After a loss last weekend on the road, where they are bad, Atlanta United return to home turf where they are instead good. Their opponents this weekend are LA Galaxy, city rivals of Los Angeles FC, who inflicted a 4-3 defeat on United last time out. Galaxy themselves are also looking to get back to winning ways after losing last weekend, a 4-0 trouncing at Portland Timbers seeing them fall further behind their local rivals in the Western Conference.
Of course, when LA Galaxy come to town, they bring with them Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the 37-year-old former Swedish international is still banging them in Stateside. After a hat-trick in a 3-2 LA derby win, the self-assured forward has sixteen goals from his 18 appearances in the MLS this season. For Atlanta to get the three points that will keep them within touching distance of Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union, their defence will need to be a lot sharper than it was on last weekend’s trip to the West Coast.
Atlanta United vs LA Galaxy Prediction: Atlanta United 2-1 LA Galaxy
Frank de Boer’s side have not reached the heights of last season, when they were coached by former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino, led the Eastern Conference from pillar to post, and then won the MLS Cup. Nonetheless, they’re right in contention for the top honours this season despite a record of just three wins in eleven away games. On their own turf at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they’re more solid, having won eight, drawn three and lost just once. Galaxy can’t be ruled out for this visit to the Deep South, but the hosts should have enough to pick up the three points here.
Our recommended tip: Draw/Atlanta HT/FT
Atlanta’s playing style is, unsurprisingly for a team coached by one of the great Dutch players of the 1990s, heavily based on dynamic, possession-based attacking. Against good opponents on the road, this is a risky strategy and has not provided the results that Martino got last season. However, at home it’s paid off for them, with few goals conceded thanks to the opposition struggling to get the ball off them. LA are good enough to make this a tricky home tie, but Atlanta should have enough to secure the three points by the end of the game, making Paddy Power’s odds of 16/5 on the hosts to win after being level at half time very attractive.
With Atlanta now in their third year of MLS action, the sides have met twice before – and the history between these sides makes dull reading for Galaxy fans. The stats show that United have won both games, scoring six goals in the process while LA have yet to score in 180 minutes of MLS football against this opponent. In last year’s match the men from the Eastern Conference made the long trip west, scored once in each half, and headed back home with three points in the cargo hold. A year before, in the sides’ first-ever meeting, it was even more one-sided – a 4-0 trouncing with all of the goals scored by half-time
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Players to watch: Josef Martinez & Zlatan Ibrahimovic
As long as Martinez is around, Atlanta will have a chance against any opponent; the Venezuelan is an accomplished finisher and keeps popping up with crucial goals. With Serie A experience in his locker, the striker often looks a class apart from the rest of the MLS, and his combination of pace, strength and work rate makes him the ideal lone front-man – as valuable for his ability to bring team-mates into the game as for his undoubted goalscoring prowess.
Ibrahimovic is the talisman of this Galaxy side, and when he thrives, they do too. The unfortunate flip side of that fact is that when he isn’t feeling it, his team look directionless and out of ideas. It’s good news for fans of the original LA side, then, that even as he reaches an age at which most strikers are already in retirement, “Ibra” has more good days than bad. He could probably still do a turn in a top European league – at MLS level, he frequently appears to be playing the game on Easy mode.