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Tactical Preview: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United

Lineups are out, here’s what to expect in Atlanta from a tactical approach.

Hello and welcome to this week’s tactical preview of Columbus Crew SC vs. Atlanta United. The Black & Gold travel to Atlanta for a 7pm ET kickoff and look to gain points on their Eastern Conference foes away from home. Lineups have been announced so let’s see what we can expect from Gregg Berhalter’s team today and what we expect the Atlanta United team to bring.

This week’s starting XI for Crew SC is back to a more predictable team. In the side’s last MLS match, we saw a similar tactical setup and similar personnel but with an entirely different backline. This match also sees Zack Steffen return to the starting XI.

Both teams played midweek against USL contenders and carried some stars through those matches but opted to retain their core squad in today’s contest.

Steffen; Raitala, Jonathan, Williams, Afful; Artur, Trapp; Meram, Pipa, Finlay; Kamara
Starting XI Columbus Crew SC vs. Atlanta United, June 17, 2017.
Nathaniel Marhefka

Today is a great example of how formation does not dictate style of play, as our Kris Landis pointed out several weeks ago. Here, both teams line up in a 4-2-3-1 tactical formation, but expect them to operate very differently.

Crew SC will operate a 3-4-3 while in possession by dispatching the wingbacks high up the pitch in favor of attacking half width. This will be secured at the back as Wil Trapp vacates his central midfield position to play in between the center backs to aide in distribution and defensively solidity on the counter-attack. Artur will be the man in the middle who operates in the half-spaces attempting to break up the defensive structure of Atlanta and enable passes into the second and third receiving lines. Expect Justin Meram to pinch inwards and force Atlanta holding midfielder Jeff Larentowicz to either attempt to mark both he and Higuain or force Carmona into the same area.

United on the other hand will feel very comfortable allowing Columbus to take their width while packing the center of the pitch defensively. As Kris Landis and I commented on in this week’s Massive MatchDay podcast, expect Atlanta to look to exploit on the counter in this one. Their primary offensive outlets are going to come from the wing in speedy wingers Yamil Asad and Julian Gressel. There was thought that Josef Martinez or Kevin Kratz would play today for some more technical play but I believe the former Barcelona manager has opted for a counter-attacking game plan to exploit weaknesses in the Crew SC transitional game.

While in possession, Atlanta United likes to be cautious on the ball, taking their time to move the opponent's defense out of position. Crew SC has a very passive defensive style situated in a medium-block 4-4-2, so expect Atlanta to find difficulty finding a lot of space in the attacking third. Their offensive third gameplan will likely be to draw the Crew SC defense out to the flanks as the compactness will cause issues for them otherwise in the center of the park.

Berhalter’s defensive block aims to choke out teams in the center of the pitch while not applying too much forward pressure. For the most part, the team likes to keep the opposition contained in between the left and right half-spaces (generally, in between the width of the 18 yard box). Atlanta will want to change this. Expect overloads to one side while the center backs command the ball from deep. Both Michael Parkhurst and Gonzalez Perez are very good at this. The mobile wingers and wingbacks will look to spread wide on the near side to draw the outside midfielder and outside back of Crew SC to the flanks. If they succeed in this, Atlanta then has a positional and man-advantage in the center, thus generating a free man fairly easily. Compactness will be key for Crew SC

Crew SC medium-block 4-4-2 against Atlanta’s expected overloads on the near side of the ball.
Nathaniel Marhefka

Both team’s like to possess and have the capability to attack quickly. This one has the potential to either be a thrilling high-scoring match or one that is constantly contested in the midfield third. Follow us on twitter or down in the comments section if you’d like to engage in discussion during or after the game.