Diego Simeone’s Mean Machine

They have the meanest defence in any of the top European leagues, having conceded a measly eight league goals in 21 games, including a remarkable 14 clean sheets. Indeed the last time that Atletico Madrid picked the ball out of their own net was 453 minutes ago, on the 20th December against Malaga.

This weekend that defence faces a massive test as Atleti travel to the Camp Nou, where they will attempt to neutralize the threat from Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

The art of defending is supposed to be a dying art, so SportsMatrix decided to examine the data, to see what Diego Simeone has done to make Atletico Madrid such a tough team to beat.

It’s really very simple. Diego Simeone relies on a very high work rate, with every player contributing both to defence and attack; with the backline ultra-organized and compact, making it very difficult for the opposition to create good goal scoring opportunities.

They defend aggressively but fairly and suffer more fouls (16.5 per game) than they commit (14.1 per game).

Whilst their opponents tend to average higher levels of live ball possession (51.6%), Atleti are happy to let their opponents move the ball around in non-threatening areas; but are almost fanatical in defending their final third.
Atleti’s pressing allows them to steal the ball from their opponents, transitioning rapidly from defence into attack and unlike their opponents, they tend to reach very good goal scoring opportunities and are clinical in front of goal.
In numbers it looks like this. Just under 92% of the time that the opposition have the ball, it is in their own first two-thirds of the field, whilst they have the ball in the Atletico defensive third close to 8% of the time.
Atleti on the other hand, have possession in their defensive and midfield third 86.5% of the time, holding onto the ball in the final third a considerably higher 13.5% of the time and carrying out 33% more attacking actions in this key area.
Atleti’s mean defence results in their opponents reaching relatively few goal scoring chances (5.2 per game, compared to 12.2 per game for the Rojiblancos), forcing them to shoot more from distance and to fewer shots and headers from close to goal.
As a result Atleti’s opponents convert only 4.1% of their open play shots into goals; whilst Atleti reach considerably more good scoring chances, converting a considerably higher percentage (12.2%) of their chances into goal.
When it comes to set plays the Rojiblancos deliver a higher percentage (27.2%) of dangerous set pieces than their opponents (20.7%); but thanks to excellent teamwork, Atleti are equally effective at defending set plays, conceding on average 0.2 goals per game, whilst scoring a slightly better 0.3 goals per game.
With the season just past halfway and their defence rock solid, there seems to be no reason why Diego Simeone’s team can’t repeat their triumph of two years ago and to claim the La Liga title.

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