Sounders switch up style with 5-4-1 formation producing mixed results

The Seattle Sounders introduced a new formation on their two-match road trip that culminated in a disappointing 1-0 loss to rivals Portland Timbers. Head coach Brian Schmetzer first unveiled the 5-4-1 on the road facing Toronto FC knowing he would be missing multiple starters to injury and as a result of being rested, so a more defensive formation was needed. Osvaldo Alonso and Nicolas Lodeiro missed the trip due to injury and Clint Dempsey stayed home to rest for the Portland Timbers match on Sunday, meaning goals would be at a premium for Seattle. Ultimately the change paid off for the Sounders as they would come out on top with a 2-1 win at BMO Field.

On Sunday Schmetzer and the Sounders trotted out the 5-4-1 again, this time with Dempsey as the lone striker (No. 9) against Portland with Will Bruin home nursing a heel injury. Seattle again defended well for much of the match but were completely shut down offensively. The Sounders only registered 5 shots in the match and only kept one of those on target. Portland found the breakthrough in the 86th minute after Jordy Delem had to take over at centre-back for Kim Kee-Hee who left the game after a cut opened up on the top of his head. Delem would be the one caught out by Sebastian Blanco, allowing the dangerous goal scorer to get behind the defence and finish against Stefan Frei.

On Wednesday in Toronto, Seattle found success because Toronto was playing much higher up the field coupled with a makeshift defense due to Toronto’s injury problems that has lead to Michael Bradley dropping from his preferred defensive-midfield position to centre-back. First Bruin opens the scoring on a counter-attack as the Toronto defense is out of position; both outside defenders are too far up the field and can’t recover in time. The second for Seattle sees Handwalla Bwana getting his first career MLS goal as he’s able to split the defenders and score one-on-one against Alex Bono. A close offside call went in favor of the Sounders as Bwana was left unmarked and was able to latch on to pass from Bruin.

Statistically Seattle should have lost in Toronto after conceding nearly 67% possession and being out shot 24 to 9 but was bailed out by poor defensive sequences from Toronto while also finishing their opportunities. The defensive formation worked to Seattle’s advantage because of Toronto’s more aggressive style.

In Portland there was less of a statistical disparity between the two teams as the Timbers stylistically play with a more defensive approach. Lining up in a 4-3-2-1 gives them a strong defensive base with Diego Chara anchoring the midfield right in front of the back four. This left them less susceptible to counter-attack and allowed them to deny service to Dempsey in that lone striker role. Dempsey constantly had to track back into the midfield to get the ball which allowed the Timbers defence to hold a higher line and keep the midfield compact.

Compared to Dempsey, Bruin is much more comfortable in the No. 9 role as it requires the forward to hold possession and allow distribution to either side of the field. When Dempsey plays alone up top, he drops too deep into midfield and which doesn’t allow him to hold on to possession high up the field to open up space for his teammates.

Playing a 5-4-1 formation is going to mean Seattle playing defensive, less attacking football and relying on counters to create attacks at least until they can shake their injury bug which is going to make for a difficult stretch of games when the Sounders are desperate for points. They’ll have a week off to recover and devise a game plan for their May 26th home match against Real Salt Lake as they try to dig themselves out of last place in the Western Conference.

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Three reasons why Tottenham can win the Premier League under Pochettino

Tottenham Hotspur are on track for their best domestic finish in the Premier League era. They have played some scintillating football, attacking with flare and defending with power. So why can they win the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino? Lewis Addley explores…

The race to win the Premier League title is more intense with each passing week. There are ten points separating top spot and sixth place. Tottenham Hotspur are sitting in second place, seven points behind leaders Chelsea. Pochettino has shown exactly why Spurs deserve to be regarded as capable of winning the league and his continual improvement of the side since taking over points to glory in the future.

