Tactical analysis Los Angeles FC Atlanta United 4-3 MLS

Los Angeles FC – Atlanta United: LAFC Hold on in Seven-Goal Thriller (4-3)

Fifteen minutes of woeful Atlanta United defending proved enough for Los Angeles FC to pick up all three points. Using impressive rotations in attacking transitions, LAFC were capable of progressing the ball through Atlanta’s compact defense in a game that showcased both team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

With the doors still closed in the European leagues, as well as countless amounts of teams coming over to play their pre-seasons, MLS is one of the biggest leagues to continue in the crazy world that is football. With ever more high-level footballers and the quality of football rapidly improving, eyes are fixated on MLS like never before. 

Los Angeles FC top the table in the Western Conference, seven points ahead of Philadelphia Union, having two games in hand. Experienced manager Bob Bradley has often lined up his team in a 4-3-3 formation, with a strong, flexible midfield and  a false nine A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten. dropping back from the forward line. LAFC are capable of feeding their attackers very, very well, something which has benefitted veteran striker Carlos Vela who has hit the net an impressive 21 times going into this game.

Atlanta United sit second in the Eastern Conference after recovering from a rather poor season opening. Although he had another difficult start at a new club, Frank de Boer was given time and he now boasts a healthy record so far in Georgia. However, after last year’s dominance, Atlanta have slipped from the heights Gerardo “Tata” Martino had them reach. De Boer has experimented in recent times, having previously stuck to the 4-2-3-1 system. In recent times, Atlanta United have switched to a three-at-the-back formation, something which has seen recent success against DC United and Houston Dynamo. 

Both teams made two changes. Bob Bradley dropped Tyler Miller following “Zlatan-gate” in the Los Angeles derby. He was replaced by Pablo Sisniega between the sticks, Tristan Blackmon would also be replaced at right back, by the experienced Steven Beitashour. Atlanta made a slight alteration, going from a 3-5-2 system to a 3-5-1-1 formation, with Gonzalo Martínez sitting behind Josef Martínez upfront. Atlanta’s only other change would see Mohammed Adams come in for Justin Meram at left wing-back. 

Passmap Los Angeles FC Atlanta United 4-3 MLS

LAFC take control despite early goal

Not even two minutes in and this game had its first goal. A sign of things to come, perhaps. An impressive move from Franco Escobar, sprinting from the center round to the back post as the ball goes in, allowed him to pull the ball back into the middle. The ball falls to Mohammed Adams, scoring his first ever senior goal against the league leaders.

Despite this, LAFC took control and looked much more likely to equalize than Atlanta to score a second. Their attacking movements were crucial in sequences, making it unpredictable and difficult for the Atlanta defense to handle. Bradley’s team switched to a 4-2-2-2 shape, Latif Blessing stepping out of the midfield line whilst Adama Diomande would drop deep. 

It were the rotations of both Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi that enabled the frontline to get onto the ball as much as possible. Both would roam in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. and between the lines, consistently opening passing lanes and exploiting the Atlanta defense. 

Having a drifting midfield line results in Atlanta being vulnerable to vertical passes

Having a drifting midfield line results in Atlanta being vulnerable to vertical passes.

Frank de Boer’s team would drop into a 5-3-2 medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. with the midfield line shifting from channel to channel. This would prevent LAFC from developing sharp, short passing moves – as well as Walker Zimmermann’s channel passes into the path of Carlos Vela. However, Atlanta’s defense had one major weakness, which was failing to prevent switch passes. A pass from one side to the other.

With all three midfielders shifting towards one side, this would open an overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. on the opposite side, as well as a huge amount of space just in front of the eighteen yard box. LAFC began to exploit this, without having direct opportunities at goal in the first half hour.

Crazy football follows as Atlanta United’s defense falls apart

Despite a positive half hour, Atlanta’s defense would totally collapse. Transitioning from a 5-3-2 compact defense, De Boer’s team would rapidly expand but to dangerous effect. LAFC’s high press was far too much for Atlanta to handle, Blessing still rapidly pushing out from the midfield line and either winger tracking the player in possession. 

This stopped Atlanta progressing the ball forward, but the LAFC equalizer would come from an Atlanta set-piece. This was the first indication of major disorganisation in De Boer’s defense, not only were players completely out of position but gifted Carlos Vela and Mark-Anthony Kaye far too much time on the ball. A neat exchange between Kaye and Blessing opened space in the final third, Diomande getting the right side of Leandro González Pírez, before beating Brad Guzan at his front post.

