Atletico Madrid were held to a 0-0 draw on their visit to Real Valladolid in La Liga. Diego Simeone’s side missed out on overtaking Barcelona in second but were cancelled out by Valladolid. This tactical analysis will find out why the two sides couldn’t make a breakthrough.

Lineups

Valladolid lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Olivas and Salisu commanding the middle. Ahead of them sat Michel and Joaquin, with Suarez and Plano on either side. Guardiola led the line alongside Sandro.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valladolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics

Atletico Madrid matched their opponents’ formation, with Gimenez and Savic partnering in central defence. Lodi and Trippier started as full-backs, behind Koke and Felix on the wings. Thomas Partey sat in the midfield with Saul, with former Chelsea duo Morata and Costa pairing up-top.

Atletico off-the-ball

Atletico Madrid looked to deploy tactics that would isolate Valladolid’s most dangerous players and frustrate the home side out of possession. As we can see below, Madrid have set up a compact shape, with the space between their central midfielders and centre-backs boxed off from the ball’s deeper position in the middle.

This block contains Valladolid’s strikers and creative midfielder and encourages the ball to be punted wide. This block will also follow the ball in whatever position it is put into, and is prepared to commit a minimum of two bodies to pressure the ball.

In this example, Atletico’s two strikers are responsible to cover the centre-halves. Once the ball is played out to the full-back, the block moves toward the far-side, which means that one member of the block can pressurise the ball alongside Madrid’s striker on the right. Using this block Madrid look to force Valladolid out of possession, whether it be through long balls or a wide press, as Valladolid struggled to break this block.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valladolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Madrid set-up a mobile block around Valladolid’s central attackers, and encourage long balls to the wide areas. This block will naturally move toward the ball, and the cover remains, while Madrid can commit players to pressurise the ball in any position

In this example, Valladolid are deeper in enemy territory and have dragged Madrid’s left-back into the block and forced Felix into a very deep position. The same three players are trapped in this block while three players are ahead of the ball. Madrid leave themselves well covered in the middle but leave Valladolid’s left-back completely open, with a spare man available for cover, but the block can be stretched across the width of the pitch.

Another example of Madrid’s isolation tactics is shown below. Madrid apply pressure high up the field as Valladolid look to play out from the back. Madrid commit two players to directly pressurise the ball, while any player who could be available for a forward pass is man-marked, one of which is even doubly marked.

This tactic is used to force mistakes and long balls into Madrid’s defensive block, which is set up out of shot. On this occasion, Valladolid are forced into backward passes, bringing Madrid’s block further up the pitch, as Madrid look to suffocate the ball out of play or possession, taking the attitude of ‘if we can’t play, nor can you’.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valladolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Madrid deploy a high press, looking to force long balls into their block between defence and midfield. Pressure begins with the strikers, while the midfield cuts-off Valladolid’s most dangerous with a high-line, supported by the back-four

No Thomas, No Partey

The home side looked to set-up a defensive block of their own. As we can see below, Thomas Partey is pinpointed as a crucial link between the defence and the attack. Therefore, Valladolid’s strikers opt not to pressure the ball, but to isolate Partey from Madrid’s build-up play. Valladolid then cover Madrid’s most dangerous players and ensure that they are covered by at least one man-marker.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valladolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Valladolid look to cage off Thomas Partey and nullify Madrid’s threat that either sit or come into the central areas

In this example, Thomas Partey is caged once again and is separated from Madrid’s build-up play. However, Valladolid’s coverage is not good enough as the left-striker is static and his positioning is not adding any extra coverage for Valladolid’s defence. Instead, a re-shuffle would see the ball more aggressively pressed in the wide areas and would cover Felix properly where he has little space to move around in.

Instead, Sandro is not in a position to block the ball from reaching the middle, and Felix can come inside by the blind-side of Valladolid’s only defender pressurising the wide area. This created space for Madrid’s full-back to then attack the wing, which was wide open. Atletico were able to get between the lines far too easily here, and if Madrid had worked the ball further wide from here, they might have been able to stretch Valladolid’s centre-heavy defensive shape. This poor shape focused on the centre brings us onto our third and final piece of analysis.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valladolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Valladolid’s central focus when off the ball wasn’t good enough here. Felix can get between the lines as a couple of players are not in a position to isolate the ball from the rest of play

Valladolid’s midfield shape

The home side’s 4-4-2 formation shifted around when off-the-ball, as Valladolid tried different ways to push Thomas Partey back and stop Madrid from linking defence into attack. As we can see below, Valladolid switch to a momentary 3-3-4, pushing Partey into his own third, as Madrid’s defenders struggle to stretch themselves since gaps could be created between them with little support available should Valladolid turn up the pressure.

Meanwhile, the only two players between the two lines are Felix and Lodi, and they are very difficult to reach without long balls and enough time to find a way to bring them in.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valladolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Valladolid look to prevent the counter-attack and momentarily shift to a 3-3-4 formation, pushing Partey into this trap, making it more difficult for Madrid’s back-line to stretch and link defence with attack

A long ball reached Lodi on this occasion, however, Valladolid did well to pressurise the wide areas quickly, which is something that they were missing in this match. Valladolid put themselves in a much healthier position here by blocking the ball from the middle of the pitch. Although there is a path for the ball to go into the middle, there are plenty of bodies available to intercept or pressurise the inside ball.

One criticism again, however, is that Valladolid bodies are perhaps wasteful of the opportunity that they had to win the ball back in wide areas. Instead, they gave Madrid a second chance at times after working themselves into a position where they are vulnerable to losing the ball and subsequently facing a counter-attack.

La Liga 2019/20: Real Valldolid vs Atletico Madrid - tactical analysis tactics
Madrid work the ball wide and Valladolid cover the inside better but this is still done inefficiently. In the middle, Madrid’s strikers are well covered and if the ball does reach the inside, it’s unlikely to advance any further

Conclusion

Valladolid let Madrid off at times in this match as they lacked ruthlessness off-the-ball. Nor did they really trouble them when they were going forward in the first half, as Sandro skied his penalty kick over the bar. Meanwhile, Atletico did well to break up the play of their opposition but constantly ran themselves into trouble as Valladolid’s central block cut off Madrid’s creative midfielders from linking with their strikers. Overall, the two sides cancelled each other out with similar tactics and approaches to the game, and the lack of ruthlessness and creativity was apparent when crucial players were isolated from play.


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Ciaran O'Hare

Writer/Analyst at FBA
Leeds United and Falkirk fan, podcaster and radio producer. I love to dive deep into the art of football tactics and the sport's greatest stories.
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