This is the second part of a series I originally started as a FanPost back in December. You can read Part 1 here. So, with that in mind, I'd like to continue this series this month with another formation I think could prove useful to the boys in sky blue this upcoming season. Like I did in my first post, I'll not only post an image of the formation, but I'll explain my rationale for where I have everyone lined up.
Without further ado, let's begin with a look at the proposed formation:
As you can see I went back to the 4-3-3 formation, but this time with a different twist on it. I also added some arrows to explain where I see certain players moving about on the pitch. Again, this is not an attempt to assume what I think Vieira will do this season, but rather it's an attempt to explain ways I think the team can maximize the talent they have on the pitch. So let's start to break these roles down one by one.
Frank Lampard - Center Forward / "False 9"
For this formation I've moved Lampard further up the pitch. This role would be a combination of both striker and attacking midfielder. With his late runs into the box, and powerful right foot Lampard could be a constant scoring threat in this role. And with two wingers cutting into the box it will give him a lot of options as well: he can either take a shot on goal himself or set the table for one his wingers to finish as well. And with a role so far up the pitch, the team will not be relying on him for a heavy defensive load in the middle of the pitch. As last season came to a close, we started to see a much more in form Frank Lampard, and the goals started to follow. Putting him in this role could give the team a needed consistent secondary scorer the team lacked at times last season.
David Villa - Left Winger
I wouldn't say this move is anything close to out of the box thinking, as many people think this is where Villa is best played on the pitch. I think Villa did very well in that role for the team, but this formation will give him the chance to drift left like he wants, but also the freedom to either create a chance on the wing for someone like Lampard, or to now even be able to play off the ball and cut into the box for Lampard or someone else to feed him the ball. I think one of the biggest things in terms of attack that needs to change this year is to ease the workload that gets placed on Villa. This started to change a bit once Pirlo and later Lampard were brought into the team. I look forward to more of that this year and hopefully that will keep Villa fresh and in form for the entire season.
Khiry Shelton - Right Winger
While Khiry Shelton is still only in the infant stages of his MLS career, I think we've at least learned one thing so far: he is not a target forward. At least, he isn't one yet. His style of play and skill set have consistently proven to be more useful and definitely more dangerous when being utilized from the wing. He has great pace on the ball, uses his size and strength well when playing out wide. Maybe he will develop the hold up play people assume he should have already one day, but for right now he's a winger and that's okay because we need this kind of pace in that role. The team can be too slow at times in other parts of the field and Shelton adds a dynamic we don't have with many other players. This is a role that could also suit a player like Tommy McNamara as well if Shelton is not getting the job done here, but I believe Shelton can and should excel in this role.
Mix Diskerud - Central Midfield
I know in part 1 I put Mix back out on the right wing, but I also mentioned in that piece I felt he's better suited in a central box-to-box role. So, here we have a way to get Mix back into the center of the pitch. I think this works for a number of reasons. Mix will provide defensive help in the middle of the pitch and also help with keeping possession in the midfield. And playing more towards the right he'll have the option to drift wide when Shelton cuts into the box, providing defensive help for Iraola, or if Shelton stays wide he can make a late run as another option to score goals like this:
The more I think about Mix and his game the more I've realized who he is and why it hasn't worked so far with the club. Mix is a final touch kind of player. He's not an attacking dribbler. He's not a deep vision playmaker (maybe he's learning that now from Pirlo). He's not someone who will take defenders on one-on-one. But what he has been in flashes is someone who can bury the ball in the back of the net or make a nice simple one touch pass that opens up a chance for someone else (but mostly the former). Put him in a role where he can cover for others, help in possesion and put a final ball in play, and I think we're starting to maximize him as a player. Let's see if that can happen in 2016.
