Chelsea v Atletico Madrid: Diego Simeone unearths raw materials to construct Atletico defensive wall

Godin, who faces England in June, leads competition's meanest back four

spanish football correspondent

Chelsea must in all likelihood breach the meanest defence in Europe on Wednesday night if they are to reach the Champions League final. Atletico Madrid's back four has conceded only once in their last nine games and have the best defensive record in both La Liga and the Champions League.

At the core is Diego Godin, a man after his coach Diego Simeone's own heart who courted controversy earlier in the season when cameras spotted him appearing to encourage team-mates to hit Lionel Messi where it hurts.

The Barcelona No 10 had bent forward moments earlier with his hand across the back of his left thigh. Godin turned to team-mate Joao Miranda, pointed at the back of his own left leg and made a clenched-fist gesture that seemed to say: "He's hurt, let's finish him off." The sensitive souls over-reacted and Godin was forced into an explanation.

"They are just things you do on a football pitch," the Uruguayan said after the criticism. "I would never encourage a team-mate to injure another professional. I was just pointing out how it was the time to really keep the pressure on and take advantage because they were weakened."

Godin has faced Messi five times so far this season and the Argentine striker has still to find the net. Barcelona have only scored twice in those five games and they are not alone in being unable to break down a defence that was cobbled together by Simeone when he arrived at Atletico in December 2011.

It is easy to forget that two and a half seasons ago, the team from the other side of Madrid's Manzanares river were a pushover. They were 10th in the league, closer to the drop than the top, and Albacete from the third division had just turfed them out of the Copa del Rey. Simeone built a defence and he did not buy a single player to do it.

"Juanfran wasn't a fixture at full-back, Miranda wasn't in the team, Godin wasn't what he is now and Filipe Luis did not play," Simeone says of the squad that he inherited and transformed.

Those four were to become the best-drilled defence in Atletico's recent history with Godin – whom England must get the better of in Sao Paulo this summer when they play Uruguay – as their leader.

Alongside him, Miranda intelligently fills the gaps when Godin's will to win takes him into opposition territory. To add to their miserly record at the back, both have scored key goals for Atletico.

It was Miranda who got the winner in last season's Spanish Cup final against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid and between them the pair have scored eight times during the current campaign.

Vicente del Bosque has even considered adopting Miranda for the Spain team in much the same way as with his Atletico team-mate Diego Costa up front. However, the defender has already represented the Brazil senior side, although he looks set to miss out on the World Cup, such is national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's indifference towards him and his Atletico team-mate Filipe Luis.

The left-back is the third man in Simeone's mean-machine defence and probably the unit's strongest individual. He almost signed for Barcelona when he was at Deportivo but they balked at his then €20mn (£16.5m) buyout clause. He would be worth close to that now to prise away from the Vicente Calderon.

No full-back in La Liga can combine defensive strength with final-third delivery like Filipe Luis and several Premier League clubs have gone to watch Costa and midfielder Koke only to come away most impressed by the left-back.

Atletico's other full-back, Juanfran, is the final piece in the jigsaw and his rise under Simeone may be the most spectacular of all. A spindly winger who never quite made the grade at Real Madrid, Juanfran washed up at Osasuna and was eventually signed by Atletico and converted into an unconvincing emergency defender by Simeone's predecessor, Gregorio Manzano.

Simeone has turned him into the real thing, adding aggression and positioning to his attacking virtues. There are still lapses – as suffered for Spain against France last year when he gave away possession, allowing the French to equalise and complicate Spain's qualification for the World Cup – but his progress has been stellar and he will contest the right-back position this summer with the man he finds on the opposing side, Cesar Azpilicueta.

"I would rather have a lot of players who know what they are supposed to do rather than very good players," says Simeone of his style of coaching, adding: "And if you've got very good players who also happen to know exactly what they are doing then even better."

Godin, Miranda, Filipe Luis and Juanfran would now be in the second group as top defenders in their own right. Before Simeone arrived they were probably in the first category, good players in need of a brilliant coach to turn them into an unbeatable defence.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?