Yannick-Ferreira-Carrasco

“It was a little difficult to adapt. But now I’m good physically and in all other departments as well,” explained an overjoyed Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, after his starring role in Atletico Madrid’s impressive 2-1 win over Valencia.

His wonderful performance was the perfect way to cap off a brilliant week for the Belgian wizard. It all began in San Sebastian, where he came on as a late substitute to score with a tidy finish past Real Sociedad’s highly gifted keeper, Geronimo Rulli.

Then came Astana in the Champions League. And it was against the Kazakh giants where, while despite not scoring in the 4-0 demolition, he displayed what a weapon he can be for Diego Simeone’s men. This was a performance of real substance by Ferreira-Carrasco, as he defended intently and attacked with the unpredictability and dynamism we’d become accustomed to seeing during his time with Monaco. It was undoubtedly his best showing in an Atleti shirt, with Astana having no answers to his wicked dribbling ability and underrated passing ability, as he notched up a spectacular eight successful dribbles and an equally outstanding four key passes.

With Valencia at the Vicente Calderon to finish the week for the Mattress Makers, certainly the highest profile game of the three, Ferreira-Carrasco would’ve been hoping he’d done enough to earn a start in those previous two fixtures.

When Simeone released his teamsheet and named the former Monaco prodigy out on the right wing, it would’ve been great for him to see his tough manager reward him for all his industrious work. There could be no doubting he’d earned it.

Ferreira-Carrasco didn’t let El Cholo down either, emphatically repaying his faith by putting in a magnificent, man of the match, shift (his second in a row).

On both sides of the ball, Carrasco oozed commitment, purpose and intensity.

Defensively, he pressed and harried his man like a lion hunting its prey and flew into tackles ferociously, while he also tracked back vigorously to support his fullback. There could be no questioning his work rate and desire to get stuck in, something his manager would’ve absolutely loved.

In the early stages of the contest, there were encouraging signs that he just might have a key role to play in this fixture. On a few occasions he gave glimpses of his creative passing game, electric pace and trickery. But midway through the first half, Simeone’s crafty tinkering, which saw him move to the left, served as the perfect catalyst for the heavily right-footed attacker to unmistakably stamp his mark on the match.

Now out on the left, he could receive the ball in wide areas and then subsequently cut inside onto his stronger foot and drive at his marker, Joao Cancelo. Cancelo had a torrid time dealing with the mercurial Belgian, with his capacity to beat his adversary in a multiplicity of ways proving a real handful for Cancelo to deal with. He used stepovers, subtle changes of directions and pace, plus his strength to emphatically see off the challenges of his Portuguese opponent.

For his goal on 40 minutes, it came as no coincidence, then, that Ferreira-Carrasco combined so much of the aforementioned to score one of the goals of the La Liga season so far.

Here, after picking up possession out on the left, he bulldozed past Cancelo, knocking him down to the floor in the process, and continued on his forward surge. Valencia midfielder, Silva, then attempted to intervene with a sliding tackle, but Ferreira-Carrasco’s nifty jink inside comfortably saw off his challenge. Now the Atleti ace was in a perfect position to unleash a shot on net, and he did just that – slamming a thunderous drive home from the edge of the 18-yard box.

This superlative solo effort was Ferreira-Carrasco at his explosive, powerful best. There couldn’t have been any better way to score his first goal at home, and the die-hard fans duly went wild in celebration.

“Simeone has given me the confidence and told me I had to [shoot] to score goals like I did today,” he explained.

“People sing my name and I’m happy. [It] was a nice goal.”

Upon exiting the pitch on 69 minutes, the standing ovation from the Atleti supporters and warm embrace he received from Simeone beautifully illustrated an appreciation of what a marvellous shift he’d put in.

After a tough initial period of adjustment learning to comply to Simeone’s methods, it’s been great to finally see Ferreira-Carrasco beginning to shine in the capital.

One statistic, in particular, from Marca demonstrates how well integrated he now is at Atletico. It reads: “the Belgian has currently regained possession more times than any other Atlético Madrid player on a per-minute-played basis.”

A staggering number really, but one that clearly shows how well he’s made the shift to embody the Atletico style.

