Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez is a 26-year-old attacking midfielder who signed for Atlanta United in MLS back in 2018. After being named the 2018 South American Footballer of the Year, an award Neymar won twice before leaving for Barcelona, he was looking to make an impression in the high-flying Atlanta United team. The transfer coincided with Miguel Almiron’s departure to Newcastle United of the EPL, making Pity an ideal candidate to build a relationship on the pitch with his namesake Josef Martinez. Josef is Atlanta United’s leading goal scorer with 90 goals in 103 matches which included a fantastic season last year as he and Pity began to create a strong bond on the pitch.
Pity’s playstyle supports that of Josef’s. Both enjoy quick combination play in the midfield to create openings in the final third. However, at the start of the season, Josef suffered a terrible ACL injury against Nashville Soccer Club. The season just got underway and the burden of the goals Josef scored will now fall on Pity and other players’ shoulders. With his sophomore season now underway, Pity has the opportunity to fill Josef’s void.
Pity’s style of play is extremely creative. He utilises his close ball control to manipulate the ball and create space to find key passes. Specifically, his ability to hit long balls to expand the pitch as well as play passes in behind the defence. However, where he lacks discipline is in his ability to hold up the ball, which is something that he can improve. This scout report and tactical analysis will analyse how Pity affects Atlanta United’s play, as well as how he can help fill the void of Josef Martinez’s crushing injury.
Combinations Pity must go without
Gonzalo Martinez registered 5 goals and 9 assists last season in the MLS. During that span, he developed a great partnership with one of the best MLS strikers, Josef Martinez. Due to Pity’s ability to quickly find space and progress up the pitch, Josef was able to score many goals. The reason the partnership worked so well was due to Atlanta United’s tactics. With Josef and Pity being small, energetic forwards, the tactics included a lot of combination and link-up play in the midfield. Josef would drop deep in order to get on the ball and utilise his strengths as a player. This would allow Pity to be there to create passes.
In the analysis, Josef drops deep into the midfield despite being the furthest forward for Atlanta United. Instead of playing as a striker on the last defender, Josef’s tactical decision forced the centre-back defending him to come forward. As Josef lays the ball off to Pity, he immediately runs in the space he just created. This allows Pity to use his excellent passing ability to play a delightful through ball to Josef who slotted the ball in the back of the net. These combination plays were extremely effective. However, this season Pity will be without Josef Martinez due to injury, making it necessary to change tactics. Therefore, Pity will need to take up the space that worked so well for Josef.
Tactically, the space that Josef Martinez took up last season is where Pity will need to be this season in order to find similar success for Atlanta United. With Atlanta United’s only fit striker being Adam Jahn, a tall target man, it will require Pity to play further forward. Jahn will occupy the last defender which will leave a gap between the centre-defensive midfielder and the centre-backs. This is the space that Pity will be able to find success in.
In the analysis below, Josef Martinez’s movement highlights the space just discussed. Here, he is checking in to receive the ball in the space. If the defender follows him, they could get exposed like in the previous example. Therefore, the defender stays put. In a scenario where Jahn is on the ball, it will be ideal for Pity to be in the space Josef is occupying. Jahn will be able to control the ball and lay it off to Pity, creating different tactics that will accomplish the same goal.
Long Ball Ability
One of Martinez’s key attributes is his ability to play long balls behind the defence that will allow for the wingers to stay wide and create more space for the midfielders. Whenever Pity gets the ball he plays extremely direct. This is why the manager Frank De Boer prefers to play him in a more central position rather than out wide (where he can also play). These tactics allow for Atlanta United to get the most out of Pity’s abilities. When Pity receives the ball, he favours his left foot. He is constantly looking to get in behind the defence due to his creative vision. Regarding his pass selection, Martinez prefers to get the ball up the pitch. He attempted 773 medium-range passes (5 to 25 yards) and 421 long-range passes (25 yards or more) during the 2018-19 season. This shows his eagerness to use his long ball pass.
This creates a tactical advantage for Atlanta United. By having a player that can play the ball long and accurate, it allows for more space to be open in the midfield. The reason being that the winger can get wider, forcing the opposing wing-back to follow. By doing this, there is more open space between that wing-back and the centre-back. This is where other runs can be made into the attacking third and behind the defence. Playing the long ball can also increase the tempo of the match by skipping the connecting ball in the midfield. This allows the attacking team to progress up the field much quicker.
In the analysis, Pity’s decision to play the long ball is one that is rare. He is on the complete opposite side of the pitch and decides to hit an extremely low percentage long ball across the pitch. He completes the pass which gets in behind the Cincinnati defence. By doing this he can stretch the pitch for Atlanta United and skips three Cincinnati midfielders who could have potentially stopped the ball from getting there if they were to build through the midfield.
Another part of Gonzalo Martinez’s game that creates problems for opposing teams is his ability to constantly find gaps in defences. Pity has incredible vision and can find balls that many other players can not. This leads to him playing a key role in an attacking midfield position. Martinez registered a key pass average of 2.55 (per 90 minutes) during the 2018-2019 season, meaning during every game, he made 2.55 passes that lead to a shot on goal (on average). Every team needs a creative playmaker, and Pity is an ideal player to have in that position.
This analysis below illustrates his tremendous abilities while on the ball. His knack to find the key pass is a key reason why he is in the Atlanta starting XI. Despite his weaknesses in holding up the ball and aerial ability, he makes up with these kinds of passes. He is just entering the final third of the pitch and recognizes the run by the striker. The centre-backs have been split and there is open space. However, there are four Cincinnati midfielders in close proximity to Pity. He gets his head up and plays past five players with one pass, completely opening up the defence. These types of passes are unique and can only be executed by players with exceptional passing ability.
In this example, you can see Pity playing another defence breaking key pass in behind the opposing team. He sees open space and the run being made yet again. This time, however, he fails to complete the pass. Despite not being able to complete the pass, it is important that Pity sees the space. This is perhaps the difference between where he is in his development and playing at the European highest level, but the fundamentals are still there for the young Argentine. His main passing options are limited due to the good defensive pressure from Club America. Instead of backing off and resetting, Pity attempts to play the defence-breaking ball. The tendency to play forward and take risks is a valuable one.
With Josef Martinez’s injury and the season being extremely uncertain, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions for Atlanta United as they try to figure out their new tactics for the upcoming season. Who will lead the line? How will they change their tactics due to their main striker being absent? These are all questions that are difficult to answer, yet, in this analysis, it is clear that Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez should be a key player for Atlanta United. His ability to create is very impressive and his eagerness to always move the ball forward is incredibly important for a team while attacking. Pity will look to continue his form which has seen him score 2 goals and register 1 assist in five matches for Atlanta United.