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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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.

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine