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Copa del Rey, Atlético de Madrid - Real Madrid: Tactical preview

We take a look at Ancelotti's options to maximize the odds of beating Atlético.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The Madrid derby was, undoubtedly, the greatest football confrontation in the world in 2014. Merengues and Colchoneros played against each other seven times, leaving a 3-2-2 balance favorable to Los Blancos. This led them to equally divide all trophies in which both contenders took part in, as Atlético won La Liga and the Spanish Supercup, and Real Madrid got the Copa del Rey and La Décima. But 2014 is over now and it is time to determine if it is Indians or Vikings who rule the Spanish capital.

And getting the lead on this confrontation will not be easy. We are visiting the Vicente Calderón to face a team that seems to be particularly designed to beat Real Madrid. And although both Atlético and Real Madrid seem to care more about the league and the Champions League than the Copa del Rey, the truth is that nobody ever wants to lose a derby, and once the ball starts spinning, all twenty-two players on the pitch will only be thinking about winning.

How to beat Atlético de Madrid?

Gabe, Lucas and Josh answered this question in the last episode of our podcast:

  • Gabe: The key to beating Atleti is not to concede from set pieces.
  • Lucas: Match their intensity as well.
  • Josh: Don't concede early, play conservatively from the opening whistle, keep possession, settle the game, lower the tempo, play around them, make them run, kill the game. The problem is that it's much easier said than done.
  • If we were able to accomplish all these tasks, we'd definitely make it to the quarterfinals, but it is not as if Simeone's men would let us do all such things without putting up a big fight. So which of those are the most important ones, and how can Ancelotti maximize Real Madrid's options to succeed?

    Madrid Derby

    1. Not to concede from set pieces - This is pure Mathematics, as Atlético de Madrid have scored 68% of their league goals in set pieces, so if we are able to steal their deadliest weapon from them, the biggest part of the job will be done. Keylor Navas, whose performance against this type of actions is usually better than that of Casillas, will be defending our goal tomorrow, but he will need the assistance of Real Madrid's defenders to block them. The presumable absence of Sergio Ramos can be well covered by Varane, but he and his companions will need to be extremely focused in all ninety minutes in order not to fall on one of Simeone's chalkboard tricks.
    2. Mind the aerial balls coming from Oblak - This was Atlético's main tool to approach Real Madrid's goal in our last three games. The physical superiority of men like Mandzukic, Raúl García or Tiago compared to our midfielders was way too big and the colchoneros won most of these balls in our side of the pitch (and this resulted, for example, in Mandzukic's early goal in the second Supercup game). Our defensive line will need to step up for our big men to take part on these duels, and the entrance of Khedira in the midfield could be of great help.
    3. Shuffle the attack and create superiorities - Atlético is one of the best defensive teams in the world, and you can't just beat them with a flat 4-3-3, even if your wingers are Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, since they will always find the way to push them to the wings and confront them in 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 duels. In order to dismantle their defensive system, Real Madrid's attack will need to be hard to read. Ronaldo and Bale will need to attack the same space from time to time, and might even need the help from the fullbacks, reaching the baseline to split Atletico's defence. Benzema will have to float around Atlético's centerbacks and Isco and James should occupy the hole every now and then for the open lanes to appear.
    4. Match Atlético's intensity - This will be essential for us in order not to be outplayed by them, but we will need to be careful. The referee for the first leg is Clos Gómez, which is just bad, but we will have Mateu Lahoz in the second one, which is unpredictable. Atlético's players will, for sure, perform with the violence intensity that characterizes their style, but they are, unlike our players, used to this hard play. If each of the games gets too hot, we could end up with some of our most important players booked or, even, sent out, and this would unbalance the tie. It will be, mostly, a matter of being focused all 180 minutes. Every mistake will be punished, so me must not make any.
    Bonus track: If none of these work, we'd better try to keep a tight score until the 93rd minute of the second leg and... well, you know how that ends.

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