In total, 95 years have passed since an Englishman donned the colours of Atlético Madrid. Until now, that is. Seemingly out of nowhere, the La Liga runners’ up announced a £21.7 million deal to bring Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
It was a deal met largely with confusion from short-sighted pundits whose experience of watching Diego Simeone extends to 1998 and two Champions League finals. “It’s a very very strange situation, is Atletico the right club for him? They’re an ultra-defensive club with a manager who basically says to his full-backs, ‘do not cross the halfway line’. It could be a difficult move for him,” exclaimed former England international Danny Mills.
This scout report will provide tactical analysis to prove just how wrong Mills and co. are. Trippier has made the move to Spain and will join Simeone’s team as they look to improve on last season’s second-placed finish in La Liga. This analysis will consider how he may fit in.
Simeone’s use of full-backs
In order to truly understand how Simeone likes to use full-backs in his tactics, you have to look back several years to provide a fair analysis. Over the past two or three seasons, the coach has been forced to rely on ageing stalwarts Juanfran Torres and Filipe Luis, neither capable of the lung-busting runs that they once were. The likes of Šime Vrsaljko and Sergio Arias have come in, the former ill-disciplined in every sense and the latter taking his time to adapt to life in Spain, while Luis Hernandez was shifted out wide from his usual central defensive role on the left. The end result was clear in that Simeone has not been able to use his wide defensive players as he would have liked.
Looking back to the victorious 2013/14 campaign when Atletico won La Liga, the two first-choice full-backs provided an impressive nine assists. Rather than merely being a figure in the defensive phase of the game, they were important attacking threats which formed a part of an attack built around the physical threat of Diego Costa.
Even when looking at last season, it is clear that Mills’ claim of full-backs taking up defensive roles is untrue. Juanfran and Arias both spent more game time in the opposition half than Trippier did at Tottenham, though the signs are positive to reflect that such an approach will not be uncomfortable for the Englishman. Rather, he will be granted greater freedom to get forwards within Simeone’s system.
A key element is in the number of crosses made. In the 2013/14 campaign where Simeone’s use of full-backs was at its peak, Juanfran averaged 1.1 crosses per game, whilst Filipe Luis achieved 0.7. In 2018/19, those figures dropped to 0.8 for Juanfran and 0.3 for Filipe Luis. Trippier, on the other hand, averaged 2 per game for Tottenham in his final season in London. That kind of bombardment, constantly putting deliveries into the box, is just what the Spanish side are after.
What’s more, Trippier does more than simply get into good crossing positions, but he is also more accurate. With 37.4% completion rate on his crosses last season, he beat the 33.4% recorded by Juanfran and the 32.5% of Filipe Luis. With Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa to aim for, with Joao Felix also coming in to pick up any rebounds, Trippier will certainly have plenty to aim for, more than the lone striker Harry Kane, and this figure could improve even further in 2019/20.
Where he may still have to adapt slightly is where he makes his crosses from. His cross-distribution tends to be from more advanced positions. Trippier tends to bomb down the wing and get to the byline before delivering a cross, whereas Juanfran and Filipe Luis would typically cross from deeper positions, such as on the edge of the 18-yard box.
This is not something new to Trippier, and in fact, many of his assists last season, such as the above example against Wolves, came from just that. He would wait patiently while play is on the opposite flank, positioning himself to take a touch and immediately play the cross into the box from deep. With high accuracy, it is a real threat and one which Simeone was surely keen to bring in to his side.
Covering his weaknesses
Few can argue that, at times, Trippier can be caught out of position. It is what led to his eventual downfall under Mauricio Pochettino. Those who haven’t followed Atletico under Simeone may fall into the trap of assuming that such a flaw would be a fundamental factor to expect failure in Madrid, but the truth is far from it. In fact, Simeone sets his sides up to protect against this.
This summer’s acquisitions have continued to point towards that, with Hector Herrera almost certainly likely to take up the narrow right midfield role. Equally, Saul Niguez and Koke have taken up the role on both flanks in the past. Another new addition, Marcos Llorente is a specialist in providing cover for players advancing and dropping into the backline.
Even in the pre-season friendly against Real Madrid, this has been obvious. Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix, the two wide players, come into the inside spaces behind the two centre forwards, allowing plenty of space down the flanks for the full-backs to push on. As Felipe and Trippier move forward, almost acting as wingers in a four-man attacking line, Koke and Saul remain deep in their positioning, ready to spread wide should possession be turned over.
These players and this system will give Trippier the freedom to burst forward without concern about the gaps he is leaving in behind. As can be seen in this example, Trippier will not be leaving his defence exposed to quite the same extent as he did at Tottenham last season, where both of his two errors leading to goals recorded came from such scenarios where he lost possession in an advanced position.
Another crucial factor at Atletico is how players fit into Simeone’s personality for his side. Big-name players like Mario Mandžukić, Jackson Martinez, and many other talents have come and gone as Simeone was not convinced by their contribution. From the off, Trippier appears to have made a good impression by engaging and looking to show work rate.
In only his second outing in an Atletico shirt, against Guadalajara in a pre-season friendly, Trippier’s first chance of involvement came and he immediately stepped out from the backline, pressing high with an urgency which had been absent from the first 10 minutes of the tie. He won possession and immediately sent Atletico onto the counter-attack. Breaking up the rigid structure is not something that Simeone would often condone when out of possession, but the desire to press high and force offensive players into mistakes as the midfield sat off is bound to have made an impression on his coach.
One element where Trippier is completely in line with the Argentinian’s approach is in his disciplinary record. Averaging a yellow card every 16.3 games to date in his career and without a red card as a professional, he presents a far more reliable option than Vrsaljko, who returns from a loan spell in Serie A and will miss the start of the campaign through injury. Such discipline and focus will be key to ensuring that Trippier fits in and how he adapts to the game in Spain, where attacking players are more likely to produce skills and tricks and fouls are conceded more easily. Keeping that slate clean will be essential to winning over his new coach.
Trippier’s move to La Liga undoubtedly presents him with a significant challenge. Moving to one of the most organised defensive units in the world will present him with a golden opportunity to improve the aspects of his play where he is lacking, but without limiting his strengths in his attacking play. Trippier’s arrival coincides with a moment of renovation at the club, particularly in defence, and Simeone’s choice of the England international is a clear statement. The manager has brought the defender in for his attacking contribution just as much as, if not more than, his defensive abilities. The likes of Mills May question the move, but the truth is that it presents him with a unique chance to continue to develop and improve at the very highest level.
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