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Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid, Copa del Rey Final 2013: Tactical Talking Points

In a shocking loss for Real Madrid, we analyze what went wrong against Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.

Denis Doyle

Atlético Madrid got their first win in 14 years against Real Madrid when it mattered, in the Copa del Rey Final. Here's how everything went in terms of the tactics.


This game was all about the tempo.

Real wanted to control the game with quick counter-attacking football, whereas Atletico wanted to slow down the pace of their opponents and then effectively utilize their own pace down the wings during breaks.

The eventual champions won this battle by a large margin due to their pressing.

Atletico pressed aggressively in the final third of the pitch. This halted Real's potential build-up plays and forced the defenders and the midfield duo of Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso to pass the ball among themselves until Atletico retreated. Added to that, Luka Modric, who was often venturing in the attacking-third, was forced to fall back due to lack of ammunition.

Thus, all this slowed down Real's attacks and gave Atletico the time to form an organized bank of five in front of their back-four. With Mario Suarez closing down the space in between the lines, Real were bound to get frustrated and Atletico had no problem in allowing the yesteryear Spanish champions to have the ball around the centre of the park.

This tactic was mainly effective and used when Real sought to counter. Atletico's pressing meant the ball couldn't be supplied to Ronaldo and Karim Benzema as quickly as they would have wanted.

Hence, due to the time taken by the Whites to pass the ball between their defenders and midfielders to relieve the pressure from their opponents, Simeone's men were able to put up a compact defensive structure.

Real Frustrated...

Madrid tried to overload the left-wing and then switch play to the right to Michael Essien (who also sometimes got space when Mesut Özil had plucked in Arda Turan with him), but that didn't really work out and the hosts quickly gave up this option.

Through balls and long balls were tried out but to no avail.

Ronaldo lacked mobility to drift in from the wings on a regular basis, Özil failed to pick out pockets of space to receive the ball in the middle of the pitch and Modric was compelled to withdraw into Madrid's own half due to lack of supply- therefore, there was no nexus between the midfield and the attack.

...Improve Momentarily

From the time after conceding the equalizer until around the hour-mark, Madrid's output was relatively better.

The reason was their passing, movement of Modric and the tempo. Alonso and the defenders passed with more pace and didn't succumb under the pressing. This allowed them to pass into space between the lines, where this time, Modric was usually present.

As soon as Madrid's passing became more fluid and Modric made untracked runs into the final third to provide a passing outlet, Mou's men looked much more dangerous.

The key was to pass in between the zones and also have someone to receive those balls. Modric did so and got support from Özil, who too was now able to find space while drifting in from the left to link-up with his teammates.

However, Madrid couldn't carry on with their momentum for long.

Atletico Attack

Atletico mainly attacked down the flanks. With Ronaldo seemingly told to stay upfront, it was easier for Costa and co. to outnumber Fabio Coentrao.

Costa's pace itself tormented Coentrao, whereas, Falcao's positioning also created various problems for Madrid's backline.

The Columbian dropped so deep that Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol were confused whether to continue to mark him or not. Ultimately, Albiol marked Falcao till long distances, leaving massive channels opened.

The visitors' equalizer clearly highlighted the trouble caused by Falcao and Costa.

Falcao dropped to collect the ball, while Albiol was also drawn along with the rumored AS Monaco-transfer target. Ramos nullified the space left opened by Albiol but with Essien failing to track back in time, Falcao was easily able pass into the hole between Madrid's right-centre-back and right-back.

He did so after getting the better of Albiol and Costa's run into that 'hole', unnoticed by Coentrao, resulted in a wonderful goal for 'Los Colchoneros'.

Madrid's Substitution

With Coentrao already on a yellow, Alvaro Arbeloa was brought on at the start of extra-time for the Portuguese, along with Angel Di Maria (Modric) and Gonzalo Higuain (Benzema).

There was a shift from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, with Özil playing in his preferred #10 role and Di Maria on the right.

However, if Madrid were actually going for the winning goal, there was no reason to take off Modric. The Croat's movements were crucial as stated above, and although Özil was deployed as the #10, another presence could have helped.

After Miranda's winner, Madrid switched to a three-man defense, with Di Maria on the left, Essien in midfield, Ronaldo as the #10 and Özil back on the right.

Madrid had two strong chances in the extra-time, one created by the lively and fresh legs of Di Maria, but Thibaut Courtois produced a duo of galvanizing saves to prevent conceding a second goal.

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