There was a mini Madrid-derby that started in Vallecas on this Saturday afternoon. Rayo Vallecano, 18th in La Liga and the first of the relegation zone teams, hosted Atletico Madrid. The Colchonneros were in third position just one point behind their other neighbours. The Rojiblancos have chained two successive defeats in La Liga costing them second position. A win was vital to increase the team’s confidence before the big fixture against Juventus on Wednesday. On the other hand, the hosts were also in a quite difficult situation. This is essentially due to their bad season’s debut where they got only one win during the first 15 rounds. Miguel Sanchez’ team needed to spare a third successive defeat to get out of the danger zone.
El Cholo aligned his typical 4-4-2 with Morata and Griezmann up front. The Argentinian coach made few changes compared to his starting eleven against Real Madrid last Saturday. Thomas Lemar was rested and Lucas Hernandez was left out due to injury. Vitolo and Filipe Luis started on the left flank.
Miguel Sanchez chose a 4-5-1 structure. The match saw the first start of Mario Suarez against his old team. The Spaniard is back to La Liga after his Chinese experience.
Atletico’s high pressing and long balls
The visitors’ strategy and their main tactical points were clear during the first period of the match. El Cholo did not want to put a huge emphasis on ball circulation sequences and short passing combinations to build attacks. He opted for long balls played from the centre-backs and Jan Oblak. In order to achieve this, numerous times Atleti’s midfielders were far away from the defenders when the latter had the ball and initiated attacks. The pictures below illustrate a typical attacking phase situation for the Colchonneros.
As seen above, there was always Rayo’s second defensive line between the potential receivers and passers. These aerial deliveries were often aimed towards Saul and Morata. Well, no surprise that this can not be very efficient against a team who defends with three centre-backs and four midfielders. In fact, even when Rayo did not win the aerial duels they had more men in the ball’s zone and managed to recover it. To translate this into statistics, Atletico won 23 attacking aerial duels and had lost 23, none of them had led to a real chance.
On the defensive side, Simeone’s team tried to press high and defend over 40 metres from their goal. During the first 30 minutes of the game, they pressed Rayo’s defenders and midfielders. In the pictures below every potential receiver was either man-marked or in the range of a player.
Rayo’s proactive attitude
Gradually the visitors’ pressing stepped back and Rayo started to find gaps in Atleti’s midfield. The use of the four-man midfield was crucial for the host team. As one centre-back carries the ball and tries to find solutions, Rayo’s midfielders would often stretch up Atletico’s midfield by taking away one or two players as a result, there was one Colchonneo who was put in a two versus one situation or even at the centre of an opponent’s triangle.
Rayo had also taken advantage of the lack of compacity of Simeone’s side. The Colchonneros did not manage to close down paths to the centre lane when they pressed down one flank. There was often much space between the side players and their teammates. And It’s not just a matter of space, here their body orientation had also partly allowed passes into the centre.
The visitors also made good use of long balls in the direction of their main striker. When enough time was given to the passers in order to notice ball calls and adjust an accurate pass there was a real danger on Oblak’s zone. Rayo created two big chances using this method. Raúl de Tomás, despite being impeccable with the ball on his feet, wasted both of them.
How did Atletico get by?
In general terms, Atletico Madrid were dominated during the first hour of the match. Looking at statistics, they did not create a single goal scoring chance during this period, had only 56% of pass success ratio by the 24th minute and 58% by the 67th minute. They managed 187 passes in the first half which is for information lower than what most of the teams had against Barcelona (teams had in general 200 passes by the end of the first half). Although Atletico are well known for being a pragmatic team, the Rojeblancos know how to win matches especially those where they do not dominate their opponent. I will list a few things that typically permit to Atletico to get the three points.
One of the most important keys to the win is free-kicks. Here is an example of a well-built free kick by the visitors. Here, Atletico had two free potential receivers in their opponent’s penalty box. They created a two vs one situation in a very dangerous zone. Griezmann could either send the ball to any one of them and the receiver would have a clear goal chance or he could also pass it to Filipe Luis to combine with Alvaro Morata and other teammates. In both cases, Rayo’s defender was unable to react. (This free kick has led to a very dangerous cross that could finish on the net if anyone has touched it)
The next thing is profiting on the oppositions tiredness. This is an example of what happened to Rayo’s midfield after the 60th minute. Vallecano’s second defensive line were unable to face the opponent’s forwards anymore. They were always one step behind the ball carrier and were not able to intercept any passes. By the time spaces between the first and second defensive line get bigger and Atleti’s upfront trio went through it. This sequence did happen a lot during the second half and was at the beginning of Griezmanns goal.
Undeniably, Atletico Madrid did not dominate their hosts during this match. Regarding what happened and in-detail statistics I can even say that they were lucky to get the three points. Despite having some interesting attacking moves and ideas Rayo could have done better especially after conceding the goal. There was still enough time to try something. Now as Atleti secured a win and resumed the second place just behind Barcelona the focus will be on defeating the Italian giant that is Juventus.
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. Order your copy of the February 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.