In the prime of Jan Oblak‘s career, when he became Atlético de Madrid‘s most decisive player between 2018 and 2021, when the red-and-white defence began to falter, the Slovenian’s performance was measured by saves, one-handed saves and clean sheets. Along the way, the former Benfica keeper had already improved the second most pronounced weakness, penalty taking, but not the main one: his ball-playing. The aspect of the game that distanced him from the other goalkeepers competing to be the best and that Atlético de Madrid didn’t need him. But things have changed a lot.
Three seasons ago, Atlético changed their tactical design to play with three centre-backs and, since last season, they have been constructing their possessions very differently, with very short distances between players, shorter and shorter passes and much more elaborate passing, with hardly any long balls.
Since 2014, with a passing distance of 19.4 metres, Simeone’s side have moved on to passes of 15.5 metres on average in the 23/24 season, with the goalkeeper becoming a more important player, an evolution that has been reflected in the numbers, season after season. Furthermore, from the 28.5 metres that Atlético advanced per possession in 2014/15, showing great verticality, they now only advance 21 metres per possession, which shows much more elaboration and horizontality.
These two graphs reflect how Oblak’s role in passing has evolved. In 2015/16, the Slovenian made 3.43 passes into the opposition half, compared to 0.90 or 0.53 per 90′ over the last two seasons. Although only a few games have been played this season, the passing success rate, the percentage of successful passes in his own half and the passes made in the opposition half reflect the latest step in a clear evolution from the collective to the individual.
Ball-playing has become much more important than it was three years ago. In a very short time the game has changed a lot and more and more teams are using the goalkeeper as the figure that unbalances the opposition when pressing high up the pitch, which has led to more passes than ever, from a much shorter distance and with hardly any long balls.
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