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Comparing Tactics: Valentino vs. Pineda

How different was Pineda’s Atlanta in his debut 2-0 loss to Nashville?

SOCCER: AUG 15 MLS - LAFC at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rob Valentino capped off his interim time as Atlanta United head coach with four wins in a row, and catapulted the Five Stripes to eighth in the Eastern Conference. Gonzalo Pineda’s first game in charge yesterday against Nashville SC showed he did not change much from Valentino’s system on paper, but several alterations to midfield responsibility created a huge discrepancy in how the team transitioned.

But let’s take a step back and look at what made Atlanta different (and a little bit more successful) under Valentino, and how Pineda’s first lineup at the helm compared.

Wingback Structure

The 3-in-the-back system that Valentino and Pineda favor would have been an exotic experiment under Gabriel Heinze. And while Valentino listed the squad as a 5-3-2, it played more like a 3-4-3, with two narrow attackers underneath Josef Martinez. These narrow and creative threats gave George Bello and Ronald Hernandez/Brooks Lennon the ability to go forward while Santiago Sosa sat deep to provide cover. Sosa was key in offering defensive stability when Atlanta had to transition to defending quickly — a luxury Pineda was not afforded yesterday.

Here, Bello is the furthest player high and wide on the left. Moreno’s conservative approach is also marked.

Moreno’s Freedom

Before Valentino, Marcelino Moreno was confined to the vertical attacking approach of a traditional no. 10, but now he appears to be a true no. 8, and a pivot in the midfield next to Sosa (or Sejdic now that Sosa is out for an extended period of time). Moreno has had the opportunity to start his attacks from deeper in his own half, which gives him the chance to do the two things he loves most: dribble and hit through balls.

The inclusion of Araújo

Finally acquiring an inverted winger in the right side certainly helped Valentino’s tactics. Luiz Araújo came at the right time to cement his spot in the attack. It should be noted that a good portion of Valentino’s success would not have come without the help of Araújo and Barco’s creative ability to swap sides, and press and cover off one another. This attacking liberty freed up central space for Moreno, and attracted defenders to the ball; giving Martinez lanes to make runs in the final third (See clip above).

Here are two examples of Araújo’s positioning in comparison to Barco and Martinez:

Observations under Pineda

Amar Sejdic is not Santiago Sosa; that should clear a lot of the air before discussing Atlanta’s 2-0 defeat in Pineda’s debut match. Pineda actually lined the squad up almost identically to how we would have expected Valentino to. But with that said, the game against Nashville was lost in the midfield.

Moreno may have lined up as a pivot next to Sejdic, but he did anything but help his german teammate defend in the transition. In fact, Moreno spent most of the time hugging the sideline on the left side; sat in front of Bello, and sometimes even behind Barco. During other patterns of play, Barco was the man who came deep to pivot Sejdic.

Here, look at the linear positioning of Barco, Bello, and Moreno.

The relatively free roles Barco and Moreno had, left Sejdic to fend off 1v1’s and 2v1’s the entire match. Given Nashville’s setup, Sejdic could have easily focused his efforts on man-marking Hany Mukhtar in Nashville’s no. 10 role, but instead Sejdic found himself marking nobody because of the overwhelming central presence from the Nashville attack.

Here, look at the amount of space Sejdic was responsible for on his own.

One thing that should be seen as a positive: when down by a goal in the second half, Pineda made changes that were clearly attacking-minded. At one point, Alan Franco and Sejdic came off, and Erik Lopez and Matheus Rossetto came on. Atlanta moved to a traditional defensive structure, and it felt like — just for a few minutes — the Atlanta equalizer was coming. All things considered, mistakes were made and much of Atlanta’s attacking play was passive in the first half, but Pineda showed a real desire to win and took a large chunk of the blame after the match.

The Five Stripes play again at home against Orlando on Sept. 10 — after the international break.