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Massive Scouting Report: A quick rematch with Atlanta offers a swift shot at revenge

Just two weeks after the clubs’ first-ever meeting, Crew SC hosts Atlanta

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC
After a strong performance against Montreal, Federico Higuain will look to recreate the form in a rematch with Atlanta.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in two weeks, Columbus Crew SC will clash with ambitious MLS expansion side Atlanta United on Saturday. This time things will go down at MAPFRE Stadium, with the Black & Gold hoping some home comfort will lead to a different result.

I’ll keep this short and sweet, since we just previewed the matchup recently, but will try to remind you of the key points.

At a Glance

Record: 7-7-3

Form: LLWLW

It’s been all or nothing for Atlanta during the last month. Its only two wins during that stretch have come against Columbus and Western Conference bottom feeders the Colorado Rapids. Take that for what it’s worth. ATLU also dropped a U.S. Open Cup game midweek to NASL side Miami FC, though it was mostly a reserve side for Atlanta.

Formation: 4-2-3-1

Goal leader: Miguel Almiron 8, Josef Martinez 7

Assist leader: Yamil Assad 7, Julian Gressel 5

Info you need

Why do hard work twice? Here’s some recent content that will help you prepare for Saturday’s matchup, and it’s all just a click away.

Relive the last meeting (though you may not want to) HERE.

You can read Nathaniel Marhefka’s tactical preview of the matchup HERE.

Get to know Atlanta United better with my original Massive Scouting Report HERE.

Check in with the Massive Matchday podcast as Nate and Kris Landis chat about things that include the upcoming game HERE.

What we learned the first time around

So what went wrong in the first meeting?

Atlanta was able to play to its strengths, Columbus made mistakes and all of that happened while Crew SC failed to capitalize on a few chances that could have changed the state of the game.

So here’s what we know, and none of it is revolutionary:

  • Finish chances — At home it will be critical for CCSC to take advantage of its opportunities and put away its looks at goal. Clearly a lead does not seal the deal, as we’ve seen the Black & Gold give away leads time and time again, and often struggle in the second half. Even last week, in a decisive result against the Montreal Impact, Columbus couldn’t take advantage of getting the first goal when it coughed up the equalizer moments later.

That said, getting the first goal at home is the best way to put things in your favor.

  • Don’t be careless — We know Columbus likes to possess the ball and play high up the field. The problem with this against Atlanta is that if Crew SC doesn’t do that nearly perfectly, ATLU will provide punishment with its deadly transition. We saw this on Miguel Almiron’s go-ahead goal last time, as Niko Hansen lost the ball in attack and Atlanta simply put together a beautiful, classic counter at lightning speed.

It’s always important to not make mistakes, but it’s critical against Atlanta, because it will transition ruthlessly. Against some teams you can make mistakes past the midfield line and generally be OK. Against ATLU, everyone must always be aware and prepared to get back quickly.

  • Be ready for pressure — Gregg Berhalter’s play-from-the-back system is attractive and possession positive, but it has also often put Crew SC in bad spots. We saw it twice in the last meeting between these two teams.

Here is Atlanta’s first goal, which immediately gave Atlanta the upper hand:

Here is its final goal:

There is no excuse for that stuff. Atlanta is fast and will press and it knows this will be to its advantage; Columbus will likely struggle with it. But CCSC has to find a way to survive it, even if that means booting the ball out more often than it would like.

Twice getting the ball picked off your feet at the edge of the 18-yard box is unacceptable, and it decided the game two weeks ago.

Where the teams stand

Columbus was able to clean out the bad taste in its mouth a bit with a 4-1 win over the Impact last week. A strong performance by the attacking quartet — plus subs (really one of the first times this year that Berhalter’s subs really changed the game) — in front of the home crowd brings hope that will continue this week.

There’s little expectation that much will change for the Black & Gold in terms of a starting 11, though GB did roll out a 3-5-2 in the first meeting, so the team’s shape this time around is something to keep an eye on. Will Crew SC go with three in the back? Will Jonathan Mensah start as he continues to try to find his footing (and was all over Atlanta’s highlight reel two weeks ago, which is not a good thing)?

Three in the back would provide defensive support for the central-channel running of Martinez.

After some international duty, Ghanaians Jonathan and Harrison Afful are training with the team and expected to be available for selection.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC
Expect the Ghanaians to play.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I would expect to see Kekutah Manneh in some form again, as it seems likely the coaching staff will want to strike while the iron is hot and build up his confidence after a long, trying year in his career.

Atlanta will likely field a close-to-full-strength squad as well, even after a midweek U.S. Open Cup game.

Here’s the lineup from that one:

Gressel, Carlos Carmona, Tyrone Mears and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez are the only regular starters of the group, along with goalkeeper Alec Kann. Replacing Gressel won’t be an issue now that Martinez is healthy up top, so expect a first-choice line of Yamil Asad, Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba.

Final thoughts

The first meeting proved that Atlanta poses some real problems for Columbus with its speed, pressure and transition game.

For Crew SC fans, the hope will be that the squad was able to build a little confidence last weekend and will be able to put together a better performance at home.

There’s a thin margin between success and failure, and last time against ATLU it came down to a couple of mistakes. That’s been an issue at times this season, but it’s also something that CCSC can control.

Here’s a guess at how the teams may line up on Saturday:

Columbus Crew SC vs Atlanta United - Football tactics and formations

I do think a three-man back line makes sense against Atlanta, so I rolled with that.

What do you think we’ll see on Saturday? What are you looking forward to about this matchup? What did we miss?

Let us know in the comments below.