Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal
L’enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions. This past Saturday the Chicago Fire lost to Minnesota United FC 2-1 at Toyota Park. The match did not go according to script for any of the onlookers in red and white, as arguably the worst team in MLS stole their first away win of the season. The result means that Chicago has now lost six of its last seven matches and sits just five points above the red line heading into this weekend’s fixture. A side that was in contention for the Supporters’ Shield is now unraveling and supporters are fearing the worst heading into the final stretch of the season.
Although the side has been plagued by an unfortunate series of injuries to the back line, it seems as if the most serious issues are coming from further up the field. The lack of a creative mid to pull the strings seems almost redundant to mention at this point, the MLS All Star selection fiasco revolving around Accam has reverberated through the locker room, and recent discussions of Schweinsteiger’s displeasure have surfaced as well. Worse yet, Veljko Paunovic seems to lack answers to both the on field and off field struggles of the club. Opponents have seemingly figured out how to stifle what had once been a deadly Chicago attack and the reactionary decision to play long balls into Accam and Nikolic is clearly not working. Ultimately, adjustments to personnel and tactics that should have been made in the summer window may be a specter over the Process come October. But for now, there is a match to be played on Saturday.
Chicago will once again be travelling North of the border to face the Montreal Impact (6:00 CT on CSN Chicago Plus), a side that they took on less than three weeks ago. This will be the third meeting between these two teams this season with Montreal winning earlier this month and the sides drawing at Toyota Park in April. This clash carries more weight than the previous two as Montreal and Chicago are both slipping into desperation mode. The Impact have been on a recent upswing, winning four of their last five to hold onto seventh place even on points with sixth place Atlanta but time is running out. A victory for either side will go a long way in solidifying their post season hopes but who will want it more? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Montreal Form Guide (last five league matches): L-W-W-W-W
Previous Result: A 3-1 home loss to Toronto FC.
Formation: 4-3-3; Bush; Lovitz, Ciman, Cabrera, Duvall; Dzemaili, Piette, Bernier; Piatti, Mancosu, Salazar
Forces: Our readers should be beyond familiar with this Impact side by now. We have discussed the attacking prowess of Piatti, Mancosu’s finishing ability, a growing desperation for results, and key additions in the summer window as strengths. Montreal has only played two matches since defeating the Fire on August 15th so our discussion points will come from these three matches.
C'est l'Oiseau Tôt qui Attrape le Ver: The common feature in both of Montreal’s most recent victories–over RSL and the Fire–was their insistence on pressing high and pressing early. From the first whistle in both matches Piatti was running at the center back pairings while Oduro and Mancosu (against Chicago) and Salazar and Hamel (against RSL) were responsible for stretching the length and width of the field. The high press paid dividends in both fixtures with Piatti notching a goal in the sixth minute against the Fire and in the eleventh against RSL. The press continued throughout the first half in both encounters and most of the heavy lifting was done before the whistle for the break. Biello’s men headed down the tunnel with a 3-0 lead against Chicago and a 2-0 lead against RSL.
This style of high press also ensured that the outside backs had far fewer defensive duties and could push up in a way that was not present in Montreal’s recent fixtures away from home. Daniel Lovtiz, Hassoun Camara, and Chris Duvall combined for over 100 pass attempts in just those two encounters while conversely only needing to make thirty-five defensive interventions in that period–significantly less than their average outside of Stade Saputo. This could be worrisome for a Chicago side who has had to play with not only a makeshift back line, but whose choice of wingers in recent fixtures does not provide the type of defensive cover necessary to deal with Montreal’s strengths. So, while the Fire should expect this same strategy to be in effect on Saturday, they’ll be hoping that their injury woes will be somewhat alleviated before then.
C’est dans les Vieux Pots qu’on Fait les Meilleures Confitures: Coupled with the high press of the first half is Montreal’s unique ability to shut the game down once they have the lead. The clogging of the midfield and retention of the ball largely comes from the experience present in their squad. The likes of Blerim Dzemaili, Marco Donadel, Patrice Bernier, Laurent Ciman, and Hassoun Camara have seen it all before. It is no surprise that at least three of those players have featured in the starting eleven amidst Montreal’s recent spell of success. Chicago’s own veteran presence will be further stifled by Dax McCarty’s absence and the unfortunate fact that Bastian Schweinsteiger is just one caution away from a suspension and he won’t want to miss their crucial home clash against New York the following weekend.
Biello and Saputo have often received criticism for the aging nature of their squad (we too thought that they would struggle from their inability to enliven their roster with youthful exuberance) but they have once again proven that they know what they are doing. Should the Impact slip into that final playoff spot and hold onto it, many pundits will be forced to bite their tongues.
