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How could Canada tactically adjust without Alphonso Davies?

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Looking at three potential ways Herdman could adjust CanMNT’s tactics in Davies’ absence.

Sean Pollock l Waking The Red

Canada Soccer recently announced that Alphonso Davies will unfortunately miss out on the upcoming 2022 World Cup Qualifying games after his parent club, FC Bayern Munchen, detected signs of mild myocarditis after he contracted COVID-19. Davies constantly draws the attention of multiple defenders and is the only CanMNT player who can single handedly take over and change a game on his own. So how will the CanMNT adjust without its talisman for the upcoming, pivotal three matches?

Even without Davies, the CanMNT has plenty of attacking talent available to them for the upcoming 2022 World Cup Qualifying games. Most other CONCACAF nations do not have Canada’s forward depth where John Herdman is able to call on players that have played in top flight European leagues like Liam Millar, Junior Hoilett, Tajon Buchanan, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin and Ike Ugbo. Beyond those six, if Davies is out for longer than the upcoming window, Herdman would also be able to call on Daniel Jebbison, Jacob Shaffelburg or Theo Corbeanu and even potentially give promising attacking talents like Marcelo Flores, Daniel Jebbison or Stefan Mitrovic their first senior team call-up at some point.

Despite the abundance of forwards available to the CanMNT, there is no one for one replacement for Davies - it would be prudent to investigate the tactical tweaks that Herdman could make to compensate. The below are three strategies that John Herdman could use in Davies’ absence:

  1. Emphasis on complete team soccer and intricate passing combinations;
  2. Continued focus on playing passes quickly up field to the flanks to capitalize on our pace; and,
  3. Numerical superiority in zone 14 and use of interchangeable attack fulcrums.

Emphasis on complete team soccer and intricate passing combinations

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is likely the message that Herdman will be drilling into his players, along with the motivational, “Let’s do this for Phonzie!” Often when Davies plays, a large proportion of Canada’s attacks will flow through his side of the field (because why wouldn’t it when you have a player of that caliber). However, while Davies offers a constant threat and can create moments of magic, the game plan can be more predictable when he plays and the team has trouble building attacks if they are not able to easily provide service to him.

The CanMNT were last without Davies in their September 2021 3-0 win over El Salvador and that game’s tactics could serve as a blueprint for Herdman. In this game, Canada were very unpredictable in using short and long passes, while also building their attacks equally down the left, middle and the right. One of the main features in the attacking third was Hoilett, David and Osorio all dropping into pockets of space and interchanging positions down the left side to create intricate passing combinations to break through El Salvador’s midblock. All three have a great understanding of how to create space in a congested attacking half and have the passing and technical ability to innately find one another when receiving the ball in the final third. These combinations allowed more Canadian players to get involved in the attack and ultimately made them less predictable. A continued emphasis on complete team football where all attacking players are equally involved will be very important for the upcoming three games.

Continued focus on playing passes quickly up field to the flanks to capitalize on our pace

A notable feature of the CanMNT’s identity is speed and power down the flanks. Fortunately, removing Davies from the team does little to change that identity. The CanMNT will hopefully still have strong, fast, marauding fullbacks in Laryea and Adekugbe available to them, along with pacey and tricky wingers like Buchanan, Hoilett and Millar.

In order to take advantage of the speed and power down the flanks, Herdman needs to continue to keep the attack unpredictable and play over the top, long passes quickly up field to put these players into 1v1 situations to either score themselves or create goal scoring opportunities for others. Having players like Vitoria, Eustaquio, Johnston and Hutchinson that are capable of making these long passes out from the back available and starting will be crucial for this strategy to continue.

Numerical superiority in zone 14 and use of interchangeable fulcrums.

In the tactical world of soccer, the areas of the pitch have traditionally been broken down into a six by three grid to create 18 zones. Zone 14 is the middle area of the pitch directly above the opposition’s 18-yard box and this zone is known as the most important for helping teams score goals (thus making teams more successful). Having numerical superiority in this area of the pitch would then mean to have more players than the opposition in that zone. Numerical superiority in zone 14 should theoretically lead to: i) More passes into and within the zone, ii) More forward passes to the zones beside and in front of it, iii) More regained possession in the zone and iv) More attempts on goal from a dangerous area of the pitch.

Traditionally, teams have a single attacking fulcrum who is often positioned behind the striker. This fulcrum acts as the architect of the team’s attacks, directing traffic in the final third. Even though the concept of a fulcrum was first used to describe a single player on the field, over time this concept has evolved to include any attacking player that acts as a creative hub for the team. The CanMNT’s tactical versatility under Herdman has meant that many players can fulfill the fulcrum role. Davies, Osorio, Hoilett and David have all fulfilled this role with either their club teams or at some point during the 2022 World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Defensive game planning is often focused on preventing time and space for a particular player. Without Davies, it will be important for Canada to be unpredictable in attack, disguising and rotating its fulcrum within games. Increasing the movement amongst the attacking players drifting through zone 14 and having interchangeable fulcrums receive the ball in that space should open up more scoring opportunities to exploit in both the adjacent zones and zones in front of it. Occasionally pushing one of Eustaquio, Atiba or Kaye into zone 14 to further increase numerical superiority is another tactic Herdman could look to use to compensate for Davies’ absence.