During the 2017/18 campaign, Atletico Madrid enjoyed their most successful term since conquering La Liga four years prior.
In Atleti’s Primera Division ‘La Decima’, Diego Simeone found the ingredients within his squad to create an efficient and durable force which eventually went on to topple both Gerardo Martino’s Barcelona and Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, despite the Catalonians’ late efforts.
And even though the Spanish capital side’s most recent outing concluded without domestic silverware, their showing in the Europa League – a competition they went onto win at a canter following a group stage exit from the Champions League – mirrored several positives from 2013/14.
To win a tournament, no matter at which level, requires a melting pot of traits and abilities; which Atletico Madrid possessed in abundance.
Defensive stability was arguably Atleti’s cornerstone, with the likes of Diego Godin, Stefan Savic and Thomas Partey imperative in the Spaniard’s run-up to success in Lyon. However, as important was their game management – and there is nobody better at producing a purpose-built outfit than Simeone, not even Jose Mourinho.
However, for Atletico’s philosophy to prove fruitful, it requires buy-in from all parties, including the likes of Diego Costa further up the pitch.
Defending from the front and attempting to avoid wastage in attack, while not being afraid to halt such a charge if the odds are not in your favour – particularly while holding the advantage on the scoreline – is as pivotal as any other characteristic.
When coming away for international duty, after spending month after month on the training pitch with their domestic side, players sometimes find it difficult to remove themselves from the ideologies of their domestic manager and adhere to those of their country.
For years, great names of the league game have struggled at the big summer tournaments due to their inability to switch styles of play or to take up a slightly different role.
However, even if the transition is successful, it is not uncommon to see players revert to their weekly type when finding themselves in a familiar scenario. And during France’s victory over Argentina on Saturday, that indeed proved to be the case.
Although Simeone would have been undoubtedly keen to see two of his Atletico Madrid players exit the competition against his home nation, his own methodologies played a significant role in allowing Didier Deschamps’ men to book their place in the quarter finals of the World Cup at the expense of La Albiceleste.
On two occasions, while Les Bleus closed in on victory, Antoine Griezmann – with the ball at his feet and ample greenery ahead – opted against pursuing a pathway to goal, and instead, reduced the tempo to walking pace while recycling possession along the French backline.
However, it was in another moment which saw the Atletico philosophy truly bear through, as with a two-goal cushion, fellow Wanda Metropolitano team-mate, Lucas Hernandez, burst upfield; feeding Griezmann in the centre of the pitch before continuing his run in an attempt to utilise the space behind Argentina’s defensive wall.
But as the defender began his charge up the left flank, an extremely animated Griezmann channelled his inner-Simeone as he verbally hauled his 22-year-old countryman back towards France’s goal – a scenario seen regularly from the touchline during Atleti’s Europa League winning campaign.
Arguably, any other player on the field in dark blue would have chosen to attempt to find Hernandez, yet, with Madrid’s ‘win no matter how ugly’ mantra firmly engrained into the Frenchman’s mind, safety first was always expected to prevail.
So far this World Cup, there has not been a situation of a similar nature, with every team seemingly keen on setting the world alight in front of goal and willing to sacrifice defensively to do so.
However, on July 15, when the dust settles over Moscow after what has already been an enthralling tournament, it may prove to be that Simeone’s no-frills style of play holds the greatest impact, particularly if the golden trophy is destined for Paris.