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Tactical Preview: Chicago Fire comes to Columbus

An in-depth look at today’s lineups and tactical formations.

Montreal Impact v Chicago Fire Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Hello and welcome to this week’s installment of Tactical Preview. We have the Fire coming to Columbus in one of the league’s hottest rivalries. The team from Chicago currently sits three points back from league leaders Toronto FC. With a game in hand, the Fire look to take the first spot this weekend as Toronto faces a tough challenge against Portland. Even though it is a road match, I fully expect Chicago to play for the victory rather than succumb to a draw at this stage in the season.

Columbus comes into this match with a very different perspective. While the Chicago Fire might be one of the league’s strongest teams at the moment, Columbus Crew SC desperately need this victory at home with three teams nipping at the heels for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Columbus Crew SC Lineup

For a sixth week in a row, Gregg Berhalter has opted for a three-man/five-man backline setup. This change seemed to be out of necessity after the Atlanta United match where Federico Higuain went down with an injury. At the current state, it seems this is the preferred tactical setup until the Argentinian playmaker returns from injury.

Berhalter’s staff has been blessed with a recovery to Harrison Afful, and has included him in today’s team sheet in place of Hector Jimenez on the right wing. Personnel changes have also been made at the left wing back and center defender positions as both Jukka Raitala and Alex Crognale put in rather poor performances against the San Jose Earthquakes. Waylon Francis and Josh Williams have been introduced today to see if they can prove to be in better form.

A curious change comes at the left-sided center back position as Nicolai Naess makes way for Lalas Abubakar. While the rookie Ghanaian has been impressive of late, I was happy with Naess’ performance against the Quakes.

Crew Tactics Board

Possibly unfortunate for the weekly readers of this series, Berhalter does not often offer a lot in ways of tactical changes. The formation shifts have been an interesting development but lately he has stuck with the 3-4-2-1. And today is no different, so I will provide a general outline and go into a few little nuances of the defensive side, something I have not yet covered in these articles.

Situated with a three striker front, and four support players behind, the offensive penetration will likely come through the attacking trio, while using the wingbacks as outlets under duress. Expect ball circulation to come through the center pair of Artur and Wil Trapp as they look for splits to open up the defense. This formation provides the Black & Gold dangerous attacking threats on the counter attack.

Steffen; Lalas, Williams, Jonathan; Francis, Artur, Trapp, Afful; Meram, Manneh; Kamara
Crew SC 3-4-2-1 tactical shape versus Chicago Fire | 12 Aug. 2017
Nathaniel Marhefka

Crew Defensive Approach

Defensively for Columbus, we see a medium block with the front three trying to cut a lot of passing lanes down to stop the Fire from the start. Don’t expect a high press from the Black & Gold today as Chicago advances the ball very well into the attacking third.

The three in the back for Columbus may very well look like five for a lot of the match today as Chicago’s wingers play high and force the backline to be a bit more conservative in their approach. As always, Crew SC will play compact defensively and force the play wide and out of the primary danger areas.

What Chicago May Bring

Last match, against New England, the F deployed a very unorthodox 3-5-2. It is very possible we see that again today at some point. However, Chicago appear to be starting with a more traditional 4-2-3-1 to force the backline of Columbus to pin back on the counter.

In this shape, Bastian Schweinsteiger was played in a libero role often playing between the center backs, but given the freedom to roam as play dictated. Michael de Leeuw was used as a right midfielder to neutralize the attacking presence of Kellyn Rowe in the pseudo-left back role.

But the left side of Chicago did not feature a left midfielder as Juninho played as an organizing midfielder — although he often situated himself on the left side of the field. David Accam played slightly beneath Nemanja Nikolic as a supporting striker.

Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic likes to tailor-fit his tactics to his opponent, so you can keep up with developments via my twitter (@GloryToColumbus). The manager also often changes tactics as the match develops, so keep an eye out for that as well.

I will be anxious to put a piece together after this match concludes! Thanks for reading, and stay Massive, friends.