Opposition Analysis: Atletico Madrid 21/22

by | Feb 17, 2022

After the haywire UCL re-draw, Atletico Madrid were picked as Manchester United’s opponents for the upcoming Round of 16 Knockout game in the UEFA Champions League. In this article, we take a look at the Spanish giants’ 21/22 stats, strengths, weaknesses & playing style to understand what Man United can expect.

1. Overview

At the time of writing, Atletico are 5th in Laliga behind the likes of Betis & Sevilla. Even in their UCL group this season they were far behind Liverpool & barely managed to grab 2nd spot ahead of Porto & Milan. It hasn’t been a great campaign so far. But interestingly, their xGD per 90 puts them at 3rd in Laliga just behind the usual suspects, Real Madrid & Barcelona, which suggests that they aren’t doing as badly as it seems and some underperformance is at play.

Let’s dive into each aspect of their game now.

2. Formation & XI

Llorente-Koke-De Paul

This is Atletico’s most played formation involving the players with most 90s. A 5-3-2 with Koke sitting deep & 2 CMs ahead of him is their standard setup. Koke is their most important player in buildup boasting 5th best xGBuildup in Laliga so far. Lot of their game in possession goes through him while the 2 CMs ahead of him (Lemar & De Paul usually) focus on open play chance creation.

Since the departure of Trippier, Simeone has reverted to a 4-4-2 in recent games. They lined up in that shape in their last 4 games at the time of writing. The principles remain largely the same. Marcos Llorente or Vrsaljko play as a RB and allow Carrasco to play further ahead as a winger. The 4-4-2 often takes the shape of 5-3-2 when Carrasco tracks back on the left, Llorente provides width on the right and Hermoso tucks in like a LCB, so in terms of build up and defensive structure, it remains the same largely.

A more classic Simeone 4-4-2 is also possible with Vrasljko and Lodi as fullbacks and Carrasco and Lemar as wingers, which is also a tactic that has been used once since the departure of Trippier.

3. Goal scoring
(All stats from here onwards are per 90 unless mentioned otherwise)

Goals: 1.74 (3rd in Laliga)
xG: 1.45 (5th)
Shots: 13.0 (3rd)
Shots on target: 4.4 (3rd)
NPxG/Shot: 0.11 (2nd)

Atletico have actually overperformed on their goal scoring. Griezmann (+2.6 G-xG) and Correa (+5.8) are overperforming in all competitions while Suarez’s differential is 0, scoring as expected. 2 of these 3 have lined up in a 5-3-2 & mostly delivered (10, 8 & 11 goals from Suarez, Griezmann & Correa respectively in all competitions). Marcus Cunha has chipped in with 6 goals but no one else has crossed 3 goals – only 17 more goals combined from 9 other players. Last year’s Llorente goals have completely dried up – he’s scored 0 so far. De Paul, Felix, Lemar are underperforming.

4. Chance creation

Chances created: 9.7 (5th)
xA: 1.0 (5th)

Atletico haven’t been really creative. De paul (27 key passes in Laliga), Carrasco (35 Key Passes), Lemar (29 Key Passes) are their main creators but none are in top 10 of Laliga (Leader Muniain has 57 Key Passes). For United, Bruno Fernandes already has 66 Key Passes in the League.

We dive deeper into the 3 main chance creator’s areas of creation in the below viz. These are the key passes for Carrasco, De Paul and Lemar in the league so far. As you can see, Carrasco is largely on dead balls, many of his key passes coming from corners and free kicks and a few from the LWB position when he cuts in and looks for the diagonal to the far post. Lemar and De Paul play the LCM and RCM positions respectively and their roles as chief creators in open play shows. Lemar is a bit more aggressive often dribbling up to the left half space and playing through balls, cutbacks and short crosses into the box while De Paul attempts more long range defence-splitting passes from a deeper right side position.

5. Defence

Goals Allowed: 1.1 (8th worst)
xGA: 0.9 (Best)
PSxG/Shot: 0.31 (3rd)

This is where the differential issue comes to light. The underlying numbers of Atletico’s defence are actually good. They concede the least xG & the 3rd lowest quality shots but are still shipping lots of goals. This immediately points to a goalkeeping issue. Let’s dig further.

6. Jab Oblak’s dip

PSxG Differential: -0.45 (2nd worst in Laliga)
Save %: 44% (Worst in Laliga and worst in top 5 leagues)

Shockingly, Oblak has been Laliga’s worst keeper so far and in serious contention for the worst goalkeeper in the top 5 leagues as well. For Atletico, he’s conceded 12 more goals than expected (33 conceded from 21 PSxG) in the league alone and has conceded all 5 penalties he’s faced. This is the worst shot-stopping form of his life and a stark dip from last season as seen below.

7. Pressing

PPDA: 11.6 (13th worst in Laliga)
Pressures: 129 (7th worst)
Pressure Success %: 32.3% (2nd best)

Another big change from previous Atletico sides is that they don’t press intensely or high anymore. If you had a decade-long perception that a typical Simeone side is all about intense pressing and defending, then that might have to change. This 21/22 Atletico sits back & stays organized to concede less. Their high pressure success % is proof of them being measured in the press and prioritizing turnovers while remaining compact.

8. Creation Style

Possession: 53% (8th)
Shot creating actions: 19.7 (5th)
Shot creating actions from dead ball: 2.2 (3rd)
Set piece xG: 10.3 (1st)
Crosses: 13.6 (7th)
Switches: 188.5 (3rd)
Through balls: 0.96 (4th)

Atletico rely more on switches, through balls & set pieces for creation. All signs point to a deep-sitting counter side that thrives more on transitions. But this doesn’t mean they don’t like to build up passing sequences. The team style comparison plot from theanalyst.com below will give us more clarity.




 Atletico still boast 5th most passes per sequence showing their on ball quality. They are right at the average for speed of attacks though, insisting they aren’t as slow and intricate as most of the top teams.


 Key takeaways for United:

Among the pros, United can take hope from the fact that this Atletico isn’t as intense & pressing as many sides that have troubled United in the league recently. Atletico aren’t really creative, are over-reliant on over-performing strikers and set pieces and their goalkeeper Oblak is in terrible form.

Among the cons, United have struggled to break down organized deep sides that ask United to be patient & creative and set up with the aim to hit United on the transition with direct balls, which is exactly what Atletico do. United’s transition defence will be tested once again as it has been recently versus Southampton and Burnley.

(Credit to fbref.com, Understat.com and theanalyst.com for all stats)

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