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Tactical Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew SC

Some surprise inclusions in today’s matchup.

Hello and welcome to this week’s tactical preview of Columbus Crew SC vs. Philadelphia Union. The Black & Gold welcome the Union for a 7:30 pm ET kickoff and turn around with a quick “return leg” on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Lineups have been announced for today’s home match so let’s see what we can expect from Gregg Berhalter’s team tactically and what they will have to look out for from the Union.

The starting XI this week comes with a few surprises — and no, none of them is Christian Martinez. But Lalas Abubakar, who performed admirably in Columbus’ last match, retains his starting role for two games running.

Tactical Projection

The teams had nearly a two week break for the Gold Cup, and while some injuries have been mended, it seems that Nicolai Naess may still be struggling with an injury to his ankle, so that may lead to Lalas’ surprise inclusion in this one.

With three center backs named in this tie, I am fully expecting the 3-4-3 that we have seen previously this season, including last match against Minnesota United. In that game, while Crew SC got the win, it wasn’t exactly one to write home about as the three/five-defender setup lends to a more passive and controlled approach — but that is likely what Berhalter wants in this match.

Columbus Crew SC lineup vs. Phildelphia Union | July 22, 2017
Nathaniel Marhefka

Philadelphia like to press, albeit not an aggressive press, but they look to cut out a lot of passing lanes and mark out players around the midfield line. With this setup, Crew SC has a lot of speed and width to try and stretch the play and apply constant pressure to the Union’s outside backs and wingers. The latter of which is the key here — Philly is good on the counter, but the team’s wingers will be asked to man mark opposition throughout the match.

By forcing Harrison Afful and Jukka Raitala high on the wings it will present a real issue for this man-marking system. Do the wingers track deep to their own defensive line, do they alter their marking system, or do they mark higher up this pitch? Look for Columbus to try and pin these players as deep as they can while trying to get behind on the backside channels.

Manneh over Finlay

For a second match in a row, Kekuta Manneh grabs a start for Columbus. This time, the change comes at the expense of Ethan Finlay. While one can only suppose the reason for the change, it seems that Manneh may just be preferred in this 3-4-3 system as he seems a bit more comfortable playing narrower than his counterpart.

But fully expect to see Finlay as a substitute late in the game, for either Meram or Manneh, which will likely be pre-decided by Berhalter as the team looks to conserve fitness levels during this week and a half of fixture congestion.

Injuries Update

Just to update you… Other players suffering knocks are Nico Naess who is on the bench but may still be struggling with his ankle, Mohammed Abu has sustained a sprained ankle, Niko Hansen is still recovering from a sports hernia surgery and Federico Higuain will miss this one with a right knee sprain.

On Philadelphia’s end they are without goalkeeper Andre Blake, Chris Pontius, and Roland Alberg. Alberg is news to me, and we talked about him on the pod, but he is suspended this match for a tackle midweek against Montreal.