Who: LAFC vs LA Galaxy
When: Sunday, August 25th @ 10:30pm ET
Line: LAFC -200 | Draw +360 | LA Galaxy +450
The fifth edition of El Trafico, MLS’s most exciting rivalry, is on Sunday. The LA Galaxy are undefeated against their cross-town rival, winning twice and drawing twice, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring six goals and in the process staking an ownership claim on LAFC.
The best part of these two teams playing against each other is the battle of the two best players in the league: Carlos Vela, who is the best this league has ever seen, and Ibrahimovic. Zlatan has consistently won the battles but lost the war — LAFC is and has been a significantly better team than the Galaxy, yet the Black and Gold can’t beat them.
LAFC vs LA Galaxy Tactical Preview
Let’s take a look at some tactical elements as LAFC look to assert their dominance and the Galaxy look to continue their reign over the rivalry:
— Last time they played, the Galaxy found success by focusing their entire attention on winning the midfield battle and shutting Vela out of the game. Guillermo Barros Schelotto wanted to limit the midfield threesome of Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta, swarming them and tilting to the right to cut off service to Vela.
It was less a tactical masterclass and more a testament to the defensive endurance of the Galaxy’s midfield. They bent but they did not break, and they frustrated Vela to the extent that is possible — the Mexican still managed two goals.
At the time, LAG’s ability to minimize Vela’s involvement and win the midfield battle was the story of the game. Their approach always felt unsustainable, though, and there is a perfectly good chance that LAFC throw GBS’s strategies out the window and exact fierce revenge. LAFC have a lot more talent and an actual system. The Galaxy have Zlatan, and a deeply flawed system built around him. Ibra has been good enough on his own beat LAFC in the past.
— If the Galaxy succeed in making things difficult for Vela, Diego Rossi will have to step up more than he did in this year’s first edition of the rivalry. Rossi couldn’t carry the load despite LAG devoting a comical amount of attention to Vela. LAFC need more from their Uruguayan star.
I could see Bob Bradley giving Latif Blessing a freer role to infiltrate the space the Galaxy’s pressing midfield leaves open. Atuesta and, especially, Kaye struggled at times in the first meeting. Blessing excels as a versatile ball-winning pseudo No. 10 — the perfect ambiguous role for him — and it would be fascinating to see how he performs when given a heavier attacking role.
A free Blessing could force Zlatan to stop loafing and play some defense. It seems unlikely that Ibra will relent to running around with Blessing, so LAFC could create some good chances if Blessing becomes an attacking difference-maker.
— LAFC have to find a way to not let Zlatan score a bunch of goals. I don’t know what Bradley can really do, though, because Zlatan gets up for these games. When Ibra is really trying, he is unplayable, and he will be trying.
Perhaps Walker Zimmerman will track Zlatan specifically and try to take him out of his rhythm, or force him to drop deeper.
— One enduring concern for the Galaxy is the defensive personnel, specifically Jorgen Skljevik at fullback. Vela and Rossi can both tear Skljevik to shreds. The Galaxy have stabilized the backline for the most part, but they still give up goals. Last week against the Sounders, LAG would have had a 2-1 win against Seattle had Skljevik and goalkeeper David Bingham not screwed up mightily and conceded a disastrous own goal.
LAFC should be able to take advantage. They haven’t been able to before.