Should Atlético stay on offense or revert to Cholismo?

We look at the season so far and what to make of the new expansive style

Much has been made of Simeone's tactical changes this season

Much has been made of Simeone's tactical changes this season

With two wins in their last five La Liga matches, Atlético Madrid is in a period of tactical transition and have been underachieving given their off-season acquisitions.  

The rojiblancos are coming off of a much-needed win against Osasuna, but much has changed since they were briefly top of the league earlier in the campaign.

Having been swept aside against their bitter rivals in the derby last week, much was said about Diego Simeone’s supposedly new and improved side.

After beating Bayern Munich 1-0 and thrashing Granada 7-1, suddenly Atleti was on the verge of a new identity and in certain journalistic circles they were even argued to be the best team in the world.

As it happens in football, things can change and they have changed quickly for the 13/14 La Liga champions.

Now, your optimistic thinking fan of los Colchoneros will claim, and rightfully so, that all is right in Atleti’s UEFA Champions League campaign. They won their group; they did it with just one unconvincing win, and managed to beat a contender in Bayern in superb fashion.


They’ve certainly earned a positive continental outlook in Europe amid a number of hiccups domestically, but should Atlético fans be so sure of their side moving in the right direction even though they have performed well in Europe this season? Are their domestic shortcomings just the beginning of a larger issue?

There have been multiple answers from all over World Football as to why Atlético have underperformed for a majority of their La Liga campaign.

Early on, after the red and whites started their season with two draws against newly-promoted sides Alavés and Leganés, Spanish Football expert Graham Hunter gave his possible reasons which included their UCL final defeat in Milan this past summer, per Sky Sports:

“…Every single player who has succeeded there has bought in completely into Simeone’s ultra-strict regime and you have to believe in the man. Now, twice they’ve gone into Champions League finals, and you can lose them, but in Milan the manner in which the defeat came, the decisions that Simeone took, it’s early to be saying this, it may sound bold, but I believe some of the players have looked at the manager and no longer quite feel he’s the [svengali], the absolute ‘everything I say is right all the time’ man…”

Hunter has a point. When a team goes to such European heights and falls short two times in three years by such fine margins, it can be easy for many, in any dressing room, to begin to doubt a phenomenal manager who has brought the club to great heights.

What followed after Atleti’s poor start was a Simeone side that utterly demolished Celta Vigo and Sporting Gijon with expansive play by scoring nine goals in those two results combined.


Further ahead, we saw Atleti draw to Barça at the Camp Nou by playing classic ‘Cholismo‘ brand of football and, of course, the great 1-0 win against Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern that was done with the same strategy that saw us defeat the Bavarians last spring in the knockout rounds.

However, the expansive play is arguably the biggest talking point and characteristic of Atleti’s season, and that is where will start in mapping out what should be the next step for Los Colchoneros. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

When a team transitions into a new tactical style of play, there is always going to be an adjustment period. Especially if that said side isn’t backed with the financial power that the elite football clubs possess.

So, when Atlético Madrid flirted with their possession-based love affair last season, after a couple of weeks into the experiment, Simeone scrapped the plan. The team was using a 4-3-3, trying to score more goals, but despite a bright start, in fact, were doing just the opposite. They were scoring less.

The more passive, counter-attacking Atlético was brought back and Simeone was left to wait for potential targets to come in the upcoming summer transfer window to see his new project come to life.

As it happened, Kevin Gameiro and Nico Gaitán both came in July of last summer and suddenly it looked as though Atlético had the pieces to complete Simeone’s possession puzzle.

Suddenly, what was working for weeks turned into a nightmare. A trip to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán resulted in arguably the biggest tactical chess match in Europe between Sevilla and Atlético.

Sevilla’s high-pressing style combined with Atleti’s uncreative possession-play proved to be the theme, and Sevilla came out on top. Jorge Sampaoli 1-0 Simeone.

The losses against Real Sociedad and the implosion at the Madrid Derby highlighted a side that couldn’t get the best out of possession play. La Real kept the ball while two poor penalties did Atleti in.

Against Real Madrid, the issues were obvious. Atlético’s midfield didn’t show up to play fire with fire against their bitter rivals and the game ended up 3-0 but could have easily been 5-0 in Real Madrid’s favor.

So, does Atletico Madrid keep this style or should they scrap it again? Should they take their Floyd Mayweather defensive approach or the Manny Pacquiao brawler philosophy? Well, it seems as though Simeone is looking back to his old ways as my tweet explains:


But, personally, this shouldn’t be the way. Okay, perhaps Simeone was merely trying to stop the bleeding following a run of poor results in the league, but given that his contract was reduced to one more season, he should be thinking for the long term.

It’d be better for Atlético to try and grow with their new style and have it perfected by next season than to leave it stuck in limbo once more.

