Tata Martino is often described as a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa. “El Loco” differs from Tata in one critical way, the base formation from which his tactics take shape. Bielsa’s teams typically play from a 3-4-3 formation while Martino works out of the 4-3-3.
Martino’s 4-3-3 will morph from into a 4-1-4-1 when attacking, or even a 4-1-2-3, and could look like a 5-4-1 at its most defensive. The fluidity is a key element of his system of play, and something that will take time to develop with a new group. It could look more rigid early in the season and open up as players become more comfortable with what Martino asks of them.
Let’s take a look at each position group, what Martino expects out of them, and what Atlanta United might be missing right now.
Martino’s fingerprints are all over the acquisitions made so far on the defensive side of the ball. He wants his defenders to be able to play with the ball at their feet and initiate attacks. Everyone in the squad so far is a good fit for this. Michael Parkhurst and Zach Loyd were likely targeted for this very reason. Reportedly, the club is targeting another center back who will be a likely starter. Jeff Larentowicz’s signing also provides some depth here as he has often played as a center back.
The outside backs will be expected to get forward and join into the attack. Greg Garza and Mark Bloom have shown this capability consistently during their careers. Mikey Ambrose’s technical ability should be a good fit for this type of role as well.
When looking at the way they line up, do not think of Martino’s midfield in a straight line. The three midfielders in this setup will be central and have differing roles. It will function like a triangle.
When the outside backs go forward, the defensive midfielder will drop deeper and function as a third center back. This is why Javier Mascherano was such a great fit for Martino at Barcelona and again with the Argentina national team. He was equally comfortable in the midfield or in the backline. Jeff Larentowicz’s signing makes a great deal of sense when considering this, as he has played nearly equally as a center back or as a defensive midfielder in recent years. Chris McCann’s experience in the back will also be useful when he is tasked with this role.
In a perfect world for Martino, he would like to have the midfield anchored by a single player and have the other two central midfielders able to be free to join in the attack. He has been known to play with two defensive midfielders as well, but not as often. Chris McCann is a player who could be the tactical bridge for Martino if needed, one who is equally comfortable in a defensive midfield role or in a box-to-box role. Kevin Kratz and Harrison Heath also bring this ability to the table.
Miguel Almirón is a perfect fit for one of these central attacking midfield roles. While Atlanta United has given him the #10 shirt and called him the playmaker, and others have said he is more suited to the left wing, Almirón has often been described as a “flying 8” in the South American media. His speed and anticipation are very useful in a central role, operating from box-to-box. He is able to create turnovers and initiate counterattacks. Chris Goslin, if he does not go out on loan, will have a great player to learn from as a central midfielder.
I would expect that a key signing is made to fill the other central midfield slot. Oscar Romero would have been a prime fit as more of a traditional #10. We will have to wait and see who could be available and what tactical variances that player would bring.
I’m including the wingers in this section, even though they will have very different responsibilities than the center forward.
Depending on the team and the opponent, Martino has deployed wingers who primarily tuck inside and wingers who will hug the sideline. He even had a center forward fill this role during his time with the Paraguay national team, either Lucas Barrios or Roque Santa Cruz would drift out to a wing with a more traditional winger on the opposite side.
On the right side, it is expected that Tito Villalba will be the starter. Currently, Jacob Peterson is the best option on the left. Another key player on the wing will likely be needed before Opening Day.
He has shown flexibility at the forward role as well, using targets and false nine’s. He has used players with characteristics like Kenwyne Jones or Brandon Vazquez, large target forwards that spearhead the attack. He also used Cesc Fabregas in a center forward role while at Barcelona, playing closer to a false nine. Ignacio Scocco was a key figure in Martino’s successful Newell’s Old Boys teams in the forward role, he had previously been a central attacking midfielder or second forward.
In Atlanta right now, Martino has the two target forwards in Jones and Vazquez. He has smaller, faster options in Romario Williams and Jeffrey Otoo. He even has Villalba, who featured a second forward early in his career with San Lorenzo.
Today’s most likely starting lineup
- The rumored addition of a “top level” center back would likely push Loyd to the bench, or possibly to right back.
- An acquisition in the central midfield would likely result in McCann replacing Larentowicz as the starting defensive midfielder.
- An addition on the left wing would likely see Peterson become an option off the bench on either wing.