Thierry Henry (two-time Premier League champion with Arsenal, one-time Champions League winner with Barcelona and FIFA World Cup champion with France) is the new Montreal Impact coach. His short coaching career has not been as stellar as his player one, his tenure with Monaco in the Ligue 1 lasted just four months. Now, as a coach, he returns to the MLS where he played four years for the New York Red Bulls.
He’s finding a team that has not qualified to the playoffs since 2016, however, he has a high-quality team, with seasoned players and new hires that will add up talent in all lines.
In this tactical analysis we are going to show and explain the strong and weak points in both stages of the game; attack and defence, plus how the key players will execute into the new coach’s tactics.
Before the league was suspended this season, Montreal Impact displayed two very similar line ups.
At its first game at home, the line up was a 3-4-3, then at the first game on the road, Henry lined up a 5-4-1 (also used when played at the CONCACAF league).
The defensive aspect of the game is a priority for Henry. A solid three central defender-line, Rod Fanni, 38-year-old veteran, Luis Binks a fast defender coming from the Tottenham and Joel Waterman. And two wing-backs, Brault-Guillard, who increases the offensive volume and the in the left, Cuban Jorge Corrales.
In the midfield two solid and reliable players Samuel Piette and Saphir Taïder. An in the attack, Honduran Romell Quioto coming from the Houston Dynamo, Argentinian Maximiliano Urruti and Anthony Jackson-Hammel.
No big names were hired for the season, Henry is betting on young players so he can get the very best of them.
This team prioritize the control of the ball, then they think on the offensive aspect, however, they haven’t found the right connections between the players to create real striking opportunities, specifically coming from the midsection of the field.
Observe the image below, the vast majority of passes follow the central defender-wing back path.
The tactics is to start controlling the ball form the goal line, but when the rival put pressure with its offensive line, the main “escape-valve” is the long pass looking for Quioto to connect a header so the ball could reach the centre forward.
In the next image, we observe Montreal’s goalkeeper kicking a long pass to Quioto as the result of rival’s pressure from the very goal line.
Quioto is looking two options, one is to pass the ball to the lateral moving to the front, the other option is about to pass the ball to Urruti who is moving to the open space.
When central defenders get rid of opponent’s first line of pressure, they take and move the ball beyond midfield, then they look to pass the ball to midfielders Piette or Taïder or to the wing-backs that constantly move to the front.
In the image below, the central defender Waterman is crossing midfield to pass the ball to Taider who has already identified the right wing-back position. In the inside of the attack formation, midfielders join the centre forward (three players at the striking position) plus one of the two midfielders.
Outward-Inward attack tactic, regardless of the often rotation between midfielders and lateral defenders, they always position two players near the sidelines and three in the inside section of the final third of the field.
Here, another image to show the same tactic already explained.
Once they reach the final third of the field, there are five attack players inside the box, leaving the defensive zone with three central defenders and one defensive midfielder.
Maximiliano Urruti, a seasoned MLS centre forward is the most effective striker, scoring three goals in two matches. With a 66.7% shoots aiming at the goal and an xG of .97 (highest in the team) he is the reference player at the attack.
In the below map, he prefers to play leaning to his right side where he finds better associations.
Out of possession
As mentioned before in this analysis, Henry gives priority to the defence aspect of the game.
When you see a team lineup with three central defenders, two wing-backs and two defensive midfielders, you might think in a solid unit, however, after four games playing underly this scheme, Montreal Impact has allowed five goals. They must keep working on improvements here.
Defensively they wait only in front of half the field and sometimes on their ground. They put a single player in the front to try to prevent the ball from returning to the opposition’s central defenders.
The rest of the centre is maintained with a line of four midfielders who work to close any inside passes from the opposition. These midfielders are responsible for being the first pressors against the opposing sides with the wing-back pushing up to control the sides.
A line of three central defenders and two wing-backs on the sides maintain the back. In this structure, the two wing-backs are tasked to push outside of the defence to control wing movements from the opposition.
Lack of coordination between defensive midfielders, We observe this detail in the game against FC Dallas We observe the line of five defenders who are solidly positioned with all three centre-backs marking a rival player and the wing-back coming outside to control the wing area. But the defensive midfielders are in the same zone leaving the centre of the box with open space.
Despite recovering the ball very close to his box, Montreal Impact counts on fast players on the sidelines. Quioto (left) and Brault-Guillard (right), which makes it a very dangerous team to counterattack.
