Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed his team’s defensive strength and tactical flexibility after they ground out a 1-0 win at Real Betis in Sunday afternoon’s La Liga clash.
After Atletico had spent the first 30 minutes soaking up pressure, Saul Niguez put the visitors ahead with a sliding finish at the back post.
Betis again had almost all the possession after the break, but the closest they came was a 20-yard strike by winger Christian Tello which brought a superb flying save from visiting goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Atletico are now unbeaten away from home in La Liga for over 12 months, and the Rojiblanco coach told the post-game news conference at the Benito Villamarin that his team had been able to respond to everything that their opponents had thrown at them.
“It was a really difficult game,” Simeone said. “We responded very well to the situation, found the danger we thought we could do to them and got the goal. The team then felt very well covered in midfield, was able to cut out the possession game which Betis managed very well at the start of the game.
“The second half the same. Betis were trying in different ways to hurt us, but they met a very strong team defensively.”
26,12% – Atlético de Madrid had 26,12% of possession against Real Betis, the lowest for @atletienglish
this season in all competitions. Accuracy pic.twitter.com/BLMxFaLKDI
OptaJose (@OptaJose) December
Although his side were starved of possession, Simeone kept changing his tactics through the game, and introduced defenders Jose Maria Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez for forward Angel Correa and midfielder Thomas Partey.
“The way Betis played made us look for three different systems to become as comfortable as possible on the pitch,” the Argentine explained. “We have versatile players which allows us to be tactically flexible, and that helps the team’s defensive strength. Today we had few chances, but we were much more clinical.”
The victory saw Atletico climb back above neighbours Real Madrid into third place in the table, just three points behind leaders Barcelona, who play later on Sunday at sixth placed Villarreal.
“We are playing well, and our results are even better,” Simeone said. “We have a very clear identity and way of thinking. We just go from game to game and that will not change.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan