It’s only been one game – ok maybe a couple of games if you include the preseason – but suffice it to say FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez is still building his concepts and style of play with this squad. He’s still working to implement Luchi-Ball.
Most of the core principles are in place and Coach Gonzalez has talked a great deal about what he wants to accomplish so we can walk through what he desires to build. Let’s talk about what you should see as the club plays this season.
4-3-3 Base Formation
If you follow FC Dallas you probably know by now that Coach Gonzalez wants to use – at the start of the season anyway – a 4-3-3 formation. Here’s what that looks like in its base form by position on the left and with the names filled in from the opening day against the New England Revolution.
Coach Gonzalez also likes to preach that formations are flexible. Beyond just shifting into a different shape as the game demands – like adding an extra attacker – he also means the shape is somewhat fluid and flexes as the team plays in the 4-3-3.
When building out of the back and going forward the formation can at times look like a 3-4-3 with the holding mid dropping between the center backs. When sitting deep and defending, the shape compresses into a 4-5-1 or perhaps more specifically a 4-1-4-1.
Again these shapes are fluid so don’t take these as anything more than a guideline for how the team shifts and flows. But you can look for these shapes as they come and go in the run play.
One small aspect of the 4-3-3 is that the midfield three remains a triangle. If those three guys start to get too flat they will lose their passing lanes for build out. There must be some flexibility in their lines and the triangle should rotate rather than collapse even when defending.
Overwhelm with Numbers
This is one of Coach Gonzalez’s common tactical expressions: overwhelming the opposition with numbers. The fluidity of the Gonzalez shape lets FCD at any given time bring more numbers into any given part of the field than the opposition.
You can see in the shape here as they advance into the final third on the attack FCD in a 4-3-3 ends up with a center striker and six players surrounding said striker and the box.
Defensively, as they compress back, they end up – again, in theory – with manpower advantages over more rigid shapes. More on that in a bit.
Value the Ball
Coach Gonzalez also puts a large emphasis on valuing the ball. That means valuing possession. Attempting to build out of the back with patience rather than sprinting upfield in a rapid counter.
Part of “value the ball” is quickly working to get the ball back when you lose it. Which is why you will see FC Dallas under Coach Gonzalez run a high press. If they turn the ball over in the offensive third quite frequently FCD will immediately attack to try and get the ball back in a dangerous position.
No one can high press for 90 minutes though. So sometimes FC Dallas will drop into a mid-block or low-block to defend. That’s when you will see the compressed 4-1-4-1 formation (shown above in this post) the most.
Defense on the Ball
One particularly important aspect of playing a possession game with a build out from the back with patience is that your defenders – and more importantly the goalkeeper – need to be good with the ball at their feet and in the passing game.
Reto Zeigler is the better passer and Matt Hedges is solid if not great. The largest concern for FCD in this regard is Jesse Gonzalez. To his credit though he’s been working hard on his ball skill and is improving. You can see why ball skill is so important from this drawing of a deep 4-3-3 that is beginning to build out.
The Keeper in the deep shape is almost an extra center back. The holding mid doesn’t take that position until the team is moving toward midfield.
This aspect of defenders and keeper passing well with the ball will be particularly tested against opposition that also runs a high press.
Multidimensional Wing Play
One last element to discuss today is that the width in the 4-3-3 comes from the outside backs. Both outside backs are required to get forward offensively and defensively, sometimes at the same time.
But it’s not just running the line and getting to the end for a cross. Coach Gonzalez wants his outside backs – and wings for that matter – cutting inside as well as running the line.
You saw this with the great shot Ryan Hollingshead had against the Revs in the 67th minute and shot (blocked) Reggie Cannon had early in the 20th minute. In both instances the player had cut inside and underneath the wing, taking up position in the hole behind Badji where a 10 would be if this formation had one.
Which brings us to…
Filling the Hole
There is no 10 in the 4-3-3. No pure playmaker. Instead, it’s important that multiple players take turns jumping into that spot. Think of the way the great Spain sides of the last decade have played or Barcelona pre-Pep Guardiola.
The dual 8s are the most obvious players to jump in there. But I also just talked about the outside backs doing it. Both wings need to sometimes occupy that space as well. So 6 players are available and should from time to time make forays into that space.
This aspect of the tactics will take some time to learn and conquer. The players need to learn the system and each other. Keep an eye on this one as the season progresses.
In a Nutshell
So that’s Luchi-Ball at its basic level.
4-3-3, value the ball, high press, sometimes mid or low block defense compressed, build with patience, varied attack from the wings, and overwhelm the opposition with numbers all over the field.