Los Angeles Galaxy – Los Angeles FC: Showtime As Ibra Single Handedly Beats The Best MLS Team (3-2)
Hotly anticipated matches like these – number one against number two, city derby – do not always live up to expectations in terms of drama. This one did however, in no small part thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
An MLS season is chaotic by nature. It keeps on running even when there are international tournaments played elsewhere across the globe. In the twelve-months-a-year business football has turned into nowadays, there is always some kind of tournament going on in the summer, meaning top MLS clubs always have to miss some of their best players for a couple of weeks mid-season.
In addition, some MLS clubs have been playing friendly matches against European teams who have come across the pond for commercial reasons. These two factors add to the feeling that the regular MLS season serves more as a warm-up for the playoffs than as an actual exciting league. And, by the way, as seven of the twelve teams from every conference get a playoff ticket, maybe at this stage, the regular MLS competition should be seen that way.
One team that has to worry even less about making the playoffs than the other teams is Los Angeles FC. They have absolutely steamrolled MLS so far this season, gathering 46 points in twenty matches. Bob Bradley fielded his nominal 4-3-3 formation; his midfield trio (Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and Latif Blessing) is probably the best midfield MLS has on offer. After bagging a brace against Houston Dynamo, Adama Diomande led the line once more up front, flanked by the team’s offensive superstars Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela.
Home team LA Galaxy are second in the Western Conference, yet there was a firm twelve point deficit between these two teams going into the match. Manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto lined his team up in their nominal 4-2-3-1 formation, with Favio Álvarez playing as a number ten in the back of Zlatan Ibrahimović, who needs no further introduction. Honorable mention in their lineup goes to Julian Araujo, a 17-year-old talent playing as right winger in this derby.
Within three minutes, LAFC were awarded a penalty kick, as Galaxy’s very first buildup attempt failed because of a bad pass by Álvarez, and the ball was intercepted by LAFC’s central midfielder Kaye. He quickly slipped in a pass in towards Vela, who took an awkward touch that took away the initial chance. The Mexican captain was saved by some rash goalkeeping by David Bingham, who brought him down. Vela converted the penalty kick himself, 0-1 LAFC after three minutes.
Galaxy could have responded within the five-minute mark, as Ibrahimović dropped deep, collected the ball, played a vertical pass to Uriel Antuna, who flicked it on to Álvarez. Galaxy’s number ten added to his bad start of the game by placing the free shot from inside the penalty area on the goalkeeper. Neither Ibrahimović nor Antuna could convert the rebound.
A few minutes later. Ibrahimović, as he would do the entire match, physically dominated central defender Eddie Segura before slipping away into space. Then he performed an act of wonder, stunning the entire stadium and leveling the game after seven minutes.
Game settles down: neither of the teams have an advantage
With the score level, the match continued in the pattern of a game level at 0-0. There is no use to attempt a high press when your striker is a 37-year-old, who has to save up energy for three or four explosive actions per half. That meant LAFC saw more of the ball and Galaxy tried to contain them from a 4-4-1-1 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.
Galaxy did a good job. Very rarely were LAFC’s defenders or midfielders able to single out Rossi, Diomande or Vela with a pass. Rossi had a very anonymous half altogether, while Diomande did a dreadful job linking up the play on the few occasions he got on the ball with his back to goal. There was also a notable lack of overlapping When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. by LAFC’s fullbacks, which is often the result of wingers not being brought into one-versus-one situations high up the field.
Passing is not the only way to bring the ball up, however, meaning that when LAFC got close to goal, this was often the result of Kaye, Atuesta and Vela dribbling into space after good positional play in midfield. Throughout the half, Vela started to drop deeper in order to collect the ball.
Vela dropping all the way back to get on the ball and try to create from there. Notice Galaxy’s unorganized defensive line in midfield, which happened incidentally, in this case because of the vertical run of right back Blackmon.
The game cooled off in terms of goalmouth action, but heated up in terms of fouls, which broke the tempo and rhythm of the game on numerous occasions. All in all, the best chances were for Galaxy in the first half.
