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.