Monday, March 18, 2013

Time to Switch to a 4-4-2?

Since Peter Vermes' first full season in charge of Sporting Kansas City he's worked to fit the team into his image and get a team that will play the style that he wants them to play.  A high speed, high tempo, attacking oriented style through the 4-3-3 formation. 

Through his time he's gone through a number of different players trying to get the best group of players to make that formation work for him.  Over the past two seasons he's had probably his best lineup for that.  With the likes of Kei Kamara, CJ Sapong, and Teal Bunbury up top, with Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, and Julio Cesar in the midfield, and the development of Chance Myers and Matt Besler along with additions of Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic have made the defense solid.  The 4-3-3 has helped to lead Kansas City to two straight 1st place finishes in the Eastern Conference in the regular season and a US Open Cup title last season.

But then this offseason, Roger Espinoza departed for the Premier League, and Kei Kamara followed going on loan at least until May.  With those two gone, Sporting KC's 4-3-3 so far this season has looked different.  Without Kamara, KC lost a lot of athleticism in their attack, the unpredictability, and the speed that Kamara brought.  His move to Norwich on loan has also affected KC defensively as well, as it's hurt Chance Myers and his ability to get forward.  Zusi, who played in the right forward spot in the first two games has played quite well , he's not the same type of player as Kamara, he doesn't offer the same style that Kamara did that really complemented Myers.

Without Espinoza, KC's midfield has changed a bit.  Paulo Nagamura has helped to fill the void, but no one can replace Espinoza's work ethic and engine on the field.  Oriol Rosell has done a decent job of replacing Julio Cesar, but doesn't have the experience of the Brazilian.

With those two exiting, KC has moved new parts in and has kept the 4-3-3.  Zusi has moved into the right forward position with Benny Feilhaber moving into the midfield.  With the changes though the team just doesn't seem to be playing the same.  The style that KC exhibited in the 4-3-3 the last two years isn't there.  The team now has more play making ability in the lineup, but don't have the dynamic game changer there like Kamara. So far this season, Kansas City's new designated player, Claudio Bieler, while having scored 2 goals this season has been starved for service for long periods of the game.  With Zusi on one wing and Bobby Convey on the other, Sporting is getting some service, but the crosses aren't the type of service that Bieler really takes advantage of.  When CJ Sapong has come on, KC has scored 3 of their 4 goals.  When Sapong was inserted into the lineup over the weekend against the Fire, I had hopes that Sapong would be able to combine with Bieler more, but it didn't work as well as expected. Sapong spent a lot of time out wide on the right and didn't really get much opportunity to combine with Bieler.

At this point you have to start to wonder if Kansas City needs to consider a switch to a 4-4-2 from the 4-3-3.  While the 3 forward lineup has served KC well, with the pieces that Kansas City currently has a 4-4-2 would fit more for KC.

A 4-4-2 formation would allow Kansas City to play with Bieler and Sapong paired together up top with Sapong playing more back to goal and Bieler being able to play off of him.  I think that style would benefit both players as Bieler has been isolated quite a bit this year with the way KC has played, providing him with a partner I think would make Bieler more successful.

In the midfield KC could play two main different ways.  The team could play an "empty bucket" with 2 of Zusi, Feilhaber, and Convey on the two wings with Nagamura and Rosell behind them in the middle playing more defensively.  The other possibility is to have all 3 of Zusi, Feilhaber, and Convey on the field with Nagamura or Rosell playing the defensive midfield position behind them.  This puts a lot of pressure on whichever of the two plays the defensive midfield position, but could be a good formation for KC to play at home where teams are going to sit back and KC is going to have the possession to play another attacking midfielder.

The 4-3-3 has served KC quite well the past two years.  But with KC's player personnel right now, it may be time to take a step away from that formation, at least temporarily, and play a formation that will play more to KC's strengths and get Bieler some support up top so he is not as isolated.


The Distributor Network said...

While I see where you're coming from, I sort of disagree.

Yes, there were periods of time where Bieler lacked service. But I'm not so sure "service" is exactly what he was looking for. Players like Kamara, Sapong, and Bunbury are more physical, aerial and athletic; Bieler has these attributes, but in my opinion, seems to prefer combination play in and around the box.

I've noticed Sporting's possession and combination play has improved, creating more high-percentage chances -- less aimless crossing, more getting behind the defense with crafty passing and possession. In the long run, I think the threesome in the midfield with crafty players out wide in the final third like Zusi and Convey might prove to be a good thing.

I think the team is still adjusting to the new faces and style of the team, but I think with a little patience, this formation could take us far again.

No matter your opinion, I really don't see Vermes changing up the formation; it's literally what he's built this system around.

Good post by the way.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely, Mike. Sapong and Bieler are a classic two striker pairing. I think Vermes can get the two of them together without completely ditching the use of wingers by going to a 4-1-3-2 which is really just a modified 4-4-2 with wing midfielder pushed further up the field.

bfos said...

This team was putrid offensively last year as well, even with all of those key players we are now missing. Vermes has shown very little tactical ability to improve his offense and he regularly makes questionable-at-best decisions with starters and positioning. He's never come close to getting the most out of all of the offensive talent he does a great job acquiring. So, regardless of what would be a better option, I have no confidence he'd make the right decision.

Nathan Martin said...

Vermes is more likely to shift how the 4-3-3 is played than shifting out of the 4-3-3.

Essentially, we are on the same track here though: personnel and style have changed so positional responsibilities should change as well.

Sapong should pinch inside and stay a bit higher while Nagamura can shift to CJ's side (right or left) for defensive reinforcement.

Bieler should see more of the ball as he and CJ can create space for each other by dragging defenders one way or the other.

Feilhaber needs to take more responsibility for beating his man either with a dribble, pass, or shot. Otherwise it's too easy to smother Bieler in which case Zusi or Peterson Joseph would be the better option.

Also a sidenote, Mechack is much slower than Myers so that probably reduced the number of endline crosses and allowed the Fire defense to pack into the box moreso than with Myers playing.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. 442 on the road, 4132 at home and against weaker opponents on the road. win win and hopefully lots of wins.

Anonymous said...

Right now we really only have 2 healthy starting strikers. Saads not a starter yet and Convey is more mid. Given that we need to set up our DP in a situation where he well be most successful which means more service. Look at all his goals with prior clubs you will see a theme.

Anonymous said...

^^ so I agree 4-4-2 is the way to go

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Whether you call it a 442 or a 4141, getting both Beiler and Sapong in the middle of the attack is a must. Why Vermes has not come to this conclusion yet is a little perplexing.