Andrea Pirlo - Central Midfielder
Pirlo's 2015 campaign had mix results from the pundits and fans. While it was clear he has the vision and playmaking to really help the team in attack, it was also clear that he can be a defensive liability in the middle of the pitch. So in this formation I've again elected to not play Pirlo as the defensive midfielder. For one, as mentioned, he's not going to be able to put in the work defensively to help out the backline. And two, that's not the reason he's on the team anyway. But even though I have him what many may call a box to box role, he will not play that traditionally. I think on that left part of midfield Pirlo can stay home centrally, mainly around the midway point of the pitch and look for Villa, Lampard, Shelton, or even Poku (I'll be explaining that next) to feed a dangerous pass to and set the table for a potential goal. And playing on the left he'll have defensive coverage with a LB like Wingert (or hopefully with an upgrade at LB), while also having some open field to work with as Villa pulls the defense further up the left wing. This will allow him to more stuff like this:
Kwadwo Poku - Defensive Midfielder
I broached this topic in part 1 of this series, and I still like the idea now as much as did the first time. Under Vieira's tutelage, Poku could leverage his speed, strength, and overall athleticism to be a devastating two-way player for the club. As you can denote from the arrows I've put next to his marker, I'm not expecting Poku to purely sit back and cover for the back-line. Frankly because I think that would be a waste of his talents. He's an excellent finisher and playmaker so I would encourage him to push up into the attack and create the chaos only Poku the Punisher can hand out. I'm willing to live with a learning curve as this may lead to potential goals being given up the other way. My belief, however, is that with Vieira guiding him in this role throughout the season the decision making will get to the level it needs to and we will have an amazing talent filling a desperate need for this club. A more current, MLS example that jumps to my mind is the way Diego Chara plays defensive mid for Portland in their 4-3-3 formation. He's able to not only cover for the back line but also join in attack and prove dangerous in the box at times as well. I'd like to see the same from Poku as well.
Jefferson Mena and Ethan White - Central Defense
I'm really high on Mena, and I think he's a good signing made by the club. Now with a full offseason and preseason under his belt, and some initial exposure to the league, I expect he can have a very strong 2016 season. And while White may be better suited as a rotation player, I think he's going to be our best option for a second centerback unless another signing is made. Mena has real potential to be a marauder in central defense, and if White can prove to be at least a slight upgrade over Hernandez, we could be looking at an improved defense for 2016.
Chris Wingert and Andoni Iraola - Fullbacks
At best I would call these the placeholder names at the fullback positions. NYCFC has already been in talks with other options at LB, and Iraola really needs to impress otherwise R.J. Allen will see significantly more time at RB this season (and that could be a good thing). But given his contract, and the reason he was brought in, Iraola will presumably get the chance to prove that last summer and fall were a fluke and he can perform at a much higher level this upcoming season. With Wingert, we know what to expect: a stay at home fullback who's defensive minded and not really looking to join the attack. And with Villa and Pirlo gravitating to that left side, that's perfectly complimentary to the team's make up. With Iraola, while he may want to push up more, this formation will call for him to stay home more and attack with more discretion. And again, I can see R.J. Allen being more suited to do that here as well.
Josh Saunders - Goalkeeper
We all know what to expect from Saunders after a stellar 2015. But maybe with an improved defense he (hopefully) won't be asked to perform such herculean feats again this year? At least not on a consistent basis like he was in 2015. Either way, confident in who we have in goal for 2016.
Patrick Mullins - Super Sub
I'm going to give Mullins the title of super sub here. I think he's a good replacement for Lampard in the false 9 role, as he can play with vision, but also capable of striking from deep as well. Also, Mullins gives you flexibility as you can turn the formation more into a true 4-3-3 and move him up to striker/target forward as well. Mullins had a strong season last year, and I'd like to see him continue as a reliable bench player and/or rotation player for the club in 2016.
Not to be forgotten are Tommy McNamara and Andrew Jacobson. I expect both will fill multiple roles for this club as McNamara could play both centrally and on the wings, while Jacobson can the defensive mid or box-to-box roles as well for the club (and maybe even central defense as well).
That concludes Part 2 of an Exercise in Formation Fatuation. Stay tuned for Part 3.
What do you think? What are the positives/negatives you see in this setup? Who would you swap and why?
Please share you in the comments thread below!