When you run a Google search for Federico Bravo you may have a hard time pinning down what his position is. Some list him as a central midfielder, others as center back, and still others as both. And during his preseason appearances so far this winter he's featured at both defensive midfielder and center back for NYCFC as well. But the way he gets deployed in these roles is really the interesting part.
So far this season, the club has started every game in a 4-3-3 formation that looks pretty much like this:
This has been more or less the formation we've seen, with the names at most of these positions being interchangeable. The times we've seen Bravo come in, however, have seen the team take on a different look. Here's what I mean:
With Bravo on the pitch, Vieira has been experimenting with the team playing a 3-4-3. It's not a true 3-4-3 though, as Bravo will drift between the defensive midfielder and center back roles. But his playing this can allow the team options they did not have last season.
The ability to play out of the back
Vieira wants to play the ball out of the back. This is something all teams who are focused on maintaining possession must be able to do well. It's something that the club tried to do last year, but with very poor results at best. Jason Hernandez, Chris Wingert, even Shay Facey - their passing ability was not their strong suit, and it showed. Brillant seems like more adept passer so far, but we're still not sure who his regular CB partner will be. White has shown some decent ability so far, Mena is still recovering from injury, and Ivanov is still on trialist status. Adding Bravo into that mix, however, provides a solid defender who also has the passing abilities of a true midfield player. A confidence on the ball that was severely lacking in last season's back line. Bravo can provide that in either role: as defensive mid or as a central defender.
Defensive Coverage for Pirlo
One of the biggest questions many people have is "How are you going to protect Pirlo on the defensive end (Lampard too for that matter)?" In this hybrid role Bravo can sit back as defensive cover for the midfield and protect or join the back line. And dropping back as a third center back allows Matarrita and Iraola to push forward on the wings and join the attack. Bravo gives Pirlo defensive cover to move further up the pitch, and the fullbacks pushing up gives Pirlo more options to do what he does best: deliver defense crippling passes.
This type of flexibility can also provide another wrinkle that's not always quantifiable: make your team harder to game plan for the opposition. Using a player like Bravo interchangeably adds a level of adaptivity that makes it hard for opposing teams to try and overcome. Vieira maybe looking to have something like this as a trump card at times against that are harder to match up with. It's also a shrewd way to get the opposition to start playing on your terms. A way to get them on their heels, so to speak.
So will Bravo be the key, or a key, to the team's success in 2016? That remains to be seen. But, coming on loan from such a noteworthy club like Boca Juniors, you can be sure his intent is to come and play, and it should be the club's intent as well. Hopefully we get to see as much as Bravo as possible this season, and let's see what he brings to a club that is sure in need of defensive talent.
Where do you think Bravo fits best? In midfield, or in defense? Let us know in the comments thread below!