If Atletico Madrid’s 2-1 Europa League semi-final aggregate victory over Arsenal has taught us anything about Los Rojiblancos, it is that they have not changed one bit from the football that Diego Simeone first began to instill in his players back in 2011.
‘Cholismo’ – the aggressive, defensive and clinical football that the Argentine is a proponent of – has seen Atleti win La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the European and Spanish Super Cups, the Europa League and reach two Champions League finals. It is now four years since they last lifted any silverware, though, but that could all be about to change.
The first leg was a typical backs-to-the-wall performance as Los Colchoneros defended valiantly with 10 men for 80 minutes, managing to salvage a 1-1 draw and get that all important away goal in London.
You could also call the second leg performance the archetypal Atleti home performance under Simeone; the first half saw them pressing forward in order to get the lead, and when Diego Costa managed to punish his former rivals on the stroke of half-time, the hosts were more than happy to absorb all of Arsenal’s pressure in the second half to see the game out.
It might have looked as though the home side were holding on for their lives in certain moments, but how many clear-cut chances did Arsenal actually manage to carve out? Los Rojiblancos are the kings of controlling games without the ball, which is of course helped by the heroic defending of Jose Maria Gimenez and especially, Diego Godin (pictured).
“My job is to defend and to organise others,” Godin told BeIn Sports after the game on Thursday.
“Tonight we were able to defend well but I only want to speak about us collectively and not individually and tonight the work rate was very important.
“Our concentration was really strong and we helped each other out but our performance was well-balanced because we also had a danger in attack.”
Godin really was exceptional in this game, winning absolutely everything that came his way and fighting for the balls that he should have no right to compete for. Alongside him, compatriot Gimenez was his usually fiery self and although Thomas Partey had a few shaky moments in a more unfamiliar right-back role, Lucas Hernandez did not put a foot right out on the left side.
As Godin mentioned, though, Atleti’s defensive shape and work-rate as a unit from back to front, is unparalleled. The midfield never stops running, whether it is sitting in a flat block of four or putting pressure on midfielders, and even Costa and Antoine Griezmann harass the deepest lying opponents relentlessly.
This is nothing new from Los Colchoneros, and some even say that it holds the team back in La Liga as they approach games too defensively against weaker opposition or in games like at the Camp Nou earlier in the year when they could have mounted a serious title challenge with a win over Barcelona, which they ultimately lost 1-0.
With a tight budget and a squad full of fighters who would give anything for their Coach, do not expect Simeone to change any time soon. As Thursday night showed, why would he?