Alaves snatched a point at home against Atletico Madrid in La Liga, with Lucas Perez saving the day for a 1-1 draw. Atletico Madrid missed their chance to go second in the La Liga table, and now have one win in their last five. This tactical analysis will look into how this match came to a stalemate.
Alavés lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Magallán and Laguardía manning the middle of the defence. Either side of them sat Rubén Duarte and Martín, who had Luis Rioja and Aleíx Vidal ahead of them. In central midfield was Wakaso and Manu García, with Joselu and Pérez partnering as strikers.
Atletico Madrid came out in a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Lodi and Arías playing either side of Hermoso and Felipe, who partnered at centre-half. Marcos Llorente sat just ahead of the back-four, with Hector Herrera and Saúl in-front of him in support. Lemar and Correa started on the wings, with a sole striker in the form of Diego Costa through the middle.
Madrid frustrate the hosts
Madrid’s defensive tactics pushed Alavés’ play-out into the wide areas while cutting the passing lanes which lead to the home side’s linking players. We can see this below, as Alavés look to play-out from the back-four. Madrid commit four players to create this block and push backs against the wall.
The near-sided central midfielder initiates the press, with the support of the winger, who presses the ball and simultaneously cuts the passing lane leading to Alavés’ left-winger. Diego Costa cuts the passing opportunity to the far-sided centre-half, while Hector Herrera also joins the block as one of Alavés’ linking players drops deep to support. The far-sided winger comes inside to cover the vacant central midfield position, supporting Llorente who screens the back-four
If the ball is played to the supporting centre-back, the block will continue to press the ball in such a shape and will look to isolate him from the direct support from his centre-back partner and the full-back. This, in turn, forced Alavés to play long balls, and therefore play right into Madrid’s hands.
Alavés lacked movement when it came to facing these strong Madrid blocks. As we can see below, Alavés responded to this strong block well in the beginning. The centre-backs split to either side of the box, which spreads Madrid’s block further, while also giving them two players on either side to deal with, as they push higher up the field. The pressure continues, but Alavés’ linking players hang back, in the fear that bringing their markers to the ball will result in another block similar to the previous example.
That is all well and good, but the situation, therefore, doesn’t change in terms of Alavés’ play-out options. The lack of movement keeps the press un-disturbed, while Alavés are unwilling to take risks, which plays right into the hands of Atletico Madrid, whose off-the-ball tactics strip the game to its bare bones. Madrid were well prepared to count on individual battles to win them the ball back and stop Alavés from playing out. The lack of risk and energy allowed for this tactic to work almost flawlessly.
Mid-way during the second half, Alavés switched to a 3-1-4-2 formation as they looked to push Madrid’s block backwards. As we can see below, this was successful as the centre-halves had more support when stretching the play, with a number four in midfield dropping deep to complete the diamond. This also allowed for the full-backs to push further forward, but the formation change didn’t make as much progress as it should’ve.
Madrid replied with a double block in midfield which encouraged Alavés to play through the wide areas, while their blocks put them in the best position possible to isolate the wing-back in possession.
The two linking players will have to follow the ball to support the pressured full-back, and with these players already caged, it means that one Madrid player can push the ball, while the other can block the passing lane into the back-three while being able to push the ball as well, giving the full-back no chance.
Alavés on the backfoot
Madrid looked to play-out too, and Alavés spent a lot of time looking to block Atletico Madrid out of their half. The home side’s press was similar to Madrid’s, as they looked to pressurise the ball while being prepared to push the ball in other areas, should it reach the players that they leave open.
The example below shows Madrid’s centre-halves splitting to stretch the play, with one Alavés jersey pushing the ball while simultaneously cutting the passing lane into Marcos Llorente. This leaves Arias as the only short option.
Should the ball reach the Columbian, the block would shift toward the by-line, with the man who is currently pushing the ball switching focus to Arias while cutting the pass back to the centre-half. Meanwhile, the central midfielders continue to man-mark Herrera and Lemar.
If Madrid surpassed this high block, Alavés would convert to a 5-3-2 formation, which continued the approach of forcing the ball wide before closing the pitch off and pressing the player in possession. This tactic was fairly effective, encouraging more energy and aggression in their defence in the hope that they could transfer that energy into winning the ball in an advanced position and launching a counter-attack.
As we can see below, the press greatly disrupted Madrid’s shape, with one of the back four having to bail-out the two Madrid players on the touch-line, who were overwhelmed by the pressure on the by-line.
The block cuts Diego Costa completely out of the equation, while the right-hand block doubled up on Correa and Saúl, with the centre-backs man-marking, while Makasa and Rioja cut the passing lanes into them. On the other side of the block, Lemar is caged by four, the cage is loose in order for the block to maintain versatility, as it also cuts the pass into the far-sided full-back as well as pressing Lemar should he receive the ball.
However, this block is difficult to set-up every single time, especially when Madrid changed things up in a bid to adapt to their opponents. This brings us onto our third and final piece of analysis.
Madrid switched to a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Correa moving forward to partner Morata up-top. The midfield became more compact, with the introduction of Thomas Partey providing a stronger screen while pushing Lemar further forward in the middle.
Giving Alavés’ back-three two strikers to contend with resulted in the centre-halves’ tightened their positioning, while the central focus of a narrow midfield diamond created a defensive focus on the centre for Alavés’ defence.
This resulted in larger proportions of space being left in-behind the wing-backs, which could then be attacked by one of the strikers, namely Correa, and the Madrid full-backs, who were well covered by Thomas Partey.
The example below shows how the central overload disrupted Alavés’ midfield shape, opening easier passing options and leading to more space in and around the penalty area when in a crossing position.
The central overload prevented Alavés from isolating Madrid’s linking players, as their wide block was no longer damming to Madrid’s build-up play. Therefore, the movement of these linking players was replicated by their direct markers, who kept their distance in order to keep Madrid at arm’s length while closing the gap between the midfield five and the back-three.
Lemar drops deep, which pulls Alavés’ 3-1-4-2 into a flat 3-5-2, which creates more space between the lines while taking even more focus away from the space in-behind the strikers.
Space in a similar position opens up on the far side, with Lemar’s long pass finding a teammate who can attack the channel and either shoot across goal or put the ball back across goal. The space on the far-side remains empty, and a midfield runner wouldn’t have gone amiss, as it could’ve ended in the opening goal.
Morata’s opener wasn’t too dissimilar to this move, instead, it came from a goal-kick, with Morata chesting the ball down between the two lines of Alavés’ 3-5-2, and a couple of passes between the two strikers through the back three resulted in Morata having the goal at his mercy, and he duly converted.
In the end, it was a bit of magic from Lucas Perez which saved Alavés’ skin, with a curling left-foot strike proving unsavable for Jan Oblak between the Madrid sticks. Alavés did well in trying to adapt to their opponent, but Atletico Madrid just did it better, and Alavés struggled to respond from a tactical aspect.
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