Goats fans came into StubHub Center with the hopes of seeing Wilmer Cabrera's Chivas USA beat Bruce Arena's LA Galaxy in the first 2014 SuperClasico. Unfortunately, they left unhappy as Arena's side won the initial battle for Los Angeles.
Cabrera changed his side from the formation that served him well in the first games of the season as he utilized Erick Torres as centre-forward with Luke Moore starting as No.10 just behind the Mexican. For his part, Arena started a diamond midfield featuring Juninho at the bottom and Stefan Ishizaki at the top behind forwards Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.
Cabrera's decision to stay away from his usual 4-4-2 and to move to a 4-4-1-1 wasn't surprising and his choice appeared logical. In fact, Cabrera employed both Torres and Moore in the way to alternatively chase Juninho, Galaxy's deep-lying playmaker. It worked a bit as both of Chivas USA's forwards did the work, but overall it didn't prevent Galaxy from having dominance in possession. So Arena's idea to pack the central midfield zone to ensure control of the ball proved right as the Galaxy dominated this stat, averaging 57.9% of ball possession. The Galaxy turned to their attacking weapons as they produced more attempts on goal and shots on target than their rivals.
The 4-4-2 narrow diamond shape allowed Galaxy have the edge 4 vs. 3 in the middle of the pitch and Chivas USA did not cope well as neither Thomas McNamara - lined up this match as left winger - nor Mauro Rosales were able to help their team slow down the Galaxy's midfield.
With the "away" side enjoying a big amount of possession, Cabrera asked his team to press high by keeping a high defensive line. It simply didn't work. The Goats weren't able to press the ball adequately so they left the back four vulnerable to the Galaxy's pace. It was consistently a real problem for Chivas USA during the whole match as their high defensive line couldn't deal with the Galaxy's passes into the channels. With a lack of protection from midfield, the Goats' defense was consequently exposed to opponent's through balls and the Galaxy's forwards and midfielders easily found space behind the back line.
A first alarm on this situation came very early in the game when Marcelo Sarvas' shot almost found the net. He was assisted by an uncovered Keane. This missed attempt also gave an idea about the way Galaxy attacked Chivas' defensive unit. Arena's midfielders constantly played easy out-balls to either one of the interior midfielders or into the forwards, creating problems for the "home" side. Left back Andrew Jean-Baptiste had his defensive weakness particularly exposed on his side. But both defensive backs didn't always get enough help as both Rosales and McNamara were high up the pitch, leaving Jean-Baptiste and right back Eric Avila alone on 1 v 1 battles on the flanks. Hitting wide areas with long, diagonal balls also helped the Galaxy avoid Chivas USA's offside trap, while the whole Rojiblanco team were caught too slow sliding into wider zones from the left to the right and vice versa. Add individual mistakes to it -- as it was with Carlos Bocanegra on the first goal -- and you will understand the struggles Goats' back four had throughout the game.
In the second half, with the score basically out of reach, Cabrera made a change, inserting Leandro Barrera for Moore and using him as left winger, bringing McNamara into the No. 10 spot behind Torres. By the way, aside from the opening moments when Chivas USA tried to re-open the match, the Galaxy maintained the control of the game leaving few doubts on the outcome of this game.
It was a SuperClasico with both teams playing their way but it was too easy for the Galaxy and the final 0-3 doesn't tell you how easily it could have been more. The high line Cabrera employed with great success at the start of this season simply didn't work this time as he seemed very risky against Galaxy's tactics. Arena's diamond won the game and although Cabrera changed his usual 4-4-2 into a more defensive 4-4-1-1 to deal with it, the Goats weren't able to face the opponent's midfield. The away side won the battle in the middle of the pitch where they had their area of dominance. If Cabrera wants to maintain this strategy he will need better pressure high up.
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