The Black & Gold Guide: LA Derby Edition
The golden opportunity has arrived. LAFC will host the Los Angeles Galaxy tonight in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm at Banc of California Stadium with a guaranteed sell-out crowd of 22,000. The 2019 Supporters Shield winners enter this match well rested after earning a first week bye due to finishing as the top seed in the West. The Black & Gold have had an 18-day period since their last competitive match but players have used that time to recover from injuries, mentally recharge and physically prepare for arguably the most important match in LAFC’s history.
The Galaxy ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak and consequently dropped down to the 5th seed in the West. Those couple of defeats forced them to travel to Minnesota in the First Round of the playoffs. Fortunately for them, goals from Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan Dos Santos helped the Galaxy qualify for the conference semifinals with a 2-1 win over Minnesota United this past Sunday evening.
The match that everybody wanted has arrived: The LA Derby in the postseason at the Banc. On one side you have LAFC, a team that registered the greatest regular season of all-time in MLS with a player that scored the most goals in a single-season in Carlos Vela. On the other side, you have the Galaxy, a team that has never lost to the Black & Gold with a world-class striker that is capable of scoring from just about anywhere in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both clubs will bring the best out of each other in what promises to be a physical, intense and dramatic battle where only one team can advance to face the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Final.
Below is everything you need to know about tonight’s match vs the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Getting After Second Balls
Dominating the 50/50 duels will take physicality against the Galaxy’s target for aerial balls in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Every time David Bingham takes a goal kick or a Galaxy defender plays a long ball up the field, it will be headed towards Ibrahimovic’s radius for the Swedish striker to redirect the ball towards a teammate. With a 6’3 stature, Walker Zimmerman is the only player on the Black & Gold line-up that can realistically challenge Ibrahimovic’s 6’5 figure in the air. However, winning the aerial duels against Zlatan is just the first step to recovering possession of the ball. The true key will be the positional awareness of the LAFC players in regards to covering all areas to where the loose ball may fall in. The Black & Gold need to be quick to react and be prepared to either defend or attack in transition.
Be More Aggressive
In previous matches against the Galaxy, LAFC has not been able to match the intensity of their opponent. Committing fouls are part of football and can be interpreted as either “dirty play” or tactical. Given that the Black & Gold are not the type of team to use the fouling approach to stop their opponents, they have been punished for it in the past against this same Galaxy side. Instead of taking a tactical foul in the middle of the field, the LAFC midfield hs been known to let players go by with the ball and rely on their backline to bail them out. This cannot continue to happen tonight. The Galaxy has not been afraid to show their physicality and aggression against LAFC as in the two meetings of 2019, they have committed a total of 33 fouls against the Black & Gold. As for LAFC, they have only fouled 12 times. If you add the 2018 meetings, Galaxy have accumulated 80 fouls while LAFC have only totaled 38 infractions. It is not the end of the world to get a yellow card if it means to prevent an attack from the Galaxy while at the same time sending a message of intensity and intimidation to the opponent.
Composure in the Midfield
The Galaxy is well aware that LAFC is a team that begins most of their buildup through the middle of the field with the likes of Eduard Atuesta. The Galaxy will pressure and attempt to suffocate LAFC’s midfield trio of Atuesta, Blessing and Nguyen to make them as uncomfortable as possible when trying to connect with their teammates in attack. Atuesta is a player that tends to hold on to the ball a second too long or take an extra dribble that put him in risky situations of a potential turnover in LAFC’s own half. Not only will the Colombian midfielder and co. need to release the ball quicker, they will need movement from players off the ball to either create an open passing lane or a through ball between defenders. Given the Galaxy’s ability to punish you on the counter, turnovers in the midfield will be prohibited or there will be trouble.
Absorbing and Stretching
One of the things that the Galaxy has mastered this season is the ability to absorb their opponent’s attack and using that against them. LAFC will need to be mindful of how they choose to project their outside backs forward as well as their midfielders when in attacking the Galaxy. The boys from Carson usually defend deep in their half and invite their opponents forward while purposefully leaving payers like Antuna, Pavon and Lletget higher up the field for the counter. LAFC will be tempted to take the space left between lines by the Galaxy and leave a gap between their midfield and defense. Stretching the field will cause a back and forth tempo in the match that will benefit the Galaxy’s individual players in one-on-one battles over LAFC’s collective play.
Keep Calm and Control First Half
As soon as the opening whistle blows, the focus and concentration levels need to be at 100%. Surely there will be some nerves and anxiety but you cannot let those emotions play a negative impact in the game. The first thing LAFC have to do is settle into the match, control the tempo of the game and keep possession of the ball. Being able to display the good football that LAFC has been showing us all season requires confidence but also patience. The Black & Gold cannot get ahead of themselves and simply go out on full attack mode from the first minute as that is a recipe for lack of sharpness and desperation. If LAFC are able to go into halftime with the lead, the chances of them beating the Galaxy for the first time highly increase. In 2019, the Black & Gold have a record of 15-0-0 when leading at halftime while the Galaxy is 0-10-0 when trailing at the break.
Both LAFC and the Galaxy have reincorporated important players to their roster in time for the playoffs. LAFC forward Adama Diomande has returned to training after missing for a month due resolving some personal issues and will be available for selection tonight for the first time since September 14th. Galaxy DP midfielder Romain Alessandrini returned to action for the first time since April last weekend vs Minnesota United and contributed with an assist in just 17 minutes of play. Getting the Frenchman back is a huge boost for the Galaxy as he gives them another attacing option up top. Expect both Diomande and Alessandrini to play major roles in the second half as substitutes for their respective teams.
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