MLS 2019: Los Angeles Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City – tactical analysis
The Major League Soccer regular season is rapidly coming to a close with multiple teams still in the hunt for the coveted playoff berths. The Los Angeles Galaxy were up against fellow Western Conference playoff contenders in Sporting Kansas City. This was to be a vital clash with little under a month’s worth of football left to play.
Guillermo Schelotto set up the Galaxy in a 4-3-3 formation. Their side was headlined by striker Zlatan Ibrahimović who was flanked by wingers Cristian Pavón and Uriel Antuna. The midfield had Jonathan dos Santos as the single pivot with Sebastien Lletget and Joe Corona in the box-to-box roles next to him. The back four consisted of fullbacks Rolf Feltscher and David Romney around centre-backs Daniel Steres and Diego Polenta. In goal was David Bingham.
Peter Vermes lined up KC in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Their defence was backed up by goalkeeper, Tim Melia. Ahead of him was Graham Smith and Matt Besler in central defence with Graham Zusi and Luís Martins as fullbacks. Their double pivot was the pair Illie and Felipe Gutiérrez. Roger Espinoza would play the attacking midfield role while Johnny Russell and Gerso Fernandes would play out wide. Erik Hurtado was then the lone striker.
Galaxy with the ball
The hosts would build up in the usual way for a side adopting a 4-3-3 system. The fullbacks would push up in line with the single pivot, dos Santos. This would also be a double pivot when one of Lletget or Corona would drop next to dos Santos to help the central defenders progress the ball.
At times, the visitors would use a high man-orientated press to try to disrupt the LA build-up, trying to force them to play long balls. LA were able to escape this press frequently, mainly with the help of their wingers dropping to receive the ball and the impressive play of dos Santos.
Going forward, Lletget and Corona would sometimes drift to the same side. This created overloads which KC found difficult to deal with. Sporting would either have to commit more players to that one side or allow LA to exploit the numerical superiority. They would often use the former and Galaxy would then try to quickly circulate the ball to free men on the opposite side of the pitch.
The free players would be the winger and/or fullbacks who would either try to penetrate centrally while carrying the ball. Or provide crosses for Ibrahimović and any supporting players charging into the box.
And of course, the direct ball to Ibrahimović was also an option. He would use his strength and skill to hold off markers and combine with advancing teammates. Once the press was beaten. KC would fall into a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 shape. Two of Illie, Gutiérrez and Espinoza would sit in front of the backline while the wingers would deal with the opposition fullbacks. The attacking midfielder moved in relation to the ball’s location, assisting in creating pressure wherever needed.
In the final third, there was an emphasis on delivering crosses which came as no surprise considering the aerial ability of their famous frontman. LA did well to send a multitude of dangerous crosses into the area but they also filled the box with players to challenge for the ball. It would’ve been easy for them to become reliant on Ibrahimović fending off multiple markers to get attempts at goal. However, LA would have enough teammates around him to ease the pressure.
Their second goal came from a series of two crosses. One sent to the back-post to Pavón who sent it back where there were plenty of teammates. The following image shows the situation once he received the ball.
LA’s third came soon after from a cross to Ibrahimović who did brilliantly to score when tightly marked. Their fifth was a headed goal by a supporting Lletget who met a Romney cross in the middle of the box. Even Lletget’s second was a result of a KC failing to deal with an LA cross. A defensive error allowing for a second cross to come in which Lletget headed home for his brace.
Sporting in possession
LA would have a midfielder, usually one of Lletget or Corona, leave the midfield to start a press alongside Ibrahimović. Sporting often used long balls to escape the press, usually sent towards the physically-imposing Hurtado. This tactic wasn’t particularly effective was Steres and Polenta did well to win the aerial duels and mop up any second balls. But KC did find success beat the press with the ball on the floor, finding gaps between the first line of pressure.
When not pressing, LA didn’t fall into the most stern of defensive shapes, preferring to leave players such as Ibrahimović and Pavón up front for the counter-attack. This meant that KC had plenty of numerically advantageous situations.
Despite this, the visitors struggled to create the sort of clear-cut chances the circumstances allowed for. They too sent in many crosses, 32 in total, yet only 9 were successful. That stat despite the dangerous situations presented to them points to a lack of quality in the final third.
The high press coming primarily from the midfielders meant that if it was broken then there would often be gaps to exploit for KC. Their opener came from KC midfielders being allowed to run freely at the LA defence with the Galaxy midfield lagging behind.
Another factor in that goal which is important to note is the time and space Zusi had on the ball. This was a recurring theme during the game. The USMNT player demonstrated an adept crossing ability, particularly from the half-spaces. The freedom that the Galaxy midfielders had to roam when attacking made it difficult to recover and mark the advancing KC players.
The Galaxy were also able to threaten with balls in behind the KC defence when they countered. Atuna and Pavón would race away and latch onto balls over the top. Since KC would commit their fullbacks forward, the LA wingers would usually be racing against the KC central defenders. They would win this battle for pace every time. For the Galaxy’s fourth, it was Romney who intercepted the ball and sent Pavón loose on the counter. He was then one-vs-one against a backtracking Smith. Pavón managed to get a shot off after some trickery. His deflected shot was then turned in by Antuna.
Sporting KC were simply outmatched in this contest. LA threatened throughout and although they showed weaknesses, they never really looked in danger of dropping points in this one. They will now host the Montreal Impact while being well placed to make the playoffs. Their opponents travel to LA clinging onto their thin playoff hopes. KC, on the other hand, will go back to home comforts to meet Colorado Rapids. That game may well be their last opportunity to make a push for a playoff spot.
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