Oubliez la Poutine, j'Aurai des Nachos: No Montreal Impact preview would be complete without discussing Ignacio Piatti. We are well aware that he was the focus of both of our previous previews and that he has already been mentioned here, but we’re going to continue anyway. The man that has become the bedrock of this Montreal club is amidst an incredible run of form. He has fifteen goals and four assists on the season but five of those tallies have come in his last three matches. It is no secret that Piatti is searching to ink a new long-term deal with the Impact (his current deal runs out in July of 2018) and his on-field contributions coupled with his endearment to the city might make his extension a foregone conclusion. No matter the outcome of this match, Piatti is sure to be on the score sheet.
Faiblesses: Despite their current run of form, Montreal is just where we left them in our last preview. Despite winning two matches, they were hammered at home by an unstoppable Toronto side and still find themselves in seventh place in the standings. A possible hangover from the Drogba fiasco, an ever-aging squad, questionable shifts in formation, a slow start to the season, mental lapses, and season ending injuries have all been discussed as source of weakness for Montreal. Let’s see where they stand heading into Saturday.
Comme Vanney: Aside from looking introspectively, Chicago should also take a page out of Greg Vanney’s book when heading to the Land of Poutine. While we are not suggesting that there are distinct similarities between the two Eastern Conference sides, what is evident is that tactical shifts to play against the evident weaknesses present in Montreal’s back line worked for TFC at the weekend. In the past, we’ve spoken about Victor Cabrera’s journeyman status as being largely due to his proneness for simple errors. He can’t seem to man mark on the back foot and he particularly struggles against larger target strikers. Vanney utilized Jozy Altidore to his full potential by spotting this weakness and the forward notched his eleventh goal of the season while Cabrera looked on from a distance. Similarly, once Altidore had run out of gas Vanney utilized Tosaint Ricketts for the last ten minutes of the match to great effect. The youngster gave Cabrera nightmares and put Evan Bush twice in his short outing.
Perhaps it is time for Paunovic to pay heed to some of the recent criticism of his tactics and personnel choices. Should he utilize Michael DeLeeuw or Lucho Solignac as the lone striker in this one the Fire could trouble Cabrera and whoever Biello selects as his center back partner during Ciman’s absence. Nikolic is a pure finisher, plain and simple. He hasn’t been getting the service he requires and his isn’t going to alter his style at the tail end of his career. Benching him for this encounter will not only help re-establish the chain of command in the locker room but it will afford the Fire an opportunity to catch the Impact by surprise. Chicago will need to learn from its mistakes if they are to turn around their fortunes and it must start against Montreal.
Avoir la Tête dans le Guidon: While Chicago will be missing McCarty, Montreal will have much more to worry about in terms of their personnel. The presence of active internationals in one’s line up can be a source of pride at times, until you remember that it can decimate your squad. In addition to missing Ambroise Oyongo due to a ruptured patella, the Impact received notice from the various federations of David Choiniere, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Samuel Piette, Laurent Ciman, Blerim Dzemaili, and Shaun Francis that they have been called up for friendlies and World Cup qualifiers this weekend. Four starters (all featuring in the spine of the team) and defensive depth are not exactly the type of players you want to be missing for a crucial clash. Perhaps there is something in this fixture for Chicago after all.
Complaisance: Although Montreal’s coaching staff and players have given interviews with the obligatory “they’re a tough opponent”, “we must respect their quality”, and “they can punish you” with regards to the Fire, we get the sense that they don’t quite believe that. Earning a draw on the road against Chicago in April amidst a poor start and the marquee signing of Schweinsteiger coupled with the recent August thrashing his added a tone of arrogance to the way in which Montreal views their opponent. This type of complacency has cost them during various spells this season and was largely responsible for their early exit from the playoffs at the hands of a Toronto side which they believed they had comfortably put away. Chicago will be hoping they can stick around long enough in this one to turn that complacency into doubt and that doubt into a loss for the hosts.
Prediction: Given Chicago’s recent struggles, especially away from Toyota Park, we aren’t sure there’s much hope for them in this one. With that being said, the Fire have gone to Montreal without hope before and come out on the right end of the result. Perhaps there is a little bit of magic left in this side after all. Chicago 2-1 Montreal. Piatti scores in the second minute of the match, Michael DeLeeuw buries the equalizer before half time, and Nemanja Nikolic scores the game winner in the ninety-fifth minute–assisted by Bastian Schweinsteiger.