Barco’s back from injury. Pity’s back to the form that earned him a $15 million transfer fee. Josef’s back to winning MLS Player of the Week honors and scoring in back-to-back-to-back-to-you-get-the-idea straight matches. Frank de Boer’s back in the fans’ good graces (mostly). And Atlanta United is back in second in the Eastern Conference (again).
On Sunday against NYCFC, everything seems to have locked back into the high-octane style that we saw last season. The team is nearly at full strength, and the 3-5-2 system seems to once again be best tactical option. Much has been said about the formation allowing Pity more freedom to do what he does, but perhaps most importantly, it’s put Julian Gressel back into his position as a right wingback.
Frank de Boer specifically called out Julian for his MLS Team of the Week performance on Sunday:
“Again, today, was a team effort. Did you see how many balls (Julian Gressel) played across? It was fantastic to see. We saw every time (we had the ball) that we could be a threat to our opponent. For me, it was a really good team performance.”
Gressel had an assist and 6 key passes, the majority of which came from close the right touchline.
Sunday’s match was his best statistical performance since the Fives Stripes crushed Houston 5-0 on July 18. Gressel had 8 key passes that day, including 2 assists. It’s no coincidence that this was the match where FdB moved him back to the right wingback position, where he’s been ever since. Gressel averaged 1.93 key passes per match before that day, never getting more than 3 key passes in a single game. Since the win over the Dynamo, however, Gressel has averaged 5.6 key passes per match and has 5 assists. That’s 5 assists in 5 matches after earning only 3 in the previous 20.
So yeah, he back.
The main tactical job of any manager is to put as many players as he can in positions where they can succeed. It’s not difficult to see what Gressel’s best at, which WhoScored.com summarizes quite well in this sword-heavy table:
These strengths work well in a system that affords him space on the wing, where he can feed the beast (aka Josef Martinez) with gorgeous long balls all day long. It’s why Gressel, perhaps more than any Atlanta United player, has thrived since FdB came back to the loving arms of the 3-5-2.