Last week saw the squad cruise to a convincing 3-0 win over TFC before coming from behind to defeat the Columbus Crew 2-1. Patrice Bernier was the hero of the week, scoring decisive goals in each contest while playing controlled, positive football in the middle of the pitch.
Mauro Biello: A coach in control
I don’t know, maybe this will sound crazy, but I think Frank Klopas wasn’t necessarily a bad coach. He had the Impact playing a smart, compact style with a strong counterattack early in the season, and was able to deliver respectable results despite having no Drogba at his disposal. That said, I feel like Klopas didn’t really have control of the team. I feel like he didn’t have the confidence or support from the higher-ups to make personnel and tactical adjustments to the squad. I could be wrong, but that’s just my feeling. No coach could reasonably put out the same squad that was floundering for months on purpose. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Mauro Biello, on the other hand, is a coach who is in complete control of his squad. Whether he has that control because he’s an IMFC lifer and friends with players and upper management is a possibility, but a moot point at this stage of the season. Like every other soccer pundit, I have no idea what truly happens behind close doors, so all I can do is talk about what I see on the pitch, and how the team sets up for each game.
Thus far, Biello has been a master of adapting to the personnel he has on hand. Instead of resting on his laurels and hoping things will turn around with particular players and formations, Biello has been consistently progressive in his adjustments.
The breakthrough of the season for me was not a player coming to the fore or a signing of a note, but rather Biello’s formation change for the TFC game that carried over to Sunday’s win over the Crew.
Sure, I’d been clamoring all year for Piatti to play out wide (and surely I wasn’t alone), and yes, I also said that the only place I found Bernier to be truly effective was playing closer to the striker as something of CM/CAM hybrid. That said, you have to give the manager credit for changing to a formation (4-3-3) pretty much on the fly. He apparently took some of his best players like Piatti aside to explain his philosophy with this system, and they all got on board.
Everything in its right place
Earlier in the season I used up a lot of virtual ink on the subject of personnel issues, specifically where players were playing, and if they couldn’t be used better. It wasn’t that Klopas was using the wrong players; it was more that the players he was using were often used incorrectly.
I remember an interview where he said, in so many words, that he felt that Bernier was in a losing battle for minutes at defensive midfield with the likes of Donadel, Reo-Coker and Mallace. In truth, Bernier is probably not as effective as any of those players in that position. But Klopas failed at figuring out where Bernier could be most successful on the pitch.
This is the biggest difference between the two coaches. One let things stagnate, while the other continuously attempted, and continues to attempt to make the team he has better. If I were a coach, my first thought would always be, "what can I do to put each of the players I have in a position to succeed?"
This is what Biello has done to perfection thus far. He’s found a way to get the best out of his players by letting them play to their strengths. The games against TFC and Columbus were the first games where I felt every player on the pitch was where he was supposed to be. Piatti on the left; Donadel in front of the defence; Bernier closer to the striker, etc.,
Finally IMFC have a coach that is trying to make his team better everyday, regardless of the results.
Less fouling, more effort
One tactical change I noticed that was very effective in both matches, was how the Impact played something of a hybrid man-to-man/zone defence. I don’t know if it exists, but I want to call it "help defence". In a nutshell, one IMFC player would try to neutralize an opponent with the ball, while another would try to steal it or knock it away.
This adjustment resulted in more effort from a defensive standpoint, but also less fouling. Players like Reo-Coker and Donadel have been fouling far less lately. Instead of sticking a foot in, they are simply shadowing/running ball carriers directly into one of their teammates, who are in a better position to win the ball back. The midfield trio of Donadel, Bernier and Reo-Coker committed just 4 fouls in last week’s games, and I think that’s a big reason why the team allowed just 1 goal in that span.
It’s nice that one of the teams I root for finally has one of these types of players that drive opponents crazy. If you’ve watched Chelsea or Athletico Madrid games in the past few years, you’ll know Diego Costa is literally the most annoying player on the planet. Earlier this year he almost singlehandedly defeated Arsenal simply by goading one of their players into a red card. The league later ruled he was at fault and suspended him for two games. He’s that kind of player.
Didier Drogba, though not as hateful, is one of these types of players. On Sunday he went full Loony Tunes, trying to goad Columbus players into head butts, pulling down their keeper when the referee wasn’t looking, etc., It was classic gamesmanship, and completely annoying for the Crew players. Obviously Drogba has made a career of doing this and mostly not getting caught, but he probably went a bit too far against Columbus. Stick to scoring goals, Didier!
Okay, I’ll admit, I was practically seething when I heard Venegas’ name get called to the substitute table on Sunday. I did not want to see this guy come in the game. He made me eat my words moments later, when he scored the winning goal, something that I thought had as much chance of happening as me dating a supermodel (something that I will call a "Venegas", if and when I pull it off in the future).
Here’s hoping he doesn’t start next game though, and here’s why. Defensively he doesn’t try hard enough, and with the new "help defence" Biello has instituted, I just don’t see him being able to keep up and stay in the flow of the game. Until he ramps up his effort, I see Venegas as a substitute player for the foreseeable future.