Player positions for the equalizer show Atlanta’s horrible organisation when LAFC broke forward

Player positions for the equalizer show Atlanta’s horrible organisation when LAFC broke forward.

What followed was fifteen minutes of bizarre football – another fast-paced attack built from deep led to LAFC taking the lead through Diego Rossi, who made a brilliant ball out wide to Carlos Vela, exploiting the space left behind by Mohammed Adams. His cutback into the penalty area was initially stopped, only to fail straight to Rossi. 

Within 23 seconds of the restart, Atlanta had lost possession and gave away a penalty. Carlos Vela stepped up to score his 22nd goal of the campaign. LAFC would make it 4-1 moments later. Kaye made a brilliant pass from deep to Vela, dropping inside to release Diomande in the space created, who then found Eduard Atuesta inside of the area.

Somehow, this was not the end of the first half. After conceding four goals in quick concession, Atlanta would go up the other end and scored an important goal in the course of the match. Julian Gresse’s cut-back from the right channel was met by Josef Martínez in the penalty area. The score at half-time: LAFC 4-2 Atlanta United.

Passmap Los Angeles FC Atlanta United 4-3 MLS

Atlanta get back into the game, but De Boer makes odd decision

The second half would continue its momentum, but Frank de Boer made an interesting alteration to Atlanta’s formation. Justin Meram replaced Mohammed Adams at half-time, and Franco Escobar was moved out to right back. Atlanta switched to a 4-3-3 formation, pushing Gonzalo Martínez out onto the left wing. 

Atlanta United’s switch of system was rewarded, Meram’s cutback after a darting run down the wing was turned in by Eddie Segura, Atlanta now one away from an equalizer. Momentum switched to Atlanta by this point, the switch of formation resulted in much better ball progression in the middle third, as well as capably bypassing the LAFC press.

Atlanta’s ball-orientation, especially on the flanks, improves thanks to switch in formation

Atlanta’s ball-orientation, especially on the flanks, improves thanks to switch in formation.

A great tactical switch was followed by a bizarre one from Frank de Boer. After the first fifteen minutes being all Atlanta, he would take off his most creative asset who had just began to find his stride. Gonzalo Martínez was replaced by Ezequiel Barco, making his first appearance since May. Bringing on Barco is certainly not a bad idea but taking off Martínez was beyond bizarre.

In the process, De Boer also rotated his side’s formation back into a 3-5-1-1 shape, putting Escobar back into the backline and dropping Barco central just behind Josef Martínez. The Colombian striker finally had the situation he had been waiting for, Julian Gressel playing him behind the defensive line – his touch wasting such a high-quality chance as it began to look like Atlanta’s momentum had ran out.

LAFC see out seven-goal thriller

Replacing Steven Beitashour with Lee Nguyen would breathe new life into LAFC. This would see Blessing move to right back and relive the pressing play. More chances began to develop for LAFC, but Atlanta United would have their last major opportunity of the game. Barco broke forward, catching LAFC out of shape and playing through Martínez. He was ushered out wide, before blazing a shot wide.

LAFC would see the game out by this point, regaining momentum in their favour. Moving Blessing out wide resulted in Carlos Vela regaining the same amount of possession as he did throughout the first half and chances would occur once again. 

Bob Bradley’s team looked more than likely to add a fifth, but the work of veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan would keep the score as close as it was. A crazy game, which continued to entertain after an astonishing first half.

Expected goals plot Los Angeles FC Atlanta United 4-3 MLS


Football surely can be mental at times. Results like these surely can reveal both strengths and weaknesses, the same can be said here. 

LAFC’s continuous attacking rotations between the lines caused huge problems for Atlanta, showing multiple ways on how to unlock a compact defense. Allowing Atlanta back into the game from being 4-1 up will not be taken lightly from Bob Bradley. He needs to find the same solid defense shown earlier on in the season, conceding six in your last two is not a good look. However, three points against a big club, following a brutal derby defeat is a good comeback for LAFC.

Atlanta United’s horror fifteen minutes overshadowed what was an *okay* performance by De Boer’s team. His decision to take off Gonzalo Martínez is still baffling, a change that killed off Atlanta’s creativity. They need to build consistency, next weekend’s home game against LA Galaxy would be a great start.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots.

Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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