At various points in the last five years, all of Europe’s top teams have abandoned defending to some extent.
All except one.
Last night, Atletico Madrid won their third Europa League crown and, naturally, they kept a clean sheet.
The denial of Marseille in Lyon was the 200th time Atleti had stopped their opponents from scoring under Diego Simeone.
200 clean sheets in 377 games.
In an age when their direct rivals are prioritising attacking play more than ever, there is plenty to be said for a team who still appreciate the art of defending.
Diego Godin is at the heart of it all.
The Uruguayan centre-back must surely be considered the most effective defender of recent times.
He may not have the expansive passing range of a Gerard Pique, the box-office style of Sergio Ramos, or Mats Hummels’ highlight reel of last-ditch tackles, but his reading of the game is second to none.
The epitome of composure, Godin is Simeone’s general in the field.
Gabi may wear the armband but Atleti’s omniscient centre-back is the man who makes sure the troops follow the plan.
Unlike Real Madrid, Bayern or Barcelona, their defence is not made up of multi-million euro, marketable superstars.
Sime Vrsaljko, Jose Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez made up the rest of the back four last night.
Filipe Luis, Juanfran and Stefan Savic have all featured prominently in recent times too.
Simeone’s model, organisation and fitness regime has forged a near impenetrable wall.
And when if hole does briefly open up, the world-class Jan Oblak is there to patch it up.
The Slovenian stopper has kept more clean sheets for Atletico than he has conceded goals.
It’s not just the defence who have contributed to Atleti’s unmatched defensive record.
Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann set the tone from the front, pressing and hassling defenders, a tactic that led to the opening goal in the final.
Koke, Saul Niguez, Thomas Partey, Gabi, Angel Correa are all powered by inexhaustible engines.
This well-versed unit know the philosophy and their individual tasks off-by-heart.
The result is undeniable — Atlet have conceded just six goals at home all season.
The culture of defending (or anti-football if you’re particularly cynical) has a diminishing reputation.
Real Madrid have a star-studded defence — Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo could all claim to be top three in their positions.
The same can be said for Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba.
However, the emphasis on attacking from the back, with ultra aggressive full-backs, and a focus on the playmaking qualities of centre-backs, has led to a sacrifice in terms of pure defending.
Atleti have resisted this trend.
They may not play the most aesthetically pleasing brand of football, but it would be a shame if old-school resilience evaporated from the game completely.
While Marseille may have been the underdogs last night, few would have begrudged Atleti a trophy to show for their efforts.
Having been bullied by their bigger, more attractive brother in the Champions League finals of 2014 and 2016, another European trophy is a welcome reward.
Never change, Atleti, you wonderfully boring bastards.
Dream Team World Cup has landed!
The greatest show on Earth just got that bit more exciting.
That’s because the Dream Team World Cup game is coming ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Dream Team World Cup
- Completely free to enter
- £50m budget and 20 transfers throughout the tournament
- £175k total prizepot (for UK players only)
- PRE-REGISTER FOR DREAM TEAM WORLD CUP NOW
The game officially launches on June 1 – but you can pre-register for the game now.
If you’re an existing Dream Team customer the World Cup game now appears in the app or you can enter here, but if you’re not follow these simple steps:
- Download the Dream Team app
- Create an account
- Click on the World Cup banner below in the app and follow the pre-registration instructions
From Russia with a whole lot of love.