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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, September 25, 2017

The times they are a changin? What the Union's formation swap means going forward

Alejandro Bedoya, right, delivered a sterling performance Saturday
in a reconfigured midfielder that yielded a 3-1 Union win over Chicago.
(Mikey Reeves/DFM)
Jim Curtin heard you, dear citizens of Twitter, and decided to change his formation as a result.

OK, no, that wasn’t the reason that Curtin flipped the Union from the 4-2-3-1 into what is more of a 4-1-4-1 Saturday, a move that certainly contributed to a 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire. To what degree is debatable. Curtin pushed the right tactical button by clamping down on the central midfield space afforded to Dax McCarty in a Fire side deprived of Juninho and Bastian Schweinsteiger. But the efficacy of Saturday’s switch has limits, and no one was more cognizant of that than Curtin, who cheekily faced up to a question about the formation change with a response that deserves to be published in full:
“Yeah you know, people get caught up in the graphics and how they get put out and as soon as I saw the graphic get put out that I figured that you would probably come with that as the first question. To be honest, it's still a 4-2-3-1, you know, just because it's written that way on a schematic that comes out, it's the difference between a yard or two in either direction. If you look, go back and watch the tape, as we will as well, by design we still always had someone next to Warren, so it is still the 4-2-3-1. The best thing about the formation is there can be fluidity in it. Warren is a guy who is a ball winner. We thought, matchup-wise, he's obviously been in good form and what Chicago likes to do, we thought that it was important to invert the triangle a little bit in some moments to get pressure to Dax McCarty, who for me is the engine of that team. So, yes, on paper it looks a little different. The running of five, six yards a little more forward from Alejandro defensively and from Haris is a little bit of a change, but still the same formation, the same idea, same principles that the guys, as you saw, when they execute them, are pretty dangerous and tough to play against.”
It’s been two and a half years since Curtin has done anything even remotely as different as this in his formation, so the temptation could be to read too much into it. So let’s assess what this move does, and what it doesn’t do moving forward for the Union.

- It does … minimize a weakness and maximize a strength. We can argue until we’re blue in the face whether Ilsinho and/or Roland Alberg has been given too many opportunities this season. There’s no rationale I’ll allow for saying that Warren Creavalle should be starting fewer than 10 MLS games. He’s just a better player than that, and his failure to find the field regularly lands squarely on the lack of attacking creativity in the other five members of the midfield/forward six. In this regard, it’s a smart move by Curtin given the constraints of his roster.

- It does not … ease questions about Derrick Jones. Can Jones be the No. 6 behind Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya? I would tend to think not given the demands of positional awareness it requires, which isn’t yet a strong point for the youthful Jones. The roles filled by Bedoya/Medunjanin likely suit Jones more, perhaps even more than a traditional No. 8 in the 4-2-3-1, but as Bedoya and Medunjanin showed, Saturday, their claim to minutes is solid.



- It does … further the case for Alberg and Ilsinho leaving. Both have contracts up at the end of the season and present opportunities for the Union to upgrade the squad. If you look at the three big expiring deals – Alberg, Ilsinho and Chris Pontius – and think of keeping one, I’d say opting for Pontius is a no-brainer.

- It does not … mean the Union are no longer a 4-2-3-1 team and are now a 4-1-4-1 team. Even if we overlook the negligibility of the difference between the formations, there’s more at stake here. Earnie Stewart comes from the Dutch school of club management. Players in the Union system from the age of 12 will be taught the same formational principles on up. That won’t change on the basis of one game. By and large, players will be inculcated in a system that prizes the distinct roles of the 4-2-3-1: Center forwards who can play alone up top, wingers who can invert, sixes, eights, tens. Plus to adhere to that is to remain in the trap of tactical intransigence that doesn't necessarily serve any club's best interests. But …

- It does mean … the Union might be more apt to adjust in the future. There’s that “fluidity” Curtin alludes to. Curtin has displayed rigidity in formations; he’s expressed concern about throwing new concepts at players used to doing things one way. It helps that this change comes with a rhyme and reason. This isn’t Peter Nowak waking up one day and deciding Gabe Farfan looks like a left back or seeing what a three-at-the-back formation plays like. This is variation on a theme, but the core principles that undergird that don’t change. Maybe this move and the reward that accompanied it just loosens the strictures a little so, so that the Union remains a 4-2-3-1 squad that doesn’t feel trapped by the dogma of it.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Philips Huges said...



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September 28, 2017 at 10:26 AM 

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