He’s a smart man for adhering to and learning from his manic Argentine manager too. If he needed any examples of how well Simeone’s expert tutelage can benefit a player, he need only look how far current teammate Antoine Griezmann and the recently departed Arda Turan have come under his leadership.

Simeone’s evidently impressed with the young Belgian international too, explaining: “Carrasco is growing based on the effort he made to suit the characteristics of the team.”

“He’s a guy who is used to scoring important goals. He is a player that has certain attributes, that why he is at Atletico.”

Despite Atletico’s disappointing 1-1 draw vs. Deportivo at the weekend, Ferreira-Carrasco, who justifyably earned himself another start, had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the contest, in yet another indication of how swimmingly he’s now adapting to life at his new club.

While it certainly hasn’t been all plain sailing for the talented 22-year-old at Atletico, the sizeable €20 million shelled out by los Rojiblancos to acquire his services is unquestionably now beginning to look like money well spent.

Having obviously done their due diligence prior to signing the player, which would’ve alerted to them to the fact he supplied an eye-catching nine assists in Ligue 1 last term, scored a further six and had the fourth most dribbles in France, they knew were buying a wildly gifted attacker.

After all, wingers who can create, finish, effortlessly beat their opponents and who are electrifyingly quick are undeniably a much vaunted commodity in the modern game. In Ferreira-Carrasco, Atletico have undoubtedly got their hands on one, and they’ll be hoping their magnificently multifaceted starlet will help propel them to great things this season.

Although working with Simeone is well and truly a far cry from his early beginnings at Monaco under Claudio Ranieri, despite his earlier struggles at Atleti, the steely, determined Ferreira-Carrasco appears set to make it all the way to the top at Atletico.

You never know, he might even surpass fellow Monaco departee Anthony Martial, who’s now starring for Manchester United, one day. His enormously diverse and dynamic set of attributes, in combination with working under the exceptional Simeone, should give him every chance of doing precisely that.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.

twitter: @licencetoroam

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Atletico-Add-Individual-Flair-to-Solid-Foundations

Atletico Madrid’s La Liga title triumph in 2013/14 was one of the greatest achievements in modern football history.

Diego Simeone’s outfit, the third team in Spain, came out on top in what was widely considered to be a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. While there are plenty of examples of upsets of a similar nature in knockout competitions, Atletico’s title win was undoubtedly more impressive given that it came over the course of a regular 38-game domestic campaign.

Although he had less gifted players to call upon than Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid and Tata Martino at Barcelona, Simeone created a side of fierce competitors who were extremely difficult to play against. There was plenty of quality in the squad too, with Koke, Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Arda Turan all truly excellent players, but Simeone’s greatest success was producing a side whose whole was significantly stronger than the sum of its individual parts.

Rather remarkably, Atletico won the league with an average possession of just 49 percent (the figures recorded by other champions that year were 55 by Manchester City, 57 by Bayern Munich, 60 by Paris Saint-Germain and 54 by Juventus). Their approach was based on being extremely well-organised, solid and compact – both from back to front and side to side – in the defensive phase of play before springing forward quickly on the counter-attack when the ball was turned over. There were also plenty of set-piece goals, with Atletico finding the back of the net on an astonishing 24 occasions from dead-ball situations.

Countless players enjoyed terrific seasons, including the aforementioned quartet, but it was no-nonsense centre-back Diego Godin and central midfielder Gabi who best epitomised Atleti’s style: there are far more gifted technicians around than the duo, but their strength, commitment, attitude and endeavour symbolised what Simeone’s charges were all about.

Fast forward two years and, in a sense, little has changed. Atletico are still intense and aggressive, regularly smothering opponents into submission. They have retained that knack of seeming to winning every second ball and 50-50 challenge, and continue to be a horrible team to face.

There are, however, some notable differences between the 2013/14 Atletico and the one currently sitting fourth in the La Liga table, just four points behind Madrid and Barcelona at the summit.

There is greater invention and individual flair in the current group, with Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Ferreria Carrasco, Oliver Torres, Angel Correa all capable of assuming the creative mantle.

While such players are not absolved from their defensive duties and off-the-ball obligations, they have brought more skill and pace to the ranks at the Vicente Calderon; Atletico’s core identity is unchanged, but a dash of extra guile has been added to the solid foundations that were already in place.

