When most new players arrive to a team, it’s their job to quickly learn how to adapt and fit into the system. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival in LA, that status quo has been flipped.
The Galaxy did not have the luxury of having a full preseason with their star forward to tinker with formations and systems. Because of that, we've seen growing pains develop over the Swedish star's first four matches. The latest example was on Saturday night, with the Galaxy losing 2-0 at home to Atlanta United. It's still early in the season, but head coach Sigi Schmid and the rest of his coaching staff will have to figure out how to maximize what they get out of Zlatan.
The Galaxy's other star forward, Ola Kamara, and Ibrahimovic are not clicking. When you’re playing in a 4-4-2 system, the relationship between the strikers has to be fluid. When one checks for the ball, the other makes a run in behind and vice versa, having that ability to interchange. When one drifts out wide, the other gets in the box. Always knowing what the other striker’s tendencies are, and playing off of that. In this case, both strikers are accustomed to being the lone striker with their former teams.
Kamara saw his career change for the best when Kei Kamara was traded from Columbus to New England in the middle of the 2016 season . He was plugged into a 4-2-3-1 system, as the center forward and success followed. He’s a player who makes his home in the box, he capitalizes on crosses and is opportunistic on rebounds and loose balls. Now coming to the Galaxy, he’s partnered with a dominant and established icon, and he’s finding it difficult to be as effective.
He’s not the first of Zlatan’s teammates to feel this way. During Ibrahimovic’s time at Paris Saint-Germain, Edinson Cavani, a player who was accustomed to being the center forward, was asked to play on a wing, and he struggled. And at Manchester United, just the mere presence of Zlatan was unsettling to Romelu Lukaku.
There will come a point where they’ll have to switch to a one-striker system, preferably a 4-5-1, because they have too many strong midfielders. Giovani dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos and Perry Kitchen all would have been sure-fire starters if Zlatan had not come to LA.
Tactically, the Galaxy have been overrun in the midfield, they have been outpossessed and dominated in their last two home games, losing to Sporting KC two weeks ago in addition to Saturday night's loss. Kamara isn’t a playmaker, he can’t take guys on the dribble, and he’s not a creator, so to have him and Zlatan partnered together in this current formation hurts the team.
Kamara coming off the bench may be best, it can provide Zlatan with a rest while also giving Kamara the opportunity to be the lone striker. Another option would be to switch to a 3-5-2 formation, allowing the strikers to have more support and more possession in the final third, however that leaves three defenders in the back.
In the four games played at StubHub Center, the Galaxy have given up eight goals. The center backs (Jorgen Skjelvik, Daniel Steres, Michael Ciani) have found themselves out of position and their decision-making has not been up to par. Subtracting one defender is not going to solve those issues.
Giovani, who made his return from a hamstring injury on Saturday night, is someone who Zlatan will benefit from. His crafty play, technical abilities and dangerous movement, will be a vital compliment for the forward. Both players should work well together, considering their strong suits are combination play. Giovani could be the creator for Ibrahimovic, which will allow Zlatan to focus on staying higher up the field. We saw examples of this in the last 10 minutes of the match, as Giovani checked back and played great balls over the top to Zlatan.
Early in the game against ATLUTD, Zlatan was forced to check deep just to get a touch on the ball because of their lack of possession in the attacking half. If more players can create for him, he won't feel the need to drop so deep allowing him to stay closer to goal.