4pm eastern Sunday on Univision & Facebook Live? This is a scary one, let’s check it out.
Shots – creating them, stifling them
While Atlanta’s shot output has normalized some after last week’s game-state-skewed DC match (from low volumes of high quality chances to average volumes of slightly above average quality chances), they will be facing a shot machine in NYCFC, who are generating above average volumes of average quality chances. NYCFC convert an average amount of their shots on target. These are two of the most accurate teams in the league at the moment, suggesting that Kann will have an opportunity to step up big and keep the shots out that he’s expected to, and then it will be up to Atlanta’s defense to keep NYCFC from getting a hold of those golden opportunities that Kann has less control over.
Speaking of, one thing NYCFC’s doing a great job of (overall) is limiting high quality shots for their opponents. American Soccer Analysis has them as allowing the lowest expected goals per game based on the quality of shots they’re facing at 0.94 per game (contrast with Atlanta’s 1.4 figure). If you turn that into a per shot figure, it’s well below anyone else in the league. On top of that, their league-leading possession figures mean they’re allowing very few shots as well (third lowest in the league).
What does this mean for Atlanta? Well, I’m not quite sure. If I had to guess Atlanta’s not counting on winning the possession battle, but they’re also not determined to bunker and counter at pace. I think Atlanta is happy if the game gets ugly…
Unsurprisingly the possession-leading NYCFC like to build out of the back and that requires Sean Johnson to play short passes to his back 4 to get things going.
The only game where he hit long a bit more was against Orlando City, although the volume of his passes was low overall for that one. It sure looks like they want to play short out of the back. It will be interesting to see if Viera has Johnson and his team hit long to neutralize Atlanta’s high pressing threat. If they don’t, Atlanta should be happy, because to make the game ugly they can jump on Johnson’s distribution and get the back and forth rubber-band gravity of the game in motion.
The NYCFC defenders seem to be good on the ball and they have to be. It looks like the preferred centre back tandem is Chanot and Callens whose pass percentages are hovering just below 90% at the moment.
I don’t see much to specifically exploit here – just from looking at the visuals. I know Callens gave up a very bad giveaway on the left against Columbus that resulted in an almost immediate goal — and that’s precisely what Atlanta will be trying to recreate. But I don’t see anything to suggest he’s inherently prone to that kind of thing.
The pitch dimensions are notorious. Doug Roberson posted a piece late Friday on this and Jason and Jarrett at SoccerDownHere discussed it at length this week on the Daily shows and what Atlanta might do specifically to respond to it. The risks to the Atlanta fullbacks being caught high up when possession is turned over are quite high (with counter attacks arriving at goal swiftly), and similarly the lack of width probably tempers the reward of overlapping so often. And for that reason I like Jason & Jarrett’s idea of the 3-5-2, but I’m doubtful we’ll see it, except to the extent that Larentowicz drops deep in possession, perhaps.
But the main idea is that width is weird at Yankee Stadium, as is length. Space in general is just tight. In the little I’ve seen of them, NYCFC seem to thrive off sharp little passes in and around the area with clever, diagonal runs by their forwards (the right-sided Jack Harrison comes to mind). It got me thinking, that if Atlanta were to try to emulate that sort of thing maybe they could invert Almiron and Villalba, and play them right and left respectively, and have the two cut inside both to look up and play through other players, and also to make diagonal runs hoping to get into shooting positions on their dominant feet. Otherwise, I’m not sure Villalba’s pace will be much use on the right side with the smaller dimensions.
One thing I’d love to see is a screamer from Carlos Carmona, and if you watch some of his highlights, he’s more than capable of this. Normally, I’d prefer we don’t shoot from outside the box, but I’ll make an exception for the diminutive Yankee Stadium pitch.
What should Atlanta do?
NYCFC is one of the best team’s in the league. I don’t think there’s any shame in leaving town with zero points. If I had to draw up a gameplan, it would be:
- Hit long and play direct.
- NYCFC are dangerous in transition just as Atlanta are. No need to get caught in possession in your own half.
- Look for the second ball off of Kenwyne or NYC defenders. It won’t be difficult to play the ball all the way across on a goal kick. Occasionally, flick on Jones headers to the tucked-in and inverted Almiron and Villalba making runs.
- Press high when they play out of the back and try to create tap-in transition goals.
- Don’t be afraid to foul when your press is inevitably broken by someone like Pirlo.
- Maybe try something weird on a set piece.
- Don’t be afraid to make the game ugly if a point is in the balance late on.
- I haven’t mentioned David Villa or Maxi Moralez. Hopefully I don’t next week either.
Prediction: 3-0 to the home side? (whispered)