Celebrating the return of Major League Soccer, Major League Soccer Analysis is doing a series of tactical previews to give you an insight of how the teams looked before the break and how they’ll look like in their return fixtures. This tactical analysis will give a brief overview of tactics and style of New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC, who will face each other on 17th of July.
New York Red Bulls
The start of 2020 season saw New York Red Bulls start with a 3-2 home victory over Cincinnati, followed by a 1-1 draw away to Real Salt Lake after giving away the lead in dying minutes of the game. Talking about the previous MLS season, the side finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. Josh Sims won’t be available for the Bulls, as he’s headed back to EPL after the end of his loan term.
Positioning and style of play
In their encounter against Real Salt Lake just before the pause, Chris Armas fielded a 4-4-2, with Daniel Royer occupying an inside role towards the left. However, the New York-based side went on to attack with three-men upfront and the full-backs occasionally occupying the inverted and advanced roles. Florian Valot was often used as a right forward, and this is a trend we’ve seen Armas do after the new season began.
As we can see in the average position map above, the New York Red Bulls side tend to get narrower further up the pitch, with the forwards tugging inside to a more central role. Also, the full-backs are seen placing themselves in the middle lane, so that they can support the attack ahead, as well as drop back to defend. The players seem to be maintaining a close proximity, which in turns help to advance the ball, as well as help in maintaining numerical superiority for counter pressing. The team prefers to play vertical passes to advance forward, but do not enjoy longer spells of possession. This makes the team’s style of play more direct and vertical, similarly concentrated to the side of the pitch where the ball is in play.
Attacking and build-up
New York Red Bulls are a team that prefer the direct approach of play, i.e., using passes to break lines to advance. The first evidence of this can be found in their build-up, as they prefer to advance by winning the first ball off a goal kick, rather than using passes to build from the back. Similarly, long passes coming from the wider areas targeting the forwards is a common sight when New York are playing.
However, while transitioning, New York Red Bulls prefer to stay close to each other and go with an overhaul, which makes them easy to exchange quick passes between themselves to overcome the opposition press. With this approach, they make sure that the opponents are not able to outnumber the ball carrier and the ball carrier always has someone to pass the ball in case of an opposition pressure.
Like the above instant shows, all ten outfield players are close to the ball carrier, essentially creating a network of connections to make sure they can move the ball forward with multiple options, as well as can counter-press in case of an opponent recovery. However, they are not heavily reliant in advancing from the side of overhaul, as they’re frequently able to switch sides by using the player farthest to the ball carrier.
Similarly, New York Red Bulls tend to use this overhaul to exchange quick passes with each other to open up spaces utilize the void. They use the space created to make runs and advance the ball to one of their forwards located centrally.
Like shown in the instance above, the wide ball carrier passes it to the player wide of him to open space towards the central side, hence he makes a run into the space afterwards to proceed towards the centre. In this way, he again joins another set of passing options available centrally, where he can execute series of quick passes to break lines. This is a usual sight, as Red Bulls New York are capable of using the wider sides of the pitch to execute series of passes to advance their play, like this pass-map demonstrates:
We can directly draw an understanding of how New York approached the opposition goal in this match. With an approach based on the right side of the pitch, they tried to make quick passes in the are and use the left side to switch plays only. They are capable of dominating from the left in a similar way, which makes them a very versatile side, despite preferring to tug in centrally.
Pressing and defending
The tendency of staying close to each other in possession is beneficial to execute a quick counter-press. Hence, New York Red Bulls are a side that are able to make recoveries via counter-pressing and maintaining numerical superiority while doing that effectively.
Looking at the recoveries made by New York Red Bulls players in the opposition third, we can anticipate the effectiveness that their positioning brings while pressing forward. A healthy number of these recoveries have resulted in shots on goals/goals, which give us a glimpse of how New York Red Bulls are capable of taking chances and making transitions.
Armas’ men are capable of pressing in numbers, as well as blocking passing options while pressing. As we can see in the instance above, the front three are pressing relative to each other. The player pressing the ball carrier is putting pressure on the player, as well as blocking the passing option towards the right side. Similarly, the other forwards are pressing other passing options, increasing their chances of making a mistake and eventually aiming for a recovery.
