Champions League: Atlético Madrid-FC Porto (Key Takeaways)

Club Atlético de Madrid 2-1 FC Porto (Civitas Metropolitano), 7 September 2022 – key takeaways below

Line-up (4x4x2): Diogo Costa, Pepê, Pepe, David Carmo, Zaidu; Uribe, Eustáquio, Otávio, Galeno; Taremi, Evanilson

Also played: João Mário, Bruno Costa, Gabriel Veron and Toni Martinez.

Crushing. That is the first word that comes mind when describing this game. An absolutely crushing loss, for a variety of reasons. We had a chance to take the three points – it was definitely possible and we seemed to be well on our way. But dumb mistakes, controversial refereeing decisions and bad in-game adjustments really cost us in the end. Losing Otávio just makes this loss feel even worse.

I think we could have easily won this game, or at the very least earn a draw (as I predicted here), but that didn’t happen. I would usually write a match report, but this match wasn’t particularly exciting in terms of goal scoring opportunities. The tactical battle with the substitutions was more fun than the match itself. So I’d rather give you my views on what happened and why it happened. There is a lot to get into.

I will be keeping track of the goal and assist tallies for all competitions.

Key Takeaways & Tactical Analysis

  • Porto made 2 changes from the win on the weekend at Gil Vicente, bringing back Zaidu and Evanilson, in place of Wendell and Toni Martinez. Not unexpected changes. Sérgio kept the 4x4x2 that had worked fairly well. Atlético lined-up in a 3x5x2, with Carrasco and Molina on the wings, João Félix and Morata up front.
  • The first-half was quite dull, nothing to write home about. The stand-out performer was probably Pepe, who stopped Altético’s attackers in their tracks multiple times (especially Félix) in relatively dangerous areas. Diogo Costa had very little to do in the first 45 minutes. Porto didn’t really have much of the ball either. Uribe was also very solid.
  • The key to the game appeared to be on Porto’s right side of the pitch; Otávio played in his typical hybrid centre midfielder/right winger role, whilst Pepê would often tuck inside when defending. This created quite a lot of space for Carrasco, but he never managed to do much with the ball.
  • Simeone saw this and brought on Thomas Lemar and De Paul at half-time, in place of Molina and Carrasco. I figured Lemar would slot in on the left wing, but it was actually Saul Ñíguez that moved to the left. Lemar was essentially playing as a left-centre attacking midfielder. This created some issues for Pepê, who would often have two players to mark. He eventually got booked to stop a counter-attack.
Pepe was a rock in defence. He takes my vote for man of the match on our side.
  • Atlético came out strong in the second-half and scored within 6mins, but the goal was correctly called off due to offside. It was close. This goal appeared to be the catalyst for Porto to rise and start to threaten Atlético more. Eustáquio was one who didn’t get too involved in the first-half but really showed out in the second-half.
  • To try and capitalise on their strong start, Simeone decided to bring on Griezmann in place of Ñíguez, changing to a hybrid 4x3x3 / 3x4x3. Sérgio responded by bringing on João Mário for Pepê. He didn’t have a great game overall and João Mário actually came on with some intensity. Porto had started to take control of the game, even before Griezmann came on. Clearly the weak link for Atlético was that left side, as Reinildo seemed to be undecided between playing centre-back in the back 3 or playing left-back, Lemar was playing very central and Félix didn’t track back. So there was a fair bit of space to explore. João Mário nearly scored within a few minutes of being on the pitch (Oblak with a good save),
  • Simeone quickly pivoted and subbed off Morata for Hermoso, re-establishing the 3x5x2. Porto continued in search of a goal, and Oblak again denied us, this time stopping a cross going to Evanilson inside the 6-yard box. Simeone then brought on Angel Correa for Félix, to add a bring more aggression in the pressing up front. I appreciated how quickly Simeone was to react to what he was seeing. I think Sérgio (once again) waited too long to make some changes.
  • Everything started to unravel from that point on. Taremi got booked for a late challenge and Otávio got injured after a collision with Hermoso (we now know he will likely be gone for a month, which is a huge blow). The timing of this couldn’t have been worse, because Porto were in control and the only player who could perhaps do some of what Otávio does is Pepê, but he had already been subbed off.
Otávio had to be stretchered off after fracturing two ribs.
  • Sérgio brought on Toni Martinez for Evanilson and Bruno Costa for Otávio. These substitutions, especially the latter, killed us. I am a huge fan of Sérgio Conceição (you can read about that here), but he is sometimes too risk averse. He struggles with not trusting certain players and bringing on someone who he knows is an inferior player that won’t add value, but is less likely ‘to screw up’. And that’s exactly what happened here.
  • Porto were in control and had looked quite threatening, especially down the right hand side. Once Bruno Costa came on, that was the end of it. He is too slow and unimaginative to be able to remotely resemble the dynamic way in which Otávio plays that position. I was OK with Toni Martinez coming on, but I would have brought Taremi off rather than Evanilson. He was already on a yellow card and it wouldn’t be the first time he would get sent off in a big game (I’ll get to that in a second).
  • What would I have done? Three things: bring on Danny Loader for Galeno (he looked exhausted and didn’t have a great game), Gabriel Veron for the injured Otávio and André Franco for Taremi. Inject more energy and pace on the wings, whilst bringing someone like Franco that has some of that orchestrating ability that went away with Otávio being subbed off.
  • That obviously didn’t happen and, unsurprisingly, Taremi got sent off. He saw a second yellow for simulating a penalty. I think Taremi is one of our best players (you can read more about that here), but I don’t know that he deals with high pressure situations very well – see the absurd sending off against Juventus two years ago or even the penalty missed against Rio Ave. I think it was harsh to send him off on that play, because he slipped on Witsel’s foot rather than faking contact, but the very theatrical way in which he fell by spreading his legs to create contact on the way down was completely unnecessary. Whilst I don’t think the play warranted a second yellow, I can’t condemn the referee for doing that. The sending off combined with the previous substitutions effectively ended our chances to come away victorious.
  • Atlético tried to go forward and eventually got their goal on the 91st minute. Very poor defending initially from David Carmo and then from Bruno Costa, allowing Hermoso to score (the ball deflected off João Mário, which was very unfortunate). That looked like the end of it, but then Hermoso committed quite possibly the stupidest handball penalty I have ever seen. Uribe calmly slotted it in.
  • But then came the killer goal at the end. Atlético got a corner on the 100th minute (one minute more than the 9mins of extra-time that had been given). Witsel won the header at the near post and Griezmann, left completely unmarked at the far post, scored. This goal was eerily similar to the goal he scored at Porto last season. This is not the first time Porto have looked vulnerable from set-pieces (I had pointed this out all the way back in July). It’s baffling to me that we had João Mário and Veron defending the near post (two relatively short players) and absolutely no one even close to the far post. Just look at the picture below – what kind of defending is that?!
Really poor defending allowed Atlético to score the winning goal from a corner.

