Atlético Madrid Facts

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Atlético Madrid are mammals. The purpose of Atlético Madrid is to flip out and hit you on the break.

The duopoly of Spanish football hasn't been broken since 2003-2004. In the last ten seasons in La Liga, only four times has the next-best club finished within ten points of either Barcelona or Real Madrid. This season Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid have kept pace with the megabastards through the first half of the season. They are tied with Barcelona on 49 points in first place, behind only on goal difference. Atléti stand five points above their traditional rivals Real Madrid. And this weekend Atlético host Barcelona at the Calderón, with not just a run at the duopoly but possibly a run at their first title since 1995-96 on the line. There is excitement.

I am building shot matrix databases for the other major European leagues, and I'm currently working through La Liga. Atlético Madrid have perhaps the most fascinating and peculiar statistics of any club I've run across, and I want to share some facts.

First, they really are this good. They have a +36 goal difference and have allowed only 11 goals in 18 matches. Those defensive numbers aren't just random chance, I have Atlético with the second best expected goal difference in La Liga after Barcelona.

Second, that quality is slightly obscured in some of the more traditional stats. Atlético are solidly third in La Liga is shot difference and TSR. They are +89 in shot difference with a .608 TSR. Those are great numbers, but notably behind Barcelona (+118, .633) and Real Madrid (+138, .623). To see how excellent Simeone's club have been, you need to burrow down a bit into the underlying stats. I think they're pretty cool.

Basically, Atlético Madrid are the best side in Europe at creating high-quality chances for themselves while denying high-quality chances to their opponents. They are exceptionally disciplined in attack and rarely attempt low-expectation shots. Despite having the third-best ratio of shots for and against, Atlético have the best ratio in La Liga of danger zone shots for and against. In my favorite stat, they lead La Liga with the fewest shots allowed from the danger zone (46) and they have taken the fewest shots in La Liga from outside the box (70). They only give up bad shots, and they only take good shots.

Their tactical strategy seems mostly uncomplicated. Atléti sit deep and defend centrally, preventing chances either through the middle or, especially, in behind the defense. They hit quickly on the break when the opposing defense is not yet settled. For a tactical analysis of Simeone's side, I recommend this article by Jamie Adams, particularly focused on their defensive structure and style of pressing.

This article is a statistical look at all the peculiar effects that Simeone's tactics have. In the first table, the stats here are shots and shots on target, for and against, broken into three categories. "DZ" is the danger zone, the close and central areas of the 18-yard box. "W" is wide, the wide areas of the 18-yard-box. And "SoB" are shots from outside the box. I list first the attacking numbers and then the defensive numbers. For more on these zones, see my earlier Shot Matrix study.

Club DZ SiB DZ SiBoT W SiB W SiBoT SoB SoBoT DZ SiB DZ SiBoT W SiB W SiBoT SoB SoBoT DZ Diff SiB Diff TSR
Atlético Madrid 120 63 60 27 70 19 46 16 31 8 84 18 74 103 0.608
Real Madrid 141 64 72 33 137 47 70 28 42 15 100 29 71 101 0.623
Barcelona 122 65 58 25 101 34 65 32 21 8 77 20 57 94 0.633
Athletic Bilbao 99 38 53 14 92 27 72 32 44 13 89 26 27 36 0.543
Sevilla 97 34 61 22 106 24 70 28 51 25 126 30 27 37 0.517
Espanyol 86 30 39 14 85 21 60 24 36 16 94 27 26 29 0.525
Real Sociedad 99 44 44 20 98 32 83 32 49 17 121 30 16 11 0.488
Villarreal 87 43 52 15 85 23 73 26 30 11 94 23 14 36 0.532
Valencia 86 40 48 9 125 40 83 34 44 24 91 23 3 7 0.543
Real Betis 98 37 49 17 93 25 96 48 41 16 81 28 2 10 0.524
Málaga 81 26 31 14 99 28 94 48 32 11 81 32 -13 -14 0.505
Osasuna 77 27 33 15 88 27 93 36 48 12 108 28 -16 -31 0.443
Rayo Vallecano 82 23 45 14 127 43 98 45 53 25 59 15 -16 -24 0.547
Celta Vigo 83 30 37 14 103 30 110 49 49 21 81 22 -27 -39 0.482
Elche 47 22 30 12 94 23 75 30 47 16 88 25 -28 -45 0.449
Granada 63 27 31 11 100 27 92 37 40 18 104 35 -29 -38 0.451
Valladolid 64 29 39 14 79 22 96 44 46 13 132 33 -32 -39 0.399
Getafe 63 21 34 9 106 25 111 46 66 18 99 32 -48 -80 0.424
Levante 59 24 29 10 95 21 111 45 60 18 130 36 -52 -83 0.378
Almeria 61 32 40 18 84 23 117 39 55 22 128 49 -56 -71 0.381

Atletico's 46 shots allowed from the danger zone is 33% fewer than their closest competitors Espanyol, Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have allowed only 24 shots on target from inside the box in 18 matches, a ridiculous rate of just 1.33 SiBoT allowed per match.

