Let’s Talk Tactics

You be the coach.

After last Saturday night’s catastrophe, I suspect the jig is up on Chicago’s 4-2-3-1 (ish) tactical formation.

And with a hot, smart team in DC United coming to town to battle the Men in Red for second place in the Eastern Conference this Saturday, I’m not wholly convinced that “business as usual” will get the job done.

So that said, let’s have a conversation about some tactical variations that Frank Klopas could employ this weekend when he matches wits with the head coach of the Dirty Birds in black – filthy-mouthed Ben Olson…

As you probably know all too well, New England’s “Screamin'” Jay Heaps employed a tactical formation that completely stifled the Men in Red last Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. Heaps’s 4-1-4-1 – whose sole aim was to take Chris Rolfe out of the match – worked like a charm. Heaps placed Clyde Simms at defensive mid in front of the Revs’ back four to track, harass, and beat upon Chicago’s trequartista Rolfe. In addition, Heaps placed Jerry Bengston as the lone striker up top, which, aside from Simms, left an another four midfielders on the pitch for New England. The latter move clogged the midfield and pinched wingers Patrick Nyarko and Alvaro Fernandez off the flanks, thus neutralizing them as well. And finally, by default, Heaps’s tactics isolated Sherjill MacDonald up top and left him helpless; with no possibility of receiving effective service from the midfield.

So, the purpose of this piece is to start a dialogue about the Fire’s tactical options heading into the HUGE match this Saturday vs. DC. Guille Franco is back from suspension, and it looks like Pavel Pardo will return this week as well. As such, it seems that the Fire are now back to full strength, which gives them more options to choose from. Personally, I’d like to see Frank Klopas deviate from the norm and surprise DC right out of the gate with something other than a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-1-1.

If you recall the match at KC about a month ago, you may remember the tactical shift Klopas employed to generate more offense in the second-half. When Oduro, and then Franco, entered the match, the formation shifted to a 4-4-2 diamond. This move made a visible positive impact on Chicago’s ability to create scoring chances. Furthermore, I’m convinced that the Fire would have walked away with at least a point from that match if not for the awful officiating by Chris Penso. Had Penso called a clean match, the shift to the 4-4-2 diamond would have generated a goal, if not two.

If you haven’t yet figured it out, my idea is for Chicago to go toe-to-toe with Olson and company by employing a 4-4-2 diamond. What might this look like? Let’s see…

Chicago Fire starting 4-4-2 diamond vs. DC United, 10/27/12.

Okay, so this is what the starting XI might look like. Simple enough, right? Now, given that it’s unlikely Oduro and Pardo will go the full 90 minutes, and assuming Klopas would use his third sub, let’s see how the personnel might change during the match…

Chicago Fire 4-4-2 diamond with substitutions vs. DC United, 10/27/12.

Here’s where it gets a bit more complicated, so I’ll go through it point by point:

  • Coming off an injury and a six-game absence, Pavel Pardo will most likely not play the full 90 minutes. As such, the logical choice is to sub on Logan Pause in the second half – especially if the Fire manage to have the lead.
  • Dominic Oduro hasn’t played a full match in some time, so Guille Franco would be available to come in around the 65th minute to spell Dom and offer a different type of challenge to DC.
  • Now, this leaves Klopas with his third and last sub. Barring any injuries, you see the options above: Alex for Chris Rolfe at the top of the diamond, or Wells Thompson for either winger (Patrick Nyarko or Flaco Fernandez).

This is my proposition. I’d love to see this. And given what’s gone down in Chicago’s last four matches, I think this is the right move.

But more importantly, I want to hear from you! What do you think of the 4-4-2 diamond as proposed here? Or, should Klopas stick with his usual 4-2-3-1 variant? Is there a better option not yet discussed? Why or why not?

So, here’s your chance to play head coach, get in the mix, and generate a debate about how the Fire can best earn three points on Saturday afternoon at Toyota Park. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation rolling!

And, if you want to create your own formations (and perhaps post them in the comments section), check out Football Formation UK!

Yours in victory,

Coach Fenwick

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Tactics

  1. Actually I like the 4-2-3-1 vs. 4-4-2 matchup. Either Pardo or Pause should always be open and Chicago’s midfield/attacking width should cause problems with the natural narrowness of the DC midfield diamond. If DC gets pulled into a 4-3-1-2, then Rolfe will have space to operate between the lines. If not, there will be a lot of space in the center of midfield into which Rolfe can drop or Pardo or Pause can surge. Having a healthy Pardo is huge because although Chicago’s two ‘defensive’ midfielders should have time/space, they’ll need to use it quickly, intelligently and effectively. My prediction is that Pardo’s the pivot (both literally and figuratively) on which the game will revolve.

  2. I’m not sure I like throwing Oduro into the match for such a massive game. He hasn’t started since…when? Also, not starting your captain takes some guts, and I’m sure Franky Klopas will think hard before he pulls such a drastic move.

    If you look at other games where we have drastically underperformed this season (i.e. the DC game), we have always come back strong for our next home match. I think it is wise to stick with the 4-2-3-1 to start (Johnson – Sega, Friedrich, Berry, Anibaba – Pause, Pardo – Nyarko, Rolfe, Fernandez – Mac.

    However, if we can’t generate offense, it is easily shifted to a 4-4-2 in the second half simply by having Pardo come off for either Alex, Oduro, or Franco. Rolfe can play the 10 or he can partner Mac up top just as well.

    • Dear Caleb,

      This makes a lot of sense. And I totally agree that stripping Pause of the arm band would be looked upon as a move of some gravity. I’m not sure it would matter in the end, but I see your point. I prefer Pardo or Friedrich, Pause’s “blah” comment notwithstanding.


      What about keeping Oduro on the bench and starting Mac D and Rolfe up top, with Alex at the top of the Diamond?

      And yes, your point about the team’s ability to bounce back and, because of that, they should stick with the 4-2-3-1, is a point well taken. Perhaps Arne and Pavel will prove to be the difference? Let’s hope so.

      And I think you’re correct to say that an alternative tactical plan, whatever it may be, should be in place for the second half if the Fire find themselves down and unable to generate offense.

      In sum, I guess what prompted this piece are these cold, hard facts:

      – Chicago has lost 3 of its last four.
      – Chicago has been outscored 6-3 in those four games, with four of those goals scored by non-playoff teams.

      Thanks very much for your comment and let’s get three points on Saturday!



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