Every player who has played under Diego Simeone seems to be molded in his own shadow. Those who don't reflect that aggression, discipline, and drive are often shunted out. The Rojiblancos in their modern iteration is Simeone embodied. This is nothing new to anyone who has seen the Argentine manager's side in action.
Simeone expects his players to be able to run faster, cover more ground, and play harder than any side they face. One of the primary tenets of his side is to remain compact, both vertically as well as laterally. They're often the ultimate counter-attacking machine, content to cede possession and capitalize on errors, relying on individual skill and speed of thought and action in the final third of the pitch.
The shape & the shift
The gritty side favors a 4-4-2 that is very compact and difficult block that moves as a unit, making it difficult to break down. It also looks different depending on what phase of play you're watching. Since Atleti tend to spend a lot of time defending, let's begin with their defensive shape.
Setting up as a compact unit is only step one of the defensive plan. Atleti are unlike many modern pressing sides who like to apply pressure high up the pitch. They do most of their pressing on the wings as the whole block shifts to the side being attacked, then its the responsibility of the left or right-sided midfielder, the defensive midfielder on that side of the pitch, and the full-back to pile the pressure.
This style of pressing when performed well as Atleti do prevents even a good switch of play and usually either forces a pass back or a poor attempt at a switch which turns over possession. Their major weakness has been quick passing that circumvents their press, but there are few sides who are equipped to pull this off.
Going forward, the players have guidelines that play to their individual strengths and let them make the best of their abilities in the final third. The key movements in this current team would be wingers moving inward while fullbacks provide support on the wing, and strikers providing dynamic movement to try and receive an early pass.
Midfielders, above everyone else in Simeone's system, are expected to be versatile. Only Llorente can possibly be described as a pure defensive midfielder of the current Atleti side, similar to the man he replaced - Rodri.
Most other midfielders or wide players would feel at home in two or three positions, either across midfield or as forwards. Since there are so many combinations that Simeone can and has used in the past, he tends to rotate most of his midfielders. None, so far, can be accused of slacking off either.
Even the new boys, Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, and Joao Felix will be expected to deliver in multiple positions. Felix and Llorente perhaps will enjoy the most time in the side, owing to their versatility and ability to excel in a single position respectively.
The midfield we're likely to see the most will be Saul and Felix on either side of Llorente and Koke centrally, with Morata and Costa combining upfront.
Saul and Felix are both adept at floating in centrally and then being able to find the strikers with through balls, link-up play, or drive forward at pace. Atleti will make changes based on decisions to play wider in attack or perhaps on occasion with more crossing in their game which would trigger the inclusion of Lemar.
The set up as described above though will give their newest addition Felix the chance to switch positions with Morata or Saul to drive the attack from different points. His defensive work on the wings has also been stellar so far and in attack, he's a much better player driving from deep (with or without the ball) than playing upfront.
Llorente will be able to form the base of the midfield and cut out any attacking play or delay so his team-mates can regain their shape. Koke should start most of Atleti's games in midfield but when Atleti need a solid block in defense, he may be replaced by Herrera. The right side of Atleti could be in flux a lot this season as Koke has the ability to play slightly wider as well and he will do well linking up with Trippier and Felix in attack.
Simeone has been experimenting with multiple positional changes within this system in pre-season, and it's looking increasingly likely that he will stick with this starting 11, barring some breakout performances or injury concerns.Published 29 Jul 2019, 12:37 IST