Barcelona meet Atletico Madrid in a mouth-watering game in La Liga this weekend. Barcelona currently sit in second place, only one point off Real Madrid, who suffered a mid-week defeat to a resurgent Valencia. Atletico may have fallen out of the title race but still need the points to catch Sevilla in third position to guarantee automatic qualification to next season’s Champions League.
To win this crucial battle Barcelona must deal with the raw pace of Atletico Madrid’s front two. The French pairing of Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro have been directly involved in six of Atletico’s last nine goals in all competitions. Against Leverkusen, Gameiro was a constant threat in the channels attacking the space that had been vacated by the full-backs especially on the left side where Wendell was playing as more of an auxiliary left winger than a left-back. The Frenchman’s good work in the channels created two big chances for Griezmann, one of which was converted, and won Atletico a crucial penalty.
In modern football, it is common practice for full-backs to operate in very high positions to offer width in the final third and play almost as old school wingers. But in a tactical sense, if these “defenders” are pushing on, there needs to be cover from midfield. For Bayer Leverkusen, this didn’t come with Kevin Kampl and Charles Aranguiz both playing high up the pitch offering no protection for the centre-backs behind them thus exposing them to the pacy Atletico front two on the counter-attack.
Barcelona must avoid exposing their centre-backs to one-on-on situations in wide areas. Sergio Busquets will be the key man for Barcelona to balance the side when Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto are attacking. Busquets is one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, in a tactical and positional sense, and will provide much better protection for his centre-backs than the Leverkusen pairing.
The width created by Barcelona’s full-backs is going to be vital to unlock Atletico Madrid’s defence. In the last few weeks, Atleti have been suspect to low crosses into the box. Furthermore, in their most recent two fixtures, all three of the goals they have conceded have come through low crosses entering the box.
Without Diego Godin, Los Rojiblancos have lacked a leader in these situations; someone to take control and clear the ball out of the danger zone. The second goal that Atletico conceded against Leverkusen was almost comical. Julian Brandt fired in a low cross from the left wing, Moya palmed the ball straight into Stefan Savic, the ball ricocheted and ended up in the Atletico goal. Poor decision making from the goalkeeper and centre back.
Barcelona should replicate this attacking method though their full-backs. Barcelona’s forwards play narrow and will take the attention of the Atletico back four, this could open up space for the full-backs to be free in the final third. The two Atletico wide midfielders will have to be very wary of the overlap and stick with their man and block the crosses to this becoming the decisive factor in the game.
Article & Analysis by Statman Dave