Two tacticians cancel each other out as Real Betis edge Atletico Madrid

Game-week 22 in La Liga featured one of the most interesting games of this season from a tactical standpoint. The highly anticipated match between Real Betis and Atletico Madrid was like a chess game between both coaches, with the better ending for Quique Setien and Real Betis. The 1-0 victory over Diego Simeone’s “Colchoneros” leaves the Green-and-Whites with 32 points, equalling Getafe in fifth position. Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, missed the opportunity to pressure Barcelona in the championship fight, trailing now with a six-point deficit. The following analysis will provide insights on the tactical aspects of the game and explain the reason for the victory of the home team. Looking at the offensive performance of Atletico Madrid, a special focus will be on the French superstar Antoine Griezmann.

Different gameplans as expected

As we know, both coaches differ in terms of how they want their teams to play. While Diego Simeone prefers a compact and defensively stable style, his opponent Setien is known for his to desire to control the ball and have high possession. Fans will remember that even against Real Madrid in early January, Betis dominated the game with a possession rate of scarcely believable 73.5%. Formation wise, both teams played in their preferred formation. Atletico Madrid used a 4-4-2 shape, while Betis played with a 3-5-2 formation. It should be noted however that Central midfielder William Carvalho missed the game due to a knee injury, which was a big loss for Real Betis. Since Lo Celso did not play as well, Wilfried Kaptoum made his La Liga debut. Alvaro Morata, on the other hand, made his first appearance for Atletico Madrid after his recent transfer from Chelsea.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Starting XIs. Credit: Wyscout.

Difficulties for Real Betis in the build-up

From the start of the game, Real Betis tried to control the game with a lot of possession. As consequence, they played a lot of short passes, as they have all season. Even goalkeeper Lopez avoids long balls when possible. In this game though, opponent Atletico Madrid closed down the centre superbly. We can see it in the following images.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Build up Betis: centre is closed

Griezmann and Morata are near the halfway line and both mark Guardado. Furthermore, we can see that Canales and Kaptoum are also marked by the midfielders of Atletico Madrid. The back line doesn’t give the opponent space either, so there is no central passing option available to Real Betis. As a consequence, the back three rotate the ball from one side to another.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
No central passing option for Betis

This image underlines the described difficulties. Notice that Bartra once again has no central passing option. Normally, the pass to Guardado (the white line) would be the preferred build-up for Real Betis, as we have seen before in other games this season. Barragan on the right side and Francis on the left side are playable since they are not marked, but this is not part of the initial plan for Betis.

In fact, if we look at the number of touches, we see that Francis only had 42 touches, while Feddal as left-centre back had 93 touches. The same pattern occurs for right-centre back Mandi (111 touches) and Barragan on the right flank (70 touches). These figures suggest that the pass out to the wing was not preferred by the centre-backs, which is clearly an instruction by Coach Quique Setien.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Bartra (Circled in red) moves forward into midfield

Occasionally, Marc Bartra moved into the central midfield position in order to create superiority in that zone. Thus, there was no longer a back three, but rather a back four with Barragan and Francis being not that high up the pitch. As Griezmann and Morata took Guardado out of the game, shifting Bartra forward made it more difficult for the Atletico strikers to follow that task.

With Bartra there, an additional passing option arose, so that Griezmann and Morata could not close all passing lanes. This was used once in a while, but not permanently. Also, Bartra tried to dribble forward into the midfield a few times, which followed the same purpose. Unfortunately for him and his team, he had to be substituted early in the second half due to an injury.

