Preview: Atlanta (a).
When? Saturday August 29 , 12.30 p.m. PT, 3.30 p.m. ET and 8.30 p.m. GMT.
Where? Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA.
How can I catch the action? Univision for residents of the United States. Sky Sports Football for us U.K. folk. The game is also available via radio locally (check local listings).
It's hard to accurately predict how this Atlanta side is going to look ahead of this hotly contested derby. The Plastics are in dissaray having endured a torrid time in the MLS Is Back tournament. As usual they made a lot of noise about coming down to Orlando to 'conquer'. The only thing they conquered was Frank De Boer's employment status. The former Ajax great was given his marching orders after 3 successive 0-1 defeats. The job is now being over seen by former Newcastle United midfielder, Stephen Glass. He's the next poor sod charged with making Pity Martínez and Ezequiel Barco not seem like huge wastes of money.
In all truthfulness, this Atlanta team is an entirely different proposition to the team's of the last few years. But no less dangerous. Pity and Barco have both failed to live up to expectations, and having lost the likes of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron... They are simply just not as frightening a prospect. That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous though, just more vulnerable than in 2018. In 2018, you headed to Atlanta expecting a hiding. Now, you go with the belief you can get something. That being said, this is Atlanta United. And you don't need me to tell you, we have a woeful record against them. Now does seem like a good time to address that particular statistic though.
Atlanta is a team who loves to maintain possession of the ball, whilst probing for openings. Nashville gave them openings during their game, which allowed the likes Pity to capitalise. However, one interesting facet of Atlanta's style lies within this possession oriented style of play. You'll note from studying figure 1, that Atlanta play a lot of their football just in front of the opposition's area. A real weakness of this team, is that they struggle to break down defences that hold their shape well. This allows opposing teams, particularly those who press well, to pounce upon any errant passes and get themselves on the front foot. If we press well, this could be something we exploit. Particularly with our pace in forward and wide areas.
Figure 1 Atlanta hold a lot of their possession in front of the back 4, often struggling to break down teams with a strong defensive shape.
They're not a particularly adventurous team, at least not just now. They are very conservative. Even when playing against a team like Nashville at home, they only had 6 shots on goal (4 on frame, 2 off-see figure 2). That's a startingly low statistic. They don't have a tremendous amount of direct players, players who will try and beat their man in a 1 v 1. They attempted only 9 dribbles in their win over Nashville. They seem to be a side severely lacking in confidence. The willingness of some of their more creative players, to get on the ball and create seems to be waining. They only made the goal keeper work on 13 occasions across 3 games during MLS Is Back. Poultry. That being said, underestimate them at your peril. Whilst Barco et al have flattered to deceive for some time now, they are still good players. Good players who will hurt us, if we give them opportunity to.
Figure 2 shows how Nashville bettered Atlanta in shots on goal, dribbles and tackles attempted. All strengths of this Orlando City side.
All that being said, this team can be got at. Particularly if we play our style, the way we all know that we can. Nashville showed this, in flashes, during their defeat in Georgia. If we hold our shape, continue our press whilst allowing our creative players to drive forward. Then maybe, just maybe, we'll all be smiling again come Saturday evening.
Atlanta do have a few injury concerns heading into this match-up. Primarily with Fernando Mesa and Ezequiel Barco, both of whom are listed as questionable on the MLS injury report. Both are nursing undisclosed injuries.
Josef Martinez continues to be out with the torn ACL he suffered back in February.
As for Orlando City, Dom Dwyer is obviously a long term absentee. There are no fresh injury concerns to speak of as far as the Lions are concerned. Matheus Aiás is still unavailable to the team, following his free transfer signing from Watford.
Possible starting XI
I would expect Atlanta... *Atchoo*. Sorry, I'm allergic to bullshit. Apologies, I just can't help myself sometimes. As I was saying, Atlanta will likely line-up in a 3-4-3 formation. With Stephen Glass currently sweating on the fitness of Fernando Mesa, I would expect Miles Robinson to deputise in an, otherwise, unchanged line-up. Atlanta's game against Fort Lauderdale didn't go ahead as planned. Both sides opted not to play the fixture in a protest against police brutality. We can look at this break in one of two ways. One, they will be fresher than Orlando having had a longer break. Or two, my preferred option, they will likely be a bit leggier having not played very much football since their early exit from MLS Is Back.
*Edit: scobar's suspension will carry over, as it was due to be served on Wednesday.
The former River Plate man was seen by many as the heir apparent to Miguel Almiron. Sadly, for the Argentine, it hasn't quite worked out for him thus far. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security though. Martinez is still a top player on his day. We have found that out, to our cost, previously. The number 10 is an excellent finisher, given half the chance. Having started his career with Club Atlético Huracán of Argentina, Pity earned a move to River Plate following 8 goals in 93 games for the Quemeros. A further 22 goals in 94 appearances for the Buenos Aires based giants followed. This form earned him a big money move to Atlanta. He's never quite hit the heights for the Plastics though, with only 7 in 38 MLS outings so far. He did score the winner against us in 2019 though. Sorry. I know, I'm disappointed in myself for bringing it up too.
Whilst Orlando were charging towards the MLS Is Back final, Atlanta were at at home twiddling their thumbs. They are 3-0-3 on the season so far, having lost every game at MLS Is Back. They did, however, nab a fortunate win over Nashville last time out. Orlando, meanwhile, are 3-2-2 following their impressive win over the same opponents on Wednesday evening.
All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com
Highlights courtesy of Major League Soccer on YouTube.
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com