While we aren’t suggesting Spurs are going to win the title this season, albeit possible with plenty of games to play, Pochettino has them on the right track to provide the ultimate domestic silverware. Tottenham have lost just two games in the league this season, the joint lowest, while there is a bit of work to be done to turn draws into wins, Pochettino has his side close to where they need to be.

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So what are three key reasons why Pochettino’s Spurs can win the Premier League?

Respect – The players have shown they respect and trust their manager.

The unity of the Spurs squad is apparent for all to see, there doesn’t appear to be an ego in any player to suggest they’re more important than the team. In the wake of the appeal of moving to China, key figures in the Spurs camp have openly said there is no interest for them. Pochettino questioned players’ willingness to move, while talisman Harry Kane believes his teammates are not interested in big money moves, only achieving success at White Hart Lane.

Contracts – Spurs are tying down their players, not selling them.

The importance of not being seen as a ‘stepping-stone’ undoubtedly helps to keep players long-term. Spurs have given out bumper new contracts to their key players and are continuing to negotiate to get those remaining new deals. Rather than attracting world-class signings who see joining Spurs as a way to advertise themselves in the Premier League, they are able to sign players who want to make it to the highest level at the club.

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Tactics – Pochettino seems to have his tactics spot on.

From front to back the current Tottenham side is incredibly strong and they all appear to understand their role and what’s expected of them. This is an incredibly important feature to create a successful side. Failing to get tactics and player roles right leads to underperforming stars and a team lacking unity, something that can arguably be seen at Manchester City during their transitional period. Pochettino has built a team on the foundations of strength in every position. This makes them a powerful outfit and their run of results is proof continual progression.

Spurs are clearly a club on the rise. Their new stadium is well underway and it is an exciting time to be a part of the club for all involved. So long as they continue to improve, their chance of winning the title will increase. While it is difficult to predict whether they will win the title in the current campaign, given the performance levels of the teams around them, Pochettino has to get his players hungry for success. If Spurs can lift a trophy this season it will give the squad the taste of silverware and it could be the start of golden patch.

Do you think Tottenham can win the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino?

Three players Mourinho needs to drop at Manchester United

Jose Mourinho’s start to life as Manchester United manager has not been as smooth as he would have hoped. While this is not a time to press the panic button, it was apparent his side were lacklustre and out of ideas in the 4-0 loss at Chelsea. Lewis Addley explores some potential changes he can make to freshen things up and stop his side from carrying passengers…

Being coached by Mourinho is something a whole host of the world’s best players have enjoyed since he put his name on the map as Porto manager 14 years ago, but the same cannot be said at this moment in time, as his ongoing struggles at Manchester United are not improving.

Mourinho admitted himself that life in Manchester has been difficult to adapt to and his time away from football is something he is not familiar to, living in a hotel and separate from his family.

While United are only six points off the top of the Premier League table in what already looks set to be the most competitive season ever, there is plenty of work to do to get the 20-time champions firing again.

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A number of Mourinho’s marquee summer signings haven’t yet clicked into place and the squad appear to be disjointed and out of ideas, even more so apparent after going 1-0 down to Chelsea without touching the ball on Sunday.

Mourinho has a squad full of talented players and just three changes could potentially make a difference in terms of unpredictability, solidity and energy.

So let’s have a look at those three potential changes…

Forward play: 

Regardless of how many career titles and goals he has to his name, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has struggled in his last few appearances. He started the season well, scoring four goals in his first four games, but the big Swede needs a rest. He clearly has the ability to cause havoc to any opposition defence, but he seems to be getting lost and committing more fouls than creating chances.

He will be the last thing defenders want to see if Mourinho gives the 35-year-old legend a rest and brings him into a couple of games on the bounce with half an hour to go after some of his younger, more energetic teammates have worn down the opposition.

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Verdict: Rest Ibrahimovic and play Rashford in his natural position as a striker. The Englishman will bring in more energy and pace to the attack, leaving the option for Ibra to swoop in for the kill later in the game.

