Fire v Impact match preview

Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal

Forward Progress? This past weekend the Chicago Fire Soccer Club earned their first road victory of the 2019 MLS season and their first road win in over a calendar year. A 1-0 result over the Houston Dynamo, courtesy of a Nemanja Nikolic tally, also propelled them back into the playoff conversation (maybe). A six-point gap needs to be made up but with the way that the rest of the East is playing, it is not inconceivable that Chicago could find itself above the red line in the coming weeks. A huge step in a positive direction is on the line this weekend as the Fire host Montreal at SeatGeek stadium on Saturday (8:00 CT on ESPN+).

The Impact arrive in the Windy City amidst a terrible run of form in MLS as they’ve plummeted in the standings since these sides last met. The investment made in the team by Joey Saputo and the club’s high aspirations in recent years mean that playoffs are the bare minimum measuring stick for success in Quebec. They’ll need to build off of their decent away form (four wins on the season), overcome recent results, and play to their full potential if they are going to maintain their current place in the standings. This is essentially a must win for both sides, a factor that makes this match one of the most intriguing encounters of the weekend. Will Chicago’s result against Houston prove to be an anomaly, or was it the start of something more? Are the Impact the real deal, or did a bizarrely strong start inflate expectations? Voyons ce qui est en magasin pour les Hommes en Rouge.

Montreal Form Guide (All Competitions): W-L-W-W-L

Previous Result: A 2-1 home victory over Calgary in the Candian Championship.

Formation: 4-4-2; Pantemis; Sagna, Diallo, Camacho, Raitala; Bayiha, Krolicki, Piette, Lappalainen; Urruti, Piatti

Forces: Although Montreal have faded in the standings recently, many of the strengths that saw them in second place of the East the last time these two sides met this season remain. Remi Garde’s ability to trust young players while also mixing in veteran presence when required was a standout in April, this has continued with recent acquisitions. Garde’s time with the Lyon youth set up has ensured Montreal’s success for years to come if they continue to give him the space to operate as he has. Let’s see where else they might succeed.

Flexibilité Tactique: Throughout the season we have lambasted certain teams for trying to tinker too much tactically in a league that is still growing into those types of abilities. Too often sides will lack a distinct playing style and look utterly confused as coaches cycle through formations, personnel changes, and tactical instructions. Montreal has shown that they can implement multiple systems successfully. In April, we discussed the Impact’s 4-3-3 lineup and tendency to play on the counter after breaking out of a low block. The system was particularly successful in clogging midfield with a defensive minded holding trio. Since then, Garde has continued to utilize the 4-3-3 on occasion, but the last two months have seen him switch to a 4-4-2 which alternates between a flat midfield when not in possession and a diamond in transition. There has also been a sprinkling in of a 3-4-3 in the Canadian Championship but we’ll chalk that up to experimentation against lower level opposition.

The personnel at his disposal (specifically, the return of Ignacio Piatti from long term injury, the addition of Lassi Lappalanian, and the quick development of Orji Okwonkwo) has made this switch a smooth one. The goal to play in transition is still present but a front two of Piatti playing underneath Maxi Urruti means that the danger is now present both on the flanks and centrally when Montreal counters. The duo in central midfield can have a very different look depending on who Garde selects on the day, with Samuel Piette, Ken Krolicki, Saphir Taider, Shamit Shome, and youngster Clement Bayiha all at his disposal and featuring in the last month of matches. Dual eights (Krolick and Bayiha), setting up shop (Piette and Shome), a secondary ten paired with defensive cover (Taider and Piette), a false ten pushing out wide (Taider), and everything in between has been used effectively in recent weeks. An already shapeless Fire could lose themselves further among the commotion.

Nouvelles Arrivées: As the MLS transfer window closed on Wednesday, Montreal finalized and revealed a number of additions. Jorge Corrales arrived from Chicago in exchange for Michael Azira and the true target of the trade, the top allocation spot. With it, the Impact brought back Ballou Tabla on loan from Barcelona. The twenty-year-old came up through Montreal’s academy before making the jump to the Spanish giants. The winger made thirty appearances for Barcelona B and will certainly strengthen an already dangerous attack.