As you can see, shooting from outside the box is reasonably common in La Liga, but Atlético Madrid take fewer shots from distance than anyone else in the league. They are disciplined, and they wait for better opportunities. This translates into both the highest average shot quality for shots taken and the lowest average shot quality for shots allowed. Here's a graph. (For an explanation of my shot quality metric, see my earlier shot matrix piece and the links therein.) Shot quality is a rough estimate of expected goals per shot.

La_liga_shot_qual_medium

If you'd rather see that data in tabular form, this is percentage of shots from inside the box and from the danger zone, and rough shot quality for defense and attack for all clubs in La Liga.

Club SiB% DZ% D SiB% D DZ% SQ SQA
Atlético Madrid 72% 48% 48% 29% 0.135 0.082
Barcelona 64% 43% 53% 40% 0.133 0.095
Villarreal 62% 39% 52% 37% 0.123 0.099
Real Madrid 61% 40% 53% 33% 0.111 0.100
Sevilla 60% 37% 49% 28% 0.111 0.088
Athletic Bilbao 62% 41% 57% 35% 0.111 0.102
Málaga 53% 38% 61% 45% 0.107 0.117
Real Sociedad 59% 41% 52% 33% 0.102 0.095
Celta Vigo 54% 37% 66% 46% 0.101 0.127
Espanyol 60% 41% 51% 32% 0.100 0.091
Real Betis 61% 41% 63% 44% 0.100 0.113
Granada 48% 32% 56% 39% 0.095 0.101
Osasuna 56% 39% 57% 37% 0.093 0.101
Valladolid 57% 35% 52% 35% 0.093 0.097
Levante 48% 32% 57% 37% 0.093 0.102
Almeria 55% 33% 57% 39% 0.091 0.104
Rayo Vallecano 50% 32% 72% 47% 0.090 0.136
Valencia 52% 33% 58% 38% 0.088 0.103
Getafe 48% 31% 64% 40% 0.084 0.109
Elche 45% 27% 58% 36% 0.080 0.105

So, highest average shot quality, lowest average shot quality conceded. Highest percentage of shots from inside the box and from the danger zone. Lowest percentage of shots conceded from inside the box, second-lowest percentage of shots conceded from the danger zone. That's pretty straight-forward. Their deep and narrow defending prevents good shots, their counter-attack produces excellent chances.

One statistical effect of their low block is that it is nearly impossible to play a through-ball behind the defense. Atlético have allowed a single, solitary shot off a through-ball all season. In the closing minutes of the first half against Levante, Pedro López played a pass into the center of the box, David Barral ran onto it but shot just wide of the post. And that was the story of the only shot off a through-ball allowed by Atlético Madrid.

This is particularly notable for the weekend because Barcelona of course love to play through-balls. They have 21 shots assisted by through-balls in the league so far, the most in La Liga. Barcelona's high defensive line does allow for the occasional pass in behind the defense, and they often don't have men back to get in the way of a shot when the ball comes deep. Atlético Madrid, by contrast, have an extremely high defensive blocked shot rate, an effect of all those defenders they pack into the box.

Club %TB D %TB DZ %Bl D DZ %Bl
Celta Vigo 11.8% 7.3% 18.1% 15.5%
Barcelona 11.7% 7.5% 17.2% 12.3%
Atlético Madrid 9.2% 1.4% 12.5% 21.7%
Levante 8.1% 9.1% 18.6% 17.1%
Getafe 7.8% 6.5% 7.9% 14.4%
Real Madrid 7.8% 12.2% 13.5% 15.7%
Valladolid 7.4% 11.5% 10.9% 12.5%
Sevilla 6.7% 6.5% 13.4% 21.4%
Real Betis 6.6% 10.2% 16.3% 11.5%
Real Sociedad 6.6% 5.9% 13.1% 10.8%
Villarreal 6.5% 7.7% 13.8% 15.1%
Almeria 6.5% 4.8% 23.0% 21.4%
Espanyol 6.3% 9.1% 12.8% 21.7%
Valencia 5.7% 5.5% 12.8% 12.1%
Granada 5.2% 5.9% 19.1% 8.7%
Osasuna 5.1% 4.1% 15.6% 10.8%
Málaga 4.7% 4.7% 19.8% 11.7%
Elche 4.4% 5.6% 10.6% 22.7%
Athletic Bilbao 3.7% 10.7% 16.2% 18.1%
Rayo Vallecano 3.6% 2.4% 20.7% 15.3%

While Barcelona play more through-balls than Atlético, they also allow some, while Atlético allow basically none. Barcelona have a pretty normal rate of shots from the danger zone which are blocked before reaching the keeper, while Atlético are among the lowest in the league. Barcelona's defensive rate of shots blocked is again unimpressive, while Atlético stand among the league leaders. Barcelona play a high line and possession football, which allows the defense to set but risk the occasional counter-attacking chance within their own end. Atlético play a low block and concede possession, packing the box with defenders to prevent or block shots.

This weekend's match looks to be a real clash in styles between two absolutely elite football clubs. Not only that, but Atlético's style is pretty much specifically designed to make trouble for a possession-oriented side like Barcelona. I can't wait for the match.

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