Atletico Madrid 2-1 Real Madrid: Atletico win the Copa del Rey in extra-time

May 19, 2013

The starting line-ups

Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid triumphed at the Bernabeu in a hard-fought, scrappy contest.

Simeone brought Diego Costa back into the Atletico side and turned to a three-man central midfield, with Falcao upfront alone.

Jose Mourinho used Mesut Ozil out on the right flank and Luka Modric in a three-man midfield, while Karim Benzema got the nod over Gonzalo Higuain upfront.

Atletico rode their luck – with Real hitting the woodwork three times.

Midfield battle

The major tactical battle was in midfield, where both coaches opted for a ‘trivote’ in the centre of the pitch. Rather than using 4-4-2, or 4-2-3-1, they both went for three solid central midfielders in a broadly cautious move.

The danger when a 4-3-3 faces a 4-3-3 is that the midfields can play in front of each other without attempting much penetration, and that was particularly obvious at the start of this game. At times, Xabi Alonso and Mario Suarez were the freest players, with Koke battling against Sami Khedira and Luka Modric against Gabi. Alonso and Suarez were essentially sweeping up behind those battles, and both sides looked out wide to get the ball forward.

Neither Alonso or Suarez took full advantage of their theoretical freedom, however. Falcao did an admirable defensive job in dropping deep to pick up Alonso, while Suarez simply started the game poorly in front of his own back four. He misplaced a couple of passes, was fortunate not to be booked for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo, and conceded possession for the mini-break that eventually resulted in a Real corner, and Ronaldo’s headed opener.

The key player in the midfield battle was Modric, who played high up to the left, and seemed capable of skipping around a challenge in a frenetic midfield battle. It felt like he was capable of receiving possession both in front of, and behind, the Atletico midfield, and therefore offered the best chance of a link to attack.

Lopsided balance

Both sides used their number ten out wide – Mesut Ozil played on the right for Real, Arda Turan on the left for Atletico. Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa, as advanced wide forwards on the opposite flank, kept their respective full-backs pinned back.

This created an unbalanced game – Ozil and Turan strayed inside quickly to provide an extra midfielder, but this meant Filipe Luis and Michael Essien could scamper forward into space to provide a crossing option. Essien was more involved early on as Real dominated possession, although Luis was a sporadic attacking force throughout the contest, and went close with a fine volley later on.

Atletico goal

Atletico were attempting to play on the counter-attack, but it wasn’t entirely clear where their goal would come from. Falcao seemed isolated upfront, with both Atletico wide players pushed into defensive positions by Real’s attack-minded full-backs.

Eventually, it was Falcao who solved the problem by dropping deep to collect the ball, dragging Raul Albiol out of position and creating space for Diego Costa to dart into from the right – Falcao’s link-up play and Costa’s run were both superb for the goal. From then, Falcao seemed to drop deep more frequently to collect possession.

Scrappy spell

Neither coach made any substitutions before the end of 90 minutes, nor were there any crucial tactical switches. Instead, the game went through a succession of phases.

In the 15 minutes immediately after half-time, the game became scrappy with lots of tackles in the centre of midfield – which seemed to benefit Modric (again, as the midfielder most capable of evading tackles) – and there were a few chances from set-pieces. This type of game seemed to suit Atletico, as they were being outpassed in midfield when the game was open.

Real chances

Then, Real turned up the tempo. Alonso found more space away from Falcao, and as Atletico’s midfielders tired, they were unable to venture forward to press him, so Alonso played some good passes into the final third.

With Modric linking the play to the left-of-centre, and Ozil drifting inside from the right, the home side suddenly found more space between the lines and put serious pressure upon the Atletico backline. Benzema and Ozil both had golden chances that were spurned – a little later Ronaldo drilled a free-kick under the wall, and off the post.

At this point, it was surprising Simeone didn’t turn to his bench – he didn’t need to make any formation changes, but Atletico surely needed extra energy in the centre of the pitch. They were under considerable pressure, although a couple of decent counter-attacking moves caused Real some difficulties defensively, with both Fabio Coentrao and Khedira cautioned for breaking up counters.


Amazingly, the game reached the end of 90 minutes with no significant change from either coach. And then, before the start of extra-time, Mourinho made three substitutions – Higuain replaced Benzema, Angel Di Maria replaced Modric (and went wide-right, with Ozil moving inside to make Real 4-2-3-1) and Alvaro Arbeloa replacing Coentrao.

The game followed a similar pattern – Real wasting chances (Higuain had a good opportunity) with Atletico threatening primarily when Falcao came deep towards play. Miranda headed in following a set-play to give Atletico the lead for the first time.

Real 3-3-4

As the game descended into a stop-start, scrappy battle with various players shown yellow cards, Real switched to 3-3-4 – with Mourinho sent to the stands, it was possibly Aitor Karanka’s decision. Essien pushed into midfield alongside Alonso and Khedira, with Di Maria, Ronaldo, Higuain and Ozil forming the four-man frontline.

It was a brave move and nearly worked instantly – Di Maria’s dart down the left and cross along the six-yard line to Ozil at the far post forced Thibaut Courtois into a stunning save. Granted, Atletico had opportunities to counter, but didn’t take full advantage – and it was a risk Real needed to take.

In extra-time Simeone replaced his midfielders with like-for-like replacements to bring fresh legs to the centre of the pitch, and Atletico saw the game out as the referee flashes more yellow cards, and sent off both Ronaldo and Gabi.


Atletico’s victory was remarkable, but it’s difficult to assess Simeone’s tactical performance in this contest. Atletico contained Real well for long periods, counter-attacked impressively at times and made the game a scrap – but they conceded too many clear-cut chances to consider this a strategic masterclass. Real hit the woodwork three times, after all.

But finishing can make all the difference – the sides recorded as many shots on target despite Real’s 62% possession dominance, and 17 shots to 10. The surprise was that Atletico won because of superior finishing, but Falcao didn’t score either goal – although he did play a crucial role throughout the game.

Tags: , , , , ,