TACTICAL: Alex, Lovel Palmer partnership on the right could unlock Philly

After a second win on turf in three days, the Fire will be in high spirits at Toyota Park on Saturday evening when they face the Philadelphia Union now managed by Fire legend Jim Curtin (7pm CT on My50/TWCSC-WI).

The Union got a morale boosting 3-1 win over the Red Bull on Wednesday night and will be looking to extend their lead of the Fire in the standings. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Continuing with the Alex/Palmer partnership on the right

Last week at New England Lovel Palmer had his best game in a Fire shirt and was rewarded with a place on the MLS Team of the Week.

Particularly in the attack, he combined well with Alex on the right for the Fire. I expect this to continue against a Union team struggling to find consistency at the back.  

The center back pairing of Maurice Edu and Sheanon Williams seems to be working when both players are fit, but left back is still a problematic position for the Union. Jim Curtin has deployed both Raymon Gaddis and Fabinho in that position over the past few matches but neither seem entirely comfortable.

Gaddis and Fabinho also don’t receive a lot of help defensively from Danny Cruz who usually occupies the attacking left position in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 formation. With this in mind, I think Frank Yallop will be telling Palmer and Alex to play the same way they did in New England last weekend.

Like Harry Shipp on the left, Alex is comfortable drifting into the middle which gives Palmer more space to move into from his defensive position.

The Men in Red have been good at moving the ball around and finding the open man of late and if they can play Alex and Palmer into 2v1 or 1v1 situations against Gaddis or Fabinho, I like the Fire’s chances of bagging some goals.

Dealing with Conor Casey’s supporting trio – liming the creativity of Cruz, Le Toux and Maidana

Conor Casey’s revival under Curtin’s tutelage has been quite remarkable, with the MLS vet scoring six goals in his last six appearances, but a lot of credit must be given to his supporting trio, who will pose a very real threat on Saturday night.

Only the runaway league leaders Seattle Sounders have scored more goals than Philly this season and the attacking mid trio have either scored or assisted in 22 of Philly’s 32 goals to date.

The fluidity of the attacking trio is what makes them dangerous. Cruz and Le Toux often end up coming far infield while Maidana is very comfortable moving out wide.

Casey also likes to drop deep, allowing his supporting cast to move ahead of him into the forward positions. All of this makes it very hard for the opposing team to stay compact and focused on their marks.

A big decision for Yallop will be who will partner Jeff Larentowicz in the Fire’s engine room. Chris Ritter provides another strong presence in the air but Matt Watson’s mobility may be the more important attribute that the team need on Saturday evening.

As we saw in the matches against Colorado and New York, Casey is more than capable of creating his own chances and putting them away, but the trio who play behind him are the greater threat for the Fire.

Finishing your own chances – killing off a team the opportunity is there

The first 20 minutes last week was the best start the Men in Red have had to a match all season. But for some better execution, the team could have easily been up 3-0 with the game effectively killed off.

Instead, it took a Sean Johnson penalty wonder save to secure a massive away win. Due to Philadelphia’s defensive problems, I expect the Fire to get more than a few good chances on Saturday and it would be nice to see them taken. Obviously finishing your chances is not something that you can coach or adjust tactically, but it must be a concern to the coaching staff that the Fire’s only two wins by more than a one goal have come in U.S. Open Cup play.

The Men in Red have yet to beat ANY team by more than two goals this season, and only did so once in preseason. With a tough trip to the West Coast only 4 days after the Union match, Frank Yallop would love nothing more than to be able to sub out a few players earlier than he would have expected due to the Fire being well ahead in the match.

Last weekend’s game saw arguably the team’s strongest XI out on the field, and if Magee, Shipp, Alex and Amarikwa can all hit top gear, the Union might be on wrong end of a big score line.

Prediction: 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee (x2) and Matt Watson.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.