15 days agoInside Joao Felix: How teenage whiz bringing hope to Atletico Madrid

first_imgInside Joao Felix: How teenage whiz bringing hope to Atletico Madridby Blair Newman15 days agoSend to a friendShare the loveAtletico Madrid underwent great change in the summer. Antoine Griezmann finally moved on after months of speculation, with Joao Felix arriving as his long-term successor. Felix, at just 19 years old, is widely believed to be one of the finest young players in the world today. While settling into a new team, in a new country, at such a young age hasn’t been plain sailing, he has already shown glimpses of the quality he can offer.Diego Simeone seems intent on evolving the tactical capabilities of his side. As well as Felix, Atletico brought in a ball-playing centre-back in Mario Hermoso as well as two energetic and forward-thinking full-backs in Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi in the summer window. As a consequence of the personnel changes, Simeone’s side now dominate the ball more than before, averaging 51.9% possession to last season’s 49.3%. But the change has led to teething problems that have affected Felix.Atletico have failed to score in half of their eight La Liga games so far, suggesting their new, more offensive game plan isn’t quite operating at 100%. Naturally, this has reduced Felix’s potency in the final third and has led to debate over where exactly the youngster should play, but he is still one of the team’s most important attacking players.During his only full season of first-team football at Benfica, the Portuguese acted as a second striker within a 4-4-1-1 system. He had license to wander and take up different positions on the pitch, moving between the lines to connect attacks and using his awareness and passing ability to split defences and create chances for teammates. Felix has mostly played in a similar position for Atletico, as seen in the below graphic.Here, the opposition defence and midfield lines are clear, as is Felix’s position between them. These are the areas he is best in. He can drive directly at the opponent’s back line, commit defenders and thread through balls for advancing teammates, or take a shot himself.This is a similar role to the one Griezmann took up at Atletico. The Frenchman usually played off a more traditional striker who would play on the last line, look to attack space in the channels, and use their pace and direct running to drag defenders back (think Diego Costa, Kevin Gameiro or Fernando Torres). In turn, this created space between the lines for Griezmann, who was free to roam, pick up the ball in deeper areas and get more involved in build-up.However, because Atletico are in transition and have a lot of new faces, they are experimenting with their favoured 4-4-2 system. As a result, Simeone has trialled Felix in other positions, notably on both wings. Indeed, it was from a nominal wide berth that he got his first Champions League goal, opening the scoring in the 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow.Playing on the right of the midfield four, Felix would tuck inside while attacking right-back Santiago Arias (in for the equally attacking Trippier) patrolled the flank. An example of this can be seen in the graphic below. This allowed Felix to get into more central positions, where he was better placed to create or shoot. His goal came from a similar situation to the one seen below, except with Alvaro Morata running wide, getting behind and pulling back for Felix to shoot and score.Afterwards, Simeone praised the 19-year-old’s performance. “It was the match in which he was most involved in the rhythm of the game,” the Atletico boss was quoted by AS, before discussing Felix’s new position, saying, “For a player who likes to have the ball and participate in the game of his team, it generates more enthusiasm.”Felix was then deployed on the left side of the midfield four for the 0-0 draw with Real Valladolid last weekend. Again, he was allowed to tuck in and take up a more central position in build-up, with left-back Lodi supplying width down that flank. This only underlines how important it was that Simeone replaced his ageing full-backs, Juanfran and Luis Filipe, with younger options who offer more output in terms of dribbles, progressive runs and crosses.The defensive responsibilities asked of Felix are different on the wing, however. When playing behind the striker, he helps to lead pressing from the front, closing down defenders whilst simultaneously blocking forward passing options. But on the wing, he is expected to drop deeper and remain part of a line of four, blocking the opposition full-back’s forward runs and ensuring compactness in midfield.Felix hasn’t been entirely consistent in his performances, and playing in three different positions so far probably hasn’t helped him adjust. Nonetheless, he is one of Atletico’s key contributors going forward. No player has scored more than his two league goals, no player averages more shots per game than his two, and no player has assisted more than his one.The only concerning statistic is that he is opening up defences less frequently now. Last season, with Benfica, he averaged 1.1 key passes to this season’s 0.3. He also averaged 0.2 through balls, while this season he is averaging a big fat zero. However, Simeone will expect these numbers to revert once the youngster has adapted properly to a tougher league, new teammates and has sorted his best position.Felix is young and inexperienced at the highest level, but he has established himself as Atletico’s key attacking player. The Griezmann comparisons are unhelpful and, in the short term, unrealistic, but – given time – he is on course to fill the void left by the Frenchman.All data supplied by WhoScored.com. TagsOpinionAbout the authorBlair NewmanShare the loveHave your saylast_img

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