With Yordy Reyna’s impressive debut against NYCFC there has been a lot of debate about what the best midfield combination for the Vancouver Whitecaps is. One possible solution is to switch to a formation with only one defensive midfielder. Such formations are possible, teams have used them effectively before. A good contemporary example being Real Madrid who play with Casemiro as a lone holding midfielder. However I do not think that this type of formation would serve the ‘Caps well. Mainly because their best defensive midfielder, Matias Laba, is not at all suited to being the lone holding midfielder.
Laba makes an impressive number of tackles and interceptions. He has the second best tackles per 90 minutes in the league at 4.4 and also makes 2.1 interceptions. On these stats alone Laba looks perfect to play the as a lone holding midfielder. Unfortunatly a mitigating statistic is that Laba is also second in the league for number of times being dribbled past per 90 minutes (2.5). The reason for this is that while Laba is a defensive midfielder he is not a holding midfielder. Laba is at his best when he is free to chase down the opposition and make tackles higher up the pitch. Often he is successful doing this but he also gets burned from time to time, hence being dribbled past so often.
This is why he looked fabulous next to Gershon Koffie and not so great next to Pedro Morales. Next to Koffie Laba was free to chase down the ball because Koffie would be covering him. When Laba got beat next to Morales the opposition basically got a free run at the ‘Caps backline. To be fair this problem was aggravated by the right back situation and perhaps it would work better with our more stable back line but I still think that not controlling the area in front of the back four could be disastrous for the ‘Caps defending. Parker and Waston are great in the air but a little suspect 1v1 and you don’t want the other team to be able to run at them at will.
“But CWilkins you just praised Robbo for going to a more attacking formation against NYCFC, doesn’t this make you a massive hypocrite?” Well i’m glad you asked hypothetical reader. That attacking switch was fine for the last ten minutes but it would be a terrible idea to attempt that for 90 minutes. Even in just that 10 minute span New York had a lot a lot of chances because they could overrun the area in front of the back four. Can you imagine the chaos of having 90 minutes of that?
To conclude, it’s best to think of Laba as a poor man’s Kante. Kante looks great in Chelsea’s midfield because he can freely chase down the ball in the knowledge that Matic is covering him. If you play Laba as a lone defensive midfielder you vastly limit his ability to do what he does best.