On a recent episode of Revolution Recap, myself and Kris Valukis talked about the New England Revolution strikers and how best to use them in the interim of the post-Buksa era.
Obviously, this conversation happened before the Revs signed their new Designated Player and #9 Giacomo Vrioni though we did mention the need for balancing out the formation and roles of the lone striker if Bruce Arena continued with the 4-2-3-1.
I am not good at Football Manager as far as tactics go, and the nuance that goes into making an elite tactic on the simulated match engine is a skill that is well above me as someone who played a 4-4-2 on FIFA for like 15 years straight. If you aren’t familiar with the many versions of FM, you align your formation by position and they by roles - so attackers, midfielders, defenders, etc., all have a unique set of roles and player instructions that you can use to get the most out of your players and befuddle your opponent.
It’s clear the Revs need to get their strikers more involved in the game beyond just scoring, and a horrifically bad shooting display in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago didn’t help things.
There were a lot of chances in this #VANvNE game that I don't think made this chart and it shows, very similar to a lot of recent #NERevs games - not a lot of big chances but this time no opportunistic finish. pic.twitter.com/xAuejBRa74— Jake Catanese (@JCatanese43) June 27, 2022
Now, the Revs have problems beyond striker at the moment, as the injury bug as bitten the Revs at key spots with starters Matt Polster, Sebastian Lletget, and Brandon Bye all missing multiple games in the past month. Getting those players back should help tremendously as far as moving the ball through the midfield and not having Carles Gil drop all the way back to the centerbacks to get the ball.
But for now, these are what I think are the roles and style that the Revs need to deploy their strikers at, mainly in a lone striker setup. Gustavo Bou can also play out wide as an inside forward, and likely will do that with Vrioni up top, but we’re going to stick to just the striker roles only for this “analysis.” I won’t be going into the details of each specific role and the player instructions with that role from the game and how they work, this is more of a general overview and though experiment thing.
GIACOMO VRIONI - Target Man/Complete Forward(?)
This is a pretty solid highlight package of goals from Vrioni, who was co-leading scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga with WSG Tirol on loan from Juventus this past season.
NEWS: @giacomovrioni32 joins the #NERevs from @juventusfc and becomes club's newest Designated Player. pic.twitter.com/deCX3oE860— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) July 5, 2022
Obviously the Revs will be looking for Vrioni to replace the aerial presence that Buksa was in the box, but it already looks like he has a well rounded striker’s skillset when it comes to finishing. He makes runs in behind, can shoot from deep in the box, and get up into the air. His physical skill set and size should translate well to MLS and depending on how quickly Vrioni can build chemistry with his teammates, could prove vital as the end of the season push becomes a playoff run.
Now, Adam Buksa needed a full, pandemic marred season to really settle into the league, but if Vrioni can acclimate as quickly as fellow new additions Borrero and Petrovic have done, I think the Revs are in good shape going forward and have clear options to rotate with down the stretch. If Vrioni and Bou prove to be great partners in the attack, it wouldn’t shock me to see the Arena deploy the diamond again with Lletget and Borrero as the central options in between Gil and Polster.
The real question mark here is Vrioni as a facilitator, as we can see the talent he has in and around the box with his finishing. It is vary rare to have a player excel at the complete forward role as someone who can be a force in the air, facilitate on the ground, and score from just about anywhere. Vrioni’s role will focus on him being deployed more as a target man and more advanced in the box, but if his back to goal skills are anywhere near where I think his finishing is, this could be a tremendous signing for the Revs over the next couple of years.
GUSTAVO BOU - Advanced Forward/False Nine
Bou is still currently the best shooter on the Revs, he has a green light from just about anywhere on the field, and has a highlight reel of some absolute world class bangers.
But if Bou is leading the line by himself, that type of finishing skillset needs to sometimes take a backseat to the tactical necessities of being a lone striker. Runs at and behind the defense, holding up play when needed, and generally getting more involved in the build up instead of just ripping a shot from distance.
Basically more of this:
Uno más para el cuaderno pic.twitter.com/3gpIGespTr— Gustavo La Pantera Bou (@gustavobouok) July 4, 2022
This is something we don’t see enough of from Bou in my opinion, attacking a post and forcing a defender to stay with him. Bou is shifty enough in the box to lose defenders easily, and the deft touch on that header was perfect, but as much as I love to see La Pantera strike from outside the box, he can, and needs to, be just as lethal inside the box too. Bou gets a secondary role as a False Nine because I think it’s the best way to describe his more roving style and I don’t mind him dropping incredibly deep to get the ball if it can help spring a counter attack. Countering by the way is something I don’t think the Revs do well and I’m not sure why, then have a ton of pieces in the attack to do it in a variety of ways especially with Bou starting a counter and then being on the receiving end of the final ball.
