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Tactics Time: How To Take Three Against New England

Can NYCFC stay hot and win their fourth game out of the gate?

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine a better first three games for New York City FC than what’s happened so far in the 2018 campaign. On paper, their first set of games looked extremely daunting.

The Boys in Blue had to go to arguably the toughest road environment against the best defensive team in the league, face two deadly designated player attackers, and lock horns with a heated rival without their best player. Still, NYCFC defeated Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, and Orlando City, netting twice each time.

Their next game on the docket has “trap game” written all over it. They face the New England Revolution on the turf at Gillette Stadium. The Revs have given NYCFC more than they could handle on several occasions. New manager and former USMNT goalie Brad Friedel and his defensive mindset look to inject new life into a storied franchise that has had a run of poor form in the last few years.

On top of that, Alex Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace will miss this match, as they are away on international duty. Patrick Vieira will need to show his adaptiveness and tactical mastery if he wants to pull out three points without several key contributors. Here are a couple of tactics that could help NYCFC take 12 points from their first four games.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-3-3: Johnson; Sweat, Chanot, Callens, Tinnerholm; Herrera, Ofori, Moralez; Tajorui-Shradi, Medina, Villa

Bench: Stuver, Ibeagha, Abdul-Salaam, Awuah, McNamara, Lewis, Berget

David Villa was one of three surprise absences from the squad against Orlando. He should be fully fit for this match. On the wings, young starlet Jesus Medina — who has scored or assisted in each game — will return to his right wing spot. Wallace’s replacement is Ismael Tajorui-Shradi, who started as a center-forward in Villa’s absence against Orlando. Vieira has shown a fondness for his versatility, creativity, and pace. Jo Inge Berget makes his debut on the bench, with 2017 first round selection Jonathan Lewis also making his first 18 in 2018.

The biggest hole in the Starting XI is Alex Ring. While he is away with Finland on international duty, Stuttgart loanee Ebenezer Ofori gets the start. Ofori has shown that he has the physicality and short passing skill to play holding midfield in this league. Yangel Herrera and Maxi Moralez once again line up in their preferred roles. Vieira has named Kwame Awuah to the bench for several matches this season, perhaps in a show of increased confidence in the UConn product. In addition to Awuah, Tommy McNamara will also be on the bench.

Provided Anton Tinnerholm is healthy, the back four of him, Ben Sweat, Alex Callens, and Maxime Chanot will remain unchanged. On the bench, Saad Abdul-Salaam finds his way on the matchday squad after an impressive first match in blue against Orlando. Sebastian Ibeagha has unequivocally leapfrogged Cedric Hountondji in the pecking order at center back, and finds himself on the bench once again.

2. New England will concede possession. Dominate this aspect of the game.

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to get a read on a coach’s style after just two games. Having said that, New England’s play against the Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids was remarkably similar. Friedel would like to play long balls over the top and try to strike quickly on offense.

The Revs rank 18th out of 23 MLS teams in possession with just 46.2%. NYCFC resides in 4th place with 54% of possession. Normally against teams that like to control possession such as NYCFC, defenses will try to get more aggressive and try to intercept passes. However, the Revolution’s back four aren’t normally aggressive.

Only the Vancouver Whitecaps intercept fewer passes per game in MLS than New England’s 10.5 per game, and only Vancouver and FC Dallas make less tackles per game.

Friedel’s defense is still trying to find it’s identity. This should give NYCFC ample time during the game to run some offensive sets. This somewhat lax defense should also allow an NYCFC lineup with some unfamiliar faces to get a little more comfortable and acclimated to the game.

3. New England lacks a true chance creator. Play aggressively and look to start a counter attack.

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Incredibly skilled and creative attacking midfielder Lee Nguyen should be the driving force behind New England’s attack (“should” being the operative word). Nguyen has been holding out following an unfulfilled trade request, which has left Friedel grasping at straws trying to find a suitable replacement at the top of their 4-2-3-1 formation.

For the moment, Diego Fagundez occupies the central spot, with Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla out wide. So far, this setup has left much to be desired. Fagundez has been quality, but is still learning an unfamiliar central position. Penilla has pace, but is a poor crosser from wide positions. Bunbury has been declining in recent years, and it may be coming to a head now, as WhoScored.com ranks him as New England’s worst player through two games.

Nguyen’s absence is noticeable and crippling for the Revs. The Whitecaps are the only team with less shots per game, while the Revs sit dead last in shots on target per game at just 2.5. Only the San Jose Earthquakes has less dribbles per game.

Defensively, NYCFC have the luxury of being able to play aggressive until New England proves they can stop them. Play with a high line and look to pick off poor passes. Win the ball back and look to start a counterattack. NYCFC are the more athletic, pacy, and physical side. New England will need someone to step up and play like Lee Nguyen as to not get overwhelmed by City’s defense.

4. Don’t divert from what you do best because of a depleted roster

MLS: Orlando City SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With unfamiliar faces in the lineup, there comes a tendency to tinker with tactics to the point where the squad ends up in unfamiliar territory.

While Patrick Vieira hasn’t been perfect as a manager, he clearly knows what he wants from certain positions and has brought in players that match that vision. Ofori’s game is not that dissimilar to that of Ring, nor is Tajouri-Shradi’s compared to Wallace.

There are a lot of like-for-like swaps in their adjusted starting eleven. The temptation to throw away past tactics to accomodate the new lineup is there, but their matchup is such that it doesn’t require such things. Also, Brad Friedel isn’t exactly Sir Alex Ferguson.

What do you think NYCFC needs to do? Let us know in the comments!