Atletico Madrid reassert themselves as Europe's defensive kings
Background photo: Fernando Pascullo, CC By-SA 4.0
There are many names Atletico Madrid’s been associated with all these years. Underachievers is the biggest one, while the “other club” in Madrid is another. If their sensational performance against Juventus recently in the UEFA Champions League proved anything, Kings of defending is the aptest term for them right now.
Diego Simeone, having spent many years playing his trade in Italy as a footballer, learnt a great deal about the beautiful game from the country. Los Indios might’ve been famous for their attractive, passing style of Spanish football, but their approach under Simeone is often an Italian one. At times, his team is more Italian than some Serie A teams themselves.
While Atletico might have 99 problems on the attacking front, there are no complaints when it comes to their defending. Having only conceded 17 goals in 25 La Liga games, including 13 clean-sheets for the grossly underrated Jan Oblak, Los Rojiblancos’ have proven their mettle when it comes to preserving their lead.
Incidentally, even in the Champions League, it was their rigid defending which allowed Los Rojiblancos to shut out Borussia Dortmund as well as Monaco in order to progress into the knockout rounds. They boast a defensive line many would be envious off and have worked for years in order to perfect the art of defending as a unit.
Diego Godin, their defensive general, has taught Jose Gimenez all the trades of becoming a world-class defender. Los Indios also have multiple luxurious left-back options, with Filipe Luis and Lucas Hernandez both being defensively commanding, while prolific going forward. Even Sime Vrsalijko’s replacement Santiago Arias’ blended into their rhythm admirably.
However, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In Atletico’s case, they’ve had to work hard for years in order to reach such defensive solidity. Captain Diego Godin’s been playing since 2010, while second-in-command Jose Gimenez’s at Los Rojiblancos for five years. Jan Oblak’s also guarding their posts since 2014, while Filipe Luis’ multiple reigns have stretched almost eight years.
Los Rojiblancos have kept 16 cleansheets in their last 18 home matches in the @ChampionsLeague 😳
#FootballFriendsOnline #FFO #AtleticoMadrid #Atletico #AtleticoDeMadrid #LosRojiBlancos #DiegoSimeone #Simeone https://t.co/tNDaxDHrSd
Not only that, but Koke’s been a Los Rojiblanco thoroughbred, having being played for them for more than a decade. Spending so much time together has further solidified their bond. Simeone has bided his time in creating a brotherhood in his side. The defenders’ enjoy a telepathic bond, the reason why they’re such an organised unit at the back.
Godin and Gimenez work together brilliantly in the middle, feeding off each other’s strengths. While Godin’s the experienced candidate, whose positioning and intelligence allows him to dominate opposition without even making tackles, Gimenez’s allowed to be more expressive in being a tough-tackler in the centre. Both are prominent aerially and superb man-markers to ease the pressure.
While the wing-backs often roam forward, Koke and Partey drop back when needed to protect their defence. Los Indios cramp up into a narrow defensive structure, choking up opponents from penetrating into the box. Of course, Oblak’s impenetrable presence is ever-bearing.
The towering keeper’s played in every game for them this season, being an agile, towering wall in between goal for Los Rojiblancos. He’s kept 17 clean-sheets in all competitions so far, while conceding the least amount of goals in La Liga. In fact, only Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool have conceded fewer goals in their league campaigns than Atletico.
However, Los Rojiblancos magnified their defensive superiority in the biggest game possible against Juventus. The tantalising attack of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala was nullified, with Godin and Gimenez’s goals further magnifying their defenders’ impact.
While the 2-0 lead is a big one, Atletico needs to keep their composure and continue their good work at Turin. They’ve already proven their rock-solid defensive ability, yet the biggest test awaits at the Allianz Stadium. With Godin as well as Luis staring at exits next season, this is Los Rojiblancos’ final chance to win big with this devoted unit.
Defence is the best form of Atletico Madrid currently. They might be lacking in goals, but as long as they don’t concede goals, they possess an outside chance to finally win the evaded Champions League crown. If they maintain their inspired form, Simeone’s side can reach promise land before new dawn awaits next season.