In yesterday’s blog, I pointed out that Atlético-MG could cause Newell’s Old Boys some serious problems if they were “willing to open up in search of an away goal”. They weren’t.
Newell’s looked vulnerable in defence. Full-backs Casco and Cáceres left too much space behind them, centre-backs Heinze and Vergini made mistakes every time they were put under pressure and even Nahuel Guzmán, the goalkeeper, had some unconvincing moments. Fortunately for them, Atlético failed to capitalise on any of these weaknesses. Apart from one spurned opportunity from Bernard in the first half, Newell’s were comfortable throughout and earned a 2-0 lead to take into the second leg.
Atlético’s downfall was their over cautiousness. As expected, they adopted a more withdrawn approach and instead of their usual fluid 4-2-3-1 system, Cuca arranged his side in a rigid 4-4-1-1. The back four stayed excessively deep – even usually ultra-attacking right-back Marcos Rocha – and wingers Bernard and Diego Tardelli played defensive roles, tasked with marking their opposing full-back.
Cuca’s thought process was understandable for the most part: Newell’s break quickly and when they do, they play the ball directly to the excellent Ignácio Scocco in attack. (While the quality of Argentinian domestic football is patchy, Scocco is a Champions League-level centre-forward and Cuca knows it.) By keeping the back line planted and close to the penalty area, Cuca hoped to reduce Scocco’s space whenever possible.
The problem is that Atlético do not have the squad to successfully play a deep, contained tactical system. When Galo don’t have possession, Ronaldinho Gaúcho becomes a passenger. The same can be said for Bernard and Diego Tardelli, while Marcos Rocha is easily found out when he is asked to defend.
Newell’s, constantly invited to attack their Brazilian visitors, eventually found gaps and scored their goals. If it wasn’t for Victor in the Atlético goal, the tie would already be over. As it stands, Galo will need a huge performance at the Independência to have any chance of making the final.
Cuca has built a wonderful team at Atlético, capable of playing captivating and effective football. However he has not grasped how to properly organise a defensive system. He has been struggling with this for years, so perhaps he never will get it. Perhaps he should stick to what he knows best.
Note: I realise that this post could have been enhanced with visual aids of some sort, however I have recently bought a new laptop and as of yet do not have my old diagram templates. I will see to that soon!
Note 2: If you want to read more about Newell’s Old Boys and their playing style, check out this analysis that I did of them a while back. Still relevant.