Atlanta United have signed Legia Warszawa defensive midfielder Bartosz Slisz. The 24-year-old has made 6 appearances for the Polish national team and has appeared in numerous Europa League and Champions League matches. It is extremely hard to find highlights of Slisz online; his only highlights are on Vimeo. But, with the information available, here is a tactical breakdown on why he may be the #6 Atlanta has been looking for since the departure of Darlington Nagbe.
Here are the links to the highlight videos I will be referencing during the article. They will be referred to as video 1, 2, and 3.
From his initial highlights, Slisz seems to play more of a transitional 8 role than that of a 6 just because of how often he gets into the attacking third. His awareness of space around him allows for very efficient short and long passing as well as runs into the final third and the space between fullback and center back. These runs are one of the biggest strongsuits in his game and constantly create scoring opportunities in Pineda’s “primary assist zones” for himself and his teammates. He usually does this by dragging the defenders out wide and combining with his #8 for simple one-twos or running at the defenders himself with a 70% dribbling success rate.
Not only is Slisz an efficient passer with a 90% completion rate, he has an 85% success rate on balls played into the final third. This rate is so high for two main reasons, the first being switching the field of play from a central position, similar to how Thiago Almada already does for Atlanta. Slisz consistently swings balls to either his fullbacks or wingers with pin-point accuracy. This can be seen throughout the second video, my favorite being at the 4:32 mark. This would allow Almada to stay higher up the field and not be forced to drop back to push the team forward. We saw Muyumba do this a tad during last season, but not consistently. Slisz helps Pineda-ball’s building out from the back so that United is no longer toothless without their star player.
The second main reason Slisz’s success rate is so high is because of how often he pushes out wide to combine with Legia’s wingers and wingbacks. Not only does he do this to make runs into space, he does it to whip in quick crosses, dropping behind the winger or fullback to receive the ball. Watch from 1:41-3:19 in the first highlight reel. Dare I say it, but some of his balls are comparable to those of Julian Gressel. If you continue to watch the first video and the third, you’ll also see countless through balls played on the ground with just enough weight for his teammates to reach. He could be an outlet for our attackers when Brooks Lennon pushes up the field, as he commonly does, and play great transitional through-balls on the counter-attack to Saba, Silva, or Almada.
A main strength of Slisz’s game that I haven’t touched upon is his defending. With all his attacking prowess, Slisz really is a true #6. He excels at reading a play before it even happens, similar to what cornerbacks and safeties need to do in the NFL. He is extremely quick and uses that to his advantage, tackling defenders right when they take their first touch or try to turn. But, better than his timing is his positioning with and without pressure. Once the ball is won, he will comfortably shield it, keeping his body in front of the defender with relative ease. Even when the ball isn’t won, he is constantly on the opponent’s back and turns his body to face where the opponent is taking his next touch so he can cut him off. When defending 2v1, 3v1, or 3v2 situations, he sets himself in the perfect spot to cut off the passing option and then will quickly close down on the dribbling attacker.
Slisz sits back as a true 6 in the midfield and then decides to either step quickly or shift with the opponents and hold his defensive shape. He only seems like an 8 because when he does decide to step, he often wins the ball and uses his speed to run at his opponent. Doing this often draws fouls, maybe not as many as Barco did during his time in Atlanta, but a surprisingly high amount for a 6. From 1:03 to 2:43 in the third video and plenty more times in the others, Slisz proves he is a quality defensive midfielder.
Some minor strengths of Slisz include a surprisingly good heading ability, having scored a diving header and a few other airborne goals (second video), combination play with his #8, usually involving 1-2s, and the ability to go around the opponent when they are shielding to win the ball back.
It is very challenging to find concrete weaknesses in Slisz’s game with only 3 videos that show his best attributes. However, the videos do show his not-so-accurate shooting. He does hit his shots with good pace, but when low, they don’t really test the keeper. I say when low as about 80% of the time, he hits his shots too high or over the bar. He comes close, for sure, and even hits one sweet volley at 1:49 in the second video, but most shots force the keeper to stick his hands up or just watch the ball fly into the stands.
Another weakness is his frame. He relies heavily on his positioning because he is only 5’11” and rather thin. If he doesn’t get set or step correctly, he could easily get bullied off of the ball by MLS’ larger forwards.
Finally, his stats on the surface seem like a cause for concern. This year, he only has 1 goal and 3 assists. In the 3 seasons before that he played without injury (2021-22 he was hurt), he only had 4 goals and 6 assists. This may be a cause of concern that maybe he doesn’t get into primary assist zones as often as his highlights show. However, Darlington Nagbe has similar statistics, so I wouldn’t worry too much.
At worst, Slisz is an above-average MLS midfielder that will play well but not fit with Muyumba, as they are too similar of players. Realistically, he could be one of the top midfielders in the league and combines very well with Muyumba (yes, they are similar, but probably have enough differences in play to work well together), Lennon, Silva, Saba, and GG. But from what his tape has shown, Bartosz Slisz might be the long-awaited Nagbe replacement for Atlanta United. He is a bit of a different player than Nagbe, that’s for sure. But, his understanding of the game, his positioning and execution on defense, and his ability to hit transitional passes into the final third and combine with the midfield are second to none. He can hopefully be a better Nagbe substitute than Atlanta fans could ever dream of.
How do you feel about Slisz joining Atlanta? Do you see him fitting into Gonzalo Pineda’s tactics? Let us know in the comments below.