A Lack of Attack: Philly Review
Well, that wasn't good.
The scoreline might not have been the worst of the season, but the performance certainly was (at least to my eyes). Philadelphia are a good team and we all probably overestimated our chances of getting a positive result against them at their house. However, even if we were unlikely to get a result, the performance and set-up of this team was not right.
Charlotte did come away from this match with 59.1% possession, but it was mostly meaningless possession. In fact, I think most would be surprised by that number; watching the game it certainly didn't feel like it was that high to me. Look at this pass chart and heatmap:
There's very little in the opponent's 3rd. Our highest touches are coming from our goalkeeper and the left side of the middle third. Charlotte were just unable to get anything going on Philly's half. Further, it's hugely worrying that nothing is happening down the left side, as far as attack is concerned. Charlotte had the ball and Charlotte had a lot of passes. They were just mostly passes in our own area or the middle of the park where there was no danger to Philadelphia. Just 24% of the game action came in the Philadelphia third of the pitch. 42% was in the middle and 34% was in ours. Philadelphia were just too comfortable.
Charlotte outshot Philadelphia 10-9, however, CLTFC had ONE shot on target. All. Game.
Our total xG for this game was only 0.7. For the 6th straight game, Charlotte has failed to have a higher xG than their opponent (Philly's xG was 1.0). Our best chance of the game was from a Rïos shot in the 66th minute (xG of 0.21). The next best was a shot from Ruiz (66th minute as well) with an xG of 0.1. This is absolutely horrendous.
Yes, Philadelphia have a good defense. I personally came away hugely impressed with the job Elliott and Glesnes did on Świderski. I was especially impressed with Elliott. He's such a wall. You can't beat him in the air, he has decent pace, and, most surprising to me, good passing range. Just looks a fantastic player. Paired with a team who clearly enjoys defending, they absolutely took Świderski out of the game.
With that said, I'm still not convinced that it had to be this way. Before and after the game there was a lot of talk about formation, which I think it's justified. A lot of people wondered why Ríos didn't start and many are also questioning if Świderski needs a partner up top. I will say, I don't think we know for sure that Świderski can't operate as a lone striker. We're only 6 games in (he's only played in 5 of them) and it's just way too early to say that. Additionally, MAR's favored formation is a 4-3-3. I would have (even more) real worries about the team management (both from a coaching and executive standpoint) if we signed a striker for a manger who prefers 1 up top that can't play there by himself.
So, the exclusion of Ríos wasn't a decision that necessarily upset me. The decision to go with back 5 annoyed me. My annoyance doesn't even have anything to do with the fact our backline was scored on within 5 minutes. Process and execution are two different things. You can play a back 5 for all the right reasons and still get scored on. Simply allowing a goal doesn't invalidate a decision. In this case, though, I don't think the process or execution were correct.
Philadelphia are happy to sit back and cede possession to the opposition. Yes, they want to hit on the break and high press you into mistakes, and maybe that's where the idea of the 3 CBs and two wingbacks comes into play. However, I don't think that was the right decision. Instead of playing to our strengths, it felt like we were trying to beat Philly at their own game. It didn't feel like we were confident enough to take the game to them.
We needed technical players in this squad to combat Philly's high press. Players who could quickly make passes, move, and link up. We also needed pace. During the first half, especially, I was struck by how little pace this side has. Outside of Świderski, no one seemed to be able to outrun their opponent. Philly never had to worry about anyone but Šwiderski getting in behind them and it showed in their utter focus on bottling him up.
Instead of pacy, technical players, we started 5 defenders. In my opinion, Ortiz, Gaines, or Reyna needed to be in this game. I know there are many who get frustrated by these player--myself included--but they are attackers. Ben Bender, for all the good he's done so far isn't an attacker; he's a midfielder. Alcívar seems to pop up in good forward locations, but he's not an attacker; he's a midfielder. Ruiz and Bronico are obviously not attackers; they are midfielders.
