Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid: Galacticos Struggle to Breach Simeone's Wall

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterAugust 20, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 19: head coach Diego Pablo Simeone (L) of Atletico de Madrid is greeted by head coach Carlo Ancelotti (R) of Real Madrid CF prior to start the Supercopa first leg match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 19, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are all square ahead of the Supercopa de Espana's second leg, drawing 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday evening.

A tight tactical game saw very few chances conceded throughout the 90 minutes, but the game exploded into life during the final 10 as James Rodriguez and Raul Garcia both netted.

Let's take a tactical look at how the first of at least four Madrid derbies this season played out.


Formations and XIs


Real Madrid reverted to the 4-3-3 they used last season, as expected, with James Rodriguez on the bench. Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso started in the midfield three.

Atletico Madrid used a similar 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 to last year, too, with Mario Mandzukic up front, Saul off him, Guilherme Siqueira beating Cristian Ansaldi to the left-back slot and Miguel Angel Moya in goal.


Stubborn Atletico

Once a Diego Simeone side, always a Diego Simeone side. He may have lost a host of players, but this XI played in almost the exact same fashion we've come to expect over the past 12 months once again.

Two deep banks of four off the ball, just 30 percent possession, per, and a man-marking of players. Crosses from Real Madrid were allowed from deep but not used regularly until later on.


Saul dropped right in to play in front of Gabi and Mario Suarez, while Mandzukic got through a lot of running closing off options and harrying the ballplayers. The big Croatian tried to remove the ball from Sergio Ramos to Pepe as often as possible, forcing longer punts into Dani Carvajal.

Xabi Alonso and the centre-backs, largely, were allowed the ball in very deep areas, but as soon as they passed forward, the Atletico formation shrank like an accordion and suffocated all the space outside the box.


Clueless Real

Before the game, we asked how Real Madrid would fare in a 4-3-3 sans Angel Di Maria, Sami Khedira or Isco. One of the three midfielders must be penetrative and able to break between the lines; Kroos, Modric and Alonso are too flat and timid in their dribbling to cause Gabi any sleepless nights.

The wide areas were misused, and Marcelo barely had room to breathe, while Los Galacticos also managed to force both Koke and Siqueira into early yellow cards but failed to capitalise in the long term with sustained pressure on their flank.

Without players placed between the lines (a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1) or a dribbling threat to breach them (Di Maria vs. Schalke, 2013-14), Los Blancos struggled to get anything going.

Zero shots on target after 45 minutes, the closest of which was Gareth Bale's 20-yard shank, was a serious concern for Carlo Ancelotti heading into half-time.


Half-time switch

Half-time saw Ancelotti bring on James Rodriguez, but rather than place him between the lines in a 4-2-3-1, he replaced Cristiano Ronaldo on the left (injury-enforced).

While the shape didn't change, Real improved by moving the ball quicker and initiating quicker attacks. Too often in the first half possession was ponderous and sluggish, and all it does is allow Atletico to settle into their banks of four and defend stoutly—something to avoid at all costs.


Iker Casillas began sling-shotting goal kicks into the path of ambitious runs, and Carvajal became more willing to dribble on the right. It was a little more reckless, yes, but patience gets you nowhere against Simeone's men.

Siqueira soon committed his final-warning foul and was substituted for Ansaldi, while Atletico also replaced both strikers with Raul Jimenez and Antoine Griezmann—a tactic meant to restore thrust and pressure up front to quell attacks.



Angel Di Maria came on late for Modric and it proved a wise decision. Sticking with the 4-3-3 but placing the Argentine in central midfield with Bale switching to the left wing, the two combined to bombard the left within seconds and force Atletico to move resources over.

It was the first time Los Galacticos had truly tried to get behind or around their opponents' back four, and just three minutes later it bore fruits.


Bale and Di Maria forced Atletico to slant to the right, and that made room for Carvajal to bomb forward and hit the byline on the right. The ball eventually fell to James' feet, who scored on his Bernabeu debut.

The joy was short-lived—Raul Garcia equalised from a corner late on to square it ahead of the second leg—but the important thing for Ancelotti is that the way to beat this side has been revealed.

At the Vicente Calderon, he can't wait 80 minutes to force the issue.