Atletico 3-1 Villarreal: Reyes inspires Atletico with intelligent performance

March 7, 2011

The starting line-ups

Atletico dominated here, and recorded a deserved victory in a good, open game.

Qique Sanches Flores made various changes from the side that drew with Getafe in Atletico’s previous league game. He reverted to Atletico’s usual 4-4-2.

Juan Garrido made only one change – Carlos Marchena dropped to the bench, so Mateo Musacchio came into the side at centre-back.

The match was contested by two broadly similar sides, in terms of strategy and tactics. In formation terms, Atletico were 4-4-2 with the wingers looking to come inside, Villarreal were more of an obvious 4-2-2-2 with the interiores retreating to wide positions without the ball.

Atletico in command

Sometimes this can lead to a slightly static contest – see Fulham’s game against Hamburg last season (and to a lesser extent, the Europa League final), but with attack-minded football played by both sides and some fantastic goals, it was an entertaining contest.

Atletico were the better side, and in tactical terms it was because they offered more of a varied attacking threat. Villarreal’s system sees Santi Cazorla and Cani coming in off the flanks very early and trying to thread the ball through the centre of the pitch, which was too predictable.

Reyes key

Atletico’s most dangerous wide player, Reyes, also likes to come inside as he cuts onto his left foot from the right flank, but crucially, his starting position is much wider – he pulls wide before coming inside (much like Arjen Robben), which allowed Atletico to stretch the play and made Villarreal work harder without the ball. It also took advantage of the fact that Cani and Cazorla are often not in a position to cover their full-back.

Reyes enjoyed his freedom and came inside to curl in an absolutely superb strike early on, but his all-round game was also excellent. His runs inside were timed well to allow Tomas Ujfalusi forward on the overlap, and the Czech right-back’s delivery into the box was better than usual. From those central positions, Reyes didn’t always shoot – often, he looked to play clever balls through the defence for Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, who both tried to beat the Villarreal defence for pace.

High line exposed

That was a problem for Villarreal throughout the game – their usual pressing game means that they play a consequently high defensive line. But without any pace at the back (even with Marchena on the bench) they were vulnerable to balls over the top. A further problem was that their pressing wasn’t very good here – and so with no pressure upon the men in midfield – Tiago, in particular, had time on the ball – and space in behind, they were always likely to be opened up easily. It was surprising that it took until the 69th minute for Atletico to score in this fashion through Aguero – he and Forlan had missed similar chances before.

Atletico also defended intelligently, getting two extremely narrow banks of four behind the ball, giving Villarreal’s attacking players little space to work in. Reyes and Elias came narrow and left the Villarreal full-backs free – but neither of them could provide good service into the box. It’s also not a particularly risky strategy against Villarreal – with Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi upfront, they hardly provide much of an aerial threat (although, in fairness, both are good at making runs towards the near post when the ball is wide).

Villarreal seemed to tire in the second half and the first touch of their attacking players deserted them – Cani was particularly bad.


A very good display from Atletico – the type that makes you look at their individuals and wonder how good they would be if they could all turn in consistent performances. Reyes’ inconsistency epitomises Atletico, but here he was fantastic – a wonderful goal, a clever assist, intelligent with his movement and disciplined without the ball.

Villarreal’s season has stalled alarmingly – they’re now on one win from their last six games. A small squad size may be to blame – fitness seemed to be an issue here.

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