Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid: Jonathan Wilson's Tactical Preview


Gareth Bale’s calf strain and Pepe’s broken rib will keep them out for Real. Pepe, arguably, is the bigger loss given how shaky Real have been at the back of late, keeping a clean sheet in only one of their last 16 games. Atletico are definitely without Juanfran, the victim of a thigh injury, while Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, Sime Vrsaljko and Jose Gimenez are all major doubts.



Real Madrid have won 12 and drawn two of their last fifteen games, but that gives a slightly false impression. In nine of those games they’ve gone behind, and there has been a strange sense of them scrambling for results. They have the players, clearly, and have scored in each of their last 58 games in all competitions, but they seem lack the capacity to control games. Atletico, of course, are the opposite.

Diego Simeone is a master of getting the best out of a squad that, while clearly highly gifted is equally clearly nowhere near as gifted as Real’s. Atletico have lost only one of their last 14 games and have conceded just five goals in that time, but they do lie 10 points behind Real having played a game more.



Of the eight Madrid derbies played in the league since the beginning of 2013-14, Atletico have lost only one. After the 14-year spell in which they couldn’t beat their city rivals, that must come as a relief, but it perhaps hasn’t meant as much as it would have done in other circumstances. The Madrid sides have met in each of the last three seasons in the Champions League and Real have always come out on top, twice in finals (once after extra-time and once on penalties) and 1-0 on aggregate in the 2015 quarter-final. That suggests Atletico may have a slight mental issue, that in European games, their rivals’

greater pedigree gives them some sort of psychological edge.



Cristiano Ronaldo did not play well against Bayern Munich in the second leg of the quarter-final. He was often isolated and often gave the ball away. His decision-making was poor. Yet he scored a hat-trick. In games against the strongest opposition, there has always been a doubt about Ronaldo. He might be a player who can win the game single-handed, but he can also lose the game because he is not part of the unit. He will not track his full-back and that can have serious consequences. That issue has become increasingly stark of late, as Ronaldo has begun to pare back his game, to become more of a box player than he was. If there is any team in the world likely to have the tactical intelligence to take advantage, it is Atletico.



With Juanfran and Vrsaljko out, Gimenez had been operating at right-back for Atletico. He too is ruled out, and that leaves options extremely limited. The Ghana international Thomas Partey came off the bench to replace Gimenez against Las Palmas on Saturday, but he is extremely inexperienced in the role. That makes Ronaldo’s role, assuming he operates on the left, even more vital as he should, in theory, be up against the obvious potential weakness in the Atletico back four.


4-4-2 v 4-3-3

It seems almost certain that Atletico will line-up with a 4-4-2 against Real’s 4-3-3. As a rule, all else being equal, the side playing 4-3-3 should dominate the centre of the pitch and this the ball, while the side playing 4-4-2 will have an advantage in wide areas when it gets possession. Real, anyway, would look to dominate possession, so the expectation must be for Atletico to spend much of the game with two banks of four sat deep, looking to hit a front two of Antoine Griezmann and one of Fernando Torres, Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa (most likely Torres) on the break. That said, it would be no great surprise if there were a period of the game, for perhaps 10 minutes, in which Atletico pressed Real hard, something at which they’ve been improving over the past couple of seasons.



Diego Simeone is, tactically at least, a better coach than Zinedine Zidane. He will out-think him, and then the question is merely whether Real’s better players and Atletico’s slight inferiority complex will outweigh that. But given Real’s defensive vulnerability, there is every reason for them to be optimistic. They can be backed +0.5 at 2.05.