Atletico Madrid have been one of the more inconsistent sides from Spain over the last few seasons. Their fortunes in the league have been masked by how well they have played in Europe but this season is different, this season they are playing well in nearly every single game they play.
A clear reason for this, based on their 2-1 win over Academica in the Europa League last night, is that every area of their team is organised and focused. The goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo deserves a lot of credit for the way he martials his defence. Atletico are quite an attacking team and he plays a massive role in keeping the defence tight and organised to ensure they are not stretched or out of position.
The midfield works hard both on and off the ball. One of the striking qualities of the current Barcelona team over the last few seasons is that they have worked hard to win the ball back and then rarely give it away. Atletico had just under 70% of possession in their Europa League match which shows they are learning how to make the most of the ball and retain it to build pressure on the opposition.
Falcao is another reason for the side doing so well. The striker has a staggering nine goals from seven league games this season. The problem the club has is holding off interest which is bound to flood in during the January transfer window. If Atletico have serious ambitions to win the league this season and challenge Barcelona then they need to hang onto him.
If Falcao left Atletico Madrid, it would have more of an impact on the club than when Fernando Torres left to go and play for Liverpool. He is that important to the current side. To put his league tally into context, the side have scored 19 goals both home and away over the course of this season. He appears less in the Europa League but this is simply a sign that the club is trying to protect his fitness and curb his eagerness.
Moving onto tactics, Atletico use a very simple system which works well for them. Predominantly they will play four across the back, four across the middle and then two attacking players who will rotate roles. One of those attacking players is asked to drop off into the midfield during spells of pressure. This makes the side difficult to break down and also provides extra width as soon as Atletico win the ball back.
The club find themselves in a position they haven’t been in for a number of years. Real Madrid and Malaga are improving all the time and are flying up the table after poor starts to their league campaigns. It may ultimately come down to whether the club wants to have a serious crack at winning the league or is happy to retain the European title they currently hold.
image: © azuaje