The Chicago Fire, on paper, and out on the field should be one of the best in MLS. Despite that, something isn’t clicking out there. The defense remains to be a problem despite reinforcements in the back and in the net. As for the offense, the front line seems to be squandering their chances left and right.
Perhaps changing the formation could fix this? Head coach Veljko Paunovic rotates between a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 depending on the week. While those two formations produce results from time to time, Paunovic’s tinkering has left the team without a solid identity out on the field.
Using the magic of Football Manager 2018, we decided to experiment with three different formation to see if the Fire would be the dominant team as they claim.
The first tactic I tried was a 4-4-1-1, a formation that was used by a myriad of Premier League teams back in the early 2000s. This formation allows for a large natural spacing for dynamic transitioning from defense to midfield to attack. So for example, Johan Kappelhof would recover the ball, pass it over to Przemysław Frankowski who would then create good chances for either Nemanja Nikolic or CJ Sapong.
With the pace of Frankowski and the vision of Nicolas Gaitan linking up with the Fire’s three main finishers, the attack was ruthless with this formation. The team was on average scoring three to four goals in a game.
However, the downside with this formation is that there will be a lot of space centrally for the opposing team to exploit. This weakness is most evident when the opponent is in a counter-attack phase as shown below.
This highly unorthodox formation was brought into the spotlight during the 2010 Men’s World Cup by the Chilean National Team under the control of then-manager Marcelo Bielsa. A formation like this would actually suite Paunovic well as he likes his players to be versatile out on the field. In this formation, players out on the wing must be able to move inside the midfield, which Frankowski and Gaitan can do. However players such as Jorge Corrales would be left out in the dark due to his inexperience outside of the backline.
During my simulation, I found that this formation works best with counter-attacking. Francisco Calvo would get the ball, pass it to Frankowski who would drift to the middle. Gaitan would then receive the ball. At this point he can chose to cross it to Aleksander Katai or go for glory.
The downside to this formation however would be defending. This formation requires accurate short passes - which means a synchronized defense. With the current players in the back the Fire has now, that is nearly non-existent.
This formation first gained notoriety during the 1950s with Brazil’s National Men’s Team and it was known for its strong attack. Should be perfect for the Fire right? With Nikolic, Sapong up top, Katai and Gaitan on the wing, the team would score an average of three goals per game.
While that sounds rosy at first, as the game progresses, the Fire always collapses towards the end. There is so much space on the left and right of the formation which would require the wingers to cover that space. With the Fire’s current roster, only Frankowski and Raheem Edwards would be flexible to play up front and back.
The opposition will exploit this area and end up scoring, which is a common theme throughout these three formations. The Fire, both in Football Manager and in real life, need a proper defense. Unless they plan to win games by just outscoring everyone.
But, should Paunovic chose to change up the formation, I would personally like to see him implement the 4-4-1-1 formation. The weakness in the center is a bit concerning. However, if the Fire can find more players who would be versatile to close down the space well (and get some defenders), then they might have a winning formula on their hands.