Montreal Impact’s first MLS campaign under new manager Thierry Henry started with a home fixture against the New England Warriors at home. The former Arsenal star was appointed as the manager as soon as the 2019 MLS rounded up, after his lacklustre tenure with Monaco. Bruce Arena’s New England Revolution travelled to Montreal with hopes of kicking things off in style to better their seventh-place finish in Eastern Conference last season. The match, however, turned out to be more dramatic than anyone expected it to be, as Montreal Impact beat New England Revolution 2-1despite conceding first in an evenly matched tie.
In this tactical analysis of Montreal Impact vs New England Revolution, we will be looking at how the teams lined-up, attacked, defended, and what lacked throughout the fixture. We’ll take a look at Thierry Henry’s tactics with his new side and give an analysis of how Montreal Impact managed to make the cut.
Montreal Impact lined up with a 3-4-3 formation, with Clément Diop on goal. Rod Fanni partnered Joel Waterman in the right and Luis Binks towards the left in defence. The four-person midfield consisted of Saphier Taider, Samuel Piette inwards and Jorge Corrales and Zachary Brault-Guillard towards the wide area. Former Barcelona man Bojan Krkic was partnered by Maximiliano Urruti and Romell Quioto upfront for the Montreal side.
Bruce Arena fielded a 4-4-2, starting Matt Turner in front of the post. The four-person defence consisted of Brandon Bye and Andrew Farrell towards the right and Henry Kessler and DeJuan Jones towards the left. Similarly, Teal Bunbury and Scott Caldwell teamed up with Uruguayan Diego Fagundez and Cristian Penilla to complete the midfield setup. The goalscoring duties were set up for Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou upfront.
Montreal Impact’s attacking style
Thierry Henry has always been an avid Pep Guardiola follower, and his start with Montreal shows just the right amount of influence he’s got from the Spaniard. Deploying a 3-4-3, Henry looked to dominate possession and play the ball forward, limiting the space for opponents. While on possession, Montreal Impact maintained a three-person defensive line with either one of Saphier Taider or Samuel Piette in front of them. Henry tried to establish a link in possession with this midfielder, using it for a transition from defence to attack.
As the match progressed, the two sides evenly matched the tempo of the game, concentrating the ball in the middle more often than forward. Montreal Impact, to deal with these situations, tried to play from the wide. Considering the likes of Jorge Corrales and Zachary Brault-Guillard’s presence, this was the reliable option.
Thus, Montreal opted to advance their wide midfielders up front, frequently passing the ball out wide while the inner defenders tracked back to cover and recover the ball. There was another motive of using the width: to bring the most out of Maximiliano Urruti in play.
The two wide midfielders often made advanced runs, hoping to provide a balance and spread the play towards the flanks. The choice of advancing midfielders, however, cost Montreal Impact a considerable disadvantage, as they were not able to create chances from the middle and make the most of Bojan in the middle.
To make up for it, Bojan was often seen dropping below to fetch for the ball, setting link-ups and taking the attack forward centrally to allow wide players to cut inside.
In the above instance, Bojan is seen receiving the ball from the centre-back and a seemingly missing midfield around him. However, Bojan manages to make a run, turning the situation into something like:
Here, Bojan opts to pass it to the wide player, which not only will reduce Montreal’s chances of losing the ball but will maintain the 3v3 situation in the attack and enough options for the receiving player to pass inside. The space that opens up in the aftermath benefits Bojan himself and hence, a chance on goal is created.
Here, Bojan receives the ball from deep-lying midfielder to facilitate the advanced players. Henry’s side had a lack of creativity in midfield and couldn’t gather central attack because of the centre-forward’s obligations to drop into the midfield.
Montreal Impact’s defensive features
Despite playing with a three-person defence in papers, the Montreal Impact side defended in numbers, more often forming a deep-block of five men while defending inside their half. The two midfielders playing inwards, Taider and Piette, joined the back three often to create a five-person block, hence limiting the penetration.
Similarly, Montreal were able to manage this by limiting their press. Throughout the match, Impacts were rarely seen pressing higher up the pitch without the ball, which made the switch from a three-man to a five-person setup quick and avoided chances of getting caught on pacey counters in front of a quality New England attack force. Montreal tried to win the ball in central areas, rather than pushing up higher.
However, Montreal had to suffer, because of their inability to deal with set-pieces and conceded two goals, one of which was disallowed. We’ll further discuss the fixture’s set-piece approaches as the analysis progresses.
New England’s attacking approach
Despite putting a 4-4-2 on papers, Bruce Arena’s side attacked forming two layers of three-men with the ball. To exploit the two inward opposition midfielders, the two layers aimed to build a momentary numerical advantage, and once the duo was beaten, the attack progressed by utilizing the void created.
This move was quite frequent when the New England Revolution were able to steal the ball higher up the pitch with their press. Thus, they managed to get a good number of attacks through the right and centre, unlike the Montreal Impact.
An instance of New England Revolution using the layers is shown below, along with the options that it made for the run-making players in front of a three-person defence:
Here, to beat the two midfielders, the ball-carrier has two options, which will disperse the duo, making spaces open to penetrate. In this instance, space opens up something like this:
However, the side lost balls in the midfield quite often, against the two inwards midfielders and advanced central defender Fanni, which made them against a five-person setup more often than the three-person structure. The New England Revolution side, despite its high-rated attack force, could not penetrate the block and hence was unable to win them the opening fixture.
Clever set-piece strategies
One of the most exciting aspects of the New England Revolution’s attacks was the clever use of set-pieces and movements within the set-pieces. New England frequently searched for spaces to exploit and catch Montreal Impact by surprise. As a result, the only goal that New England Revolution put up in their scoreboard came from a well-executed corner.
New England Revolution’s defence
New England’s defence often started with them pressing higher against the three-person setup to transition into a lethal attack quickly. With the high-press applied, New England aimed to defend higher up the pitch and limit spaces for Montreal to go out wide, also limiting their vertical movement.
However, Bojan’s involvement, along with the likes of Maximiliano Urruti made New England Revolution often defend, keeping possession and penetrating from the flanks.
One of the most distinctive features that Arena’s side had was the double-layer of four players in front of the keeper, aiming to limit Montreal’s quest for width.
New England side were, for quite long, able to contain the likes of Quioto, Bojan and Maximiliano Urruti. By not providing the opposition with width and keeping them compact, New England managed to resist and isolate the attack from the defence. Building up to the momentum and confidence, New England side were able to score.
However, a header and lapse of concentration following a disallowed goal costed New England Revolution their first point in MLS 2020.
Thierry Henry’s introduction to the MLS couldn’t have been more eventful – a hard-fought victory with lessons to learn. Bruce Arena’s New England Revolution, despite going neck-to-neck with Montreal couldn’t make a cut thanks to unfortunate events and lapse of concentration.
As this tactical analysis pointed out, both the coach’s tactics balanced out each other quite well. While all eyes are set on the magnitude of improvement Montreal Impact will be looking to achieve, the New England Revolution too will be putting their analysis to better when MLS resumes.