The Philadelphia Union secured their first points of the 2019 season this past Sunday. The split points with defending champions Atlanta United FC and looked the better of the two teams in the process thanks to a shift in their tactical approach.
Ernst Tanner’s tactics are starting to pay off:
The Union turned to youngster Brenden Aaronson at the tip of their midfield triangle in lieu of Marco Fabian, who was serving his suspension for the red card he picked up at Kansas City. His addition helped the Union pull off the style of play they want to play in Ernst Tanner’s system.
In Tanner’s system the Union want to control the center of the pitch, press the opposition in their half of the field, and create turnovers and counter attacks to score. Here’s a look at how the Union did this in Atlanta
Controlling the midfield:
The Union had their front six high up the field when Atlanta tired to build in their own half. At first the Union defensive shape was like a four four two. Brenden Aaronson slid deeper next to Haris Medunjanin. This was mainly when Atlanta was starting to build from the back.
As Atlanta looked for ways to move forward, the formation shifted to a 4-3-3, Aaronson shifted higher up the field splitting the strikers. he put pressure on the center backs/midfielders on the ball to disrupt Atlanta’s spacing and passing lanes. All of this was to put pressure on the defense.
Pressing the defense:
The shift in the Union’s formation, and when to make that shift all had to do with pressing Atlanta’s defenders and midfielders into making mistakes. Not only did the Union change their defensive shape depending on the situation to press in the center of the pitch, they did so in wide positions as well.
Outside backs Ray Gaddis and Kai Wagner were asked to push up the field to negate any Atlanta attacks down the wings. While it can be risky to ask your outside backs to defend high up the pitch, it pays off if they can intercept passes and look to create offense in a hurry. This is how the Union created so many chances against Atlanta, and it’s how they scored their goal as well
Creating turnovers, and counterattacks:
The Union’s ability to absorb pressure in a 4-4-2 , shift to a pressing 4-3-3, and have your outside backs move higher to keep the pressure on is how they want to play in 2019. In the third match of the season it paid off with the clubs first open play goal of the season. Take a look at it here.
As you can see the pressure was on Atlanta in a wide position. Kai Wagner was there to win a ball, and immediately move it forward to Fafa Picault. As defenders surrounded Fafa, he played the ball back to Wagner on the wing. The turnover allowed Brenden Aaronson to advance into a pocket of space. Wagner found the youngster, and Aaronson did the rest.
His first touch took him around an Atlanta defender, took a second touch to set himself up for a shot outside the box. His effort went through the legs of another Atlanta defender taking a very slight deflection. That deflection was enough to confuse Brad Guzan, and the ball was in the back of the net for the Union.
This is how the Union’s use of controlling the midfield pressing high, and creating turnovers and counter attacks is supposed to work, but will it continue to work?
We should see more of this as the season goes on:
Yes! The Union will continue to do this throughout their 2019 season. It will help them create a lot of chances, but it will also leave them very exposed if teams can get past the press. Toronto did that to perfection, Sporting Kansas City did it, and Atlanta did it as well, which is how they were able to secure the free kick that sparked Atlanta’s tying goal.
This is going to be a balancing act. As the season goes on we’ll see which players are best suited for the style of play, and if they can get the results that push them over the red line into playoff position.
There are going to be ups and downs, but it looks like the Union could be a very fun team to watch if they can figure all of this out.
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Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports