What can be better than closing September with the top two teams doing battle in the MLS?
Last weekend, New York Red Bulls hosted the current leaders Atlanta United. Therefore, it was a highly important clash for both sides. If Atlanta could win then they could have gained a bigger gap between themselves and New York Red Bulls. But if the home side could leave the pitch with three points then they would be a step closer to top spot.
On one hand, Atlanta were on a three-game winning streak and they took a step closer to qualifying to the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
On the other hand, they had a draw in their last meeting in 2017. Also, Red Bull Arena became a tough place to win after Chris Armas’ side beat Toronto 2-0 last weekend. However, the home side had to line-up for this match without their best, Bradley Wright-Philips, due to suspension.
Disrupting Atlanta’s build-up
NYRB had a clear plan for this game which relied on high pressing. Put pressure on the opponent deep in their half, then build-up with tight marking and then don’t allow them to progress. This wouldn’t allow them to threaten the goal. If even possible, stealing the ball in the opponent’s half and creating quick attacks. Chris Armes’ side succeeded with the press, thus Atlanta were unable to build-up effectively, but they failed to really recover the ball to set up the transitional attacks.
The execution of the press started from their base formation of 4-2-3-1 which is shown in the image below.
The wingers paired with the opponent’s full-backs as you see from the image above. While Kaku stayed close to the deepest midfielder, and the striker, White pressing the ball-carrier, Parkhurst.
However, for the most of the time, NYRB moved higher up and pressed deep in the build-up. Despite Atlanta trying to stretch the shape in order to gain space, the lack of passing options and the pressure on the receiver made it really difficult to overcome. The aim was to force the opponents to the flanks or to use long balls.
Either way, it resulted in a change of possession. Therefore, Atlanta’s build-up completely collapsed. They could not deal with this. However, they tried to beat some of these attempts, but due to wrong decision-making or bad executions from players, it usually failed. In some occasions where Parkhurst got the ball the slow decision-making resulted in bad circumstances to progress.
In other instances, he was able to beat his marker and then pass to the free zone. Although Pirez had time and space on the ball, which would encourage him to progress to reach a better solution, he chose to immediately pass to an advanced teammate. Of course, this risky pass became a lost ball, but the potential is there. With better decision-making, this could be a good solution for bypassing these kinds of aggressive presses.
The bad decision-making appeared in even a successful build-up. One of the few good scenarios when Atlanta was able to build-up from deep was the one in the image below.
The full-back passes to the dropping wing-back – Gressel – who would pass it back, rather than choosing a horizontal pass to a teammate. In the end, they would reach the opponent’s half, but in a difficult manner.
Dominate the game
As a consequence of the broken build-up, Atlanta rarely reached the opponent’s box or created chances, thus NYRB became dominant in this game. The possession was not significant because the difference was only 2% (51-49%), but in actions like shots, NYRB had a huge advantage. They had seven shots in the first half, while Atlanta only had the one.
When Atlanta had the opportunity to press, the home side found a way to overcome that.
Through numerical superiority.
In this situation, Gressel pressed the respective full-back (Lawrence), while his teammates marked the nearby passing options. The advanced players also dropped to help the build-up which allowed Davis to step up as a free pass option.
Or creating triangles.
Almost the same situation. Atlanta’s man coverage appeared again, but with the dropped players, NYRB was able to create a triangle and outplay the press with great connectivity.
Nevertheless, the home side could not score for a long time despite being dominant.
However, getting closer to the end of the half NYRB were able to speed up the game and enlarge the pressure on the opponent’s defence. Saying that to create a chance was a difficult task though.
In this part of the game, Atlanta moved a bit deeper due to the higher threat, while NYRB gained space in the opponent’s half. Atlanta’s only option for scoring or even creating chances was through the counter-attack. Therefore, the far-sided full-back moved infield to provide a cover with his team-mates.
A promising period after the break
Probably the half-time speech from Tata Martino helped his team perform a bit better, which was evident in the first minutes of the second half. Also, NYRB became slightly defensive-minded which was a natural reaction for the intense first half and due to the lead. However, Atlanta still struggled during the build-up, but there were more occasions when they were able to beat the opponent’s press.
And this was not the only time. Later on in this match, there was a situation that I would like to highlight. Atlanta bypass the opponent’s defence with a vertical pass, but then the receiver lacked supporting movement from his teammates.
Moreover, due to the less tight man-to-man marking from the home side, Atlanta made a really great progression from deep. First, Parkhurst beat his marker and made a diagonal pass to a teammate, which means they just bypassed two lines of the press with one singular pass.
The decision-making issue came after that. McCann got the ball close to the touchline, while Nagbe dragged two opponents out of their position. This movement opened up space for Davis. Atlanta did not recognise this opportunity tough, therefore, instead of the horizontal pass, McCann passed back to Pirez.
For most of the aspects of the game Atlanta improved, but they still have some issues. However, they reached the opponents half far more times than they did in the first half. Despite the dominant possession (60%) in the second half and the much more shots (7), they struggled to create clear or quality scoring chances.
On the other hand, NYRB were able to create dangerous situations almost anytime they wanted. Around the 72nd minute, they attacked, and after Atlanta defended a corner they recovered the ball quickly then found the space in the opponent’s defence. After a ground pass to the centre of the penalty area, Tim Parker scored.
Another goal means the clash is technically over.
New York Red Bull came to the game with a clear and good plan that they executed well. Whilst Atlanta could handle the pressure that they experienced in their build-up. Tata Martino’s men failed to really find a solution.
Truth to be told, there were good periods for Atlanta, but in some elements, they lacked. Therefore, they could not realise this improvement in goals. Added with that, the tactical problems were met with some bad individual performances. Overall, they were unable to beat NYRB this time, but Atlanta will have an opportunity to improve.