Tata Martino and Atlanta United got it all wrong last week in Houston. How did the changes in formation and roles help change the result for the Five Stripes? By simplifying the roles and providing the high-priced attacking talent a platform built on dedicated support.
Last week, Tata Martino deployed Atlanta United in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Almiron and Villalba playing wide on the touch line and two fullbacks. The problems in the channels came quick and often and it led to a 4-0 disaster.
Tata Martino’s new 3-5-2 formation placed Larentowicz back in his natural position of center defensive mid. Julian Gressel was moved to a much wider and deeper starting position, and he practically dominated from the right midfield position that gave Atlanta United so much trouble in the Houston loss. The new formation put Villalba up top to help Josef Martinez.
Moving Villabla further upfield also created more room in the midfield where Nagbe and Almiron are more comfortable. Larentowicz spent more time covering for these two attack minded midfielders than he did shielding the back three of Escobar, Parkhurst, and Gonzalez Pirez. That simple deference in the types of defending Larentowicz is required to do in a game will most likely forebode the game’s outcome.
Atlanta had 53% possession on the stat sheet but dominated possession to a much greater degree. Atlanta was at ease in possession. Early in the second half it seemed more that they were allowing possession more than they could not gain it back. Tata Martino started the second half by giving DC United and Ben Olsen just enough rope to hang themselves. It did not take long.
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Not having offensive responsibilities made Escobar far more effective defensively and in possession. By simplifying his role, Martino allowed Escobar to play a better game. Three interceptions helped to kill any DC United attacks. Escobar had 19 passes completed in DC’s half, 27 in Atlanta’s own, and ten in the attacking final third. Martino put Escobar in a role that allowed him to play instead of think and it worked.
Gressel had a poor game against Houston, always disconnected from his supporting lines and far too upfield to protect his team defensively. He was ineffective at best. Against DC United, the Audi Index has him as the second-best player on the pitch and one could argue that Almiron only had the space and chances he did because of Gressel’s supporting work.
In the loss, Tata played four at the back with both Garza and Escobar tasked with getting up field. This either left them pinned back or caught up field and chasing and Houston exploiting the space in between. Having three dedicated defenders gave Atlanta the platform that was missing last week.
Tata Martino had not previously dealt with 4-0 losses on an opening day. His willingness to change his tactics and formation completely was paramount to his team’s success. Tata is taking time with his ideas and developing the identity of the club. Over 72,000 strong wholeheartedly approve of Tata’s philosophy.