Valencia 2-0 Atletico: neither side at their best as Simeone’s midfield selection backfires

November 6, 2012

The starting line-ups

Valencia won 2-0 in a disappointingly tame contest.

Mauricio Pellegrino changed his two wide players, bringing in Andres Guardado and Sofiane Feghouli, and also introduced Jonas behind Roberto Soldado.

Diego Simeone made a few changes, bringing back Tiago, Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez and moving to a different midfield format.

Neither side played particularly sparkling football in this match – the only interesting tactical feature was in the centre of midfield.

Atletico shape

Atletico have generally played a 4-2-3-1 formation so far this season, but at the start of the game their midfield shape was very different. Rather than fielding a double pivot, instead Tiago stayed very deep and marked Jonas, with Emre and Gabi higher up the pitch.

It was more like a 4-3-3 with a trivote, and therefore a reactive move to get men behind the ball and ‘match’ Valencia in the centre of midfield – and not unlike Arsene Wenger’s similar formation switch at Old Trafford earlier in the day.

This shape, in theory, would have made it easier to press Valencia – Tiago on Jonas and the two higher midfielders on Tino Costa and Fernando Gago. But Atletico’s strategy without the ball was disjointed – they didn’t press as a unit but instead midfielders tended to chase in ones and twos. Often one of the two central midfielders would find himself higher up the pitch helping Falcao to press the centre-backs, but this left one of the midfielders free for a simple forward pass. A counter-attacking strategy seemed Atletico’s best bet, but this didn’t explain the sporadic chasing from individual midfielders, and this approach was quickly doomed once Valencia took the lead.

Broken sides

Essentially, this was a contest between two ‘broken’ sides, albeit broken in a very different manner.

Valencia’s problem was the wide midfielders playing too far from the forwards. Traditionally Valencia played a 4-2-3-1 with great rotation from the attacking quartet, with the likes of David Silva and Juan Mata interchanging positions. Now, there’s a slightly different format to the side. Both Guardado and Feghouli are quite ‘narrow’ wide midfielders, and not necessarily in the same sense as their predecessors, as neither have the same ability to drift into the centre unnoticed. Feghouli’s something of a shuttler to the right, while Guardado is more creative but rarely breaks behind Jonas. They both came short and received balls to feet, and rather left Jonas and Roberto Soldado on their own.

This wasn’t a significant problem, for two reasons. First, because the striking duo worked well together, with Jonas’ clever, varied movement a huge asset for the home side. He drifted left and right, then came deep, then made direct runs towards goal – and compensated for the lack of mobility and clever movement from elsewhere. Soldado often drifted laterally in tandem with the Brazilian, and they seemed like a good partnership.

Second, because Soldado opened the scoring with a superb volley after a long ball from defence (while not quite as good, it was reminiscent of Claudio Lopez’s famous volley in a Valencia shirt over a decade ago), so the gap between the forwards and the rest of the side had been bridged with a direct forward pass, rather than through personnel. That type of goal is hardly a reliable source of chances for Valencia, however, and in future more fluidity and immediacy from the wide midfielders is required.

Atletico problems

Atletico were broken in a more severe, more obvious sense. Usually they feature a number ten, who sits between the lines and link the play. With two deeper midfielders, Turan drifting in from the right sporadically and Lopez out on the left with little support, there was simply no-one connecting the side – again, the same problem Arsenal encountered at Manchester United. Falcao was isolated – he can still score in that kind of situation, of course, but Atletico were only providing him with hopeful deliveries rather than genuinely enticing crosses.

Simeone spent the entire game trying to correct his midfield triangle. All three starting central midfielders were taken off – first Cristian Rodriguez replaced Emre and offered more forward drive, helping the away side back into the game. Simeone later introduced Mario Suarez and Raul Garcia to play deep in midfield, removing Tiago and Gabi.

Turan became the number ten later in the game, with Rodriguez moving wide – in fairness, Atletico eventually took control of the midfield battle (helped by Valencia bringing on Ever Banega for Jonas for the final 15 minutes, a defensive move), but Simeone needed all three changes to get close to the fluency Atletico generally take for granted.


Put simply, there was a lack of midfield creativity here, combined with both sides lacking ‘connectivity’ at some point between the midfield and the forwards. Valencia won the game via a superb strike after a long ball, and then snatched a second on the break in stoppages when Atletico were pushing forward.

It’s difficult to pick out any major positives for either side – the main outcome is that La Liga’s chances of a surprise title challenge from Atletico appears less likely.

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