In the days leading to Wednesday’s Atlanta United match against FC Cincinnati, the rhetoric was mainly about not attempting to change too much while also getting "these guys smiling again," according to interim head coach Rob Valentino. Let's take a look to see how the ATLUTD staff looked to set up against Cincy.
Valentino has been with the club since the inception, perhaps able to absorb and apply much of what has worked with the players on this roster. Previously, we discussed how Heinze looked to play in dynamic triangles, counter-pressing and man orientation. Here’s a tweet of maybe what he was trying to get to... Valentino asked for less and maybe found more joy.
Atlanta lined up in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 set up
This would be just the first of many similarities to the Tata days.
Full-Backs and Wingers:
In the attack: A staple of the Tata days — the dynamic interchanges between wings and full backs (Think of Garza and Asad, Gressel and Tito) were reintroduced. Lennon and Mulraney from the right, Chol and Hernandez from the left. Instead of triangles of three, where interchange relied on awareness from all, the underlaps and overlaps from these pairs were... well... simpler. So while 2 heads are better than one, 3 was a crowd and created confusion. Wednesday, the dynamic appeared vertical, quick, and dangerous.
Hernandez, perhaps playing on his weaker side, made these runs faithfully through the night. The Chol/Hernandez pair was less effective than the right side.
And the goal below-
Lennon underlaps and drives with pace into the assist zone. I personally have been critical that Lennon doesn't seem to want to drive at opponents, but was very glad to see this from him tonight. He and Mulraney work well in tandem. Lennon utilized overlaps or underlaps in 8th, 32nd, 41st, 73rd minutes and all were very positive and direct.
Defensively: As Sosa (the líbero) was tasked in a different but same role tonight, the outside backs were asked to do much more defensively. Early on, Cincy seemed to try and exploit Hernandez on the left side in aerial duels (Duels that previously Walkes would've been asked to win). Additionally, they were asked to keep up with wingers deeper within own half and then recover after those long overlaps and underlaps. Under Heinze they could simply mark the nearest players and the base of the triangle to filled in for them. Under Tata, those fullbacks and wingers did work, same tonight.
Here's an example from each side
Sosa in a Larentowicz role
Early in the Tata years we began to notice how in the build up Jeff would be asked to split LGP and Parky in order to provide one more man than the opposition when pressed. Tata trusted Jeff to read the situation to drop into the backline: If they pressed with 2, he would drop, if they pressed with just 1 he would stay in midfield. Here, I must confess how difficult it is to say how much tweaking was really done on the night, as Cincy played in a 4-2-3-1 with a lone striker for most of the night. Sosa dropping into the back line was mostly unnecessary both defensively and in the build up. Sosa did consistently drop to create "La Salida Lavolpiana" from time to time, but also he didn't when the situation didn't seem to call for it.
In this clip you'll see him read the situation to provide options advanced of the line, but also drop in when the situation calls for it. (constant scanning)
Later, Cincy had a midfielder mark Sosa and also man mark the cbs, in this situation ATL elected to play long. (minute 20)
Additionally, Sejdic and Sosa served as shuttlers and field switchers for most of the night, but, most notably, they were not asked to interchange with the wings and outside backs.
Defensively Sejdic and Sosa were mostly tasked with, well... man-marking. But I'll get more into that later.
No. 10 Moreno
Tonight, I think we saw the best of Marcelino. Not saying it was his best game, but perhaps the system provided him the best platform to do what he does well. It's going to sound hyperbolic, but at times, the way he was able to drive at opposition back lines was... Miguel-esque? I know, I know. And while I don’t have the advanced stats about how often he pressures opponents I can’t help but FEEL that the guy puts in solid defensive work night after night.
Marcelino was granted freedom to pop into pockets of space behind the opposition’s midfield line as there was central solidity provided by Sosa and Sejdic. He was allowed to be brave. He was Sofascore's man of the match with 5/5 successful dribbles, 12 ground duels won, 2 shots and fouled 7 times. Like Miggy, I hope he finds his scoring touch.
4-4-2 Mid-Block and Later 4-3-3 press
Tata adapted to the 3-5-2 to take advantage of the space behind when Atlanta forced the opponent into the game. One of the things I've wondered about is with all the pace in the lineup, why not adapt to, at least, a mid-block? Reasons being that it allows you space in-behind for someone like Josef to attack, while also keeping reasonable distance from goal and lots of energy saved. It was clear that lots is still to be coached if this was going to be applied in the next match.
The shape defensively aimed to overload the middle and then with the ball was played to the outside backs either wing would pressure and the opposite side would tuck in. It's definitely a work in progress.
And while Cincy only scored 1, they still scored 1. The breakdown occurred as there wasn't a whole lot of time to coach it. Again, Sejdic and Sosa were to mark. After recovering from a traumatic facial injury, Acosta...
In my view, there's a miscommunication — or at least not on the same page — between Sejdic and Sosa. Lucho gets in the pocket behind Sosa and in front of back line. Brenner drags Franco out of position. Sosa isn't goalside of Acosta and Acosta pulls off some Raccoon Witch Magic.
Enter Josef and Rossetto
With these introductions in the 66' there was a real statement of intent. Josef was obvious but Rossetto's energy also made it possible. Immediately the defensive system switched to a 4-3-3 press and from there Atlanta dominated the chances. The goal didn’t come from the press, but it was interesting to see how a version of the Peachtree press came back (yes, I'm reaching).
When the press was broken, Atlanta dropped into a 4-5-1 shape. But to be honest, Cincy switched to a 5-3-2 almost immediately after seeing this press and the whole game went weird.
The Who Scored summary states:
So the cat is out of the bag now. This was fun to watch and reminisce. It will only get more difficult as teams will now have a chance to prepare against this, but let’s enjoy it.