By Anay Patel (@anayfutbol)
Matias Almeyda and Guillermo Barros Schelotto are two of the most experienced managers in MLS history. They are also both just beginning their careers as MLS coaches.
To start his managerial career, Almeyda retired as a player and took over a River Plate side that had been relegated for the first time in club history. Immediately after that season, he led the team back to promotion with a first place finish in the second division. Almeyda did the same with Banfield in Argentina, winning his second Primera B Nacional title. At Chivas Guadalajara in 2015, Almeyda inherited another difficult situation, tasked with bringing the Mexican giant back into the spotlight. With Chivas, Almeyda won Copa MX twice, Supercopa MX, Liga MX, and CONCACAF Champions League. Now, he has embarked on a new journey with the San Jose Earthquakes, who finished in last place in 2018.
After leading the Columbus Crew to an MLS Cup as a player (he won both league MVP and Finals MVP in 2008), Guillermo Barros Schelotto started his managing career with Lanus in Argentina. He led the club to a Copa Sudamericana, the second most prestigious club competition in South America. Schelotto then signed with the club he spent most of his playing career with, Boca Juniors, and led them to two league titles.
In 2019, Almeyda and Schelotto will look to change the culture of their respective clubs on and off the pitch. How did they fare in their first couple weeks of MLS play?
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Montreal Impact
Matias Almeyda and the San Jose Earthquakes fell 2-1 to the Montreal Impact despite jumping out to an early 1-0 lead. The goal for the Quakes came from Magnus Eriksson, who spent last year playing on the wing but has been playing in a more central role this season and preseason. In the first half, Eriksson often tried to drop back and find space between the lines to link the central midfielders (Anibal Godoy and Judson) with the front three (Vako Qazaishvili, Chris Wondolowski, and Cristian Espinoza). In the final third, Vako’s role was to occupy the left half-space and look centrally to create scoring chances.
Eriksson’s movement leading up to the Quakes’ only goal was a major part of what made the goal happen. In buildup, Eriksson dropped back to receive the ball, then moved back to occupy the 10 space. This helped open up some space for Godoy in the midfield and allowed Godoy to find an open Vako in the left half-space. Eriksson continued his run towards goal as this play unfolded, and when he received the ball form Vako at the top of the box, he was in a great position to shoot and score.
Apart from the goal, Eriksson was not as effective as the Quakes needed him to be in the 10 space. Eriksson didn’t get on the ball very much in the area outside of the box, and that is something that the Earthquakes will be looking to address as the year progresses.
Montreal’s Second Half Adjustment
Montreal answered with two goals in the second half, one of which came off some poor defending on a set piece, and the second which came off of a world class pass from Zakaria Diallo. The pass bypassed four defenders, and fell perfectly to the feet of Saphir Saphir Taïder, who scored with ease.
Heading into halftime with a 2-1 lead on the road, Remi Garde made some adjustments that made it difficult for the Earthquakes play through the middle like they did on their first goal. The Impact took a much more narrow and compact approach, and were happy to allow the Quakes to possess the ball while denying them space in the middle. The Earthquakes tried to stretch the Impact out with a lot more play through the wings in the second half, but this was largely ineffective. Espinoza had a quiet first half, but this adjustment from the Impact allowed him to put in a lot of crosses in the second half. Part of what allowed for Espinoza to get behind the defense some more was the introduction of Tommy Thompson into the match as a substitute for Nick Lima. Thompson posed more of a threat to the Impact centrally, which allowed Espinoza to find space out wide. Lima had a quiet night offensively, and it looked like there were still some things that needed to be worked out between how he and Espinoza should play off of one another on the right side.
These crosses never really posed a threat to the Impact, which was evident in the quiet night that Wondolowski had. He had just a pair of shots that weren’t on target, and only completed a handful of passes.
Almeyda’s Rigid Man-Marking
One thing that a lot of analysts and pundits have brought up has been Matias Almeyda’s aggressive, man-marking style of pressing. This is a style he employed at both Chivas and River Plate, where he had a lot of success in winning games and winning trophies. Each player chooses an opposing player based on their proximity to the player, and they press that person. This gives defenders constant access to the opposition, but there are some weaknesses that can be exploited. With good preparation, the defenders can be moved and manipulated to create space and disrupt the structure. Additionally, attackers with a lot of individual quality are more likely to win 1v1 duels with their defenders.
This clip shows some of the chaos involved in this man-marking scheme, but it also shows its effectiveness in some situations. Lima is way out of his right back positioning, shadowing Ignacio Piatti and denying him the chance to receive the ball. There isn’t any free man available for Montreal apart from the defender in their own half. This picture from the German tactical analysis website Spielverlagerung.com sums this idea well.
In an interview with Goal.com, Earthquakes CB Guram Kashia gave us some details about the new system. “That man-marking, to follow everybody, is something new for me and I’m trying to really pay attention on the right people,” Kashia said. “With two central defenders, one follows the striker and one is a type of libero. That’s something we need to be working on. We’ll make mistakes, but every training, we’re working on it. It’s a matter of time about how fast we’re going to learn and adjust to the system.”
This can be seen in the following clip, where Harold Cummings follows Maxi Urruti far up the pitch, while Kashia stays back and ends up making a crucial tackle.
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire
While the Quakes were unable to come up with any points in their home opener, the Galaxy started off the season with a 2-1 win against the Chicago Fire. Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s new side got off to a slow start against the Fire. The match started off on a bad note for the Galaxy, with Designated Player Romain Alessandrini going off with an injury in the 20th minute. Despite some shortcomings, the Galaxy did well to fight back from being down a goal at home, especially thanks to the performances of their second half substitutes.
Strong Pressing/Counterpressing From Chicago
In the first half especially, the Fire were very effective in pressing and counter-pressing the Galaxy. The Galaxy were committed to playing from the back, but the midfield duo of Jonathan dos Santos and Servando Carrasco were unable to break Chicago’s press and transition the ball to the attacking midfielders with any consistency. There were several instances where the Galaxy were either forced to either pass around the back or play a direct pass with a high chance of losing the ball, which you can see in this clip. As a team, Chicago does a great job of blocking passing lanes, and also having at least one player with access to the ball at all times.
Chicago’s counterpress was also very effective in the first half. This aggressive and relentless counterpress led by attacking players Alexander Katai and Przemyslaw Frankowski is exactly what a manager wants to see out of his attacking players in the opponent’s half. Chicago does a great job of overloading the space around the ball carrier.
In the cases where the Galaxy were able to play through the Fire’s press and counterpress, the attacking midfielders struggled to generate quality chances. Chicago did a great job clogging the middle, which forced the ball out wide to Emmanuel Boateng and Uriel Antuna, who weren’t able to find Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Emil Cuello in the final third with consistency. Cuello, who was playing in his first ever professional match, had a particularly quiet night as the 10.
Here is one of the few cases in which the Galaxy were able to play through Chicago’s counterpress and create the opportunity to generate a chance in the attacking third. Dos Santos’ passing in this sequence and his run from box to box is key in this situation, and the Galaxy will need more of that from him this year. The final product was lacking from Boateng in the clip, as you can tell from Zlatan’s body language after the pass rolls straight to David Ousted.
The Galaxy’s Ineffective Pressing
At halftime, GBS said he wanted his team to “press a little higher,” but the press from the Galaxy was pretty ineffective all game long. Central midfielders Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger had no problems playing through their press and advancing the ball through the midfield, as is evident in the follow clip. With two good passes from McCarty and Jorge Corrales, Chicago is able to completely break down the Galaxy press and walk into the final third with ease.
Schelotto’s Substitutes Make Game Changing Impact
Everyone was talking about 16 year old Efrain Alvarez’s instant impact upon being subbed on. Alvarez had a wonderful bit of skill to bypass Katai, and an even better cross right to the head of Daniel Steres.
On the second goal, it was second half substitute Chris Pontius and Alvarez combining in the final third to create space and get behind Chicago’s defense. This led to a shot from Pontius that hit the crossbar, and fell right in front of Zlatan who finished it with ease.
Galaxy and Quakes Both Lose in Week two
The Galaxy visited FC Dallas in week two, and the Quakes hosted Minnesota United. Both teams hit the woodwork in the first half, both entered halftime with a 0-0 draw, and both conceded a penalty goal early on in the second half. The Galaxy ended up losing 2-0 and the Quakes ended up losing 3-0.
The Galaxy struggled with playing out of the back, just as they did against Chicago. The second goal they conceded came thanks to some good pressing from FC Dallas and some poor press resistance from the Galaxy. Antuna had a heavy touch in his own third, and Paxton Pomykal jumped on the opportunity and created a decent scoring opportunity for Bryan Acosta. Notice the massive amounts of space available in the area just outside the box when the Galaxy lose the ball.
The Quakes out-possessed Minnesota just like they did against Montreal. The man marking system created some interesting matchups, especially with central defenders Ike Opara and Michael Boxall pushing all the way up the pitch at times. Harold Cummings had the tall task of following Darwin Quintero all over the pitch. There were definitely some moments where Quakes fans held their breath defensively, but it would be irresponsible to assign all of the blame to the tactics. The attacking midfielders Vako, Eriksson, and Espinoza once again struggled to generate quality chances with consistency. Additionally, it seems that the fullbacks Marcos Lopez and Nick Lima still haven’t quite developed the chemistry they need with the attacking midfielders to be a threat in the final third.
The Montreal result is overall a disappointing one for Almeyda and Quakes fans, but also a somewhat unlucky one. Taïder’s goal was arguably a hair offside and Micheal Azira could have seen red for his tackle on Godoy in the second half. Conceding the go-ahead goal right before halftime also hampered the Quakes chances, because it allowed Remi Garde to take a more compact approach in the second half. On a positive note, the Quakes dominated possession throughout the match, won the ball back quickly, and overall appeared as an improved side that will continue to improve as the year progresses. There are still some questions about how the team will be able to generate quality chances with consistency, as is evident
Almeyda echoed some of the same sentiments in his post game press conference. “I take away a lot of positive things (from the game),” he said. “The attitude, the collective gameplay. We had 73 percent possession of the ball the second half, 50-something the first. That talks a lot about a team that wants to be the protagonist, a team that doesn’t wait, a team that isn’t going to stay back and wait for an individual play.”
While the Quakes controlled the majority of the game and lost, the Galaxy were able to do the opposite. It is clear that there is a lot of work to be done for Schelotto if he wants the club to return to competing with the other top clubs in the league. Schelotto clearly wants to press high up the field, but that requires a level of collective effort and understanding that doesn’t seem to be entirely there yet. The return of Sebastian Lletget and Romain Allesandrini will help with some of the problems that the Galaxy had in the midfield, but there are still some questions elsewhere on the field. David Bingham had a solid match, but the defense looked suspect at times, easily being broken down by Chicago’s attacking midfielders.
Although it is only two weeks into the season, Matias Almeyda and Guillermo Barros Schelotto have given us a glance at some of the principles they want their teams to play with. Both the Quakes and the Galaxy have plenty of work to do before they reach the level that they aspire to attain, but it takes time to change a club’s culture and style of play. It will be interesting to see how the superstar managers develop over the course of the year, and leave their mark on MLS over time.