Additionally, former Barcelona starlet Bojan Krkic made his way from Stoke to Quebec to finalize a move for this season and next, with club options for 2021 and 2022. A promising future never seemed to materialize for the Catalan forward as he bounced around Europe chasing potential. Stints at Roma, Milan, Ajax, Stoke, Mainz, and most recently a loan to Alaves have seen him produce moments of brilliance since leaving Barca, but they have also seen long spell of mediocrity. Which Bojan will show up in Montreal? Only time will tell, but MLS could be the perfect opportunity for the twenty-eight-year-old to effectively display his talents. Whether Garde utilizes him in his preferred ten role, or on the wing is yet to be seen, and Bojan may have plans of his own for positioning given that he’s selected the number nine shirt.   

Faiblesses: The fall from relative comfort near the top of the East to the potential of missing out on the playoffs is the true story of Montreal’s season. The talent is there among the technical staff and the players alike but bad luck, injuries, and playing below expectations have all reared their head this year. At the end of the day, the standings don’t lie, and the Impact are just one point above the red line. Anything but a win on Saturday and they could drop. Let’s See where they might struggle.

Défense? Quelle défense?: The central weakness that we pointed out in April was Montreal’s atrocious defense. At that time, they had conceded more than any other team in a playoff spot and were leaking an average of 1.3 goals per game. That stat has remained static. A negative goal differential for a playoff team is certainly not a recipe for success in the postseason, a double-digit goal differential, negative ten to be exact, is disastrous. Montreal’s forty-four goals conceded is the third worst such total in the league. When you are mentioned in the same breath as Colorado and Cincinnati, the outlook is not good. Sure, they acquired Corrales from the Fire, but as was mentioned above that move had ulterior motives and the Cuban certainly won’t be seeing playing time for Les Bleus.

Questions abound. Why did they add four attacking pieces in the summer window without strengthening the backline? What youth products do they see as viable replacements? Is there a preferred lineup? What is the long term goal for a defense that includes aging pieces—Bacary Sagna (36) and Zakaria Diallo (32), journeymen—Jukka Raittala and Rudy Camacho, and players that just haven’t panned out—Victor Cabrera and Daniel Lovitz? Perhaps most frustratingly, Garde has been known to be defensively sound in his previous projects. The Lyon side he managed for three years won the Coupe de La Ligue, the French Cup, and Ligue 1 on the back of rock-solid defenses that included the likes of Cris, Lovren, Cissokho, Revelliere, and Umtiti. Whatever the reasoning behind their defensive fragility, Montreal may offer some respite to a beleaguered Fire side.

Nous ne Marquons pas non plus: On the other side of the field, Montreal hasn’t impressed going forward either. They’ve looked good stylistically and their players have limitless potential, but the final product simply hasn’t been there recently. A 4-0 victory over Philadelphia at the end of July is the only MLS result that the Impact have earned since June 26th against Portland. Four consecutive losses leading up to that encounter and a 6-3 thrashing at the hands of Colorado last week round up their recent results.

Worse yet, the Impact have notched just thirty-four goals on the season, among the bottom three GF ratios among current playoff teams. Yes, Piatti was injured for nearly half of the season; yes, Urruti has struggled to find form; and yes, the Impact have been on the wrong side of a number of bizarre VAR calls, but all of that is part of the game. They need to find ways to produce and they haven’t. Taider leads the side with eight goals on the season, a mediocre haul for one of the supposed team leaders and a worrying stat on the whole. It seems as if there will be respite for Chicago on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: We’re not sure what to do with this one. There have been a plethora of Jekyll and Hyde performances from both sides involved in the encounter and the result is solely dependent on which personalities show up. Does that mean that things will even out in the end? Probably. Chicago 3-3 Montreal. Nikolic, Sapong, and Katai for the hosts. Bojan announces himself to MLS with a hat trick for the visitors.  

Filed under: 2019 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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