Atlanta United tallied 70 goals in their inaugural season, the most ever by an expansion team and the fifth most all-time in a single MLS season. Atlanta United have just added an 18-year-old attacking dynamo in the form of Ezequiel Barco and only appear to be losing Yamil Asad from their 2017 attacking core.
Asad’s contributions and impact on the side cannot be understated. We’ve already covered that he’ll be dearly missed and that Barco will have big shoes to fill. So, now that the deal is official and Zeke Boat has arrived, how will he fit into an already ridiculously talented Five Stripes attack? There are several possibilities and while we won’t know for sure until Atlanta open the season in Houston on March 3 and Tata picks the lineup, we can throw out some common sense predictions. Here’s what we’re thinking:
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The simplest answer is most of the time the correct one. Conventional wisdom says that not much will change in 2018 as far as tactics and shape are concerned. Barco is capable of playing multiple positions. He can play either wing position, as a natural No. 10 and as a second striker. It makes perfect sense that he’d be slotted right into the left wing slot that Asad occupied for all of the inaugural season.
He played that exact spot in the Copa Sudamericana final for Independiente and did it very well. His dynamism on the wing is undeniable as he’s able to beat defenders on the dribble and open tons of space on the field for himself and his teammates.
This single-game highlight reel of Barco from the second leg of that final against Flamengo shows exactly how hard it is to mark him. Even though he’s deployed as a left winger, he can be seen drifting into the midfield gaps behind the striker. He even floats all the way to the other flank from time to time when the run of play calls for it.
Just because Barco is put on the left wing and Miguel Almiron is lined up in the center in this particular formations doesn’t mean they’ll be cemented there through the 90 minutes. Almiron can drift to the wing or even drop back deeper allowing Barco to take the attacking reins when necessary.
No. 8 is the No. 10
Another possible option is putting Barco into the middle of it all and letting him pull the strings. As talented as Almiron is and despite his actual shirt number, he’s not your prototypical No. 10. Miggy is creative, but he’s so much more. He loves to sprint up and down the field, find space and attack. That’s why you see him drifting wide left a lot of the time. It can sometimes be frustrating to see him out wide when you want your most creative player in the playmaking areas of the field. That’s the beauty of Barco’s addition. You can have the best of both worlds in allowing Miggy to do his natural drifting while still having someone there to pull the strings.
As stated above, you’ll very likely see the two interchange when the time calls for it, but could Barco be relied on to be the primary playmaker and Miggy to add the width? It’s not the craziest outcome considering the talent on the field.
Tata Martino is no stranger to three-at-the-back formations. With the personnel brought in this offseason he now has even more of a reason to throw caution to the wind and implement a formation like this. With Barco and Darlington Nagbe, two supremely technical players, added to the lineup you have to expect that Atlanta will enjoy the majority of possession in nearly every match they play. That means they’ll be facing teams sitting deep and even bunkering. That’ll make formations like this a necessity to open up space to attack through.
In a 3-5-2 like this it would see Barco play in a more advanced position. He would be combining with Josef Martinez and Almiron as the attacking trio relied on to make the magic happen against 9, 10 or even 11 guys behind the ball. The issue with this formation is that it relies heavily on wingbacks and Tito Villalba is not a natural wingback. His work rate is second to none, but he’s not a defensive wizard so you have to be very confident that your opponent won’t have many chances to push forward to play this.
As the current roster stands, these three possibilities seem like the most likely looks we’ll see this season. Tata could have some tricks up his sleeve that none of us are anticipating, but I don’t think anyone would complain about any of these three lineups. Head down to the comments and let us know what XI we’ll see now that Barco is here.