Atletico Madrid 0-0 Sporting Lisbon – organised nine-man Sporting deserve their draw

March 11, 2010

An exciting first half hour was brought to a close with the dismissal of Grimi, who was joined for an early bath by Tonel late on. Sporting got men behind the ball, and Atletico struggled to create chances.

Sporting had set out quite offensively. A loose 4-2-3-1, with Joao Moutinho dropping into the centre of midfield when not in possession, and both central midfielders given license to get forward. Atletico’s shape was their usual 4-4-2, with offensive wingers.

Sporting dealt really well with Atletico’s three creative players – Sergio Aguero and the two widemen. Aguero was tracked by either centre-back regardless of how deep he dropped, and he struggled to deal with the man-marking from Polga in particular. A similar tactic was used against the full-backs – when either of the Atletico wingers got the ball, the Sporting full-back on that side would come and meet him very high up the pitch, whilst the full-back on the opposite side would drop into the centre, almost creating a brief three-man defence.

Unfortunately this tactic backfired when the Sporting left-back, Grimi, was sent-off for two silly tackles on Reyes, after the former Arsenal winger had spun in behind the Argentinian. The numerical disadvantage forced Sporting back, and they switched to a 4-4-1 system with Veloso dropping into the left-back position.

It was a fairly standard ten-man performance after that - two solid banks of four, with Liedson the lone striker. They struggled to attack because Liedson was far from suited to this particular role. When supported by three onrushing midfield players, it’s quite possible to have a lone striker who is primarily concerned with making off-the-ball runs and creating space for his teammates. But when the midfield is 40 yards away and concentrating on getting behind the ball, you need your striker to be able to hold the ball up and wait for support. Liedson actually did a decent job of working the channels and trying to cause problems, but he was never going to be able to score on his own.

Then, it was effectively a training exercise – Atletico’s attack against Sporting’s defence. It was familiar ground for Atletico, as they recently struggled to break down a Valencia side despite a man advantage. Qique Sanchez Flores’ mistake was to withdraw Simao and put on Eduardo Salvio – because the effect of this was to switch Jose Antonio Reyes to the left-hand side, when he had been the game’s biggest attacking threat on the right. Having already got one left-back sent off, he would have been up against an out-of-position Veloso, who himself was on a yellow card. On the left, he faded, and Salvio did little.

Sporting had Tonel sent off late on, and had to weather the storm with nine men. But full credit to Carlos Carvalhal – he sent his side out in a really organised and disciplined fashion, and Atletico very rarely looked like breaking the deadlock, even with an extra man for an hour. The man-marking of Aguero worked well, and Atletico’s lack of attacking threat from central midfield was evident as the game progressed.

It’s often tough to call a 0-0 in Europe – with the away side getting a result but lacking an away goal – but Sporting will be much the happier with this one.

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