This is the first season for Brad Friedel as the New England coach. They have played eight matches so far with four wins, two draws and two losses. So, they had fairly good stats, and they came to this clash with two good signs. First of all, they beat Sporting Kansas City’s seven-match unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory last Saturday. Secondly, Montreal were on a four-match losing streak before this match. Another really good sign was that Montreal have conceded an average 2.6 goals per match (21 goals in 8 matches), but New England only 1.0 goals in the same stat (8 goals in 8 matches). Thus these stats indicated a victory for Brad Friedel’s side and they put a lot of effort into this match and for this win, but in the end, they lost out. Let’s see how this happened.
Revs’ effective pressing scheme
The Revs chose to stop Montreal’s attacks and their whole plan was an aggressive man-marking pressing scheme. It started from the home side’s build-up phase. When the goalkeeper passed to one of the two centre-backs, the Revs’s pressing started. The centre-backs stretched the field, so they positioned around the edge of the box. The Revs formed a 4-4-2 shape with their pressing (you can see below). Fagundez moved up next to Bunbury and they focused on maintaining a close distance to the centre-backs. The wingers, Agudelo and Penilla, paired with the two fullbacks, Duvall and Lovitz, while Caicedo stuck to Piette and Zahibo marked Silva.
With this intense man-oriented system they could neutralise the Montreal’s attempts. This allows immediate access to every opponent, thus they could pressure everywhere the ball goes. They could prevent to reach the front three with passes, especially Piatti. This was a huge issue for Remi Garde’s men’s build-up. In the whole first half, they could not deal with the press and outplay it. Only a few times they managed to threaten the guests’ goal.
Thanks to the press, New England often forced the opponent to recycle through the keeper. When it happened they maintained to cut off the all-close option and force Bush to use long balls, which often ended up with the side losing the ball.
However, these were tough situations, but there are solutions for breaking this press. Remi Garde should rely on the fact that the opponent did not put pressure on the goalkeeper, which encourages and also allows him to dribble further up the field. That would attract the pressure and it could overrule the man-marking task. The previously marked team-mates become free, which opens the way for progress.
The other prominent way to eliminate the Revs’ pressing was the position of Lovitz and Taider itself because Montreal had a numerical advantage in that area. Most of the defences – especially the man-oriented – prefer to have a spare man in the first line. As in our case, Anibaba and Dielna marked Jackson, therefore they have a numerical advantage in there. However, it foreshadows that the Revs will have a handicap in another area. This was at the right wing, where Agudelo had to choose which opponent will be marked. So, only one question remains, how did Montreal use this advantage? Truth be told, fairly poorly. They should force to play through there and use dynamic positioning or other combinations to achieve a breakthrough.
On some occasions, the home side could beat the man-oriented scheme. Like when Taider dribbled through the midfield line and penetrated the created space. Or in the 27th minute, when Montreal used a combination. The 3rd man wall pass is a highly effective way to break through the defensive lines. The ball-carrier can’t pass to the further team-mates, because the defending team player uses his cover shadow to block the passing lanes. So, an alternative route is required, one that can provide for another nearby team-mate. In our instance, Silva dropped to get the ball and laid it off to Piette.
New England’s attacking problems
Their plan was to target their fast attackers, like Penilla or Bunbury, and directly move towards the goal or try to get behind the defensive line at the wings and use crosses. These were not too effective. Montreal could easily defend these situations, especially the crosses. The guests really lacked various attacking schemes or combinations. It got worse in the second half. Since Montreal got the lead, they could sit deeper and emphasised on counter-attacks. Edwards and Piatti dropped deep more frequently and formed a 4-1-4-1 shape.
It allows them to control the middle of the pitch and it made it difficult for the guests to build-up the play. Caicedo moved between Anibaba and Dielna to get involved in the ball circulation, while the fullbacks positioned in the opponent’s half. New England were lacking in ability to access advanced midfield areas against Montreal’s 4-1-4-1, this was due to a number of factors.
They were unable to progress through the centre and the players in advanced positions also looked a bit isolated, which means they lacked clear passing options. That forced them into a longer and lower percentage pass, giving Montreal’s side a better chance of recovering possession, sometimes in a dangerous area. They could close down the passing lanes.
The long balls towards the Revs’ stickers were ineffective because of the predictable nature of the destination and the time that the ball takes to travel. The defenders could easily separate the striker from the ball because in these situations the team-mates did not help the striker. He could not lay off, because he received in an isolated environment. The guests also met with problems in the flanks, because they were unable to find a way, due to the fact that the home side closed down the wings too. They made a numerical advantage with the ball-near winger and CM shifting towards the ball. They also used man-marking to prevent passes to other areas.
Their biggest chances came through set pieces or corners and when retaining possession in dangerous areas. We will see this later.
The goal at the end of the first half was the worst for the guests, mainly because of the timing. Everything New England did in the first half was wasted. It was predictable that their pressing will let up since it required a lot of energy. And how less intense their pressing becomes the more danger in Montreal’s quick attacks. Taider often receives the ball in the middle of the pitch and without pressure, he had enough time for targeting the forwards. This led to some dangerous counter-attacks.
However, these weren’t the chances where they scored the goals. In some cases, they could win the ball with at the opponent’s half through the counter-press. These were highly dangerous situations due to the nature of the counter-press. After the attacking team loses the ball they have a small period of time – 5-6 seconds – to intensely counter-press the possession side and try to retain possession before the opponent can re-organise. This is the advantage what counter-pressing is targeting. However, there are some different ways to do it. Brad Friedel’s men used a ball-oriented method which means they surrender the ball-carrier. For example, New England managed to get the ball back a few times during the first half, but they were acting in haste after they had the ball. In certain instances when in front of the penalty box they win the ball back and immediately shoot it on target.
The home side also used this tool and they did it much more effectively because they could score, due to their quick attacking ability. New England were in the middle of the transition from defending to attacking. When they steal the ball at the opponent’s half the Revs were really vulnerable. Therefore, these were great opportunities for Montreal.
This defeat shows that Brad Friedel has a lot of work to do. They lacked a strong offensive plan to consistently create chances, especially when their primary tool was eliminated. Revs will need to display stronger performances if they are to achieve higher aims.
A win for Remi Garde’s side means they break the losing streak, which was really needed. This was a very dominant and convincing win for the home side and they have an impressive counter-attacking skill. But this was the perfect circumstance to do it because the guests left too much space for them in the second half.
New England continues their Canadian journey as they will face Toronto on Saturday and Montreal will meet with Philadelphia.