Diving deep: Memphis 901 2-4 Birmingham Legion

On top of everything else, they have better recording studios in Muscle Shoals

Continuing in my parade of late posts this week, I finally get around to the tactical analysis. This one can be summed up in one word:


Obviously, the team returned to its counterpressing style that has worked so well after a dismal interlude in the middle of last week. But against a team that also likes to press out of a 4-4-2 and that has the chops to do it it well, some adjustments had to be made. Theoretically – and I say that advisedly – the Legion opted to match that man-for-man in their own 4-4-2, moving Enzo Martinez up as a second striker. That in itself was interesting, and we will get to that in due course. First, though, we have to applaud the Memphis TV production crew for their brilliant presentation of the lineup:

Whoo boy. And that immediately after the announcer noted that Prosper was out for this game. And Freddy Kleemann? Yeah, we’d love to see him back. But, you know, next season.

Note though that they had Marlon as the second striker. In fact, it actually worked out that he sort of was. Playing out pretty wide, admittedly, but even so that’s how it went. Here are the average positions of the starting XI:

One item to note is the positioning of the 2 Memphis fullbacks. Patrick Seagrist (#7) and Rece Buckmaster (#9) are pushed up pretty high, leaving Zach Carroll (#3) and Graham Smith (#16) to handle much of the defensive duty. Also, they are pushed pretty far to their right. That in itself is odd given that the Legion tends to favor its right side also. Ignoring the primary threat is not generally a good tactic. To a great extent this explains why Marlon (#11) is playing so high. He took full advantage of that egregious strategic error with his goal, swinging in from out wide right, and to a lesser extent on his assist for Enzo’s goal. Seagrist had been subbed off just a minute or so before and his replacement Chris Allan was similarly way upfield for an abortive corner kick. In any event, neither team looks to be in a readily identifiable 4-4-2, do they?

The thing is, the Legion formation can be looked at in a few different ways. Let’s start off with this:

The venerable 4-2-3-1, the Legion mainstay of yesteryear. Or yesterday, depending on how you view things. Unusually, the Legion played with a very flat back 4, and notably Mikey Lopez (#5) was clearly higher than Jonny Dean (#24). That was useful, because as we already noted, Memphis opted to push on the Legion’s left. It didn’t really work out for them, with Mikey basically in Buckmaster’s face all night. Note also that Phillip Goodrum (#10) was allowed to get behind the Legion center backs. He was nullified almost as badly as San Diego’s Kyle Vassell was. For the game he had 1 shot off target and another blocked. That’s it. And, unsurprisingly, he was caught offside once.

In this setup Zach Herivaux (#20) is the defensive pivot, for which he has become the first choice it seems. Not a shocker; he does it extremely well. Anderson Asiedu (#6) isn’t quite playing as an attacking pivot, but he’s close to it, even if he is a bit wide.

But then, we could think of it in these terms:

This is an actual 4-4-2, but with a diamond central 4 rather than a flat 4. This is, in my view, the best way the Three Sparks can play a 4-4-2. It’s pretty much the same as a 4-1-3-2, which I have been advocating for for quite some time. It can also adapt quickly into a 4-3-3, which has also been successful lately. And, in similar fashion, it can also morph into this:

A 4-1-4-1. Given that Ando was forcing his way into the Memphis 18, this may be the best way to interpret this lineup. A full 5 guys running at the Memphis defense. And let’s not forget that at least 3 of them – Juan, Enzo and Marlon – all love to press extremely high.

So, to summarize: Memphis pressed on its right and was nullified. They got drawn up high and were suckered into the Legion counterattack. On top of that the Legion basically outlasted them physically, which they tend to do with most teams. But in this case Memphis had played an exhausting game in New Mexico late Wednesday night and clearly hadn’t fully recovered. And when you’re up against a team built for speed, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

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