by Isaac Walker
Editor’s Note: Throughout the season, we will being taking a look at the tactics used by Memphis 901FC. We will look at both positive and negative outcomes in hopes that our readers grow in their understanding of and appreciation for tactics in the beautiful game.
From the first whistle, it was clear 901 FC wanted to get the ball up high as often as possible. Much of the offensive gameplan centered on long balls driven either over the top or whipped in from wing positions. Given what little we know of the team and the physical advantages Elliot Collier has over most defenders, this seems as good as tactic as any. Where the breakdown often came would be with when and where these balls were played. Let’s look at one example midway through the first half.
After giving up an early goal, Memphis had settled down a bit. Despite poor transitional play, possession within the defending and attacking thirds was solid most of the night. In this case, Memphis has just regained possession in the attacking third after a cross from the right wing wasn’t pushed clear. Right back Wesley Charpie finds himself with the ball, relatively unpressured on the right wing.
Notice how the Rowdies have nine defenders behind the ball and are very compact. This is a pretty solid shape, especially considering they were just scrambling after a cross.
Conversely, the shape of Memphis leaves much to be desired. Positionally, there is a lot going on here. Let me start by conceding this comes immediately after Metzger (6) has crossed a ball from the deep right corner and is trying to track back to his holding mid position. Still, both wings – Muckette and Dally – are tucked WAY inside. Najem (10) has pushed ball side in position to receive a split pass from Charpie. This positioning is actually not bad. For me, there are three issues here: 1) the compact shape on attack weakens the ability to unbalance or spread the defense, 2) in general, Charpie is preparing to play into a 5 v 9 numbers down situation, and 3) there is no width or advancing support from the back line or opposite wing. So what should Charpie do in this instance?
The first option would be to pull the ball back. Memphis did this well most of the night in the defensive and middle thirds. When Tampa Bay was compact, Memphis brought the ball back to pull the defenders out into space. Unfortunately, that same patience was usually not displayed on attack.
Another option would have been for Charpie to reverse the ball to an oncoming holding mid (Grandison) or a back side left back (Hodge). In this instance there was no supporting runs to be found – at least not early enough that Charpie was able to identify it. Another option would be to try and back Tampa Bay’s back line with a ball played in behind them into the right side of the box. Dally is making a run to the middle to sit. Muckette, Najem, and Collier are also sitting. No one is signaling a run into that space. So Charpie either has to anticipate a late run and play a looping ball into that area or look for something else. All signs point to the front four looking for a cross. If Charpie plays the cross into the near side of the penalty area, he has a 3v3 situation with Dally, Muckette, and Najem.
Charpie chooses to play the deep ball to Collier – something we saw continuously all night. Most of the time (like here) Collier finds himself outnumbered. Here he is backpedaling to win a ball against three defenders. Even if he should win this ball, his options are limited. His best chance is to head the ball down to a teammate in the box.
The advancing attackers offer little in support. What you would like to see is one pushing to the goal, one checking high in the penalty box, and one swinging backside. What Collier got was one option, as the other two were covered up. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway as the ball went well over the top.
This is something we saw a lot this first game – long balls played into numbers down situations. Moving forward, we would like to see better awareness of where and when to play these balls. All-in-all, you saw a lot of promise from a side that has trained and played very little together. I expect these areas to improve quickly as teammates begin to understand tendencies and movements off the ball that only come with familiarity.