Their overall game in possession was to look for Ibrahimović, who won almost every single duel. After a while, LAFC’s central defenders stopped dueling Ibra altogether, meaning Galaxy did not even have to fight for second balls, but had the luxury to play directly of his chested balls and aerial passes. No half-chances were converted though, meaning this game went into half-time with a level score.
The passmap reflects LAFC’s inability to connect with their forwards. The relatively high position of Vela is explained by the fact he had a lot of penalty area touches, as well as dropping deeper to collect the ball.
Bradley adjusts after going down
In the first ten minutes after the break, the game settled in the same pattern as it did before the interval, as neither manager changed tactics or personnel. The game was shaken up by a moment of brilliance from Galaxy’s left back Diego Polenta, who beautifully found Ibrahimović with an outside of the boot cross in the 55th minute. There was a lot of work to be done however, yet Ibra’s header powerfully flew over the goalkeeper into the net.
After going down, Bradley recognized the need for changes, as he quickly brought on Lee Nguyen for Kaye and Mohamed El Monir for left back Jordan Harvey. In addition, the entire attack was shifted, as Diomande was asked to perform an inside role on the left, Vela acted as the false nine A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten. and Rossi started to play out wide. Left back Mohamed was tasked with covering the entire left side.
LAFC’s formation after the 65th minute, against Galaxy’s unchanged 4-4-1-1 shape.
It immediately worked, as after the personnel changes, LAFC’s play became slicker and more dynamic. They created three genuine penalty area entrances in three minutes. Galaxy mostly had problems tracking Vela, as the old dilemma rose, one every central defender knows by heart. Follow Vela and leave space in the back line, or leave him unmarked but give him time on the ball in the most valuable zone of the field?
In the 69th minute, Vela’s movement indirectly lead to a shot by Rossi, which hit the crossbar. Vela dropped, leaving space for Diomande to move into. He got on the ball, turned and found Rossi out wide for a one-versus-one, and after a little dribble the young Uruguayan attacker found the crossbar.
Zlatan hattrick buries the game
Right after what had been LAFC’s best spell of the match, Zlatan got his hat trick. In classic fashion, he first won the aerial duel after a long pass by goalkeeper Bingham. Galaxy picked up the second ball and two passes later, Ibrahimović could shoot from twenty yards out and put Galaxy two up with a drilled shot that went into the side netting.
It is easy to say Segura should have done more to prevent Ibrahimović from holding the ball up all game long, but there is very little you can do in one-versus-one duels against a gigantically imposing striker who is also world-class technically. If anything, Galaxy could have attempted to close Ibra in with a midfielder, ‘sandwiching’ him in duels and preventing the easy outball towards him that way.
With LAFC down two goals, it was commendable they still went for it, and kept playing well, looking for goals even though they needed three in twenty minutes to win the game. After one major brawl that took several minutes to settle, they took the initiative back and started pounding Galaxy’s box in the final twenty minutes of the game.
Six minutes into injury time, that resulted in a goal by Vela. However, there was too little time left to actually go for a third goal and clinch a draw, meaning Galaxy kept their all-time unbeaten status against their city rivals.
If you have Zlatan Ibrahimović, you better make use of him.
Football is a game of eleven-versus-eleven and at Between the Posts, we always try to paint the complete picture, of all twenty-two players, who together produce a clash of styles. All too often, individuals are singled out without the context of the rest of the players being correctly provided.
However, it is very hard picturing Galaxy picking up a win here if Ibrahimović gets injured in the warm-up. He is the beginning and the end of nearly every Galaxy attack and at 37 years of age, dominates MLS games with an ambition and energy as if he is just bursting onto the stage.
This matchup between LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC could very well be the Western Conference playoff final, which makes this game very interesting from a tactical point of view. Some tactical questions for Bradley to answer include how to prevent Ibrahimović from dominating the play as he did here, as well as how he can better integrate his attacking players against Galaxy’s 4-4-1-1 setup. LAFC better be ready for Zlatan if they meet again, come November.
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