Moving the defense out of position – An Atletico Madrid example

In his excellent article titled “Juego de Posicion under Pep Guardiola” for Spielverlagerung, Adin Osmanbasic (Follow him on Twitter!) wrote about a very important concept behind a team having initiative while in possession of the ball.

The concept is to overload one area of the pitch, and then quickly change the fulcrum of the attack to another area, where you have some kind of advantage. The defense has to readjust while the attacking team is already in an advantageous position.

The advantage can be numerical, spacial or quality-based.

  •  Numerical: The team has more players than opponents in the area. 2 v 1 , 3 v 2 etc.
  •  Spacial: The player in possession finds himself in a lot of free space.*
  •  Quality-based: You have better players matched up against significantly worse players.

All three can be achieved by overloading one area of the pitch and suddenly changing the fulcrum of the attack.

I chose an Atletico Madrid attack against Levante to show how this idea works in practice.

The starting positions, the main movements and the passing

The starting positions, the main movements and the pass. The left side of the opponent’s half is overloaded, which draws in the defenders, creating space on the other side.


The below picture is about the speed, direction and rhythm of the runs, and how they happen in relation to each other.


The moment the long pass is played. By this time the Levante defense is congested on the left, leaving space on the right.


Arda Turan receives the ball in plenty of space. Notice how the Atletico HM pulled the Levante left winger out of the midfield to create more space for Turan (bottom of the above picture). Not only are the defenders reacting to what Atletico are doing, but the two Atletico central midfielders are running behind their respective opponents now, which makes it very hard to mark them. 

  This situation is particularly interesting because it creates all three types of advantages for Atletico.

Numerical: Arda Turan and Juanfran end up playing 2 vs 1 against the Levante full-back.

Spacial: There is plenty of free space for Arda Turan.

Quality: Even if Turan has to play 1 v 1 with Karabelas (full-back) he has the upper hand. The same applies to Juanfran.

On the weak side Mandzukic is ready to attack the cross, with a lot of space between the keeper and the defenders. The territory around the penalty spot is where it becomes very hard for the keeper to come and claim the ball.

Playing the accurate, well timed long ball from their own half has a significant upside: the Levante defense doesn’t have time to drop as the ball is moving. If Arda Turan can turn and cross the ball, Mandzukic has a lot of space to run into and finish off the attack. Playing the long ball in this case had another advantage: the defense didn’t have time to adjust vertically and drop deeper. This is why the fulcrum of the attack has to be changed as quickly as possible. Quicker changes, less time to adapt.

* Not all spaces are created equal. Of course letting a player receive a pass from the keeper at the edge of the box is not as dangerous as leaving an opponent free in front of your own goal. It also matters who is in the space, the type of pass they can get(the quality of the player passing to them), what their position is when they receive the ball, etc.


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