Real Betis too conservative

Quique Setien does not like long balls. But sometimes, they can be quite useful as well. Have a look at the following image.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Notice the space on the left wing

On the left side, there is plenty of room to attack. Right-centre back Mandi has the ball and there is no pressure at all from Atletico. Morata is rather passive and only closes the passing lane towards the centre. On the left wing, Francis desperately wants the ball. If he receives it, a dangerous attack is probable. But instead of playing the long diagonal ball, Mandi decides to not take the risk. Rather he turns back and the back three starts the same build-up as we have seen in the previous images.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Canales needs too long to pass the ball

This, on the other hand, is a situation where you can attack on the wing once again, but you can get there easily with short passes. This time Barragan waits desperately for the ball, and he waves with his arms for quite a long time as well. Unfortunately, Canales loses the ball and the attack is over. Instead of circulating the ball faster, Real Betis often enough failed to use their good positional structure.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Good opportunity to attack fast – but once again too slow

Another example can be seen here. One of the rare occasions where Atletico Madrid were exposed led to a situation where Real Betis could attack with numerical superiority. But once again, instead of playing the attack fast and powerful, a slow dribble ended the attack rather frustratingly. Therefore, goal chances were more or less non-existent. An individual run by Kaptoum, who fearlessly dribbles into the box, led to a situation that we want to look at in the following image.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Numerical superiority for Atletico – Real Betis too risk averse

Notice that besides Kaptoum, there is only one attacker in the box, while Atletico defend with six players in the box. The lack of courage could not be demonstrated any better. However, Real Betis were rather lucky that Felipe Luis, who came back from an injury and was substituted into the match in the second half, had an individual blackout and caused a penalty. Canales thankfully accepted the gift and scored the goal with the one and only real chance for Real Betis in the whole match.

Atletico Madrid strong defensively, weak offensively

As we have talked so much about Real Betis now, readers might ask about Atletico Madrid’s performance. In terms of defensive mechanism, we have provided some insights. Adding to that in order to get the full picture, we can say that Atletico had aggressive pressing moments as well like we are used to seeing from them. Here are two examples.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Notice left winger Lemar pressing arc-shaped. Mandi needs to turn back
Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
On the wing, Atletico presses aggressively in a diamond shape

Other than that, the offensive gameplan was not all that extraordinary. In fact, Atletico relies pretty much on superstar Antoine Griezmann. In the first half, Griezmann would often fall back into midfield in order to get more touches and facilitate the attack. Two examples of that are provided with the following images

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Griezmann falls back into midfield – winger Correa occupies his position. Griezmann plays the long ball to the other wing and facilitates the attack
Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Once again Griezmann falls back and uses his playmaking skills to get the ball into the free space at the other wing

With the new signing Morata next to him, expectations were higher of Griezmann. In this first game though, it was obvious that the harmony between those two is not yet at the level it was with Diego Costa, who is currently injured.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Griezmann and Morata are too close to each other and do not occupy the space properly

In this image, we can see that Griezmann and Morata don’t occupy the free space. They are too close to each other. Diego Costa, however, is known for being excellent in making room for Griezmann. It will be interesting to follow the development of the relationship between Griezmann and Morata in the following months.

Besides that, Real Betis tried to mark Griezmann extremely tight and left him no space. One such example provides the following image.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Griezmann is marked extremely close

One situation where Real Betis didn’t defend properly almost instantly led to the most dangerous position of the whole game, where Griezmann hit the post.

Real Betis Atletico Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Griezmann has space and uses it instantly to create a good opportunity – hits the post with that shot

In this situation, he has too much space in such a dangerous position. The back line of Betis needs to shift better in order to mark him more closely. Sidnei, who was subbed in for Bartra, is just terribly positioned.

Conclusion

All in all, it was an intense game without all that much action. From a tactical standpoint, this game was highly interesting though. Diego Simeone found good measures to prevent Real Betis from building up the way they are used to. As a consequence, Betis didn’t have many chances in front of goal. The one chance, gifted by Filipe Luis, was enough though to win the game.

Even though Atletico played well (defensively more so), it is difficult to say that they deserved more. In the end, a draw would have been a fitting result though. In the last twenty minutes, when Atletico attacked more being 1-0 down, the pressure was remarkably high, but apart from the Griezmann chance big opportunities to score a goal were missing. Therefore, an improvement offensively is without a doubt necessary for Atletico to reach their goals for the rest of the season.


If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the January issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.