If the midfield formations above are something he wants to prolong to secure the desired results then he should reconsider.

Obviously, matches against potential stiffer opponents in the UCL should warrant the beast that is Cholismo. But players like Yannick Carrasco, Ángel Correa, Koke, and Gameiro should be allowed to grow in their natural expansive systems.

Mistakes can lead to growth at the expense of poor short-term results, but it could very well lead to bigger and better things even after Simeone is gone.

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  • Rowly

    In my opinion we should play a defensive CM with 2 of Gabi/Tiago/Saul/Augusto flanked by Koke and Carrasco/Gaitan/Correa against the tough opponents

    Against weaker opponents we should have Koke in CM with one of the defensive CM’s and Carrasco/Gaitan/Correa on the wings.

    If a compromise is required and we maybe need to play on the break have a defensive CM partnership with Carrasco/Gaitan/Correa out wide and leave Koke on the bench.

    There’s no one answer because there are many different challenges, we need to be able to adapt and utilise our squad to get maximum points throughout the season. This is where I think Simeone has failed this season.

  • Kris

    Exactly. Its not just attack attack attack for every game. We have to make changes accordingly.

    I disagree with you having Joke as an undisputed starter in most of your plans, especially on the left. That title belongs to Carrasco at the moment. He should not be rotating with anyone based on his current form.

  • AndersAT


    And remember both Gabi and Tiago can make an offensive pass. They are not just breaking up plays. Gabi usually have a decent assist tally at the end of the season.

    In some games i believe Koke should play a more central role with Carrasco and Gaitan (or Correa) on the flanks.

  • Koke

    I think the clear answer is that we should stick with the attacking play that made all of our dreams come true for those few weeks earlier this season when everything was clicking. The sub-answer is that, obviously, we should always adapt to the circumstances.

    That means that against the likes of Bayern or Barcelona, it is perfectly fine to play a more defensive style AS LONG AS we still come to play and still keep attacking players on the field.

    In my opinion (disagree if you wish), but two players have now joined Griezmann this season in being undisputed starters. These players are Carrasco (based on his incredible form) and Gameiro (by default/based on the promise he’s showed). Yes, we should use Carrasco-Gameiro-Griezmann in the same way that Barca uses MSN, that is to say, all three should start every game unless they need rest, are injured, or the game is very winnable or already won without them. This trident is the key to us scoring goals, as long as none of them loses form. It doesn’t matter if they are a front 3 in a 4-3-3 or if its Griezmann-Gameiro up top with Carrasco in the midfield. They’re all essential.

    With 3 spots guaranteed, the only real question left is the 3 midfield places. There are basically 3 options: uber defensive with Koke and 2 DMs (i.e, Koke-Gabi-Tiago), uber offensive with an extra striker or attacking player (i.e., Saul-Koke-Gaitan, Gabi-Koke-Correa, etc) or the moderate approach that Simeone seems to prefer at this point (Koke-Saul-Gabi). I think the best option is to have Koke partnered by 1 defensive mid and 1 creator (that means Koke-Gabi-Gaitan for me), and I think that is an extremely realistic expectation. Any other midfield trio would lack the necessary creativity. Saul is not creative enough on his own. The only creative midfielder besides Gaitan is Koke, and Koke cannot do everything himself.

    I won’t say that Tiago-Gabi-Koke is completely useless. They are a good trio for tougher games, filled with experience and grit. Having a defensive double pivot also allows Filipe and Juanfran to push up higher, meaning Griezmann can stay more central, and we have a RW in Juanfran and a LAM in Filipe. However, I wouldn’t be as happy with Augusto-Gabi-Koke… Tiago has a lot to offer that other holding midfielders do not. He’s amazing.

    We need a creative attacking midfielder to make our attacking game work to its full potential. This player is not Koke, whom I think is at his best in a slightly deeper role. Since we cannot sign anyone anytime soon, our only option is Oliver, if we choose to bring him back next year, and I think he would be perfect if he only gets tougher and stronger. In the meantime, I think Gaitan can fill that role, at least much better than Saul can, and he deserves more time (why the hell is he not playing?!?!?)

  • Koke

    Apologies for the long post. In summary:

    First choice starting lineup:


    (could also be adapted to a 4-4-2 with Carrasco and Gaitan out wide)

    Slightly more defensive lineup: replace Gaitan with Saul

    Much more defensive lineup: replace Gaitan with Tiago (ONLY when needed, not for easier games).

    With that being said, Correa, Thomas, Gaitan and Tiago deserve more minutes than they get and Koke, Gabi, Griezmann, etc should get more rest than they get. Rotation is key.

  • Thanks for reading! Appreciate the feedback. Personally, for anyone in the top 4 in LaLiga we should be cautious.

    Other than that, let’s develop this possession style further. UCL is Cholismo or bust!!!