Atlanta United is back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon as they take on Nashville SC for the third time this season. Both of this year’s previous matchups have resulted in 2-2 draws. Saturday will be the managerial debut for Gonzalo Pineda. The 5-Stripes are also riding a four-match winning streak into Saturday’s contest. Nashville picked up a 1-1 draw in its last match, the 11th draw for Nashville this season. Atlanta United has surged up the Eastern Conference standings and could push above the playoff line with a victory on Saturday. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
Moreno continuing his high level of play
Marcelino Moreno has been in fantastic form during Atlanta United’s four-match winning streak. The Argentine midfielder had another goal and assist in the 2-1 win at D.C. United last time out, pushing his season totals to seven goals and three assists. Moreno has won the third most duels in the league (167) and is one of the most successful dribblers in MLS. Against D.C. United, Moreno was asked to play a little bit deeper role in the midfield, and he excelled as evidenced on Atlanta’s first goal when he nutmegged a D.C. player near the halfway stripe, then dribbled with speed into the attack before supplying Josef Martinez with a perfect through ball.
Another big performance from Moreno could lead to another three points on Saturday against Nashville.
Don’t let Hany Mukhtar run the show
Nashville’s midfielder Hany Mukthar has been one of the top midfielders in MLS this year. He is on pace for double-digit goals and assists in 2021. Coming into Saturday’s contest, he has eight goals and seven assists. He scored twice in the final 10 minutes last time Nashville visited Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United’s defense needs to keep an eye on him at all times and not allow him to orchestrate the Nashville attack.
Set pieces will also be a point of emphasis for Atlanta United’s defense this weekend. Nashville possess several aerial threats on their squad. CJ Sapong leads the team with nine goals, while defenders Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney are excellent players in the air. Set piece defending will be another key to look for on Saturday afternoon.
Switching the point of attack with pace
It’s no secret that Nashville are one of the more compact teams in MLS. They have consistency at the back and in midfield. Their style of play has been successful, as Nashville has only lost twice in 20 MLS matches this year. One way for Atlanta United to break them down is the switching of play from one side to the other with speed or utilizing more long balls in attack. The 5-Stripes are second in MLS with 427 switches of play (passes where the ball traveled 40+ yards) this season.
The last time the two sides played in Atlanta, it was All-Star defender Miles Robinson who initiated the opening goal with a pin-point 50+ yard pass to Marcelino Moreno. Against Toronto FC on Aug. 18th, Brooks Lennon played a long ball over the top of the defense to Ezequiel Barco, and the Argentine scored the lone goal of that 1-0 victory. Switching the play and looking for balls over the top could unlock this compact Nashville defense on Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Fans can tune in nationally on Univision to watch on TV. The match will also be streamed on MLS’ Twitter account. Fans can catch the action on radio at Sports Radio 92.9 The Game.