The Fire continue their brutal stretch of games in New England on Saturday night (6:00pm CT on My50/TWCSC) but are coming to town on a high after reaching the U.S. Open Cup semifinalss after defeating Atlanta Wednesday.
The Revs enter the match on a three-game losing streak after a defeat to the Union in the Cup on Tuesday. Here are a few tactical observations to look out for.
Squad rotation in midfield - a good time for Alex to return to the XI
After a strong showing in Kansas City last week, Alex dropped back to the bench for the Silverbacks game in midweek. With Saturday’s match being the fourth in 11 days, Frank Yallop has been very clear about rotating players during the tough stretch of games and I expect to see Alex back in the starting XI on Saturday night, especially after his stellar cameo on Wednesday.
When looking at who the Brazilian could replace, Grant Ward seems the most likely candidate. Ward struggled to get into the games against both SKC and Atlanta, mainly due to not getting service. The Fire tried in both matches to get him more involved by switching him to the left mid-game but it brought little success. The extreme heat in both Kansas City and Atlanta could have also been a factor for the lackluster performances from the young Englishman.
Alex has been praised in recent weeks for his attacking play which has resulted in numerous chances for the Fire forwards. Alex, like Quincy Amarikwa, is always looking to win the ball back from the opposition by putting pressure on the player in possession. We saw this work well Sunday in Kansas City, where he forced a turnover and then played a brilliant through ball to Mike Magee who finished with ease.
After only playing 10 minutes at midweek, the Brazilian should be fresh for Saturday and will be key to the Fire’s success.
Focusing the attack down the left – targeting the Revs right back
In New England’s last two matches, away in Salt Lake and at home against Philadelphia, they struggled to defend attacks targeting the right side of their back line. Against Salt Lake last week, Darrius Barnes returned to the lineup and looked very suspect, especially when players like Joao Plata and Javier Morales were able to get in 1v1 situations with the defender.
Against Philly the week before, it was the younger Andrew Farrell who played on the right and also looked uncomfortable and looks a lot more at home playing in the middle alongside the vastly experienced José Gonçalves.
With the return of Quincy Amarikwa from suspension, I expect Harry Shipp to play in a deeper and wider role, either on the right or the left of midfield. If he does start on the left his tendency to move into the middle will open up space for presumed starter Gonzalo Segares to move into when he gets forward to support the attack.
We know that Amarikwa loves to run at defenders and I expect we will see him drifting to the left of the attack in an attempt to get into 1v1 situations with either Farrell or Barnes on Saturday night. If Alex does indeed start he can also be effective playing in the left wing position.
I could also see a scenario where the Fire coaching staff bring in a pacey player like Grant Ward or Dilly Duka later in the match to keep the pressure on the Revs right back.
Focusing our defensive attention down out right – preventing Chris Tierney from putting in crosses
In both of New England’s last two matches, left wing back Chris Tierney has looked a real threat when he comes forward and is given room to put crosses into the box. Tierney is one of four Revolution players with three assists to his name this season and the Fire will want to stop him from taking the overall lead in assists for his team on Saturday night.
One of Tierney’s favorite targets is Revs front man Teal Bunbury but his ability to keep his crosses low and bend them around defenders into good areas is a reason why he is so dangerous. But for some better finishing in both the Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake games from Tierney crosses, the Revs might have come away with at least a point.
As I’ve pointed out on more than one occasion this season, the Fire have had major issues closing down outside backs and wingers defensively and preventing them from putting in crosses. Against New England on Saturday night, I expect to see projected starting right-back Lovel Palmer and whoever lines up in front of him to play Tierney very tight and limit his chances to put balls in the box.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and the returning Quincy Amarikwa.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.