If you hadn’t already heard, rumour has it that Blerim Dzemaili, the designated player IMFC nation has been waiting for to turn around the ship, is coming to town in 3 weeks (fingers crossed). If you’re not privy to Montreal’s early season form, let me give you a brief recap: They’ve yet to win a game, they’ve blown two leads, they’ve been handed 3 red cards in 5 games, and they currently sit near the bottom of the table. As things stand, they’re not a very good team.
Will the addition of Blerim Dzemaili change that? The short answer is, probably. Dzemaili, who is said to be leaving his club, Bologna FC 1909, 3 games early, is a central midfielder who has been in excellent form this year. Despite not necessarily playing in an advanced role for Bologna, he still managed to lead the team in goals, with 8. He also regularly makes the starting XI for the Swiss national team, which is no easy feat considering they are ranked 9th in the world.
The 30-year-old can do a bit of everything in midfield. From watching him play recently, he appears to be in the classic mould of a box-to-box midfielder. He can track back and make plays defensively, but also has the knack of jumping into the attack, scoring from range (his trademark offensive quality) and ghosting into the box to finish off broken plays.
Where he’ll play here is not yet entirely clear. IMFC play a 4-2-3-1 at the moment, with three central midfielders in Marco Donadel, Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier all playing slightly different roles. With Donadel being your standard, deep-lying defensive mid, Dzemaili will fit either into Bernardello’s spot at left defensive midfield, or Bernier’s spot at CAM (central attacking midfield).
When you look at his recent positional history, he’s played mostly in a central midfield role, think Michael Bradley at TFC or what we saw just recently from Bastian Schweinsteiger at Chicago. For Bologna FC he played mostly at left central midfield in a 4-3-3, a position that most closely resembles where Bernardello currently plays for IMFC.
He has however, been used in a more attacking role for the Swiss national team. In their World Cup qualifier just 3 weeks ago, Dzemaili was sat behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1, where we’ve seen Bernier since the beginning of the year.
Making the most of your new DP
So where should he play? Considering how the team has looked so far, and where their biggest weakness lies (defending), to me it seems like a no-brainer to place him in that deep-lying left midfield role next to Donadel. There are many reasons for this line of thinking, the first being that he’s clearly comfortable playing there. The old adage is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With Dzemaili coming off of his best season in recent memory, it makes sense that you’d play him where he’s been successful. So unless they change the formation to a 4-3-3, logic dictates that he’d play in Bernadello’s current role.
A second less obvious reason to play him there is to give Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla a further run-out at LW. Many will argue, and understandably so, that Ignacio Piatti is your de facto left winger and Tabla will just have to bide his time on the bench. Though I don’t disagree with that thinking, I’d like to see them try Tabla out wide with Piatti playing behind the striker at CAM (a possible Dzemaili position).
Piatti doesn’t need really need a set position up front; he’ll take over possession of the ball wherever he gets it and create something out of nothing. Though he’s not the best facilitator, he will invariably create space for his teammates in attack, simply due to the fact that he consistently forces the opposition into a defensive double team. He’ll offer more attacking prowess than Bernier around the box as well (though Bernier’s vision and decision-making will be missed).
The third and final reason why Dzemaili should play at LCM is maybe the most important: possession and distribution. We argue the point to death at Mount Royal Soccer about whether or not IMFC is a possession-style team or not. Whatever you may believe, at the end of the day every football team has to make smart, confident plays with the ball when they have it, no matter how infrequent that may be.
Dzemaili, as far as I can tell, will make a huge difference in how Montreal hold possession of the ball. Playing closer to the back four with Donadel, suddenly you’ll have two very reliable and confident midfielders to control the centre of the pitch, both offensively and defensively. One of Montreal’s biggest weaknesses outside of set piece defence is sloppy play in midfield leading to quick counterattacks and scoring chances. Dzemaili’s presence should (hopefully) deter the central defenders from making their silly escapades up the pitch, and play with a smarter, simpler approach.
Time will tell how and where Dzemaili best fits into his new squad. There’s no question he’ll add much needed quality to the midfield, and give the team a boost confidence-wise. For a team that added so few reinforcements in the offseason, the worry for me is that Dzemaili will perhaps be thrust into a role where he’ll be forced to do too much, or something out of his comfort zone. It will be up to Mauro Biello to get it right, and for his sake (and the city’s), to get it right quickly.