This is the start of a weekly segment where we take a look at the tactics and strategies employed by United in their last match.
The announcement that Miguel Ibarra would be returning to Minnesota for their inaugural MLS season was met with much fanfare this past winter.
However, the homecoming hasn’t been quite as triumphant as many would have expected. Opportunities have been fairly limited thus far for the fan favorite winger.
In the disastrous first two matches of the season, Adrian Heath preferred Danish loanee Bashkim Kadrii on out wide on the left. Miguel started against Colorado and New England, but there was a formation switch in both of those games that took Batman away from his favored left wing position.
Ibarra registered only 10 minutes in the two games after the Revs match. Then, last weekend, Heath attempted to start Rasmus Schuller on the left side of his attacking three. The Finn looked uncomfortable in his time on the pitch and was forced off just before halftime with a hip injury.
Stepping in to the void left by Schuller, Ibarra seized his chance and put in an energetic shift. Miguel showed in his cameo what many longtime Loons fans already knew: That he’s a pacy, hardworking winger who’s willing to go at his defender and set up his teammates.
While Schuller and Kadrii are both talented players in their own right, Ibarra brings something different to the field than either of the other players. What is that, exactly? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Kadrii is a talented young player with speed to spare who likes to play direct. However, it appears that Kadrii’s favorite position is behind the striker, because that’s often where he plays.
The above image from whoscored.com is the average position of the Loons against Dallas. Kadrii spends a lot of time centrally, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But Kevin Molino drifts centrally as well, and with Johan Venegas already sitting in that space, things can get pretty crowded.
Miguel, on the other hand, seems to enjoy playing out wide. For most of his career with Minnesota, Ibarra has played on the left wing. From there, he usually will either drive down the byline and stretch the field or cut in and create danger and opportunities for his teammates.
His position out wide makes defenses stretch out a little more, expanding the vulnerable channels between the central defenders and the fullbacks. His average position from the Colorado match shows that he generally plays wider than Kadrii.
The Houston match actually serves as a good proof of concept here, as Miguel played about half the match and Schuller played the other half.
Because he’s naturally a central midfielder, Schuller’s average position is unsurprisingly close to the center of the pitch. A heat map of Schuller’s touches in the match looks very similar what you’d typically expect from a center mid.
Schuller does have some touches out wide, but not many in advanced positions. He also receives the ball centrally and in front of his own 18 yard box quite a bit. But here’s Miguel’s heat map for the same match in the second half:
Ibarra’s positioning is far tighter to the touchline than Schuller’s was. He also has more touches in attacking positions, including a few in the opposition’s box.
In the graphics above, the differences may seem minute; how much does it really matter if Kadrii plays a few yards closer to the middle on average? Well, here are two graphics that show how MNUFC attacked in the Colorado match (Miguel’s only full match” compared to how they attacked against Portland (when Kadrii started):
Here the difference is more stark. When Miguel started and went 90 minutes against Colorado, a whopping 55% of the attacks went down the left. In the Portland game, only 27% of Minnesota’s attacks went down Kadrii’s left hand side.
Now, there are some caveats here. The Portland match was the club’s first ever competitive game, and there were always going to be growing pains. Plus, Ibarra was up against a makeshift fullback in Colorado because their starter (Minnesota’s own Eric Miller) was out injured.
But even taking all of that into account, it is still evident that Batman is capable of bringing something different to the Loons’ lineup. More so than anyone else on the roster, Miguel Ibarra is a true winger who can stretch defenses both vertically and horizontally.
He’s looked good in his relatively few appearances so far this season, and longtime Loons fans know what he’s capable of. With more opportunities, hopefully he can bring some more firepower to an attack that’s already buzzing with potential.