This is a tactically orderly team, “short” distances between lines and once they recover the ball, they look for a fast transition to the front, passing the ball to the sidelines or the centre forwards (Krkic or Urruti).
In the next image, the defender recovers the ball and it’s quickly moved to Urriti, allowing the wing-backs to a position in the striking zone.
The attack is generated by the speedy departure of the two wing-backs joining the two offensive midfielders and the centre forward, and sometimes one of the defensive midfielders is also added to the front.
Montreal Impact doesn’t look for a quick recovery of the ball, what they look for is reposition themselves in their assigned positions in the field.
In the next graph, we observe no recoveries in the last third, but they are recovered in its box.
Defending so close to its goal allows Montreal Impact to avoid huge spaces behind its defensive line but also prevents it to make a rapid transition to the front.
Top Image; when the team is in attacking mode (five players beyond the ball line) and they lost the ball, they do not apply an intense pressing to get it back, they just try to “delay” rival’s attack before they reposition themselves in the defensive zone.
This lack of pressure wears out all players, long forty meters runs are not going to be sustainable thru an entire game.
Today, set pieces are of great importance, as more than 30% of the goals scored are derived from these situations.
Although Montreal Impact does not have a large repertoire of prepared plays, there is one that they execute constantly.
In the corner, the Montreal Impact sends six finishers to the area, with the corner being taken by a person who crosses well. A player in the penalty point is the one who at the moment of the cross starts his run to the back post so that he changes the direction of the ball to the near post.
A player near the boundary of the penalty area makes a run towards the near post to get on the end of his teammate’s headed pass.
In the corner kick against, they do a mixed marking system with two man-to-man markings and six players located on the line in a more zonal manner.
The problem present is that when the opposing team makes a short charge, man-to-man markings are lost.
And the defence remains on the line leaving the three rival players unmarked.
Montreal Impact is looking to return to the playoffs based on defensive order, but after four games, it’s clear there’s a lot of work to do. Unbalanced sidelines, laterals should maintain order in the centre of the field, etc.
Without big names in the lineup, seasoned players and young ones looking for an opportunity, the biggest challenge for Henry is going to make sure his players understand his visión and execute it to the letter.
In the front, Urruti is the striker they will need so improving his understanding with Krkic or Jackson-Hamel will increase striking/scoring opportunities for the team.
If they improve ball posesión beyond its defensive line and keep a strong order when under attack, their chances to reach the playoffs are well alive.
DC United has a coach who is out of the ordinary in today’s football world, having been in charge of the team for 10 years.
DC United is a team of tradition in the MLS and managed to conquer four titles being the last of these in 2005.
Without a doubt, one of his most important losses is that of former Manchester United Wayne Rooney, who currently plays for Derby County in the Premier League.
This tactical analysis shows how the attack of this team is trying to reinvent itself with the arrival of the Peruvian player Edison Flores, keeping in the defensive zone the men that have led them to be, along with the Los Angeles team, the team with the least number of goals conceded in the previous tournament.
In their two matches this season, the DC United team has used the same formation. With a 4-3-3 in possession and a 4-5-1 out of possession. Very early in the tournament and with only two dates played, the team received three goals situation that surely worries its technician.
DC United is a team that likes to build the attack from its own goal, maintain good possession of the ball but in their field but have had difficulty moving this position to rival field.
With the two central defenders positioned near the sideline allowing the defensive midfielder Junior Moreno to find space to take the pressure off the opposing strikers.
The possession of the ball between the central defenders with the three central midfielders is very good, but it is clear that the coach Olsen does not end up defining what will be the way to attack.
And we can see that in the comparison of the following two graphs corresponding to the two games he played in this tournament.
In the graph on the left side, which belongs to the first game against Colorado Rapids, we see a team that centralized their attack a lot. With the two attacking midfielders going towards the centre but not having the depth of their wing-backs.
The very close positioning of Edison Flores and Ulises Segura, caused many of the passes to go towards the centre and along with Ola Kamara, the attack did not find room to develop.
Contrary to the first game, in the following one, when they faced Inter Miami, the team modified its way of attacking and obtained better results.
By using the sides much more and above all the attack from the wing-backs, generated spaces in the centre that was better used.
In the graph on the right side, you can see how the offensive midfielders keep closer to the line, without saturating the inside.
And this was reflected in two points, in particular, the possession of the ball improved concerning the first game and although the number of offensive actions decreased, the xG increased significantly.
In the graphs above, we can see the increase in ball possession, due to a better occupation of the field and this we see in the 62% of which he obtained during the first half of his game against Inter Miami.
