Tactical Talk: The perils and potential of moving a player into a new role

Signs are promising with McNamara, but it's worth remembering the small sample size.

You can never judge a player from a tactical viewpoint after few appearances but as our own Alicia Rodriguez noted, Chivas USA's Thomas McNamara looked comfortable at an MLS level despite having just three games under his belt. By the way, moving McNamara deeper raised a number of questions. A former attacking midfielder in the college ranks, McNamara was then placed in Agustin Pelletieri's defensive midfield holding role and had a good effort against the Vancouver Whitecaps so Chivas coach Wilmer Cabrera lined up the former Clemson University product in the same role once again against FC Dallas this week.

This is not the first time we've seen an offensive player switching to a more defensive spot despite their conceived lack of defensive ability. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. For example, Ryan Giggs performed as a left-wide forward during his whole career, then switched to a more defensive role when he lost his pace. He adapted well and became a good central midfielder. Perhaps the most notable latest example comes from Liverpool, where Reds manager Brendan Rodgers deployed Steven Gerrard, once a box-to-box midfielder, as a holding midfielder. The decision of deploying him there was a necessity following Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen's injuries, but it paid off.

On the other side, former Chelsea's boss and Italian international Gianluca Vialli wasn't able to replicate the success he enjoyed playing forward when his former coach Giovanni Trapattoni tried to turn him into a playmaker.

So maybe dropping attacking midfielders into a deeper position isn't unusual, as happened with Paul Scholes and Giggs at Manchester United. But they did it in the second part of their career, while McNamara is still a rookie. Can McNamara have an impact at his new position? Despite being moved away from goal, not only has McNamara been consistent defensively on his first three games there but he also has been quick moving the ball into attack. So you can argue he fits into the central role.

It is worth noting, however, that it is often easy to perform well in a new role for a few games, but much harder to replicate that success over the course of a whole season. Furthermore, he plays in a midfield featuring two other offensive players. In a classic 4-4-2 both central midfielders were allowed to go into attack alternating their position. Playing McNamara alongside a more defensive midfielder such as Oswaldo Minda means McNamara will be given more freedom to burst forward than his counterpart, changing the team's tactical shape. Obviously, McNamara's place as central midfielder in the team is far from assured when Pelletieri will be back, as the Argentine player has more experience there.

To continue in his new role, McNamara has to show the personality he can play in that playmaking spot and that he can stay disciplined defensively against more powerful teams, despite being an offensive player performing as a central midfielder, in a team playing with two lines of four.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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