Game of Numbers #16 – Riley Ferrazzo as an ‘Inverted Fullback’

Credit to Patrice Gheisar. HFX Wanderers looked a completely different side on Matchday 1 against last season’s first-place finishers, with a genuine intentionality behind their team tactics and set-up. The interesting thing to now keep on the radar will be whether the tactics they used on opening day were created to mitigate Atletico Ottawa’s own innovations, or whether they intend on utilizing the same ideologies in their matches moving forward. Either way, Halifax enjoyed a brilliant start to the season, through much in the way of innovation and pizzazz. Here is Game of Numbers Issue No. 16 – all about how Gheisar achieved balance in his side via the use of Riley Ferrazzo as an ‘Inverted Fullback’.


So here’s where things get cool. HFX set-up with a right-back playing in the right-wing slot, and another right-back playing in an ‘8’ role – inverting in possession. In possession, you could essentially say that they had no right-back.

That’s of course a slight over-simplification. Daniel Nimick filled in the gaps excellently well, as the defensive unit angled into a back-three when progressing through the thirds. Channeling their inner Manchester City in this manner allowed them three key advantages:

  1. They narrowed and overloaded the Atletico midfield in possession.
  2. They stunted Ottawa’s progress in transition.
  3. They calmed their opposition’s left-sided combinations in attack.

Let’s take each of those individually.

1. They overloaded and narrowed Atletico Ottawa’s entire midfield through a box-like quartet of players circulating in and around central avenues.

Halifax kept 57% of the possession on Saturday, dominating the ball, strutting their stuff, and having no degree of difficulty progressing vertically. The box-like quartet pictured above all played their part in creating harmony and fluidity between the lines, ensuring they could create more dangerous chances. Aidan Daniels could then get on the ball in dangerous areas, and drive forward. This is where he thrives, and what we wanted to see more of last season under Stephen Hart.

But in creating this central quartet, they also compacted Ottawa all the more, opening up more room for Fernandez and Ferrin to exploit down the wings, and for Nimick and James to build in the half-spaces. Players like Rampersad or Daniels could then drift into wide areas at different moments, compounding matters all the more.

2. They stunted Ottawa’s progress in transition.

As we’ve often outlined when discussing the inversions of players like Ben White or Kyle Walker, one of the natural advantages is that the team then has one more player to immediately combat counter attacks in central areas.

Ottawa excelled last season on the break, and HFX set-up to defend their swift counter attacks better than most. That’s again down to the central positioning of Ferrazzo to immediately mitigate situations in transition where he and his box quartet could swarm around the ball in numbers.

Ottawa then had to rely on their own possession to generate attacks, mostly through the incisive runs of Ollie Bassett. But stunting their opposition on the break took away Ottleti’s other key threat, and meant that HFX could spend more time in possession.

3. They intentionally had defensive reinforcements down their right-flank to deal with Atletico’s left-sided connections led by Maxim Tissot – an integral component to Ottawa’s team tactics.

As we know at this point, Carlos Gonzalez loves to change shapes between attack and defense more drastically than most. What stands strong as a back-four in defense, quickly becomes a high-flying midfield quintet in attack. Against HFX, that often looked more like a 3-4-3 rather than a 3-5-2, but Tissot’s role never changed. He always endeavoured to gallop up and down that left wing, just as we saw last season.

Knowing this, HFX set up to intentionally contend those battles via a double right-back pairing of Zach Fernandez and Riley Ferrazzo. They then doubled down all the more by placing their most aggressive midfielder in Andre Rampersad on the right-side rather than at the base of the midfield.

This meant that they calmed the threat of Tissot down the left, particularly as Fernandez and Ferrazzo remained ready to throw-down. But believe it or not, the advantages to Gheisar’s use of Ferrazzo in central areas only continued from there. The team found an entirely new balance, pushing all sorts of players into newly advanced roles.


When you don’t have the best squad in the league, winning matches and turning heads arises all the more from achieving balance. In fact, the best teams will often be the ones that create the right amount of harmony within their eleven, with players always working to bring out the strengths in each other. It’s only the opening game, but the early signs are pointing toward Gheisar already putting together a well-oiled machine.

As we casually mentioned above, the inversion from Ferrazzo in possession naturally opened up more corridors of space for Nimick and James to advance down the half-spaces – either through progressive passing or steady carrying.

Left-back was often a problem area for Halifax last season, with neither Colin Gander or Obeng Tabi truly solidifying their place or proving ultimately ready for the fight of HFX’s desired playoff push.

The matured and experienced Ryan James on the other hand looked immaculately disciplined on the opening day, and so solid in contending most of the troublesome wide overloads Atletico Ottawa deployed down his side.

He was under constant threat from Bassett floating up into those right-half-spaces, often times beyond Samuel Salter as he dropped-in, not to mention the flying footwork from Jean-Aniel Assi. The goal came down his side, but that came more out of HFX’s inability to track Bassett’s runs forward rather than any fault on the 28-year-old. James handled his duties exceptionally well, and looked like one of the supreme performers on the pitch.

Going forward, he combined occasional gallops down the left wing with steady progression out from the back and from deeper positions.

Massimo Ferrin will naturally be someone that wants to push and probe into the half-spaces, so this balance will continue to be something to build upon as the season progresses.

Down the right-side, Wanderers also benefited from pushing Rampersad and Fernandez further forward in the attack, where they were able to truly get more out of their attacking quality. In fact, last season we listed Fernandez as the standout right-back when it came to his ability in the final third, and it’s no surprise that he was the man to grab that opening goal.

His 1v1 duelling is often exceptional, and the 21-year-old has a natural knack for seeking space in attacking areas before delivering smoments of magic. Playing him further forward down the right wing, where he could constantly get at Maxim Tissot, ended up working like a charm.

If they can then get Aidan Daniels firing on all cylinders and use his composed control to advance into new territories of space game in and game out, this will be a more successful season for HFX. I’m counting on it. They may have only drawn, but Halifax drew the league champions, and thoroughly impressed with their performance on the opening day. From a tactical standpoint, Patrice Gheisar could hardly have given me more to muse over as I watched the opening fixture and thoroughly deserves this feature in Game of Numbers #16.

So there it is! Edition no. 16 to my weekend analysis series – Game of Numbers. Be sure to check out previous editions, including a few more on the use of ‘Inverted Fullbacks’ like Ben White and Kyle Walker. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> Game of Numbers – #2 – Walker & Cancelo Back Where They Belong
-> Game of Numbers #7 – Ben White’s Right-Back Revolution

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