It was a two-game block at home for the New England club going into Week 25 against Chicago. They wanted six points from the two games and it was evident based on the way that they played. The Revs dominated most of the game, and only conceded a goal on a quality set piece. Three points down, and three to go for Bruce Arena and company.
Let’s look at the starting 11…
Four changes to the lineup this week. Bruce Arena rolled his team out in a 4-5-1, and started with DeJuan Jones at left back, Michael Mancienne at left center back, Andrew Farrell at right center back, and Brandon Bye at right back. Luis Caicedo and Wilfried Zahibo played roles in the midfield that were more defensive, and Carles Gil played in front of them as an attacking center midfielder. Diego Fagundez and Gustavo Bou played the right and left wings, respectively. Teal Bunbury started in the lone forward role, while Matt Turner got the nod at the other end.
A fluid, adaptive midfield
To be honest, I’m rarely certain of what formation the Revolution are playing at any given time since Arena has taken over and they have found their groove in performance. The team has become so confident in themselves and their movement that they float into areas far from where their traditional position would be in a concrete formation. So much so that their positions — at times — are more like suggestions … and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, this segment should sound familiar to those that have read my breakdowns because I’ve already covered it. But I felt like it had a such a big effect on this game that I had to include it as a takeaway again. I can explain when it showed up.
It showed up early on in the game. I noticed it first around the 6-minute mark when the ball went out of bounds on DeJuan Jones‘ side of the field. Carles Gil initially picked up the ball to take the throw, but quickly dropped it to allow Jones to take it instead. During this time, the camera panned away from the players and offered a great view of the team’s shape that took place while the ball went out of play.
In the image below, you can see that Jones has the ball in his hands on the far side of the field. Fagundez had pinched over into the midfield, which was smart (whether it was deliberate or not) because Zahibo was dropped deep and to the left in Jones’ absence. Fagundez’s movement kept the Revs’ numbers up in the midfield while Brandon Bye stepped up to offer width on the right.
The next example I wanted to share was early in the 27th minute. In one of the first games that Bou played in for New England, I covered his movement off of the ball and the creativity that it brought to the group. In this instance, he floated over to the right side of the field into the space above Zahibo/Caicedo that Carles Gil left. Gil had pushed on to offer height (Penilla was still arriving from the other side of the field).
The takeaway from this image is that the players have developed a sense of where each other are at all times on the field. When one player leaves a space, another player arrives in good timing to show for the ball. They work off of each other and that opens windows in various ways for the play makers to take advantage of. The above image led to the below opportunity.
The play of the outside backs
It was a quiet presence — the play of the outside backs — but I felt it was a pretty big reason for the team’s success getting forward on Saturday night. Both Bye and Jones are extremely athletic players and they can get up and down the field as well as anyone in the league. So when the Revs build quickly out of the back, their support helps the midfielders to have outlet options to their sides. Take a look at how Jones was able to assist Gil in transition in the video below.
If Jones didn’t get forward as quickly as he did in that situation, the Fire defender likely would have gotten goal-side of Gil and stopped the transition. Jones was pretty effective in support of the team’s possession. Most of his passes were in the attacking half and he only failed to connect on one. The other passes he didn’t connect on were in the Revs’ defensive third.
On the other side of the field, Brandon Bye was more effective in the attack. He was involved deep in the attacking third and got eight crossing attempts off of his foot, and set up Zahibo’s goal with his service in the 17th minute. He was positioned really well to slide behind the Chicago backline and receive the ball from Gil’s through ball. As you’ll see in the video below he was perched in an onside position, even with the backline. As soon as the ball left Gil’s foot he was free to serve the ball on his first touch. The rest was history. Zahibo angled his run perfectly across the backline and across the goalkeeper. All he had to do was direct the ball into the back of the net.
Wilfried Zahibo: Zahibo was arguably the best player on the field for the blue shirts. He was generally great on the ball and was very effective in keeping possession for the team. It rarely happens, but Zahibo got more touches on the ball than Gil (who usually leads the team in touches), and posted an 84 percent completion percentage (WhoScored.com).
Zahibo — 92 touches
Gil — 84 touches
Farrell — 81 touches
Gustavo Bou: If this man didn’t score that goal to give his team the win, I would have had him on my “down” list. But when you convert in a big-time moment to be the difference between one and three points for your team, you do get a free pass from all of your negative plays prior.
I was also impressed by his ability to create shooting opportunities by turning out of pressure and using his body to set himself up for a shot in a smaller number of touches. That isn’t something that others on this roster do well.
Matt Turner: Another solid performance from the man with the new contract. He was confident in his decisions to come off of the line and he owned the box.
Carles Gil: At this point, we’ve seen what Gil is capable of doing on the field for this team. He certainly wasn’t near his ceiling this week. I had him for six giveaways (which tied Bou for the most on the team) and he dropped to just below 80 percent in his passing completion on less touches than he normally tallies.
You’ll notice on his passing map that most of his unsuccessful passes were longer, more vertical, passes (this type of pass is not a strength of his). This is an indication of laziness in decision making and it was present throughout the entirety of the game.
Juan Agudelo: When Agudelo came on the field, it didn’t look like he fit in with the other midfielders’ style of play that they played in for the first 70 minutes. He was in a great spot near the 88-minute mark (thanks to a brilliant pass from Bou) to put Juan Fernando Caicedo in on a clean break, but blew the opportunity by playing the pass too long.
It wasn’t all that concerning of a performance, but it definitely wasn’t his best.
A couple of thoughts about this team’s home game against Toronto next weekend:
- What formation will Arena decide to go with? On any given night, that Toronto midfield — Alejandro Pozuelo, Michael Bradley, and Jonathan Osorio — can be one of the best midfields in the league. I’m curious to see which formation he thinks is best suited to get a result against that side.
- Who gets the nod if Teal Bunbury can’t go? Is it Juan Fernando Caicedo? Or does Arena not trust him enough to simply fill in for Bunbury? Will he shift things around and go with a 4-4-2, playing Cristian Penilla and Gustavo Bou as the forwards?
- Despite Zahibo’s recent good performances, will he struggle against Toronto’s midfield? Toronto’s midfield can be very dynamic and physical. Zahibo tends to struggle against opposing midfielders that are much faster than him. Keep an eye on him defensively and whether or not he gets exposed in the defensive third.