Every year, we see some new youngster make their mark in the minds of the footballing community. This year was the breakout season for multiple talents as usual. One of the most promising players out of those is Portuguese attacker Joao Felix. In this tactical analysis, we shall see how and if Felix could fit into Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side.
Atletico Madrid’s style
Diego Simeone’s team’s style is nicknamed Cholismo. Atletico have benefitted greatly from Simeone’s tactics which is one of the reasons they have been consistently challenging at the highest level since his appointment. In both attack and defence, Atletico Madrid has followed a somewhat similar approach consistently.
Simeone’s side is compact and defensively very organised. They usually play a 4-4-2. Each player has to contribute defensively and work very hard. The fact that the team is always organised and maintains its shape is an important feature of this Atletico side. Even the forwards have to contribute in the press.
Atletico Madrid allows the opponent possession in their half without much of a press. In case of individual errors and first-touch errors, they will look to instantly press aggressively and gain possession. In terms of pressing, most of the times they press is when a player has possession along with the wings. They will look to use a triangular press with one of the forwards dropping back to join the press.
In the overall scheme of things with this Simeone side, an energetic, hard-working, pacey and talented player like Felix looks to be a perfect addition on-paper.
Big shoes to fill
So far, it looks like Felix is meant to primarily cover up for Antoine Griezmann who will be leaving Atletico this summer. The Frenchman was a vital player for the tactics and concept of Cholismo. His pressing, good stamina and high work-rate were very suitable for the same. Along with this, Felix has big shoes to fill to come anywhere close to Griezmann’s attacking output.
Felix will have to try to take over as many of Griezmann’s roles as possible. The usual attacking rules are of course a necessity but at Atletico, he will also have to contribute in the transitions as the Frenchman did by dropping back.
The 27-year-old Griezmann has been with Atletico since the 2014/15 season. He has been very consistent, scoring 94 goals in 180 appearances. On average, he makes two key passes per match. Benfica’s Felix has 15 goals in 26 appearances which is 0.57 goals per appearance which is a bit more than Griezmann’s 0.52 goals per appearance.
The difference seems negligible but we must take into consideration the level at which each player has played and the high consistency provided by the Frenchman through a much bigger amount of appearances.
Contributing to the build-up
In Simeone’s 4-4-2, many times during the attack, the formation is like a 4-4-1-1 where one of the strikers will contribute to the attack with the wide midfielders making runs up the field. Felix will have to contribute in holding-up play if needed, supplying the players making the runs and making runs in this system. First, we shall do a tactical analysis of how well he can receive the ball in deeper positions.
At 180cm, Felix weighs only 64 kilos, which clearly shows that being a good physical presence is not one of his strengths. However, thanks to his agility and dribbling in tight spaces, he can keep possession against more physical opponents, too.
In the example shown, Felix has found space in between the oppositions’ lines and receives the pass with two players marking him tightly. He is aware of those players as we shall see from the image.
By positioning his body at an angle to the opposition players, turning and dribbling become much easier.
One of the opposition players is caught off-balance and the other is not as close as the other. Hence, Felix’s awareness, positioning and agility work together to help him receive the ball in deeper areas and drive forward.
Here, we have another example of Felix’s offensive duels. He receives the ball deep into the third-half on the run with two players marking him. He can pass the ball to his teammate making a run. However, he chooses to hold-up the ball until more players arrive so that he can attempt with a cross is possible.
However, he is easily dispossessed. This is another scenario in which his shielding is adequate but his physique causes some problems. Losing possession in this area means that the opposition can now counter. In Atletico’s system, with the focus on counter-attacking it’s important to be efficient in possession.
In Simeone’s system, he will need to sometimes drop back to press and along with that, drive forward. The other important factors are how good his passing in the final third and dribbling is.
Passing in the final third
When playing as the secondary striker, passing to the target man and to the wingers is one of the most important attributes. We shall take a look at just how good Felix is at this.
In this image, we can see that Felix is playing as an attacking midfielder, almost as the supporting striker. He receives the ball and turns. From here, he is quick to judge the situation. His teammate is making a run between the central defenders, one of the central defenders is off-balance and there is space between the central defender and the full-back at the near side.
Hence, he plays a perfectly weighted through-ball between the full-back and central defender. This puts his teammate through on goal. Along with this, Felix avoids being dispossessed or letting his teammate be offside which would’ve been the case had he tried to dribble.
However, the young Portuguese often loses possession in the final third when he plays as a target man. When receiving the ball in the box, he has problems when his back is to the goal. His shielding is good but he isn’t physically strong enough to retain possession. In terms of second-balls, he isn’t the best unless it’s a clearly favourable position.
Dribbling and positioning
Felix is the most dangerous when he has a lot of space in front of him to dribble into. This is perfect for Atletico Madrid and their counter-attacks. Whenever he has space to run into and players making runs in front of him, he hardly ever fails to play the perfect balls to them. This is definitely one of his strengths. When combined with his excellent through balls, he can also act as the second spearhead for the attack.
In terms of positioning, Felix usually shows similar tendencies. He will get into the box and then step out just a bit and find the space to receive the ball. From here, he will look to pass it on or take a shot.
Here, we see an example of just this. Felix is initially in the box but then he finds space between the lines. Here, he can receive the ball. This is very useful as he can also play as a target man. In the two-striker system that Atletico have been observed to employ, he can play an important role thanks to this.
Felix is already a world-class player. At the age of 19, he has established himself as one of the brightest young prospects. At Atletico Madrid, he will have a much bigger responsibility and more pressure. However, this also means more people watching him. This can be a make or break situation for such a young player.
But Felix seems very well equipped to deal with this. Atletico is an excellent team and system for him. If Simeone gives him the right opportunities and suitable instructions, Felix could go a long way at this team.
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