Defensively, New York Red Bulls prefer a similar approach as well. The team is known to defend in numbers and is always able to get into defensive duties in numbers.
Defending in the deep areas, New York Red Bulls are able to get bodies in numbers to limit the opposition forwards. As we can see above as well, six men are present to defend against two attackers, which puts the opposition attack into an immense pressure and limit the chances of finding space to shoot in the final third.
Similarly, the mutual understanding between defenders in the side is brilliant. In this instance against Real Salt Lake, the two players shielding the ball-carrying attackers are well aware of the move that is going on behind their back, and hence defend the space with their shadows. Similarly, the other man towards the right is keeping in track of both the run makers and positions himself in an area he can go for either of the players taking the direction of potential pass in considerations.
All in all, the New York Red Bulls are a quick sides that can defend and transition into attack very well. By winning the ball higher up the pitch, they are a threat to sides that aim to build-up from the back. They’ll restart their campaign facing Atlanta United.
Columbus Crew SC
Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew SC, after a disappointing season, finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in MLS 2019. However, with arrivals of some exciting players with the likes of Argentine Lucas Zelarayán has seen them win 1-0 over New York City FC, with a Zelarayán goal, followed by a 1-1 draw against defending champions Seattle Sounders. With former Arsenal California graduate Hector Jiménez available, we’ll now talk about the side’s attacking tactics, their defending attributes as the analysis progresses.
Positioning and build-up
Just before the pause, Columbus lined-up with a 4-4-2 against Seattle Sounders. The key plan of action was very apparent – Columbus pushed their full-backs ahead, to build-up from the wider side of the pitch and cut back in whenever they got a chance to break.
The average position map too shows the position of full-backs is higher than normal, hence letting us know that the full-backs had a greater role in the attacking half. The two central midfielders, acting as a double pivot, stay close to each other to provide a smooth transition, as well as to increase the probability of recovering ball in the middle of the pitch.
Similarly, another key takeaway from the map is the position of two central midfielders, João Paulo and Artur, who are vital in making transitions from defence to midfield as well as perform defensive duties on behalf of the advanced full-backs.
In the given instance as well, Artur is seen occupying the void left by the advanced full-back. This is a regular movement in Columbus’ build-up, as the wide players are frequently used in the build-up.
Artur, dropping to complete the three-men back line, forms a wide passing network with the advanced full-back and Youness Mokhtar, the wide mid-fielder. Columbus Crew use the width, and by using the fast full-back, they advance the ball forward. The move then proceeds with passes to open and create spaces towards the middle.
As we can see in the instance as well, the series of frequent passes places the central rin-making midfielder in advantageous situation. The space thus formed can be used to exploit the opposition defence and take time to find passing spaces. With low risk and high productivity, these moves are frequently used by the side.
Occasionally, the Columbus crew side used either of the double pivot to receive and pass to the advanced player out of the two, when central space is not overloaded. This makes Columbus Crew a side that can play well by creating spaces and exploiting them.
Off the ball, Columbus Crew like to maintain a 5-3-2 shape, with the full-backs dropping to support the back-three. The side likes to go for a medium block, trying to create layers of defence rather than pressing with high intensity. With pacey full-backs, they can afford to go forward with width as well as drop in the wide positions.
Similarly, having abundant number of players in the deepest line allows the central defenders to execute zonal marking, be it in the box or outside the area. The central defenders make sure central space is always protected, avoiding any central runs as well as poaching threats in the box. While the other defenders prefer to man-mark the opposition, central area is always covered with two defenders marking the zone.
Like we can see in this instance against Seattle Sounders, the two centre-backs are blocking the lane, rather than marking the lone forward. This helps them to safeguard the vulnerable zones more efficiently and helts to maintain the defensive structure as well. Not only does this provide that rigidity t the side, but this makes the duo available as passing options anytime during the build-up. For sides that aim to penetrate centrally, Columbus Crew SC are hard to beat, and are hard to avoid from making transitions from wider side of the pitch.