Atletico Madrid host Real Madrid in the second leg of the Supercopa de Espana on Friday evening, with the scoreline poised carefully at 1-1.
A late Raul Garcia equaliser at the Santiago Bernabeu ruined all of los Blancos' hard work in finding a lead in front of home support, and the two archrivals will lock horns again at the Vicente Calderon to decide the winner.
Atletico lost on away goals last season to Barcelona—they'll be eager to correct their mistakes this time around, and the goal on away turf sets them up nicely.
How the first leg played out
Atletico Madrid barely attacked the hosts on Tuesday evening, sitting in two deep banks of four and closing off the space for playmakers quickly.
Real Madrid played into their hands by fielding a 4-3-3 formation with no players between the lines and no Angel Di Maria to buccaneer forward. James Rodriguez entered the fray in the second half and scored, but the goal came from Di Maria's introduction and Gareth Bale's switch to the left more than anything.
Atletico hit back in a rare attack late on, with Garcia flicking a corner home at the death to put los Colchoneros in a stronger position going into the second leg.
Same Atleti, but different Atleti
On Tuesday evening we saw the same Atletico Madrid as last season when off the ball: Compact, organised, suffocating and well-drilled.
It's very, very hard to get the better of Diego Godin and Co. in such tight spaces, and the newly established forward line bought into the philosophy and tried to cancel out passing lanes from the beginning of attacks.
But it's on the ball where there's a difference, with the departure of Diego Costa not helped by the absence of Arda Turan for the first leg. Simeone had no one to carry the ball—and with it his side—up the pitch, with Mario Mandzukic good at some things, but certainly not this.
“He is our heartbeat and gives us everything,” defender Diego Godin once said of Costa to AS (in Spanish). "Sometimes things aren't going well and he is able to open up the game with his strength and technique."
To say he put the side on his back would be an understatement, and Mandzukic doesn't have the same pace, quickness and ability to beat two men. That's not a slight on Mandzu, no, just a stylistic change that Simeone has opted for.
The recruitment of Antoine Griezmann, perhaps to play off the Croatian in a centre-forward role, is perhaps a signal that Atletico will work the ball forward more rather than run it. When the Frenchman came on as a substitute in the first leg, the link-up play improved exponentially within minutes.
The Atletico attack is still a blank canvas in need of painting, and that's understandable given the summer of transition. For now they'll rely on what they're good at to get them by (set pieces, defending), then sort the rest out later—hopefully with a trophy in-hand.
Real must change
News broke on Twitter earlier on Thursday that Angel Di Maria has refused a contract extension from Real Madrid and has asked, explicitly, to leave the club.
Apart from sending Manchester United fans into a whirlwind of lust and need, the revelation has a big impact on this second leg and should force Carlo Ancelotti's hand into a formation change.
The Italian knows Atletico will line up in the exact same fashion on Friday as they did at the Bernabeu earlier in the week, and he also knows that, should the match end 0-0, Atletico will be crowned.
With no Di Maria and possibly no Sami Khedira still, Ancelotti must play James Rodriguez or Toni Kroos between the lines, adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation, and try to get between Gabi and Mario Suarez/Tiago.
There are few worse prospects than playing a Diego Simeone side with something to hang onto, and as los Blancos push for the goal they'll open themselves up more and more.
The asinine 4-3-3 with no forward movement from midfield was a mistake from Ancelotti in the first leg, and he needs to find a way around that issue without the help of Di Maria.
The 4-2-3-1 or the 4-4-2 must show itself, and if it's the former, it will make three different formations for los Galacticos in three different games.