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Atlanta United vs. LA Galaxy: Three Questions with LAG Confidential

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No Zlatan, no problem? Maybe not.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United fans wanting to get a glimpse of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium today will be disappointed as the Swedish striker picked up a yellow card against the Portland Timbers last Saturday, his fifth of the season and one that equals a one-match suspension. Hopefully, we’re still treated to a great match in front of 70,000-plus.

So where do the Galaxy, led byAtlanta United head coaching candidate Guillermo Barros Schelotto, turn without their leading scorer? To get some insight, I caught up with Mike Gray from our sister site, LAG Confidential.

The Galaxy are one of several clubs with a first-time head coach at the helm. In Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s case, as opposed to Frank de Boer, he came in already knowing the lay of the land in MLS as a former league MVP. What is his overall philosophy and how has the team taken to it over the first 22 matches of the season?

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good question, and one we haven’t fully figured out ourselves.

With the help of GM Dennis te Kloese, the Schelotto twins have done a great job during what is actually a rebuilding year in disguise. The Galaxy roster is talented but uneven, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s lack of mobility prevents LA from transitioning in attack nor pressing the opponent very effectively.

So essentially LA are a very direct team which relies on service from the wings and Ibra’s finishing ability. Yes, the Galaxy are tied for the fourth worst attack in the league, but the coaching staff have done well to manage results. While LA have looked hopelessly predictable at times, it should be noted the loss of Romain Alessandrini was massive. Despite the Designated Player not performing at his best, the Galaxy were a perfect 5-0-0 with him in the lineup.

This is the same group that beat league leaders LAFC but followed it up with a heavy 4-0 loss to Portland (with a Leagues Cup quarterfinal against Xolos sandwiched in between). LAFC looks like it will with the Supporters Shield at the absolute worst, but how do the Galaxy separate itself from a cluttered group between 3rd and 8th?

Take it one game at a time while rotating the squad during a crucial August stretch. There was always a suspicion Schelotto would have to juggle his lineup over the duration of the season. LA are reportedly this close to signing Boca Juniors winger Cristian Pavón, and Romain Alessandrini is scheduled to return mid-September. If the Galaxy can continue to win games until those two are integrated into the lineup, watch out. The result looks bad on paper, but on a night when the Galaxy when played better than the scoreline suggests, the loss will hopefully go down as a learning lesson.

Zlatan is obviously the main draw, but he won’t play on Saturday due to yellow card accumulation. Given that he’s scored just over half of the club’s goals, what tone do you think Saturday’s match will take if the Galaxy are to win?

Traveling cross-country on turf is enough of a challenge without two spine pieces in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Polenta. LA will likely have to replicate their performance earlier in the year at Orlando City, when they sat in a deep block and chose their moments to push up and cobble together chances.