Portland Timbers was one of the best teams in the MLS is Back Tournament, and won the title. Coach Giovanni Savarese, he led the team since 2018, and his work seems to be already emerging.
The team was not bad during the last two seasons, where it ranked fifth and sixth in a row, but the performance by the team in the MLS is Back Tournament, made everyone optimistic, despite the poor start in MLS.
In this tactical analysis, we will have an analysis of the tactics that Savarese brought to the Portland Timbers team, weaknesses and overall footballing philosophy.
Since joining the club, Savarese has tried several lineups with his club, but it seems he has found a lineup that suits his ideas.
In the last period, Savarese was playing 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1. These formations are similar to each other, and most importantly, they help him to apply his defensive and offensive tactics.
The Portland Timbers team does not apply high pressure, even though its PPDA average is 9.06, which is rather good. This is strange for a team that does not press at the front of the field.
This map shows that the balls Portland Timbers retrieve in the opponents’ half of the court are very few.
The thing that made the PPDA high despite the lack of high pressure was the defensive structure put in place by coach Giovanni Savarese. He put in place a structure that completely prevents an opponent from advancing the ball, either on the deep or the sides.
Always when the ball is lost, Portland Timbers forms a medium block in the form of 4-4-2, as the attacking duo try to disrupt the building phase of the opponent, while the midfielders monitor the direction of the ball and are ready to press.
In this picture, it is true that Portland Timbers does not press the opponent’s backline, but has closed all passing options on it. You also see the positioning of the attacking duo and the pivots prevent the centre back from passing into the depth.
At the same time, the attacking duo and midfielders monitor the ball carrier and body posture. This helps them position correctly to recover the ball.
In this picture, Portland Timbers has closed the deep very well, at the same time the body position of the ball holder’s prevents him from passing to the right side. That is why the Portland Timbers block has moved towards the left side. This way, they will be able to press a large number of players on the side.
If the opponent manages to move the ball to advanced areas, Portland Timbers will fall back and form a narrow block. This gives them numerical superiority and control over deep, while at the same time forcing the opponent to move the ball to the sides.
After the opponent moves the ball towards the side, the full-back and the winger will quickly start to press the ball holder, they will form a square-like shape, where the centre back will advance to cover the full back’s advancement, and the pivot will block the central passing channels. Then the team can recover the ball.
The downside, however, is that the team lacks the aggressive of pressure, and this makes the opposing player able to either hold the ball or play a back pass.
How do you break their defence?
On paper, Portland Timbers defence looks good, but some gaps have caused them to concede 13 goals in their last five matches.
The first problem is the miscommunication between the pivots, as it is very easy to drag them away and make them far from each other. This creates a gap in the depth that their opponent can play through which a pass is towards the attackers.
Another thing, the midfield leaves a considerable distance between it and the backline, this leaves a lot of space between the lines, which the opponent can exploit.
For example, if the opponent could play a pass behind the backline, all Portland Timbers defenders would be occupied with the opponent’s wing, and the players stationed between the lines would have a lot of space inside the box.
Portland Timbers suffers 4.29 counterattacks in every match, which is a very large number. The reason is the full support of the full-backs and pivots of the wings in the offensive phase.
But another reason is players inaction during defensive transitions. When Portland Timbers loses the ball, we don’t see the players wanting to get it back. They would stop and watch the opponent counterattack, as shown in the picture.
In the build-up phase, Portland Timbers does not take much time, trying to move the ball quickly to the opponent’s half, and then penetrate the box through the sides.
During this phase coach, Savarese relies heavily on the pivots, as one of them forms a triangle with the full-back and the winger, and they try to use this triangle to play passes behind the opponent’s backline.
Most of Portland Timbers attacks are on the left side due to the presence of Jorge Villafaña, Sebastián Blanco, who previously played in the Premier League and Eryk Williamson. This trio is characterized by speed and technical ability. That is why coach Savarese asks them to change positions constantly to create space for one of them or put him in a 1v1 situation.
For example, here, the wing retreat pulls the full-back of the opponent, and thus the midfielder Williamson got a large space in the side, and Portland Timbers can penetrate the box through it.
The offensive transitions
Since he does not have much possession of the ball, Portland Timbers have more opportunities to counterattack, and this is what happened, as Savarese team does four counterattacks per match.
Coach Savarese is trying to use the technical capabilities of some of his players to counterattack. In this picture, for example, midfielder Williamson dribbles two players and plays a pass to the full-back, behind the opponent’s defence.
Portland Timbers narrow defensive structure forces the opponents’ full-backs to go forward. This helps Savarese team to counterattack. Especially since he plays with excellent forwards in an aerial duel. This means that Portland can rely on the second ball in counter-attacks, or play long balls behind the opponent’s defence.
Giovanni Savarese’s team has an excellent defensive structure, it is a bit like Atletico Madrid‘s defensive style, but some mistakes made the team concede a large number of goals in recent matches, and waste several points.
Savarese also needs to improve the performance of the offensive team, because Portland Timbers does not have many offensive methods, most of its goals were through counterattacks or individual glory from one of the players, especially Blanco.