Atletico win again: Is there a title race in La Liga?

La Liga 2018/19: Atletico Madrid vs Getafe Tactical Analysis Statistics

Getafe travelled to the Wanda Metropolitano on 26 January for their weekend La Liga game. Three points would mean still keeping their top four hopes alive while for Atlético Madrid, a drop in points would effectively mean slipping out of the title race.


Atlético Madrid lined up in their trademark 4-4-2. Up top, Antoine Griezmann would play off Nikola Kalinic in a free-roaming role, often dropping deep or finding pockets of space wherever generated. Saúl Ñíguez started at left central midfield, former Arsenal target Thomas Lemar at right central midfield, ahead of the double pivot of Rodrigo Hernández and Thomas Partey. The defensive line of Lucas Hernandez, Diego Godin, José Giménez and Santiago Arias would stay up high, with both full-backs pushing up high and wide simultaneously in a symmetrical fashion.

Getafe lined up in a 4-4-2 as well. Ángel and Jorge Molina stayed up high. The midfielders were Vitorino Antunes – who usually plays left-back – Nikola Maksimovic, Mauro Arambarri and Francisco Portillo. Sometimes Arambarri would stay below the midfield line, providing a staggered option and better screening for the back four consisting of Leandro Cabrera, Bruno Cabrera, Djené Ortega and Damián Suárez.

Getafe out of possession

Atlético Madrid dominated possession as was expected, hence Getafe’s defensive structure had to be spot on to ensure they didn’t leak too many chances. Getafe had Ángel and Molina in a 2v2 with Godin and Giménez when Atlético had the ball. The plan was to release to them in the wide areas as soon as they won it back. They defended in a medium 4-1-3-2 block with Arambarri acting as the deepest midfielder.

The other midfielders (Antunes, Maksimovic, and Portillo) would stay centrally in a flat three. This maintained horizontal compactness. Depending on which side the ball was, the near-side midfielder would move out to cover the passing lane to the full-back during the initial phase of Atlético’s build-up.

The Getafe strikers would hardly press the centre-backs, which led to Atlético Madrid not having much difficulty getting the ball out. Furthermore, the medium block of the Getafe midfielders meant that either Thomas or Rodri almost always had time to receive, turn, and choose their passes. This disconnect between the Getafe midfield and strikers proved a huge problem in creating chances for Getafe.

No pressure on Thomas. Note the space between the Getafe strikers and nearest midfielder.

However, staying back did help to maintain compactness in the centre for Getafe. The horizontal compactness also meant that they offered spaces out wide. Even if the Atlético double pivot was pressed, they’d safely release the ball to the full-backs in space. It was clear that Getafe’s first priority was to guard the centre.

Atlético Madrid’s possession play setup and game plan

During the initial phase of the build-up, when the ball was with the centre-backs, Thomas and Rodri would find spaces behind the Getafe strikers. Thomas would often make a blind-side movement to the left of Ángel when Giménez was on the ball. This movement was replicated by Rodri on the right as well. Essentially, this resulted in the formation of a box in the first stage of build-up.

There’s no pressure on the centre-backs, due to a box-shaped structure between them and the double pivot.

Due to the Getafe setup, Atlético had no other option but to use the flanks to get into the final third. They’d try to create triangles out wide between the full-back, right central midfielder, and the dropping striker in Griezmann. Kalinic would stay stationary though, usually on the shoulders of the Getafe centre-backs, acting as a target man for long balls.

Passing triangles out wide

Loss of possession was immediately followed by a well-coordinated counter-press by Lemar, Saúl, and Griezmann. Thomas and Rodri were behind to clean up the aimless long balls. Indeed, Thomas was the team’s major ball-winner in the middle third. He intercepted the highest number of balls among anyone on the pitch (six), won five aerial duels, and won four tackles, the second highest from both sides.

