MLS Eastern Conference Final 2018: New York Red Bulls vs Atlanta United
The battle continued between New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United. However, after the first leg victory for Atlanta, everything was at stake for the NYRB. The pressure was on them in order to manage to come back at home ground and advance to the MLS Cup final. Therefore, Atlanta had to take the second match seriously. Tata Martino made a bigger change in his team. Now, this analysis going to reveal this change and other differences compared to the first leg.
Atlanta’s defensive set-up
Since Atlanta had been 3 goals lead from the first match they could operate with more defensive manner. In order to this, their base formation was 5-4-1. However, there was no change in line-up. Tata Martino ordered Nagbe and Almiron to the wings, whilst Escobar and Garza dropped to the defensive line.
As wingbacks, Escobar and Garza often moved back to the defensive line in the first match too, but just when the team transitioned into deep defence. Other than this, they remain in high. On the other hand, for this match, they took a deeper position at the start and only temporarily moved out in order to attack.
This slight, but big difference appeared in both’s heat maps. Firstly, you can compare Escobar’s movement. You may see more action in the opponent’s half in the first half.
Secondly, you can spot the difference in Garza’s movement who generally played in a more defensive manner in the first match too. However, the difference is there, he positioned in a more narrow and a slightly deeper zone.
NYRB offensive formation
Armas’ man was the dominant side in terms of possessing the ball more time, therefore the normally used structure transformed into some kind of 2-2-3-3 system. NYRB moved their wingers into the opponent’s defensive line, alongside Phillips. The main goal of NYRB was to play the ball behind the defence, targeting Phillips, Royer or Muyl. Also, often hit early crosses to creates chances for them.
Due to the narrow positioning of the wingers, the fullbacks were critical in order to exploit the wings. Thus they took an offensive role than they used to. Which is a reasonable reaction in a situation where an urge of scoring goals.
Also, the centre midfielders had a major role in play the ball to the opponent’s half. Sometimes even the centre-backs initiated build-up and the attacking phase, but mostly the centre midfielders had this task. Thus Davis and Adams also took a wide position. Consequently, the middle became inaccessible, however, NYRB look to overload the wings.
As you may see above, both players had two big spots that mostly occupied. Firstly, they both had a major position in the wings – Davis at the left and Adams at the right. When NYRB was in possession the ball-near centre-midfield moved out to the wing to play the ball further up. Whilst the ball-far centre-midfielder moved across to provide a central option.
Thus the common scene during NYRB’s attacks looked like this.
NYRB wing-focused attacks
New York RB was able to circulate the ball in their backline. The guests played with a medium-low defensive block and when they were about to press only Nagbe or Almiron were allowed to move out and press. Whilst Martinez often focused on covering the pass route to the centre-midfield.
As you may see, Davis positioned in the halfspace in order to receive the ball and move forward. Thus NYRB immediately looks to pass to wide and attack there. When the ball moved to the wing, the ball-near winger ( Nagbe) moved out to press the opponent on the ball.
You may notice that Atlanta formed a narrow shape in spite they used a 5-man line and 4-man line. However, their primary task was to protect the centre and squeeze the channels into Phillips an Co. in case the opponent want to exploit them. This resulted with space in the flanks, but when the ball was on the wing Atlanta was able to close down the opponent thus NYRB struggled to find a way. In order to outplay this massive defensive scheme, they often attempt to targeting Kaku’s or Royer’s diagonal runs towards the sideline and behind the defence, as you see above. Another pattern was volleys to play the ball into the box.
Nevertheless, the home side struggled to break through the opponent’s defence. They frequently forced to recycle through the centre-backs or even the goalkeeper.
However, one of the most effective tool to break this defence is to overload an area. Which is exactly what NYRB wanted to do. They often created overloaded situations in the wings, although they lack of combinations or other unexpected movements. They still could not create chances.
Atlanta struggles in attack
Due to the high positioning of New York Red Bulls when they were in possession they played with a higher risk. If they lost the ball they must respond quickly and transition into defence. Thus Armas’ man used aggressive counter-pressing in order to prevent the opponent’s counterattacks. Thus when they lost they paid attention to immediately pressuring the ball-carrier and regain in possession. Mostly, the midfielders (Davis and Adams), fullbacks and the centre-backs could press in first case when NYRB lost the ball.
Also, NYRB often surrounded the area around the ball thus when aerial duel occurred they could potentially pick up the ball. Like this:
Another problem with Atlanta’s counterattacks – besides the huge pressure by NYRB – was the positioning of the team. Usually, When they stole the ball they formed a 5-4-1 shape, therefore, most of the players were in the line of the ball or behind the ball. Often the lone option for a forward pass was provided by Martinez. Which is quite weak, especially if the opponent looks to intensely counter-press. This resulted with quickly lost balls for Atlanta.
Furthermore, Atlanta frequently attempted to exploit the space in the right wing that Lade left. Truth to be told, Guzan’s only target was that area through goalkicks. The first one or two occasions, Escobar or Nagbe could attack through there, but by the times went NYRB paid attention to this pattern and cut off these attempts.
After the break, the home side’s dominance continued. However, still was not any big improvement in attacks in terms of creating chances. Although, they showed some promising opportunities.
Firstly, when NYRB used big switch from one side to another, Atlanta’s defence became vulnerable. The attacking team took advantage of the shifting defenders and attacked the space between the players.
With this tool, the NYRB could play the ball to the forward players. Then after losing the ball and regaining they could pass behind the unsettled defence, which ended up in a highly dangerous cross.
Moreover, when NYRB counter-press and regain in possession they could pass the ball behind Atlanta’s defence.
Atlanta limited the opponent’s attacks and options to create chances which is a good thing. However, NYRB did not execute the strategy very well. Which really needed in this stage of the competition.
The first goal was overruled by the referee, but it did not really matter because it came really late of this match. Armas’ man did not give up, but the actual goal occurred at the very end of the match. Also, both goals were from set-pieces.
On the other hand, Tata Martino made a clever move to choose a clever strategy and they managed to avoid big mistakes whilst scoring effectively. These helped to beat New York Red Bulls and advance to the MLS Cup Final. The last step of their journey will be the final against Portland. That will be a whole other story.
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