The match ended right after that. It’s really frustrating to lose a game like this, especially when we could have easily won, if not very some really poor decisions, both from the players and from the coach. It puts enormous pressure on the team to beat Brugges next week, who surprisingly beat Leverkusen at home. They might be better than I expected, or perhaps Leverkusen are even worse than I thought. Either way, it’s a must-win if Porto wants to qualify.

Match ratings:

Diogo Costa (3), Pepê (2), Pepe (4), D Carmo (3), Zaidu (3), Uribe (4), Eustáquio (3), Galeno (2), Taremi (2), Evanilson (2).
J Mário (3), Bruno Costa (1), Toni Martinez (2), Veron (n/a).

PS: I absolutely despise the way Atlético Madrid’s overall style of play. I’m generally aligned with the view of defensive cohesion, making sure you don’t concede before you try to score. But Atlético’s constant whining, diving and time-wasting is the epitome of negative football. Don’t get me wrong – it works for them; they get results. But it’s really aggrieving to watch.

Onto Chaves tomorrow, a home game at 8.30PM (I will be there). Hoping for a strong showing and a comfortable win, that hopefully allows Sérgio to rest some players ahead of the Tuesday match against Brugges. I predict a few changes to the starting line-up: Diogo Costa, J Mário, Pepe, D Carmo, Wendell, Pepê, Uribe, Eustáquio, Galeno, Taremi and Toni Martinez.

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