How Koke became less of a lethal playmaker – but much more useful for the whole team

Koke Atlético Madrid

Koke has long been Atlético’s playing legend and captain, but it feels like he recently left the academy and made his debut in the first team. In reality, he has more than 500 matches and amazing statistics on victories for the club: the first player in the history of Atlético who has achieved over 280 wins, which is unreal in itself. But he has another significant achievement: the best playmaker of La Liga for over the past 10 years. Koke has about 560 chances created for the team and 70 assists. No one caught up with the player in terms of the number of progressive passes. But over the past few years, Koke’s performance as a playmaker has dropped very much, and bookmaker ratings in this article tried to find out why.

Season 15/16: peak performance for Koke and second peak for Atlético Simeone

Let’s take the “attacking” Koke from that season as a basis. He was the best player in terms of assists and he moved the ball forward most of all. Thanks largely to the concrete support zone Koke got more freedom in attack and was not tied to the flank, where he was nominally played. He could often change positions with Saul, and in addition to this, he distributed many assists.

Although the season for Koke did not start too smoothly, in the first half of the season he scored only 2 goals and gave 3 assists in 19 matches. But then everything went smoothly and at the end of the season, he had 5 goals + 15 assists.

That season Koke was a more advanced playmaker, his role was not limited to such a volume of rough work as it is now, but then he was not the same Koke who led the pressure line. He did not have to transmit the ideas of Simeone on the field, as he does now. Then for this, there was Gabi and he showed the players in the middle line where to move. In that season, Koke brought with his actions and passes the benefit to the attacking line and not the whole team. Below we will analyze why the current Koke is not so effective, but more useful for each line, and not only for the attack.

Season 19/20 is a transitional phase for Atlético and Koke, booing the captain and a barrage of criticism

Last season was downright disastrous, apart from the victories over Liverpool at CL and Barcelona in the Super Cup, the club did not achieve much. In addition, almost the entire team experienced a recession throughout the season: constant injuries, Felix didn’t give much to the team. At some point, Koke also broke down and this was one of the worst parts of the season for the squad.

Before the match with Barcelona in the Super Cup, Koke was slightly injured and was able to recover by the semifinals. In that match, the captain entered the field from substitution in the second half and scored a very important goal, which helped to snatch the victory for the team. But still, in the same match with Barça, the midfielder received another injury and missed 5 extra matches. Among them was the Spanish Cup stage, from which the team was eliminated without a captain, a loss in the Super Cup final, two losses in La Liga and one draw. As a result, out of 5 matches without Koke, the team did not win a single one, which once again confirms that Koke is irreplaceable.

The AS newspaper described this situation as follows: “In these matches, there is a clear lack of team leader and balance in the midfield.”

Season 20/21 Koke’s peak of utility and the third peak of Atlético Simeone

This season, Koke has become an Atlético main player in terms of providing the needed balance between defence and attack. In the transitional phases between defence and attack, he is often with the ball, he decides through which flank to start a positional attack.

The captain often moves to the half-flanks to create triangles through which the ball is played. By the way, these triangles are one of the ways to disperse a positional attack in Atlético. Koke goes to the semi-flank, creating a triangle with Trippier and Llorente, or Lemar and Carrasco. Often with the help of a pass to the third player, Atlético distributes the ball to Llorente or Yannick, who takes the half-flank where the cross is coming from, or they accelerate and shoot (if the ball is in Llorente possession).

The second way to start a fast positional attack is a long pass from Koke. He receives the ball in the centre of the field, shows with his movement the direction of the pass, then one of the fullbacks (depending on the position of Koke) accelerates along the flank, after which the ball reaches the flank, and the player crosses into the penalty area at Suarez, Correa, or Llorente.

For Koke, his statistics are also indicative: he is the best passer in Atlético after Mario Hermoso, who is the main passing defender in the team. It is Mario who most often delivers the ball to Koke, who then starts the attacks.

From this, it follows that Koke’s performance decreased due to the changing role in the team. Nowadays Koke is the standard of a deep playmaker, the need for which arose in a team after Thomas Partey left for Arsenal. Although the captain does not perform all the functions that were assigned to Partey, some of them still take over. Perhaps Koke would not have played such a role if Lucas Torreira had lived up to expectations and replaced Thomas.

Before the start of the season, information in various media had shown that Simeone was planning to return Koke to the former role of an attacking playmaker, but this did not happen. Perhaps because of unjustified expectations from Geoffrey Kondogbia and Torreira.

Koke at Atlético Madrid
flickr.comKoke future

Not so long ago Koke spoke about what he thinks about retirement: “It would be great to end my career here. This is a very serious task for me, and finishing my career in this particular club has been my dream since childhood. It would be something incredible, but we know what football is, if I do not show the proper level of play, I will have to consider other proposals. But the truth is that I dream of ending my career in this particular club”.

So, if Koke can show the level he tries to maintain for most of his career, the player has all the chances to finish it at the club he loves with all his heart.