This quarter final match of the MLS is Back Tournament saw San Jose Earthquakes take on Minnesota United. In this tactical analysis, we will review the tactics of both sides, with Minnesota’s ability to combat the unique style of San Jose.
Both head coaches bring a wealth of playing experience to their sides. Hugo Almeida; having 40 caps for Argentina and club football in La Liga and Serie A; brings a fast paced man marking style. Their tactics out of possession are to win individual battles across the pitch rather than through deep defensive organisation. Former Everton striker Adrian Heath’s side had the bragging rights from earlier in the season having beaten San Jose 5-2.
Minnesota managed to progress into the semi final with a 4-1 victory in this match. This tactical analysis looks into how Minnesota won without the ball. San Jose managed 62% of the possession in this match and only 4 shots on target.
Minnesota’s compact defending
Minnesota used a structured defensive unit throughout the match to nullify the San Jose threat out of possession. As can be seen, the back four are compact, set up within the width of the 18 yard box. The midfield is compact as well, blocking off all central and half space areas for San Jose.
San Jose would continue to look to pass the ball quickly, constantly transferring possession, looking to move the Minnesota defence. Staying compact, they forced San Jose backwards and to the wings. The following image shows San Jose building an attack on their right wing.
The defenders move across to the left as a unit, and the midfield ensure that cover is provided. Again, the midfield is very narrow, looking to create congestion in the centre of the pitch. This made creating clear shooting opportunities very difficult for San Jose throughout. San Jose managed 16 shots with 62% of possession, and only four on target. Ten of San Jose’s shots came from outside the box. This was due to Minnesota making it difficult for San Jose’s forwards to find space inside the box to receive the ball. San Jose also delivered 20 crosses, with only two successfully finding a teammate. Smart positioning from the defenders and goalkeeper ensured that Minnesota were comfortable and organised throughout.
Even on transitions, Minnesota would regain organisation quickly and efficiently in order to slow any counter attack from San Jose. The below image shows San Jose clearing a Minnesota corner and starting a counter attack.
As play progresses, San Jose looks to attack down the right hand side of the pitch.
As the ball is played into the San Jose striker 11 seconds later, the Minnesota defence is already back in an organised structure. The San Jose striker is now completely outnumbered with a lack of support from his teammates.
Play is delayed well and San Jose are forced into shooting from range once support arrives.
Minnesota’s structural organisation came out on top of the San Jose man marking system. Play was made very predictable from San Jose and Minnesota were able to defend comfortably with numbers behind the ball.
Pressing the full backs
In general, Minnesota would allow San Jose to move the ball across their defensive line and in and out of midfield. Slowly pressing and getting closer. Shown below, the majority of passes are made between the central defenders and back and forth with the central midfield.
With each pass, Minnesota used this as a pressing trigger to slowly close the space for San Jose. As they got closer and the ball was played out to a full back they would advance more rapidly. Below the ball is with the midfielder of San Jose who returns the ball back to his central defender. Minnesota are organised, blocking passing routes further forward.
As the pass arrives at the central defender, we see Minnesota continue to block passing routs forward and force San Jose to keep the ball in defence.
The ball is played too strong for the partnering centre back and Minnesota press more rapidly.
As the left full back receives the ball, Minnesota have blocked off any short passes available to him. As a result, two forwards can now put the full back under pressure and create an overload to win the ball.
In this case the full back is forced into clearing the ball down the line and returning possession to Minnesota. This was a key tactic for Minnesota who were able to slow down San Jose’s advances up the field. Allowing San Jose to have the ball in defensive areas and work as a side to create pressing traps enabled Minnesota to regain possession and counter attack quickly.
San Jose made almost double the passes of Minnesota 504 to 265. Minnesota allowed San Jose to make 221 lateral passes with an 88% success rate. While remaining compact and organised, San Jose were not troubling Minnesota with their build up play often enough. This was often seen in Minnesota looking to allow the ball to go out to the left full back of San Jose and putting him under pressure. 69% of all Minnesota’s attacks came down their right hand side. This was a key area Heath had specifically identified. Left back Nick Lima was involved in 13 duels in this match, only winning four. Lima’s inability to protect that side of the pitch allowed Minnesota to carry a real threat.
San Jose’s man marking system
The above image show exactly how San Jose would look to set up out of possession. There can be a lot of space left open between players if a player is unable to win the ball. The issue with this system is if one person is not in position and the opponent has space. Below shows Espinoza chasing back after a switch of play see’s Minnesota have a player in space on the left wing. The left full back of Minnesota has advanced out of shot without being followed.
San Jose looked to move the opposition with their possession and movement of the ball. Ultimately, Minnesota maintained their organisation throughout and were not disorganised by San Jose’s movement. Minnesota, on the other hand, was able to move the San Jose side into areas of the pitch due to the man marking system. Above we see the majority of the players are located in central areas or on the far side of the pitch.
Threat and composure of transitions
Minnesota made the most of their possessions and carried a real threat with their counter attacking play. With only 38% possession, Minnesota managed five counter attacks during the game, as opposed to San Jose’s one. They were able to build more threatening attacks, notably creating 20 shots and managing to have 13 on target.
The third goal in particular showed their ability to defender and counter attack effectively. San Jose had cleared from a Minnesota corner, below we see Espinoza starting a counter attack.
As they enter the final third the pass is poor and behind Eriksson who had made a forward run.
As can be seen, Minnesota here are able to regain possession and build an attack. The ball is cleared long and won in the air by a Minnesota attacker, reacting quickest, to keep possession. Heading backwards to keep the ball, Minnesota and then able to continue to progress forwards.
As San Jose look to close down the man on the ball, Minnesota are able to get the ball past the San Jose players applying pressure.
Due to San Jose’s man marking style, their central defenders can at times be left one on one with the striker. In this case, Minnesota has managed to create a 2v2 attack breaking into the final third of the pitch.
For the most part, San Jose struggled to move Minnesota out of position to create these kinds of opportunities throughout. Amarila, the Minnesota striker, is able to advance unchallenged by the San Jose central defender, who struggles to slow him down enough for the midfield to retreat and support. As can be seen below, Amarilla has advanced into the box and is able to give Minnesota a two goal lead beating Vega at his near post.
As this analysis has shown, Minnesota showed how they were able to remain composed and compact throughout the match out of possession. Consequently, this brought the win for Adrian Heath’s side. Solid counter attacking play gave them the opportunities to create good goal scoring opportunities. This style of play overall will be used again as Minnesota go on to play Orlando City in the semi final.
San Jose have struggled twice this year against Minnesota, losing 5-2 and 4-1 in both matches. They were unable to find a way past an organised defence and were punished with quality going forward.
Heath goes up against the side he brought into the MLS, before being fired a season and a half later. Having knocked out much fancied Columbus and now San Jose, all things considered, they can be confident in their system going into the semi final.