Heading into the Sunday’s showdown against the New York Red Bulls (7 pm ET; FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes, FOX Sports GO, TSN2), New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis will have to figure out a way for them both to fit in the starting lineup in a way that makes sense.
Let’s try and help him out.
First, let’s assume with a 35-year-old and a 37-year-old entrenched in the lineup, Kreis will prefer a five-man midfield. That leaves forward Patrick Mullins on the bench despite having accruing four goals and three assists in just 785 minutes.
Next, we know that Pirlo and Lampard will be starting once they are fully fit. At this point in their careers, we have to wonder what kind of players these two legends are in the midfield.
Pirlo, as most know, is a very unique player. His usage rate (passes per 90 minutes divided by his team’s passes per 90) over the past three seasons for Juventus has been higher than 14.5 percent in each season. That would rank in the top 10 in MLS this season. Most of the players in that top 10 are defensive midfielders, like Pirlo, but unlike Pirlo, most of them bring a lot of defensive tenacity. All the defensive midfielders in the chart below are in the top 10 in usage rate this season in MLS. Pirlo's numbers are from the 2014-15 season with Juventus.
Andrea Pirlo Defensive Stats Comparison
Stats courtesy of Opta Sports
So Pirlo isn’t exactly sliding into a whole lot of tackles at this point of his career. But what does Lampard bring?
He has also been a focal point for his teams over the past three seasons, with a usage rate higher than 10.5 percent in each of his last three seasons. He brings a little more grit, averaging 2.3 tackles per 90 minutes in each of the last two seasons.
Lampard also likes to get further up the field than Pirlo. Last year for Manchester City, Lampard averaged 1.4 chances created from open play per 90 minutes. That was a little more than Pirlo, who averaged just 0.9.
Looking at all those numbers, we see that Lampard and Pirlo are comfortable being focal points for the midfield but provide little defensive grit and not that much punch going forward.
With that said, Lampard and Pirlo are going to play, so it’s tough to see Andrew Jacobson in his usual defensive midfield spot. The MLS veteran is a more physical presence in the midfield, averaging more than 2.7 tackles and 2.35 interceptions per 90, but he has not shown the ability to shield his back line effectively so far this season.
Switching to the offensive side of the ball, David Villa will be all alone up top, so let’s give him someone to feed him the ball.
|NYCFC with Poku on/off the field|
It’s a small sample size, just 533 minutes, but MLS newcomer Kwadwo Poku has proven very efficient in his time on the field. Poku is averaging 2.7 chances created from open play per 90 minutes, which places him second in the league only behind Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales.
There’s also the fact that NYC has proven more potent offensively with the Ghanaian on the field, as you can see on the table to the right, and the fact that New York City FC are 3-0 in MLS play when he starts, with Poku contributing four assists in those games.
Again, it’s a small sample size, but Poku has performed above expectations.
So whether you see it as a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1, Poku seems to be a good candidate to occupy a creative spot high on the field.
Now we need to find our two wide midfielders. The options include USMNT No. 10 Mix Diskerud, Ned Grabavoy, Mehdi Ballouchy, Tommy McNamara and Javier Calle. The two players need to be able to pinch centrally, flooding the interior midfield with numbers and letting the two fullbacks, Andoni Iraola and Angelino, provide width with their runs up the flanks.
The only true left-footed option, Calle has been injured most of the season and hasn’t exactly lit it up in his time on the field, letting us move on to the other four players.
One of the spots should be occupied by a more attack-minded player, as NYC FC have just Villa and Poku pushing forward so far. That means either McNamara or Ballouchy.
Both have performed above expectations this season, but McNamara has been more productive than his Moroccan-born counterpart. The formerly mulleted maestro is averaging .66 non-penalty goals plus assists per 90 minutes so far this season, placing him in 22nd in the entire league.
The last spot comes down to Diskerud and Grabavoy. Looking at the stats, it’s tough to separate the two.
Mix vs. Grabavoy, Passing
Mix vs. Grabavoy, Defense-Chance Creation
(Credit: Opta Sports)
Perhaps surprisingly, Diskerud has the better defensive statistics, while Grabavoy has been a more efficient passer, especially in the final third.
It's a tough decision, but in the end, Grabavoy seems like the better option. He was an integral part of Real Salt Lake when they were one of the top possession teams in the league, and that will be one of NYC’s main goals with Pirlo and Lampard in the fold.
Possessing the ball at a high rate will leave the back line and the two central midfielders less exposed defensively. This lineup should be able to accomplish that task.