“I wanted to clog up the central spaces in our last line and have one of the three centre-backs always ready to break their line and put pressure on the midfield.” -Luchi Gonzalez
These are words spoken by a manager who knows his opponent is in formidable form. LAFC came into the game atop of the Westen Conference boasting an impressive 8-3-1 record and scoring 29 in the process. That would shortly become 9-3-1 as Dallas couldn’t prevent their third straight defeat, losing 2-0 to the Los Angeles side.
In this tactical analysis, we look at how LAFC dominated tactically, and the tactical adjustments made by Dallas in an attempt to curb the onslaught.
The home side lined up identically to the side that earned a 3-0 win over Columbus last week. Blessing continued his run in the side over designated player André Horta and played a key role in the aggressive pressing system implemented. The league’s top scorer Carlos Vela, who added to his tally making it 13 goals in 13 matches, started in his preferred inside right position.
Dallas made several changes in an attempt to slow down their free-scoring opponents. Gonzalez sacrificed his attacking talent in a bid to congest the midfield zones and stifle LAFC’s rhythm. A move that backfired as the home side still managed an xG of 3.12 on the day. Bressan occupied the third centre-back spot, and exciting midfielder Barrios started on the left.
LAFC started the game at a blistering tempo. They operated an aggressive front press using six players to force recoveries and create chances in transition.
The home side pushed players forward using a man-to-man pressing system which led to many recoveries in opposition territory. From these turnovers, LAFC created multiple chances using short passing in the central zones.
68% of LAFC’s ball recoveries happened in the final two-thirds of the pitch. Dallas’ 5-4-1 system was defenceless against the high pressing, offering no easy escape route to relieve growing pressure.
As you can see above, the trigger for the press is once Dallas opt to play out from the back. The midfield three of LAFC squeeze up onto their respective opponents, marking them man for man. The ball carrier for Dallas now has limited options.
Dallas attempt short passing through the press. This is a highly risky tactic using the 5-4-1 as the key to playing through an aggressive press is to identify the spare man and work the ball to that area of the pitch to bypass the first wave. The spare man for Dallas is on the other side of the pitch due to their 5-4-1 formation. A long switch to this side of the pitch is fraught with risk.
Each pass made by Dallas is met with intense pressure as the spare man is out of reach. The ball is forced backwards into awkward areas for Dallas. Their only option is to clear the ball upfield and give up possession.
In the end, the Dallas defence subsided and LAFC took the lead through a tidy finish from Vela.
LAFC in attack
LAFC were impressive in their pursuit of the ball and transitioning, but they were also excellent once in controlled possession too. The home side created 28 chances, with 16 of those coming from inside the penalty area.
Manager Bob Bradley ordered his wingers to drift infield and find spaces to penetrate the Dallas shape. Vela and Rossi often ignored the space in the wide areas and moved inside. Their ability in tight spaces shone as they cut through a deliberately congested central zone.
40% of LAFC’s attacks came through the middle despite Dallas’ attempts to force the ball wide using a low block. LAFC’s central defenders and midfielders ignored easy passing channels into their advanced full-backs and preferred instead to play more penetrative passes into the narrowly positioned wingers. Unusually for a full-back, Harvey only touched the ball 58 times, compared to Vela and Rossi with 66 and 67 touches respectively.
Ignoring the width
As you can see above, the winger is ignored by the ball carrier, who turns inside to drive through the middle of the pitch. Both Vela and Rossi have moved inside looking to make quick interchanges in zone 14.
As the move progressed; passing lanes opened through the centre. The front three adopted dangerous positions within a short distance of each other, perfect for quick interchanges. The right full-back on the wing is ignored, despite the space available.
This direct vertical build-up play restricted low tempo ball rotations and allowed the advanced players more touches on the ball. LAFC made 585 passes in total; 383 were played forward with 224 of those received in the final third. This highlights LAFC’s direct approach using a positive, vertical passing strategy, playing through all phases of the pitch.
This tactic paid dividends for LAFC as their attacking players possessed superior ability on the ball and had clever movement off it. As a result, LAFC played through the heart of Dallas’ structure and created constant goal-scoring opportunities.
Dallas make tactical tweaks
In the second half, Dallas made tactical adjustments to stem the flow of LAFC’s persistent attacks. The away side adjusted to a 4-4-2 system, which offered tactical advantages against LAFC’s aggressive front press.
Dallas moved a man out from their defence and into midfield. This gave them a spare man who was used to play through the LAFC press.
Unfortunately for Dallas, they couldn’t take advantage of their new found possession and the numerical superiority it created in dangerous areas. On multiple occasions, they spurned promising 3v2 and 4v3 situations, which arose from breaching LAFC’s first wave. The match was put to bed once Rossi tapped in a second, with the game finishing 2-0 to the home side.
Dallas will be disappointed to lose without registering on the score-sheet, especially after creating good chances as the match progressed. Their first-half tactical plan backfired as the use of an additional defender just pinned them down against better opposition. The option to use an extra striker will no doubt play on Gonzalez’s mind going into the reverse fixture. By opening up tactically Dallas will enjoy more chances, however, that always carries the risk of a humbling from this free-scoring LAFC side.