Carrasco’s fine goal in the recent 2-1 victory over Valencia perfectly showcased the mix between the old and the new: the Belgian winger won possession back after some aggressive pressing, before dribbling past two players and firing a low drive into the bottom corner.

Barcelona and Madrid remain heavy favourites to finish top of the pile at the end of the campaign. After their astonishing achievements of two seasons ago, though, it would be foolish in the extreme to write Atletico off just yet.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball

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Yannick-Ferreira-Carrasco

Dispossessing the ever dependent Enzo Perez in the right-back position before skipping past Andre Gomes with an impressive change of pace and firing a stinging shot into the bottom left hand corner, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco announced himself to Atlético de Madrid fans. More importantly he announced the new look Atlético to the world. Since their dramatic championship back in 2014, Diego Simeone has been trying to create a new look side, one whose efficiencies can be matched with flair and explosiveness. 18 months on, it looks as though the Argentinian has finally achieved his goal of a team that mixes flair with the traditional solidity of a Simeone team.

Their stunning victory over Valencia this weekend epitomised how the new-look Atlético will play – although they retained their solidity in the centre with experienced pair Gabi and Tiago, they added super quick transitions and increased intensity in wide positions. Traditionally, Atléti struggled for quality in wide areas preferring to use central midfielders as makeshift wingers, before using super sub Cristian Rodriguez primarily as an out-ball when under pressure. Now with their younger, technically gifted wide men Atléti have shape-shifted into a counter-attacking high-intesity unit full of tricks and flicks. The new breed of wide players are faster, sharper and more threatening.

The introduction of Ferreira-Carrasco-Atletico-Madrid-twitter has put new emphasis on wide positions. Simeone wants his players to express themselves, to become highlight players, full of tricks flicks, flair and intensity. He needs them to create for him after a year where Atlético hadn’t reached anywhere near the heights of their title winning season. Last years Rojiblancos lacked intensity, flexibility and at times looked incredibly short of ideas – this year, they look more comfortable with themselves, more ready to try the unthinkable.

Carrasco encapsulates everything Simeone desires, the intensity and desire to perform but as demonstrated with his goal the ability to add an additional dimension. His surging runs down the left hand side constantly caused problems for Valencia, and both of the goals came from that side of the pitch. One thing Carrasco caught the eye with during his time at Monaco was his expression with the ball – unlike many modern wingers, he is not afraid to ask questions of a full-back. His goal embodied his wonderful performance. But what shouldn’t go unnoticed was the Belgians work rate in those sparkling 69 minutes. Valencia rely so heavily on their full-backs, but the threat of Cancelo was immediately nullified by the defensive side of the young mans game. Simeone has definitely matured his game in the short time he has worked with him, and it is easy to draw comparisons with the road map that Antoine Griezmann has taken in the capital.

To give context; the two games with Valencia last year were the toughest that Simeone’s side had faced outside of Real and Barca. A year on and Atlético showed that their progression on the field has been massive, whereas Valencia’s big strides off the pitch haven’t been matched with performances. Valencia seem more content on lining the pockets of Benfica and Manchester City as well as airing their dirty laundry in Spanish newspapers than building on the fantastic achievements that they made last year. Boss Nuno has fallen out with €30m man Alvaro Negredo after the Spanish international told AS that he had no idea what the Portuguese was doing tactically, with influential coach Ian Cathro pitching up at Newcastle in the off-season.

Simeone on the other hand has become much more flexible with tactics over time, his willingness to innovate has lead to Atléti making huge strides. They look threatening on the counter, but the influx of talented younger players has meant that Atlético have become much better at retaining the ball – evidently, their one advantage over other teams during the title winning season was their ability to work the other team off the pitch and counter attack with pace. Now, Atléti have evolved, they have become quicker in transition, much better at cycling the ball around to create spaces and look much more comfortable when playing out of the back and through the phases. Tiago, aged 34, looks as majestic as he did ten years ago winning the title with Chelsea. Jose Maria Gimenez is keeping out big summer signing Stefan Savic and under the tutelage of Diego Godin looks to be turning into a younger form of his tutor.

