Welcome to the Analyst’s Corner. Every week, we’ll take a look at the last week’s matches and talk about the interesting things that happen in them, and what the Fire need to do to get better.
Step Up, Step Back
One of the great things about having tony Meola on the broadcast, despite his lack of connection with the Fire, is that he’s very good at recognizing things, especially defense-related, that may go missed otherwise. Thanks to Tony, I think we’ve got a handle on what’s going wrong when Rafael Czichos isn't in the game, and why they give up a lot of goals. They are either more aggressive or just as aggressive with less skill.
One of the things the Fire do really well is disrupt passing lanes. When things were going well the first two months of the season, they were at the top of the league in holding teams to possessions under 5 seconds. And they weren’t pressuring the opposing players all that much. What was happening was that the midfield double pivot of Gimenez and Pineda were really good at reading the movement around them and the defense was aggressive in stepping up to intercept passes.
When things are going bad, the Fire are doing all those same things, but the timing is just a little bit off. Carlos Teran’s awful performance against Atlanta was due in large part to mistiming his aggression. And that’s where Rafael Czichos is such a benefit to the squad. His timing in getting into passing lanes is impeccable and when he does make an error, he recognizes it quick enough to get back in a good defensive position.
When Czichos is out of the lineup, the Fire probably need to temper their aggressive tendencies a bit. Not necessarily stop them, but just be smarter about when to push and when to give up the space and play reactively. We saw this against NYCFC, actually. New York bossed the game and ball, but Pineda, Omsberg, and Teran played a little bit more passive than normal and didn’t really allow any chances to get through that weren’t able to be easy saves for Gaga Slonina.
The moral of this story, the Fire needs to be more selectively aggressive on defense, and Rafael Czichos is so good at disrupting you don’t notice he’s doing it.
Nine Minutes of Heaven
We finally got to see a bit of the future over the weekend, and it was good. For nine whole minutes, The Fire had Chris Meuller, Jairo Torres, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Kacper Przybylko on the pitch at the same time. With them there, the FIre finally had the dynamic multilayered attack we were promised in preseason once the Torres and Shaqiri signings were made official. Interestingly enough, it was Chris Meuller, not Torres or Shaqiri, who’s had the most positive impact. His runs on the wing are creating lots of space for everyone else, and he’s somehow involved in every good attacking play.
Jairo Torres still needs to adjust to his teammates more, but you can see his rapport with Boris Sekulic is already starting to bear fruit. Several times during the NYCFC game, he and Sekulic had some nice give-and-go situations to set up Torres to take on defenders into the attacking penalty area. While none of them resulted in a goal, they won a fair few corners and were always forcing the NYCFC defense to make plays.
Even Shaqiri, who has been largely disappointing so far in his Chicago Fire tenure, has picked up his game in the last week. He’s been much faster in his decision-making, making one and two touch passes instead of holding the ball for long periods of time waiting for something to develop. He’s also getting out wide more, where he’s more effective with limited options. The last bit to slot in is the finishing. Przybylko is just getting healthy again after an injury. However, the play of his deputies Offor and Duran have been encouraging. If they can get goals and goal-scoring opportunities with this midfield, it’s surely only a matter of time before the veteran Pol heats up. The fire has the ability to wreak havoc on the rest of the Eastern Confrence. They just have to execute.