Diego Simeone’s negative tactics cost Atletico dearly in their second leg clash against Juventus on Tuesday. In the first leg, Atletico had plenty of success by pressing Juventus higher up the pitch and attacking their back line. Their clean sheet in that match also meant that all it took was one goal for them and Juventus would need at least four to progress. These signs all suggested that a more aggressive and attacking approach would give Atletico the best chance of qualifying for the quarters.
What made Atletico’s defensive setup even more bizarre is that it played perfectly into how Juventus wanted to play. In leaving Dybala out of the team and playing with wingbacks on both sides, Juventus set out to get as many crosses in as possible. Atletico’s deep block and narrow midfield made this even easier by leaving plenty of space on the wings for Cancelo and Spinnazola while also allowing them to whip crosses closer to the byline.
Atletico’s tactics also prevented them from exploiting the space Juventus were leaving in defense by pushing their wingbacks so high up the pitch. Emre Can often dropped in to make a back three, but there was still plenty of room for Atletico to cause Juve problems in transition if they pushed players forward. Morata went into the game in terrific form since his loan move from Chelsea, yet he and Griezmann received virtually no service over the ninety minutes.
Beyond the tactics, there were several individual performances for Atletico that also contributed to the defeat. In particular, the midfield that worked so well in the first leg badly underperformed this time. The absence of Thomas Partey was a big reason for that, as he has been their best midfielder by far over recent weeks, but missed the match due to a suspension. In his absence, Thomas Lemar came on in the left, but Atletico’s record signing had a rather shocking display in all areas. Saul was also a major disappointment alongside Rodri in midfield and failed to offer really much of anything in this match.
Now out of both cup competitions, Atletico’s only remaining challenge this season is to try to claw away Barca’s seven point lead in La Liga. They have quite a difficult run of fixtures coming up with trips to Athletic Bilbao, Alaves, and then the Camp Nou on April 6th in a match that they likely need to win to have any chance. Atletico will surely fight for the title until the end, but it is hard to see the season ending in anything other than disappointing after blowing such a great opportunity to put themselves within reach of the final in their own stadium.