In the middle: 

Everybody knows Mourinho loves a holding midfielder to dominate games with strength and the ability to break up play. But at the moment, the United midfield as a whole have failed to get to grips with fast-paced games, and they’re not being streetwise enough to stop counter attacks as well as creating moves of their own.

Mourinho should look at pulling Marouane Fellaini out of the side. Yes, the big man can cause chaos in the box offensively, but he isn’t doing it. Fellaini has features of his game that make for a player who can have an influence, but he is not a controlling midfielder, he doesn’t dominate games and doesn’t bring an atmosphere of calm to the side.

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Verdict: Drop Fellaini for Michael Carrick or Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mourinho won’t want to backtrack on his decision to ostracise Schweinsteiger from the squad but these two players have unparalleled experience compared to their teammates and can instil a sense of calm to any top-class midfield.

The world’s most expensive player:

An awful lot has been made of Paul Pogba’s slow start to life back in Manchester and it is so obvious he needs some help. While he may be the most expensive player in the world, the Frenchman didn’t ask for that price tag and it is weighing him down. The pressure becomes more intense in each game he underperforms.

Pogba will clearly become a great, he has the talent, personality and is likeable, but he needs a bit of time out of the side to find his feet again. His confidence has been rocked and now is the time for Mourinho to offer him support, like he has done down the years with key players everywhere he has been.

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Verdict: Make Pogba work for this place by pulling him from the starting XI, get an arm around him to make him feel valued and under less pressure. Bring Juan Mata back in, he has plenty of Premier League experience and the creative edge to his game Pogba hasn’t yet shown.

There is work to be done at United, but if they can get on a run of form they will soon silence their critics and despite some poor results, they can close the gap on the title chasing pack.

Should Mourinho make these changes at United? Who do you think should be recalled to the starting XI?

Analysis: Vancouver Whitecaps’ approach is aggressive but effective

The Vancouver Whitecaps currently sit at the top of the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings after five weeks of the regular season and their aggressive approach is working to great effect so far.

Saturday night’s 2-0 win against reigning champions, LA Galaxy, was their fourth in a row and that opening weekend defeat to Toronto seems like a long time ago already.

Carl Robinson has watched his side concede just one goal since the loss against their Canadian rivals and the Whitecaps have now scored seven in five – the tied most in MLS.

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Their attacking play has been good. Not great yet, but the signs are there that if everything clicks, the Whitecaps could be a dominant force.

Pedro Morales is the playmaker and makes everything tick. He already has the tied-most assists in MLS with three in five matches and is averaging two key passes per game.

In front of Morales is fellow Designated Player Octavio Rivero, who has already scored four in five and scooped the March Player of the Month award.

The South American pair have formed a good partnership early on in Vancouver colours and the duo are at the forefront of all the Whitecaps’ attacking play.

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Going forward, Vancouver play an aggressive, fast-paced game and look to hit teams on the counter attack. That is proved by their average possession statistic of 43.5% – the lowest in MLS after five weeks.

Despite seeing less of the ball than any other side, the Whitecaps have registered more shots on target (5.8) than any other team, proving that possession is not everything.

Vancouver Whitecaps statistics after five game

Vancouver Whitecaps’ team statistics after five games (stats via WhoScored.com)

Robinson deserves great credit for setting his team up in a system that keeps them solid at the back, but devastating on the counter.

It is an approach that could lead to low-scoring games as the Whitecaps will have to soak up pressure before attacking. But they have already scored three goals in the 86th minute or later to win matches against Chicago, Orlando and Portland.

Defensively, they have been good but that aggressive approach has seen them pick up more yellow cards (16) than any other side and they have made the second-highest number of fouls in MLS (80).

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have won four in a row for the first time ever as an MLS franchise and Saturday’s win against the LA Galaxy saw them put in their most complete performance this year.

They face Columbus Crew on Wednesday night at home, before a trip to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes next Saturday, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep up the aggression with two games in four days.

What have you made of the Vancouver Whitecaps so far this season? Do they deserve to be at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings?