The principle of man marking has withered away in recent times. Managers have become more focused on formations and having players cover certain spaces instead of opposing players. Teams defend more as a unit, moving as one across the pitch in order to limit the amount of one on one duels on the field. This idea has even worked it’s way onto corners, where some teams opt for zonal marking instead of the traditional man-for-man tactic of the past. It is rare to see one player matched up against another in the modern game, with defenders more focused more on limiting space and cutting passing lanes, instead of simply shutting down their marker.
However, that doesn’t mean the tactic is all gone, as there have still some pristine examples of how well man marking can work in the past few years. Last season, when Man United faced Chelsea, Ander Herrera followed around Eden Hazard and kept him out the game. Muhamed Bešić made a name for himself at the 2014 World Cup, when he was tasked with tracking Lionel Messi during the game between Bosnia and Argentina. After last night’s match, fans have seen another instance of this, with Mo Adams shutting down Ignacio Piatti to help the Chicago Fire pick up three points.
Piatti is undoubtedly Montreal’s most dangerous attacker. He runs the offense, and is responsible for scoring goals and creating chances for his teammates. He was named an MLS All-Star last season and remains one of the most lowkey best players in the league.
If Chicago wanted a chance to pick up the win against Montreal, they needed to make sure they limited Piatti’s contributions on the field. The Fire defense had been shaky throughout the season, conceding plenty of goals and chances. There was also the worry that Kevin Ellis, the back up right back filling in for the injured Matt Polster, would be matched up with Piatti. Ellis has proven to be a serviceable defender, but would have a hard time dealing with the Montreal attacker in one on one situations.
However, Coach Paunovic threw a curveball that many did not expect, which ended up being a stroke of tactical genius. He started Mo Adams yet again, with him making up the midfield trio of him, Dax McCarty, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Instead of playing him in a standard central midfield role, he stuck him on Piatti, having Adams track the Argentine up and down the pitch.
Credit is due to Paunovic for making the call, but even more credit has to be given to Adams for getting the job done out on the field. It was a performance expected out of a grizzled veteran, not a rookie only playing in his fourth professional game. Adams stuck to him like gum at the bottom of a shoe. Whenever Piatti went, Mo followed. This frustrated the Argentine, who moved all around the field to try and shake off his marker. This was all for naught, as Adams’ kept up with him every step of the way.
Keeping track of him was only one part of the task at hand. Piatti is well known for his dribbling ability, and has built up quite the highlight reel over the years. Every time he tried to face up Adams one on one, the Fire midfielder was up to the challenge. Many youngsters have the problem of over committing, or lunging into challenges they have no chance of winning. This leads to defensive breakdowns, making it harder for their teammates to cover for their mistake. Adams did well to stay on his feet throughout the match, forcing Piatti to dribble away from the Fire goal and pass it away to his teammates. This allowed the Chicago defense to stay compact, as no one was dragged out of position in order to deal with the Argentine.
Piatti’s touches tonight (via Opta). Reigning @MLS Player of the Week completed just *three* forward passes in his attacking half with @_moadams draped all over him.— Ted Bryant (@Ted_Bryant) May 10, 2018
Tough to overstate Mo’s performance this evening. #CHIvMTL #cf97 pic.twitter.com/En3yf0deoS
The key part of the game was that Adams’ was able to cut off the source of the Impact attack by preventing Piatti much time on the ball. The Argentine loves to float around the field, pick up the ball, and work with what is going on around him. He can carry the ball all over the pitch, moving the defense around while creating passing lanes. Once he gets his head up, he is able to pick out a teammates further up the field. However, as Adams was so close to him at all times, Piatti never got the chance to hold onto the ball for longer than a few seconds. He was unable to find any space, and was pressured into short backwards passes, instead of the long through balls he is used to playing in behind. This also prevented him from taking the touches needed to set up a shooting chance. The rest of the Montreal attack was unable to pick up the slack, making it much easier for the Fire on the defensive end.
The highlight of this performance came late in the contest. A Fire corner was cleared away, and it seemed like Montreal were set to hit on the counter. Piatti was on the ball, and had another teammate running down the opposite wing into space. Just as the Argentine seemed to be picking up stride, Adams came sliding in, dispossessing Piatti and keeping the ball for the Fire. It was a goal saving challenge, and one that helped the Fire keep a clean sheet.
Mo Adams has made a name for himself since getting his chance in the lineup, and is making his case to keep his starting spot. Coach Pauno will have a selection headache soon, when Michael De Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic return from their injuries. The Fire midfield will be quite stacked, but Adams in continuing to prove that he’s good enough to become an integral part of the starting XI.