But it’s true until it isn’t. If LAFC want to get over the hump, beat the Galaxy and get that first playoff win, here are three key ways they can get the best of their rivals.
Match the intensity
One wonders if the Galaxy play some kind of long-game rope-a-dope with LAFC. Most of the time, Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s squad lumbers along through a game, you can see the engine wheezing and seams stretching as they huff and puff their way through games, some wins, some not.
But they’ve been at their best against LAFC, showing a ferocity in both regular-season matches this year in particular that LAFC have seemed unprepared for. LAFC have been the team to dictate the pace, control games and stymie opponents throughout the season, and against the Galaxy the tables have been turned and the Galaxy certainly led in the intensity department in three of four halves in 2019. If that happens again in the playoff game, the Galaxy could wrap up a result in the opening minutes and LAFC will once again get played, hard.
So LAFC need to match the intensity. No more nerves, no visible signs of uncertainty, which has left every player but Carlos Vela looking like a shell of himself at moments against the Galaxy. If they have the mentality down and can go toe-to-toe throughout, LAFC will already be halfway there.
Ok, this is obvious: If you want to win you have to defend, right, yes. But in light of the Galaxy putting down three goals against LAFC, twice, this year, a renewed commitment to defense is a must to actually get a result.
Obviously the player who is a magnetic force for both teams is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s scored five of the Galaxy’s six goals against LAFC this season, and he can score unconventional golazos easier than anyone. If he has the ball within 40 yards of goal, anything can happen...we’ve seen it with our own eyes.
The challenge is twofold: Adequately defend Ibrahimovic (remember, he easily broke through a double team in transition in the first game between the teams this season) while also keeping track of the supporting parts, too. Cristian Pavon has improved the Galaxy’s ability to play actual soccer substantially, and he’s scored on LAFC, too. Romain Alessandrini came back after missing nearly the whole season on Sunday and arguably won the game. Jonathan dos Santos can score too, as he showed with the winning goal against Minnesota. Sebastian Lletget hasn’t had a great season but he can kill you, too.
There’s bound to be a defensive breakdown or two along the way. If LAFC can keep those to an absolute minimum, try to concede only low-percentage chances when they do allow them, and try their hardest to prevent the key players from getting the ball in attacking spots, while being at their best in emergency defending situations, they’ll be in good shape to win.
Which brings us to the third point...
Attack, attack, attack
Again, attacking is key in soccer, etc. And it’s hard to defend well while also making a good effort in attack. But LAFC can pull this off.
Put simply, the Galaxy’s defense is poor. They have some players capable of playing well in defense, but they’ve still not even got a set starting group, after 35 games. Against Minnesota on Sunday they played four center backs and it worked, mostly because Adrian Heath inexplicably benched his top attackers and played a style that fell right into the Galaxy’s plans.
The Galaxy conceded 59 goals, the most among playoff teams and among the worst overall in the league. Their last shutout was over two months ago, and they finished the regular season conceding four goals in two consecutive games, both to teams that didn’t have particularly fearsome attacks who aren’t in the playoffs this year.
LAFC are generally good at being patient and making good chances, and they’re good at volume in terms of scoring chances, but they need to be shooting early and often against the Galaxy. Expect Schelotto to put his defense deep and make LAFC break them down, something that LAFC has struggled with to end the season. But LAFC need to go for every decent half-chance they see. The Galaxy aren’t built to withstand an onslaught, and if they let in one, they can easily let the floodgates open.
There’s an argument to be made that the Galaxy would prefer a shootout in terms of game play, figuring Zlatan can bail them out of what’s ailing them in the back, but the flaw in this argument is that the Galaxy’s defense can easily allow four goals. Zlatan is good, but can they count on him to score five or six goals? I know, I know, don’t tempt him, but if LAFC can race out to a multigoal lead and hold firm in the back, their chances of advancement go up substantially.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!