Simeone’s fluid system was demonstrated by how the midfielders would often shift and rotate, maintaining the structure but keeping Getafe guessing. Sometimes, Thomas would move out to the right and Rodri to the right, or Saúl and Lemar would interchange, alternating to occupy the left and right half-spaces.

Due to Getafe’s pyramid-shaped form out of possession, one of the most employed buildup mechanisms of Atlético was to play the ball directly to Lucas at full-back during goalkicks. He’d then play a first time pass to Lemar or Saúl, and use simple one-twos off Griezmann to finally release the full-back running into space.

For the most part, however, Getafe defended well, limiting Atlético to very few chances. Portillo and Suárez were up to the task on the left. Indeed it was mostly due to individual quality that the first goal came. In the 27th minute, Griezmann received a pass from Thomas, took a great first touch, and then fired a low shot into the bottom corner.

One interesting tactical trend was Atlético’s reluctance to cross. Despite keeping most of the ball (66.6%), they crossed only three times during the entire match. They’d mostly cut back vertically from those areas, play through-balls into the path of the forwards or switch the ball to the other side via Rodri.

Switches were not just used when nothing was materialising on one side though. They were also employed to overload one side of the pitch and then quickly release to the other flank. Rodri was most influential at this. Out of the total 655 passes played by Atlético, Rodri and Partley made 99 each as they dictated play with the utmost intelligence.

Lemar’s press-resistance was something which also needs mentioning. Generally located in the half-spaces, he’d be surrounded by Getafe players as soon as he got on the ball. However, he was tough to dispossess even when he had his back to the play. He’d either dribble out of danger, which he managed successfully four times, or draw in a foul.

Getafe’s lack of an attacking setup and chance creation issues

In terms of Getafe’s game plan in possession, there wasn’t much to be identified. They could hardly keep up with the counter-press of their opponents, and their comparative lack of quality in the midfield showed. Their pressing was never effective enough and thus easily bypassed.

Their full-backs – Cabrera and Suárez – were conservatively positioned and hence could hardly join the attack. The few times they did look dangerous were during the transitions. One misplaced pass by Atlético Madrid was followed by a quick ball over the top and a momentary 3v2. However, they failed to convert and the chance was soon gone.

Brief spell of Getafe intent in second half

Getafe did begin the second half with much more intent as they came out of their shape, physically bullying the Atlético players and swinging in crosses left and right into the box. In all, they attempted 24 crosses during the entire match. For a spell of play, Atlético couldn’t even get out of their own box. However, that wasn’t sustained for very long and eventually Atlético grabbed hold of the game.

Samuel Saiz came on for Antunes in the 58th minute. It was clear that Bordalás was trying to shake things up in midfield. He also brought in Cristoforo for Maksimovic but it really was to no avail. The Getafe midfielders got too isolated, getting no support from the other players. Atlético would quickly swarm them in a counter-press which was so successful that Arambarri, Portillo and Antunes alone were dispossessed a total of 14 times.

For Atlético, Kalinic was also substituted off for Mollejo, whose arrival sparked an interesting tactical change. Mollejo was a much more mobile striker, linking up play and setting up layoffs. In the 30 minutes he was on the pitch, he played seven passes compared to Kalinic’s 10.

To make up for Mollejo’s movement, Griezmann now stayed up top, effectively resulting in a reversal of roles in the strike partnership. Mollejo’s movements had the further effect of confusing the opposing centre-backs.

Mollejo’s movement drags away the centre-back to open up space.

For Getafe however, the collective mechanisms were nowhere to be seen in attack. By the end of 90 minutes frustration was seeping in, evidenced by the cynical fouls they committed and the visible dissent at every decision given against them. It all culminated in the two successive red cards for Dakonam (88’) and then Cabrera (90+1’).


The match between the two best defensive sides in the league really looked like it. Atlético had got all they needed before half-time, and while Getafe did put in a half-decent defensive performance the momentary lapses in concentration by the defence led to the two goals conceded. From then on, they were only chasing the match.

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