfield.


– They want to maintain a numerical advantage in the backline or Diego Godin isn’t fast enough to recover if he pushes too high. Either way, the second ball from a long ball is dangerous to Atletico. This scenario happens quite often when one of the wingers, particularly Thomas Lemar, starts pressing the opponent’s fullback too aggressively, affecting the integrity of Atletico’s pressing structure.


– Atletico’s strict zonal nature during the defensive phase in the mid-block can hurt them; when the opponent moves a player out of his position to support his teammate, Atletico will hesitate to strengthen the are with other players, often putting them in a numerical disadvantage. For example, against Real Madrid, Simeone’s players often had a hard time dealing Real Madrid’s wide forward and the sided central midfielder link together during the buildup between the defensive and middle third.


– The compactness and narrowness of Atletico’s defense also mean that they are particularly vulnerable to the cross-field switching. The opponent can often find a lot of space against their fullback.


– Atletico’s counter-attack is potent but also flawed; for example, their xG per shot of the counter-attack is 85% better than other teams in Europe, but their xG per possession of the counter-attack is only better than 65% of the teams. The data mean that when their counter-attack finishes with a shot, it is lethal. However, they are not converting enough counter-attacks into the shots.


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