Atlético manager Quique Sanchez Flores spoke to Spanish paper El Mundo Deportivo recently, shedding light on ‘the Juanfran situation.’
The club spent a considerable €4.2m fee to bring the winger in from Osasuna during the winter transfer window, presumably to have the player serve as a direct replacement for midfielder Simao Sabrosa who had left to join Besiktas in late December. But after featuring in the starting XI of our Copa del Rey derby at the Bernabéu just hours after officially signing with Atleti, the 26-year-old has seen very little action since.
“He’s a winger that has to play closer to the line, because if he doesn’t, his dribbling suffers,” Quique explained. “There’s a player like Reyes on that wing who works very hard, and on the other wing we wanted to go in another direction; to find a player that worked harder in the middle of the field, that had more control there, that stood his ground and that worked harder defensively.
“The way Atlético found itself at that time, to have another player on the wing that is free to roam and who doesn’t drop back would’ve meant to fracture the team,” said Quique.
This may explain why the Rojiblanco manager has decided to go with more defensive minded central midfield types in Elias and Koke on the left wing lately. His fear might be that, much like what would happen when Simao was still with the club, Juanfran, Reyes, Aguero and Forlan would all remain up front while Tiago and his midfield companion, either Mario Suarez, Raul Garcia or Assuncao, would be left alone to thwart oncoming attacks.
Fans generally refer to that situation as a 4-2-4, characterised by a virtually non-existent Atlético midfield and a complete disconnect between the defence and the attack.
By playing Elias or Koke on the left wing, the team morphs from a 4-4-2 into a 4-3-3 formation when Reyes accompanies Kun and Forlán at the top. The three midfielders that stay behind provide much more support to the back four and help to feed the ball up to the attackers more quickly.
Quique reportedly spoke with Juanfran privately to reassure the player, although the former Osasuna man had already told Spanish paper El Pais that he wouldn’t “cause a stir in the dressing room,” though he did point out that he had long grown accustomed to featuring regularly, “ever since a young child.”
AS reported last Sunday that club president Enrique Cerezo was upset with Quique for waiting until the 86th minute to sub Juanfran in during the derby. According to club directors, Quique “begged” them to sign the Real Madrid youth product following Simao’s departure to Turkey, but Quique recently denied those claims, saying that he never makes player requests.