Issues the Legion needs to resolve
In Diving Deep earlier this week I noted that the Legion has a problem with speed, and that it is critical. I also noted that it is not the only issue the Legion currently has and that I would be addressing those in another post. Well, here we are. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and I am sure readers will have other issues they feel need to be fixed, but these are the matters I see as most important. In no particular order, then…
When the season began, it was clear that the Legion had been built to play with three center backs, a setup that had been particularly successful in 2021. Unfortunately, that lasted all of 128 minutes when Freddy Kleemann went down with a season-ending knee injury in the second game. That put the team in a bind. Ben Ofeimu had been allowed to move on in the off-season and Thomas Vancaeyezeele had not been used much in that role (or in any other for that matter). It also hasn’t helped that Alex Crognale has had two suspensions already this year. Today, that changed even more as Vancaeyezeele has now moved on to the Rowdies, who themselves had a Forrest Lasso-sized hole tom fill at that position.
The Three Sparks are basically down to just Alex and Phanuel Kavita at center back. That’s dangerously short-handed. The team does have players who can fill in (Zach Herivaux is the most obvious choice), but it needs to fill out the defensive roster quickly. At a minimum, you need 3 center backs, and that’s if you are just planning on playing 2. If you really prefer to play 3 , then you need at least 4. Thomas’ departure has to mean a like-for-like replacement; if not, then it’s a real headscratcher.
As noted, the Legion
is was best with a 3-man back line. With the enforced need to switch a 4-man line, the team has resorted once again to constant changes in the formation with little success so far. We’ve seen the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 along with some interesting changes such as inverting the wings with Jonny Dean and Ryan James switching sides. Defensively, that has worked out just fine with the Legion having allowed just 11 goals in as many games. But it has seriously hampered the attacking output.
If the team is committed to playing with 4 at the back, then it needs to figure out which formation the 6 in front of them are best suited to and stop messing around with seemingly infinite variations. In my opinion, the current roster is screaming for a 2 striker setup (see below), which means the remaining four can be arranged in not too many ways.
Lack of speed
It’s not that the Legion is short of fast players. Far from it. Jonny Dean is notoriously fast, as is Edi Horvat, and other players can turn on the jets when they want to. It’s rather that the style of play isn’t fast enough. Far too often the team – which is very good at holding possession – gets stuck in midfield with a solid defensive line in front of them and nowhere to go. Speed in transition is paramount. You have to be able to create situations in which your attack outnumbers the defense, or at least gets it spread out so that there is enough space to take meaningful shots, not just hopeful one from distance (which the Legion has resorted to way too much).
That also does not mean the team should be playing the long ball all the time. No, no, no. One, it’s ugly. Two, it just means your strikers are hung out by themselves with no support. Yes, once in a while you will catch the opposition napping, but it is not a means to consistent scoring.
What needs to happen is that the team should move the ball around in midfield much quicker. Much, much quicker. Faster decision-making is key and it seems right now that the players are always second-guessing themselves before making a play. By which time they are more or less forced into a particular course of action because even a split-second delay is enough for a defense to take options away.
Anderson Asiedu is a defensive midfielder
That Little Tank is 3rd on the team in shooting this season is weird. He is clearly being used in a much more attacking role than previously, and it is far from clear that this is the best way to utilize him. He is a ball-control genius, near impossible to dispossess and a great distributor of the ball. That makes him an obvious choice as a pivot player and in that position he has excelled in the past. This seems to be a case of fixing what ain’t broke. His shooting is not all that great after all, a brilliant headed goal notwithstanding. He is a defensive midfield boss and using him that way could go a long way to fixing the speed problem.
Bruno Lapa needs more playing time
The Return of Bruno is not just an album by Bruce Willis, it is the key to more attacking success. I am convinced that his absence entire last week against Las Vegas (apparently he had just come back from Brazil for unknown reasons) was a big part of the reason the Legion did not win that game. To date this season he has played an average of 55 minutes a game over 10 games and has started only 6. That’s not enough. Last year the Legion struggled when he went down with an extended injury problem; is it surprising that they are also struggling by not putting him on the field?
In a lot of ways, he is the mirror-image of Ando. Most importantly, he is likewise excellent at distribution. Which is to say, he is the archetypal number 10. He needs to be used that way.
Obviously, this has been sorely lacking with just 8 goals in 11 games. But the Legion has an embarrassment of riches at striker. Notably, it now has two big strong forwards in Edi Horvat and Juan Agudelo. Juan is a great hold-up player and Edi is a speedy agent of chaos. They could cause all sorts of misery for defenses on the field together for a full 90 minutes. To date, Juan has averaged 47 minutes over 6 games (admittedly he has had a knee issue) and Edi just 28 minutes over 5 games (also due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control). With both of them available to play for extended periods they could cause nightmares for opposing defenders (or, more likely, actual headaches).
And then there’s also Enzo Martinez, Prosper Kasim and Marlon to fill out the long list of options here. Lots to work with, and plenty of room for rotation.
It’s all very well to present a laundry list of problems. Any one can do that. Offering potential solutions, though, is much more useful. Indeed, given everything I have presented, astute readers (and that is of course all of you) will have noted that these issues seem to be suggesting a particular form of play. We have a 4-man back line as a necessity, we have Asiedu as a pivot, we have Lapa at the 10 spot, and 2 strikers. That seems to be screaming for a 4-4-2 diamond. Well, maybe. But that puts the 2 midfielders behind the number 10 in a relatively regressed position. Probably not the best use of players like Enzo, Prosper or Marlon, I would say. To my mind it instead suggests that a 4-1-3-2 is an attractive option. To my recollection, the team has never played that formation. It is obviously a very attacking formation and needs speedy fullbacks (we have those in spades) and a superb defensive mid (yeah, we have that too).
So, what do you think? Have we hit on the big issues? Have we missed some? And is there a better solution? Let us know your ideas.