Now, maybe you can get away with playing a back 5 and 1 true forward if your wingbacks are very attack minded and are good at joining the attack. Ours are not. Mora clearly doesn't have the ability to add much going forward. He's such a frustrating player to watch. While I like Lindsey, I think he struggles in the attacking aspects as well. This isn't surprising from a young defender. The bottom line is when neither of your 2 wingback can get up the field in any meaningful way, it severely hampers your attack.
These factors left Świderski on an island alone, forcing him to drop deeper to get a touch, and thus leaving our attack that much more bereft of options. He was clearly a frustrated player. I thought we looked better in the second half after some changes, but I don't know that we ever looked truly threatening. I also think the Franco, Ortíz, and Reyna changes came way too late.
Look, this is one game at the start of a brutal stretch and losing this game isn't the end of the world. In fact, this can still be a very successful April even with this loss. With that said, MAR needs to rethink his inclusion of some players. I don't think Mora has earned his playing time. I've seen Bronico and Ruiz in the same midfield a couple times now and I don't know that they work well together. To me, they seem to be too similar of players.
I think we've stumbled upon a surprising number of capable midfielders, so I understand MAR's desire to get them all in (or as many as he can). Shoot, I have trouble deciding my best 3, although I would probably go with Bender, Franco, and Bronico, as I think they would give us good balance in the midfield.
What I'm getting to is this: I don't think the decision of who plays in the midfield matters as much right now as who we need to play in the attack. Everyone is excited to see Jóźwiak, but we can't just play midfielders until then. Further, even though he is a DP, he's a young player coming to a new league off the back of two disappointing seasons. I don't think we should count on him immediately taking the league by storm (I'll be ecstatic if he does).
Ortíz has disappointed so far this year, but he's also only played 258 total minutes. 86 of those minutes came in the first game when we started him up top. If you are one of the people who don't think Świderski can start up top by himself, then you can't believe Ortíz would be successful doing that.
Reyna is coming back from injury, but if he's healthy, he at least adds some pace and trickery to the team. Also, say what you want about him, but when he's gotten PT, Reyna chips in a decent number of goals for a winger (6 in 18 appearances in 2017; 6 in 26 appearances in 2018; 7 in 25 appearances in 2019; 4 in 18 appearances in 2021). These aren't eye-popping stats, but for a team severely lacking in goals, he at least has a history of getting the odd one.
Also, what has happened to Gaines? I wasn't' hugely impressed with him in the limited time he's had, but he also has pace and some dribbling ability, which not many others in this team have.
The two wins covered up our continued lack of chance creation. There is obviously not going to be a magic line-up change that instantaneously solves this issue, but a start would be to actually include more than one forward in our lineup.
We've looked at our best in a back 4. I believe MAR wants to eventually, consistently play with a back 4. Let's just do it. 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2, or 4-1-3-2. We're obviously suited to some more than others, but I think we legitimately have the personnel to play in any of them right now except the 4-3-3 (due to our winger injuries). Once Mello and/or Jóźwiak are back, it becomes an option. To me, it doesn't matter as long as we get more attackers in the team.
(As a quick aside: I must say I am really intrigued by a 4-1-3-2. Put Bronico or Ruiz at the base, have 3 of Bender/Ortiz/Franco/Alcívar/Reyna behind Świderski and Ríos. If you wanted a bit more defensive stability you could also include Ruiz in the Bender, Ortíz, etc. group. It's super attack-minded, but it would probably be fun! I don't really see it was a realistic option though.)
In my opinoin, right now the best lineup that MAR would actually play would be a 4-2-3-1. Get a double pivot of Bronico/Ruiz and Franco, Bender on the left, Alcívar or Ortiz in the middle, and Reyna/Gaines on the right. Put Świderski up top. This would get a lot of our best players into the game plus some goalscorers. Bender could drift inside while Alcívar or Ortíz drift out wide. Reyna/Gaines could make runs in behind. Broncio/Ruiz could provide defensive cover while Franco makes forward runs. I think our attack would have a lot more fluidity to it and therefore danger.
At the end of the day, though, I'm just a random guy with opinions. It's the job of the manager to not be reactionary (unlike us fans). I still trust MAR and we'll see what he decides. I hope changes are coming.