New manager. Better result.
Atlanta United entered last weekend’s match against Nashville SC desperate for a victory. With interim manager Stephen Glass in charge for the first time, the Five Stripes hosted a match facing more uncertainty than perhaps ever before.
Fortunately for Atlanta, they turned in a much better performance. And while Glass didn’t fundamentally depart from Frank de Boer’s system, he tweaked a few elements to add more solidity to the team.
Most importantly, the team executed Glass’ plans with enthusiasm and urgency, a major departure from the on-field malaise we witnessed last month in Orlando. Let’s take a look at some of the changes Glass made, and how they helped Atlanta to their best performance in quite some time.
Through the Middle
Glass made one major change to the system from MLS is Back, adding a third center midfielder to the mix. In theory, this would give Atlanta more options to build through out of the back, and also helped to provide some important defensive cover. (more on that later).
The main addition to the fold was Matheus Rossetto, who played sparingly last month in Orlando, and was employed in the front three by de Boer during his limited minutes, rather than in the center of the park. The addition of the third center midfielder, in particular one of Rossetto’s profile, paid huge dividends.
What below how Rossetto is able to drop deep next to Eric Remedi to begin the attack, and still has another midfielder in Emerson Hyndman in front of him, who makes the crucial pass to Bello out wide to really get things going.
Now, we see the Brazilian dropping into space, adding another option in the buildup, and driving the team forward.
Late in the match, Mo Adams entered for Hyndman, as Glass moved Rossetto to the point of the midfield triangle, and went to two defensive minded mids rather than one. With inexperienced left back George Bello being forced deeper into defense and an extra CDM, Adams’ fresh legs were easily able to provide cover and pressure down the left side (more on that later). We see an example in possession below, as Adams covers for Bello and then shifts alongside Remedi in midfield, with Rossetto playing in front.
Clearly, Atlanta has slowed the tempo down in attack with two holding midfielders, and are employing both close to the defense in possession.
Covering the Fullbacks
Glass would’ve known after MLS is Back that Atlanta looked quite susceptible on the counter, especially in the spaces left by wing backs who attacked into space high and wide. Glass employed his fullbacks similarly, in particular George Bello, who he made sure to find cover for when he attacked forward, which was often.
But knowing that Bello and Franco Escobar would leave space vacant when they went forward, Glass introduced a couple of plans to provide cover. The images below show the two main options to cover for Bello.
Above, we see either Eric Remedi dropping in (an easier task with three center mids instead of two) or Franco Escobar hanging back to form a de facto back three, and in each case center back Anton Walkes opens up into the exact space left by Bello (stationed high and wide in both images).
Indeed, looking at the average positions, we can see that the onus of the midfield and defense was to protect a vulnerable left side, with Bello (No. 21 below) causing problems in attack.
And although he didn’t get forward quite as often as Bello (shown in the average positions), we all know Escobar (No. 2 above) likes to get forward, too. A look back at the average positions shows that covering for him was a bit more simple. With Brooks Lennon (No. 11) on Escobar’s side, a player who is comfortable coming back defensively, we saw the American simply retreating back from his right midfield position into the space left by Escobar, when possible.
Referring back to the average positions, the above is confirmed, as Lennon on average is playing almost even with Bello on the other side. Whereas Glass used several ways to cover for the space left by Bello, it was more simple on the right.
Bringing it All Together
The tactical execution had a positive impact on Pity Martinez, as well. Although he was listed as starting on the left in attack, we can again see from the average positions earlier that he spent a lot of time playing more centrally, and at least far more centrally than Lennon on the other side, who had more defensive responsibility.
Thanks to Bello providing width, and an extra center midfield option allowing him to stay high up the pitch, Pity feasted in that space centrally, starting, and finishing attacks.
Later in the match, the aforementioned Adams substitution (notice him defending down the left below) allowed Atlanta to add more cover on the left, without forcing Pity to come back defensively down that side.
Safe to say, Atlanta’s solidity and discipline allowed for their most creative player on the pitch to play as he desired, perhaps making the difference in the match.
Minor Tweaks. Major Impact.
The 2-0 win over Nashville SC was a much better performance than any we’d seen at MLS is Back. But the changes employed by Glass are nothing groundbreaking, and may have been employed by de Boer anyway. And Glass also didn’t depart heavily from FdB’s fundamental system of play, either - still insisting that his team get forward and control the match.
In all, we certainly witnessed some strategic tweaks in Stephen Glass’ debut, but hardly a tactical overhaul. However, with a seemingly better environment at training and in the locker room, we saw Atlanta United’s players execute the plan with more urgency and vigor than before, leading to a much better performance all around.