Axel Witsel is one of the best midfielders in Belgian football. He has played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, like Benfica, Standard de Liege, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Borussia Dortmund, and is now at Atletico Madrid. He joined the club last season, and there has been a complete change in his role under Diego Simeone.
Having played as a defensive midfielder throughout his career, Simeone uses him as a centre-back. Atletico Madrid plays in a three-at-the-back formation, and that gives players like Witsel more time on the ball. The 34-year-old has met Simeone’s expectations, and here are some of the stats that show why Witsel is suited for this new role.
The new role
Axel Witsel has been playing as a centre-back since joining Atletico last season. He featured in 43 games across all competitions, and the heatmap above shows that Witsel played on the right side of the defence. His intensity zones on the map clearly indicate that Witsel stayed deep inside his team’s half.
The 34-year-old is playing a similar role, but this time he is playing in the centre of the defence. Diego Simeone is happy with Witsel playing at the back. In the two LaLiga games for Atletico Madrid in 2023–24, the team has scored seven goals and conceded none. Atletico Madrid are known for their defence and discipline in defence. The team has conceded only one goal, and Witsel didn’t play in that game.
Commanding the defence
Axel Witsel is very defensively sound and has been at the top of his game in 2023–24. Playing as a centre-back, Witsel cannot leave his position. He is naturally a midfielder, and it gets quite difficult for such players to maintain their position at the back.
The 34-year-old is not only maintaining his position but also winning duels. Witsel has won 68.8% of his defensive duels and 100% of his aerial and loose ball duels.
Other than this, the player has made 16 interceptions and recovered the ball 29 times.
More time on the ball
Playing a deeper role allows Axel Witsel to scan the attacking half and distribute the ball accordingly. Last season, Witsel averaged 48.5 passes per 90 minutes and had a high accuracy rate of 94.3%. These included 4.5 passes to the final third per 90 minutes and had an 82.5% success rate. The above viz shows that Witsel distributed the ball to the runners or midfield players in front of him. These passes often lead to goal-scoring opportunities.
Axel Witsel has adapted to his new role quite well. He has won most of the duels contested and is also reading the game well from the back. The number of interceptions and recoveries made indicates that the player is getting more time on the ball.
Visuals via TFA data viz engine