After a difficult start to the season, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has now found consistency in his Cavalry team over the past two matches, accompanied by a strong change in shape. The Cavs started the season in a 3-4-2-1 formation, suffering two embarrassing losses to York and Atletico, and a stagnant draw against Forge. After realizing the slow-moving car wasn’t quite motoring the way he wanted it to, even despite the gas pedal being pressed, Wheeldon Jr. was right to identify a new vehicle. Now in a flexible 4-4-2 shape, Cavalry have been utterly dominant in both of their matches since, both in and out of possession. On this particular occasion, they completely stunted Edmonton’s progress going forward, and massively exploited space in exactly the right areas through staggering their personnel across the pitch. Here is a tactical analysis of Cavalry’s commanding 3-0 win over FC Edmonton.
IN POSSESSION – 4-1-4-1
Cavalry’s command against Edmonton started right from their defensive line, which played a crucial role building out from the back. The fullbacks held relatively low positions, and so too did Elliot Simmons, as Victor Loturi and Ali Musse sought space further ahead. But here’s where the interesting part comes in. As part of their midfield balance, each of Cavalry’s midfielders held a different degree of height in build up to progression phases, creating this really nice triangle. The advantages that this allowed were a greater ease of access for opening corridors in between the lines, and disrupting Edmonton’s own desire to hold rank on their own accord. As teams block out of possession, they typically hold one succinct defensive line, and one succinct midfield line, with little variability in player height within each specific unit. Normally, this all on its own can leave space to receive in between the lines. It’s probably common sense to suggest that a 5-1-3-1 defensive shape leaves less room for a number ten to get on the ball than a 5-4-1. Cavalry recognized this gap in Edmonton’s defensive structure, but took it one step further to allow Musse and Loturi to roam at varying heights – Loturi more on the left, and Musse more on the right.
Joe Mason then held a position more on the left, as Escalante frequented lower on the left than his opposite winger in Jean-Aniel Assi, who generally held a slightly higher role on the right. So not only did this offer Cavalry advantages in breaking lines, but it also positioned talented players in close proximity. Musse could create opportunities to receive in the right-half-space with his movement, pulling Singh with him, and potentially opening corridors for Mason to sprint behind, or others like Fraser Aird to get up with the play and compound the overload. This can be seen working in great harmony on Cavalry’s first goal of the evening – a masterful strike from Joe Mason. Ali Musse did all the hard work in breaking lines and playing a beautiful one-two with Aird, before the right-back slipped Mason through the middle in on goal.
Signaling exactly where he wanted the ball before Aird found him with the perfect weight of pass, everything from start to finish was marvelous here from a Cavalry perspective. But it also nicely showcases the potential for attacking compactness to override defensive compactness, rather than simply needing to rely on width and switching play to break down a stern low-block. The narrow shape in that moment allowed the Cavs to quickly play one-touch passes against a flat-footed defense, with the ball travelling shorter distances before the next action – causing the need for quicker reaction times. York United achieved the exact same nicety against Forge FC on Friday night, when Sebastian Gutierrez and Osaze De Rosario masterfully linked up with a one-two through a congested Forge penalty area.
With 58% of the possession (69% in the first half), Wheeldon Jr.’s team never lost their dominance in the match. They even switched to a 3-4-1-2 midway through the second half, allowing Musse even greater ease of access for receiving passes in between the lines. The Canadian midfielder brilliantly found himself in acres of space time and time again in behind Edmonton’s double pivot as they threw numbers forward, and could continuously use his pace and timing of the pass to exploit Edmonton’s wide areas as strikers and wing-backs shifted wide to work in harmony.
This is exactly how Cavalry’s third goal of the game found its way into the back of the net, when Jose Escalante raced forward to receive Musse’s pass, and eventually careened the ball off Cale Loughrey for an own goal. Cavalry’s flexibility to change shape even when they were playing well shows the potential that the team has to operate in a variety of ways depending on the occasion this season. However, their change to a back four has been a tremendously positive maneuver these past two matches, and one that has been accompanied by an instant improvement in solidity, threat, and performance.
OUT OF POSSESSION – 4-4-2
Out of possession, Cavalry lined up in more of a 4-4-2 shape, with Ali Musse joining Joe Mason in the first line of pressure. In specific moments, Musse magnificently recognized Gabriel Bitar’s potential to receive in space, and lowered himself in more of a 4-1-4-1, screening the dynamic midfielder.
Musse would then burst forward back into a 4-4-2 immediately following the ball making its way into Cale Loughrey instead, as the others in behind pushed up with the play.
As noted in our tactical recap of the matches last weekend, the Cavs again used a staggered pressing structure, with the wingers holding varying heights. Escalante held line height with the midfield two to make a lopsided three, where Assi pushed up further ahead and closer to Musse and Mason. The potential reasoning of this decision could lie within inciting the opposition to play passes down Cavalry’s right. In two ways, this would be Cavalry’s preferred side to defend. It’s where Fraser Aird, who is a slightly more competent and proactive ball-winner than their left-back, can push up with the play and win the ball. It also happens to be the side of Edmonton’s weaker winger. In theory, this entices the opposition into fewer passes down Tobias Warschewski’s side, similarly to last week where Marco Bustos pushed into central areas in order to find any room to receive the ball.
Simultaneously, their staggered and compact attacking shape benefited the Cavs in transition, as Elliot Simmons could immediately spring into action in covering ground laterally up against Edmonton’s best ball carrier and long-passing threat in Gabriel Bitar. Victor Loturi could cover ground more or less vertically, retreating back into a double-pivot. But Simmons’ exceptional ability to spring into action meant that the Cavs could immediately restart their attacks without Loturi and Musse having to travel too far back the other way. The effectiveness in this approach speaks volumes in the fact that I recorded my thoughts on it mid-match.
The tactic worked like a charm, and Wheeldon Jr.’s press again held together with a high degree of proficiency and pugnacity.
Further down the pitch, their overly narrow positioning from their full-backs allowed some level of room out wide for Edmonton to receive.
This occurred particularly in moments of transition, where Aird or Vliet tucked too far inside. With better switches of play and less verticality in transition (counter-intuitive, I know), Edmonton easily could have taken advantage of these wide spaces. In other instances, in fact in Edmonton’s most positive patterns of play, they utilized T-Boy Fayia to overlap Tobias Warschewski, and positional rotation to open further corridors of space. As the German drifted toward the ball to receive, Bradley Vliet often came with him. Escalante then had to track the movement of Fayia as he floated higher up the pitch, where the Honduran often had no choice but to let the full-back receive.
Nevertheless, with Karifa Yao and Mason Trafford winning everything in the air, Elliot Simmons and Victor Loturi throwing themselves into challenges, and even Marco Carducci playing a part in sweeping in behind, Edmonton had no mechanism whatsoever for generating clear-cut chances. It shows in the stats – with 0 shots on target throughout the ninety for Alan Koch’s men, an embarrassing performance in a momentous derby occasion.
So there it is! A match analysis of Cavalry’s convincing 3-0 win over the Eddies, and how their staggered shape stunted Edmonton’s plans. Be sure to check out more of our CANPL content, and follow on social media @mastermindsite using the links below to never miss an update! Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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