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Tactics! Analyzing the LA Galaxy fullback blues

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Los Angeles Galaxy v Los Angeles FC

Hey Galaxy fans! Thought I would introduce a new column today. Tentatively named “Tactics!”, the goal is to talk more about the action on the field, share our observations and debate strategy. Enjoy! - Mike

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Through five matches with Cristian Pavon in the lineup, the LA Galaxy have put together brief periods of brilliance in the attack offset by poor defending and individual mistakes. During this timeframe Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s squad have scored eleven goals but conceded twelve.

The center back pairings have struggled with stepping together to put out fires, exemplified by D.C. United’s opening tally and Latif Blessing’s first strike in El Trafico V. Additionally fullbacks Jorgen Skjelvik can be caught out of position and are often too slow to react in time.

However despite just one win in seven, there are signs to suggest the Galaxy have been trending upward the past month.

Pavon’s arrival has been immense, as the Argentine has shifted the Galaxy attack into a higher gear. The attacking midfielder is averaging 2.2 key passes and 3.6 dribbles per match, numbers that eclipse Miguel Almiron’s 2018 with Atlanta United. There’s a fantastic balance to his play that shows up in the numbers: Give him space and he’ll destroy the open field, give him time and he’ll find the open man.

Of course Tata Martino’s squad had a more efficient attack that kept the ball on the ground, and there hasn’t been a fundamental change in LA’s approach to matches. Regardless the addition of a second lethal finisher has opened up the game for his teammates and lifted some of the scoring burden off Ibrahimovic’s shoulders.

While the Galaxy attackers including Favio Alvarez have benefitted from Pavón’s arrival, perhaps no one has gained more than Jorgen Skjelvik. Shuffled to left fullback during the winter, there was hope the Norwegian defender could re-discover his full potential after a 2018 season in which Skjelvik struggled to justify his $900,000 salary as a center back.

It didn’t happen. However, since Pavón’s arrival Sjelvik has experienced a mini-renaissance of sorts, as the pacy fullback has taken advantage of the open field to repeatedly make plays in the final third. In addition to the below exchange with Pavón leading to the opening goal vs. LAFC, Skjelvik has registered a goal + assist the past 315 minutes.

And yet if LA are starting to gel in attack, the back line remains as fragile as ever. How do the Galaxy shore things up defensively? There are two small adjustments Schelotto could make.

Stick to the fundamentals. Both of the fullbacks typically push high up the pitch to help keep possession and aid in the attack, leaving the back line susceptible to moments of transition.

Keeping the fullbacks high may be a necessary evil of a system with limited creative license, but there’s no excuse for international defenders like Feltscher and Skjelvik to gift the opposition tap-ins with flat feet as we’ve seen repeatedly this year. Should Guille decide to drill it into his fullbacks to stay disciplined and stick to their zones, the back line grows a bit stronger.

More conservative spacing. Rolf Feltscher brings a somewhat limited skillset to the attacking third. While the Venezuelan is comfortable bringing the ball forward in possession and can occasionally deliver a dangerous cross, Feltscher is not particularly adapt at using space to cut in or find the right pass. If Rolf were to be more selective as far as picking and choosing his moments to push up the pitch, the team may prove more successful at keeping its shape and unbalancing the opposition when Feltscher ventures forward.

Another observation of concern? LA are giving up far too many goals at the tail end of both periods, in part due to more lackadaisical spacing. In the past two matches alone, the Galaxy have conceded in first half stoppage time to LAFC and the Sounders plus Cristian Roldan’s 89th minute game-winner!

The Sounders’ final tally emphasizes this common occurrence. The circle highlights an out-of-position Skjelvik, but as Julian Araujo turns the ball over the center midfield duo of Jona dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget are caught out as well.

Skjelvik (red circle) should be protecting the far post.

At this stage in the match LA’s spacing should be far more conservative. Ideally you want Seba spaced in between Feltscher and the nearest defender to confront the onrushing Morris with Jona centrally in close proximity to kick start a potential counter: Two touches and you’re off.

Ultimately the Galaxy backline has its limitations, but these are small steps LA can take to minimize their exposure.

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LA have just one win in five tries with Maestro pulling the strings, but the squad have faced a rather unforgiving schedule: Two home games vs. Western playoff contenders and three away matches at LAFC, Seattle and the cross-country trip to D.C. United. Five slugfests.

Despite playing with 10 men for 84 minutes, the LA Galaxy outplayed the Sounders over the two legs. Seattle’s late comeback was brutal, but does Pipa’s errant clearance or Araujo’s poor turnover occur on grass? Probably not. Pavón is still working his way into the team and developing chemistry with his new teammates, and encouragingly five of LA’s remaining six games are against teams out of the playoff picture.

If the Galaxy can minimize the individual mistakes, this 2019 squad is primed for a late-season run.