As Ferriera Carrasco was replaced by hometown starlet Oliver Torres, the Vicente Calderon was on it’s feet.. “Carrasco, Carrasco!” they boomed as the Belgian trotted off the pitch. If initial performances are anything to go by, they will continue to shout his name for many years as he wins the hearts of El Frente. Atletico, meanwhile, are on the road to success and winning back the hearts of Europe’s football enthusiasts.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks

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Diego-Simeone

Over the course of July and August, Atlético Madrid assembled the most eclectic squad of the Simeone era to date, in what was a clear changing of approach from the shot callers at the Calderón.

After a hangover season for los Colchoneros, who, as expected, failed to defend their title of 2013-14, it was evident that the club would need to formulate a new plan if they were to return to the summit of Spanish football. And following the conclusion of the summer transfer period, it seemed as if they had secured the chips they needed to launch a renewed assault on Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, nine games into the new campaign, Atlético have already been defeated three times, with two of them coming at the usually bulletproof Calderón. But more so than results at such an early stage, the more profound concern has been the team’s struggle to unload their new found wealth of ammunition.

In their most recent game against Real Madrid, we saw further signs of star players being inhibited. For long stretches in a game where Atlético were chasing, Antoine Griezmann – the club’s unassailable superintendent – spent an unhealthy amount of time with an eye on the protection of his full back, sacrificing attacking expression for rigidity. The 24-year-old would remain on the periphery of the game throughout; one they needed him the most in.

Ángel Correa, the club’s new injector of youthful attacking zest, also found himself marooned far from his optimal areas of play for large portions of the contest. Playing as a second striker to Fernando Torres, the Argentine remained the liveliest of Atlético’s crop, but the overawing feeling was that he had been held back by a duty to defend in the same capacity as his other teammates. By the 59th minute, Simeone’s most effective attacking weapon was substituted; out of fuel for the night.

The defensive demand of his attacking players hasn’t only been an issue in the big fixtures, either. Even against newly promoted Las Palmas – who played with a reinforced, face-saving 5-3-2 system themselves – Atlético persisted with an overzealously cautious approach of their own when out of possession, making sure every man was behind the ball. They would eventually squeak a 1-0 win at the Calderón, thanks to a deflected Griezmann free kick.

Now, such demands have always been on his players, and it has brought them great success. But Diego Simeone’s palette of options is evolving – perhaps more so than ever before. Atlético were incessantly bold in the transfer market; collating an array of attacking tools that would seemingly have them covered for a wide scale of eventualities. That type of audacity is yet to correlate on the field though, and the sense of under-application is starting to become tangible.

Taking issue with Simeone’s demands does feel somewhat like sacrilege, given how it has changed Atlético’s standing in world football. But as much as ‘Cholo’ craves for his team to remain the underdog, and thus prolong their backs-to-the-wall approach, the reality is that his playing squad has been injected with some 80 million euros worth of talent over the summer (most of it attack-leaning), and that type of expression has not even nearly emerged on the pitch.

It comes as no surprise that Atlético’s best two performances of the season to date came away from home, at Sevilla and Galatasaray. It is there, in those hostile arenas against sizable challenges – where the scope to mix things up is granted – that Simeone’s men thrive. Taking the game to their opponents back on home soil, or where they are expected to establish and maintain the front foot, however, is proving a thorn in the side of this transitioning team.

Simeone coined the term ‘partido a partido’ in their title-winning season of 2013-14, in reference to treating each game as its own final and being non-discriminatory of each opponent. Evidently, it has served them very well and seen them build towards targets that were deemed inconceivable for a long time. However, the Atlético of then and the Atlético of now is markedly different. With their unexpected success, every corner of the club has developed; changing the dynamic of their tasks, and heightening responsibilities as a product, even if Simeone remains coy in regards to their modus operandi (he claims their real competitors are Valencia and Sevilla, not the big two).

Of course, it’s merely a method of containing expectation. Atlético and Simeone want to be the champions of Spain again – as soon as possible – but utilising many recurring themes of the dogged approach from 2013-14 with the current, more nuanced crop of players doesn’t appear to be doing them many favours at present.

After a summer in which all the talk on incomings revolved around how they would adapt to Atlético and Simeone, maybe the time is coming to experiment with some role reversal in the interest of maximising their individual stamp on games.

About the author – Jamie Kemp

Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.

twitter: @jamiekemp

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