Copa del Rey – Atletico Madrid 2 – Real Madrid 0 : Atletico capitalize on set pieces to win the first leg.

Starting line-ups.
                                         Starting line-ups.

Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid faced each other for the fourth time this season and Atletico once again prevailed over its city rival. Atletico Madrid also recorded a hat-trick of wins over Real Madrid.

Diego Simeone rested many regular starters like Arda Turan, Koke, Guilherme Siqueira, Moya, Juanfran and Mario Mandzukic. There were many less experienced players in the back line – Gimenez, Lucas Fernandez and Jesus Gamez were given a chance. Mario Suarez played instead of Tiago in the midfield. Saul Niguez started on the left. Fernando Torres started ahead of Mandzukic.

Carlo Ancelotti decided to rest Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe. Sami Khedira was given a chance. Rafael Varane partnered Sergio Ramos at the back. Alvaro Arbeloa started in place of Daniel Carvajal.

Real Madrid’s shape

Ancelotti started with a 4-3-3 formation – with Isco, Khedira and Toni Kroos playing in midfield. Real Madrid had an upper hand over Atletico in the midfield. But since Atletico Madrid players dropped deep, Real Madrid could not do much with the ball. Mostly their passes were cut out by the narrow defense of Atletico.

Real Madrid changed its formation to 4-4-2 at the end of the 12th minute. Rodriguez dropped to the midfield. Gareth Bale moved alongside Karim Benzema.

Real Madrid’s wingbacks

Given the narrow defending of the home team, Real Madrid had a lot of space on the flanks while attacking. Arbeloa and Marcelo overlapped with James Rodriguez and Isco to occupy these areas. But since Atletico Madrid counter attack with great pace and in a rough manner, there was a need to cover the defensive midfielder, Kroos, and the central defenders. So Isco and Khedira dropped into the region around Kroos, providing a defensive cover.

Isco and Khedira covering for the WBS

But when the formation was changed to 4-4-2, Isco moved forward and Khedira stayed deep. This made Real’s defense a bit vulnerable. Atletico Madrid players, who were unable to attack properly in the first 15 minutes or so, launched a series of attacks through the middle.

Real Madrid’s defense

Real Madrid’s defensive show was very impressive. Real Madrid won 18 aerial duels compared to Atletico’s 9. Real Madrid attempted 23 tackles, with a majority of them coming in their own half.  All credits go to Ancelotti, for playing Khedira in the midfield. Khedira’s inclusion in the starting eleven meant Real Madrid had an extra defensive cover apart from Kroos. It also made Real Madrid more structured.

Michael Cox, in one of his recent articles, wrote that Kroos might enjoy Khedira’s presence alongside him while playing strong teams. He was right. Without Khedira, Kroos would have been more susceptible to Atletico’s pressing and tackling.

Atletico Madrid score from set pieces

The presence of double pivot in Real’s midfield ensured that Atletico had very few chances to score from open play. But they had no problem in converting the set pieces. Even in the past fixtures, Real Madrid was troubled by Atletico’s ability to score from a free kick and corners. Raul Garcia opened the scoring from the spot. Atletico’s second goal was scored by Gimenez by heading home a corner in the 76th minute.

Both the teams were toothless when it came to attacking

Both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had a tough time in front of the goal. Antoine Griezmann and Raul Garcia had a shot each on the target, only to be saved or blocked by the opposition defenders.

Real Madrid had a clear-cut chance in the first minute – Sergio Ramos’ header was pushed away by Jan Obalak. Even Bale had a chance to score in the 52nd minute, when he managed to collect a cross from Marcelo, but shot it just wide.

Shots: Real Madrid 10 – Atletico Madrid 9

On target: Real Madrid 3 – Atletico Madrid 2

Raul Garcia

Raul Garcia was the top performer of the night. He posed a threat to Real Madrid by making runs through the right flank. Garcia also covered the entire left flank and supported the inexperienced left back Gamez.

Raul Garcia took three shots and made 7 tackles, highest number of tackles by an Atletico player in the match. By making 4 interceptions, he made his presence felt in Atletico’s right flank.

Conclusion

This win establishes the fact that Simeone’s tactics are still working, unlike Jurgen Klopp’s – whose side was not able to reproduce their form of 2012-2013 season.

Atletico Madrid played behind the ball for the most part of the game. Real Madrid enjoyed a massive 68% possession but could do nothing with it, which is an indication of Atletico’s rock solid back line and an equally supportive group of midfielders.

Carlo Ancelotti might have expected a defeat by a narrow margin. It would have been acceptable for Real to lose 1-0 to a side where the likes of Koke, Turan, Miranda, and Mandzukic played. Real Madrid will be really disappointed with their defeat to a less experienced Atletico side.

Both the coaches rested many regular players. It raises questions about Simeone and Ancelotti’s thoughts about the Copa del Rey.

All stats are used from the Whoscored website.

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