Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Nashville went to Ottawa and came away with a strong 3-0 win (Nashville's best win of the season and their best away win in club history). Let's dive into some key stats and tactical aspects to get a better idea how Nashville came away with three points.
Despite only controlling 35% possession, Nashville dominated in the final third, vastly outshooting Ottawa.
Nashville took four times as many shots as Ottawa, and Connor Sparrow was hardly tested, only having to make two saves. Both shots he saved came from tough angles, and had xG values of 0.072. Hardly a tough test for the young 'keeper.
Nashville, on the other hand, had some solid chances, but the most impressive part of the result was how well they finished. The combined value of the shots that led to their three goals was 0.392. Ríos's first and Hume's goal each had xG values of 0.072 - they converted the types of chances that cost Nashville points last season.
The disparity in shots taken and shot quality was pretty drastic.
After using a high press in their first two matches, Nashville continued to operate in a similar low block to what we saw against New York. They hardly pressed Ottawa's center backs at all, save from the occasional pressure from a single forward.
Nashville drew a low line of confrontation and let Ottawa pass the ball around in their own half. When Ottawa moved the ball forward, they sat deep in two lines of four, keeping the midfield and defensive lines very compact.
While not the most proactive way to set up, it was very effective. Ottawa spent lots of energy moving the ball in non-threatening areas, but had no way to break down Nashville in the final third.
Ottawa barely touched the ball in zone 14, and it's clear from the above touchmap how little they were able to get into the final third. From two home games and two road games, it would appear that Nashville will play more proactively at home, but set up to frustrate opponents and hit them on the break on the road.
For the first time this season, Nashville used a two-striker system from the start. Tucker Hume partnered Daniel Ríos up front, and it paid off. Hume played as a target forward, and held the ball up really well. Both forwards linked play well, completing around 2/3 of their passes. Additionally, they got into really dangerous positions, touching the ball 13 times in Ottawa's penalty area.
"The simple fact is we have lacked a cutting edge in goal-scoring situations," said Gary Smith. "We have really exciting bodies that can fill those forward spots. I thought once we worked out the surface, had a look at them, and grew into the game, we got better and better... Although they controlled the majority of possession, we were a much, much greater goal threat as it got going.”
The downside to a 4-4-2 is that it can be hard to create chances from central areas. Kharlton Belmar and Lebo Moloto played out wide, and drifted inside to create, letting Justin Davis and Kosuke Kimura overlap.
While Nashville played without a true number 10, Matt LaGrassa and Michael Reed worked well together in almost a double pivot. One would sit deeper while the other pushed forward, filling the gap underneath the strikers without exposing the center of the field. Ríos also drifted underneath Hume, and he was instrumental in linking the forward and midfield lines.
It's beginning to seem like the 4-4-2 is becoming Nashville's best option. They have a wealth of strikers, and it would allow Ríos and Lancaster to both play in their ideal positions. The main upside to the 4-2-3-1 is getting Moloto in central areas, but now that he appears to be back to full match fitness and can cover the ground on the left wing, the system makes sense.
The biggest casualty of this system could be Bolu Akinyode. He was unable to travel to Ottawa due to visa issues, so we weren't able to see him in this system from the start. However, he doesn't cover the same about of ground as LaGrassa and Reed, and if Smith wants to use a double pivot, Akinyode doesn't feel like the most natural fit. He could partner LaGrassa and sit deep, letting LaGrassa consistently push forward, but it's hard to see Reed drop out of the XI, and LaGrassa has been close to undroppable through four games.
These are good problems to have. Nashville has a wealth of talent, and players who probably deserve to start will miss out. Competition for starting roles will continue to push players to their best level, as well as give Smith options to rotate his squad as the matches add up.
Once Nashville has played 8-10 games and we have a larger sample size to draw from, I'll start including stats like marginal points contributed anda projected table. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter with any questions or comments.