Also, as we mentioned before, the team’s xG increased from .80 to 1.26.
In the next image, we observe the defensive layout against the Inter Miami.
When comparing both games, during the second game, DC United’s possession of the ball was translated in sustained control of the ball into rival’s territory.
In the image below, we can see how the wing-backs are kept close to the sides, allowing the midfielders who also reach the opponent’s box to find space inside.
In another image below, we again observe how a single player (the left-wing) positioned inside manages to keep three defenders of the opposing team busy and while the right-wing together with the midfielder attract the mark of four rivals.
With a triangulation, they manage to eliminate seven rivals, and this makes the midfielder appear inside the rival box without a mark, in a clear option of goal.
Midfielders moving to the striking zone creates havoc on rival’s defensive line.
Out of possession
Defensive strategy has not been fully defined yet. Sometimes they try to apply a “last third pressing” but there’s not a good coordination among players and this eventually translates in problems for the defensive line that just kept two central defenders.
In the image below, seven players applying pressure but without coordinate moves, they did not achieve what they were looking for.
The centre forward, the right-winge and the midfielder go towards the same man (central defender) and a little further back the same player is marked by the right wing-back and the defensive midfielder.
The result of a poor pressing results in the loss of the ball, then the Inter Miami’s attacking players face an unorganized DC United’s defensive line.
Another situation that often arises is the lack of defensive work by the wings and the lack of speed by the midfielders to help the defensive line.
As we saw before in this tactical analysis, it is a team that likes to position many players on the rival’s field, but when they have to return to defend, they do not do it with determination allowing spaces on the sides that are taken advantage of by the opponents.
In the following image, the Colorado Rapids team can be seen, with clearances on both sides of the area.
Similar situation. We observe the defensive line closing spaces in the centre of the box but since the midfielders not supporting on defensive duties, both sidelines are open for the rival to create more striking opportunities.
The “last third pressing” not always yield the expected results and when they eventually recover the ball they try a vertical attack. DC United does not defend near of its goal line and when they recover the ball at midfield, it’s because of its three forward players.
DC United doesn’t have fast players at the front line so they carry out the ball allowing midfielders to arrive to the striking zone, then creating spaces in rival’s defensive line.
This is one of the most urgent concerns for coach Olsen. The vast majority of the rival’s opportunities came from failures when DC United tried to keep control of the ball at its goal line, wrong passes and not recovering the ball, even with a foul play.
In the image above, we can see the lost balls that where shooted aiming to the goal (yellow).
Next, we show an image from game two against Inter Miami.
The midfielder tries to play a horizontal pass to his teammate but hands the ball to the opposing player. The team had already positioned eight of their players beyond the ball line, this at the moment of losing the possession of the ball leaves them at a disadvantage to defend.
This action is repeated in the same game. In a situation without pressure from the opponent, the ball is lost near his own goal, giving the Inter Miami team a chance.
The team is observed controlling the ball from their area. However, when the midfielder drives to the centre, the ball is lost and possession is given to the opponent.
The ball is retrieved by the opposing team making a vertical attack. The DC United players have to return at speed to their own goal.
Julian Gressel is the designated corner kicker. When it’s coming from the right side, the ball moves to the penalty mark and when it’s kicked from the left corner, the ball goes to the far post.
Five players inside the box, three are positioned around the penalty mark and the other two around rival’s goalkeeper. At the moment the ball is kicked off, of the two players near the goal line moves backwards trying to avoid the defender. Another move to free up the far post, one of the players around the penalty mark goes to the front looking the ball, then two defenders follow him.
In this case, the tactic worked well plus the goalkeeper’s mistake allowing the ball reaching a rival who strikes and scores.
DC United not dealing well with corners and free-kicks against. Even though its central defenders stand high in stature, lack of coordination to cover rivals inside the box has resulted in one score.
They do a mixed marking system with three man-to-man markings and four players located on the line in a more zonal manner.
On the first play, the defence behaves well, but on the second play, there is a lack of attention and the marks are lost allowing the rival player to shoot.
Ben Olsen’s team showed the skill to adjust its strategy at each of its two games this season. With the same lineup but different attacking mindset, the team improve the control of the ball and the number of striking opportunities.
The biggest problem is the defensive transitions, forward and midfielders are not giving their 100% effort on this matter plus losing the ball at its defensive zone complicates the entire strategy.
If Olsen finds and solve these issues and moves Flores to the right place in the field, this team could compete for something important, although they are not among the candidates for the championship, they will give some surprises along the way.