Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone tore up his early-season plans to revert to 4-4-2 against PSV Eindhoven, and match reporter Joseph Walker says it paid dividends.
Article top media content
For Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone it was a case of back to the future in their UEFA Champions League Group F-clinching 2-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday. It was a virtuoso European display and maintained the competition's only 100% record.
Yet going into the game there were question marks surrounding the club. Three defeats from their last four in all competitions meant a cloud of doubt surrounded Atlético and their new-look 4-3-3 setup.
Simeone, who has enjoyed unparalleled success with the club since taking over in 2011, radically changed the side's tactical makeup in summer. Gone was the rigid, hard to break down 4-4-2 formation that made Atlético so identifiable.
It was a system that, above all, allowed the Rojiblancos to control the middle of the park while also ensuring their defence was well protected. Unquestionably, it was a winning formula: one Liga, a Copa del Rey and two UEFA Champions League finals attests to that.
Yet having twice come agonisingly close to winning the ultimate prize in European football, Simeone gave the side an attack-minded facelift in the summer as he sought to make the next step.
Sacrificing a defensive midfielder, Koke was given a central role and without question there were rewards going forwards. Yannick Carrasco flourished, while new arrival Kevin Gameiro showed promise alongside Antoine Griezmann up front.
Inevitably, this meant the defence was more vulnerable. They went from one extreme to another and perhaps lost their identity a bit, neither doing one thing nor the other. Things came to a head in Saturday's 3-0 Liga defeat by Real Madrid and something had to give.
Simeone took the decision to revert to the tried and trusted 4-4-2 and it was a decision that paid immediate dividends, with the side looking much more like the one that reached last season's final.
Indeed, it could have been a display from any one of several memorable European nights at the Vicente Calderón in recent years.
Drafting in Tiago to shore up the middle of the park was inspired, with the Portuguese imperious throughout. It is no coincidence that reuniting the 35-year-old with Gabi brought a first clean sheet in six games, while he did not just contribute at the back either. It was his run and through ball that set up Griezmann to score the second and give his side breathing room.
They sucked the life out of PSV's attacking play and wore them down, winning the midfield battle with ease.
It may not be the most aesthetic style of football; however it is an effective one. Atlético now look to have regained their verve and will visit Bayern München in a fortnight looking to make it a perfect six. Back on track, they just might do it.