If and more likely when Vrioni takes over up top, Bou can revert back to his inside forward/ wider wing role and be one of the players running into the space created by the striker up top. But right now, he is the striker up top and for the Revs to be successful in the second half of the year, they’re going to need Bou to not just be a finisher, they’re going to need him to be a true forward on and off the ball when he’s up top.
JOZY ALTIDORE - Deep Lying Forward/Target Man
Regardless of Jozy’s fitness issues, I think it’s best to deploy Jozy when the Revs are trying to slow the game down and have him operate with his back to goal. This is the exact opposite of what I want the Revs to do when Bou is the lone striker and is more of a late game or road tactic but can still be effective.
Now, the problem is that Jozy only managed three touches in thirty or so minutes against Vancouver and that is inexcusable for a veteran player with over 100 USMNT caps to be unable to find a wide open game. So if Jozy doesn’t fit in a run and gun/back and forth style match, use him in a slower system and take advantage of his physical skills.
The idea here is Jozy drops off the backline, holds the ball up, and plays in Dylan Borrero or Bou of the wing to race in towards goal on a counter or even in possession. Jozy might not have the aerial prowess that Buksa had, but he is still a physical presence and can have a big role for this team down the stretch even if it’s mostly off the bench. If Jozy gets fully fit and can thrive in this role, having Borrero and Bou working off him as his flankers with Ema Boateng, Damian Rivera on late to help close out games, gives the Revs a viable late game plan.
Though we said this about Omar Gonzalez being the 5th defender to help close out games and that theory backfired miserably, I still think Jozy has a role on this team. I don’t think he was used properly a couple of weeks ago and that’s not entirely on him, but when he’s at full fitness, he’s going to need to produce.
JUSTIN RENNICKS - Pressing Forward/Poacher
In a wide open game like the end of the Vancouver matchup, I think Rennicks’ engine would have a better fit than Jozy for the final half hour. Rennicks job is my personal favorite - be a gigantic pest and annoy as many opponents as you can in their half of the field, and occasionally nick a goal or two cause you made a good trailing run or cleaned up a mess in the box. Rennicks can also I think do a decent job as an advanced forward but I think taking some of the defensive pressure off the rest of the Revs attacking group can do a lot of good over the course of a game.
With the chaos merchants the Revs already have in Bou and Borrero, and the potential that Vrioni might add in that glorious department, there’s a lot Rennicks can benefit from as either a lone striker or as a partner up top. In the back and forth endless countering that was the second half against the Whitecaps, Rennicks might have been the key to either stretching the backline against tire legs, causing or recovering a turnover in the attacking third, or maybe Rennicks might have had his shooting boots on a night when the Revs really needed it.
If the Revs aren’t looking to slow a game down and are trying to match the high energy of their opponents, Rennicks would be my choice to get into the game. Minutes have been hard to come by for Rennicks but if he can’t get them up top, I have no problem with him getting them out wide when needed.
NEW PODCAST: @SethMan31 and @realgjohnstone debate if the Giacomo Vrioni is the missing piece for the #NERevs or a huge mistake.— Revolution Recap (@RevolutionRecap) July 7, 2022
Thanks to @golacokits for sponsoring this episode. Go to https://t.co/9CG0grC5je and use promo code REVSRECAP for 15% off!https://t.co/PjCrgFVXWD
The Revolution have done well over the past few months to replace their outgoing stars and I really do like the continuation of the “value” DP signing that Vrioni brings. Seth Macomber and Greg Johnstone debated Vrioni’s signing in the above mini-podcast and while Greg does bring up a good point about the Revs being capable of spending a lot more money on a player, I think Vrioni is the right player more than the best and/or most expensive and that’s more important.
Vrioni brings in a similar skill set that the Revs just lost in Buksa of a Shield winning campaign and has I think a great chance to get New England firing on all cylinders in a few months going into the playoffs where the hot team is always more likely to win than the best team.
A key factor in the Revs Shield run last year, and a major downfall for them at the beginning of the year, was their squad rotations. Bruce Arena was able to rotate his starting lineup and manage minutes last year while still racking up wins, and he didn’t have that flexibility at times this year due to injuries. Vrioni brings back that aerial dimension to the Revs that lets their fullbacks send in more crosses into the box effectively and gives the central players a consistent presence to work of off.
But until Vrioni is getting consistent starts, New England has to adjust to the personnel they have available and roles that their players can succeed in.