Galaxy Catch-Up & Getting the Best Out of Gio

Sometimes, maintaining a blog can be tricky.  This is particularly true if you inadvertently set a precedent that leaves you feeling remiss if you don’t keep it up.

My personal source of such nagging tugs of obligation is match reviews.

This is a soccer blog.  Rarely do I watch a match where I don’t come away with a brain full of garbled thoughts, badly formed opinions and shallow hot takes.

I pretty much had my thoughts on “the Galaxy vs Columbus” loosely assembled in my head on the drive back from the game.  Sadly for my blog, work, life and a decision to play “Football Manager” one evening instead of writing, got in the way.

Then came a Galaxy away game against RSL.  Two games on the to-do pile.

Before I knew it, the Manchester derby was imminent.  Should I write a preview?  Will I write a preview?  Clearly not.  But a review seemed in order.  So I started work on one and decided to do a Galaxy round-up instead of reviewing the matches individually.

Then Landon Donovan decided to come out of retirement.

The derby now demanded  a review (in my head of course – I doubt J’Can had put his life on hold for it) so it got one.  It was more rushed than I’d like and I’m sure I’ll look back in six months and gag at the number of typos and grammatical errors in the thing.  The points made will probably have been firmly rebutted too.

The next thing I know, I’m standing in the StubHub center watching LA Galaxy playing Orlando City SC.  So by my sainted trousers, here’s a round-up of those three games:

By now, you probably know that the Galaxy defeated a rather underwhelming Columbus Crew 2-1 at home, in a game featuring a rocket of a goal from Baggio Husidic and a deft chip from Gio.

The story of the game against RSL was that the Galaxy would likely have won handily but for two errors – one careless, one calamitous – by the previously solid Brian Rowe.  Instead, we came away with a 3-3 draw.

Next up was a 4-2 thumping of Orlando City SC, the focus of which was firmly on the return of number 10 26, Landon Donovan.  In actual fact, he came on for about eight minutes and as expected, looked like a guy who hadn’t played in two years.

My fears about losing so many key players have largely been allayed by the performances of Sebastian Lletget.  His move into central midfield has seen him looking cozily within his element.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find many MLS players with better tight ball control than him and his decision making over the past two games, show that this is a guy finally in his natural position.

I’m actually dreading Gerrard coming back.

What I’d really like to touch on though, is how Giovani has looked in recent games and what I believe the difference is.

Gio – who beyond the actual coup of his signing and some early excitement – hasn’t really been credited with much impact.  That’s understandable: for a player of his reputation, at his age and his salary, he’s had a notable number of anonymous performances.

However, slowly but surely, his form has crept up.  At this point in time, he sits on 14 goals and 11 assists in 25 games.

In the last couple of weeks, he has shown effort, hustle, invention, skill, composure and intelligence.  At the last game, a friend of mine who closely follows the Mexican National Team and Liga MX turned to me and asked what happened to cause this turn around.

My response: No Robbie Keane.

This is not a criticism of Keano or Gio.  However, it is my opinion that these two players are simply too close in terms of playing style and instinct to perform optimally together.

When Keane was away with the Republic of Ireland and subsequently injured, Gio was free to play his natural game.  He could roam wherever instinct drew him.  He has played with liberated confidence and the results have been devastating.

No sooner was Keane introduced against Orlando than Giovani went more into his shell.  The two may have combined on Keane’s goal but nevertheless, you could see Gio operating with less instinct and more deliberate thought.

I’ll give the kid credit: he clearly recognises that he and Keane have a tendency to occupy the same space.

Whether he defers to Keane as captain, it’s a tactical directive from Bruce, Keane gets to those positions first, or Gio doesn’t want to be on the end of one of Robbie’s notorious admonishments, the Mexican star isn’t as effective when forced to analyse his play on the fly.

This is quite a conundrum.  Dropping either player seems unthinkable.

There’s the option of playing Dos Santos elsewhere.  He has been nominally deployed as a winger in the past.

The trouble is, that sounds eerily familiar.  It reminds me of the Gerrard/Lampard England partnership.

At club level, both were naturally attacking midfielders, with a knack for arriving late in the box to score goals. For England, they couldn’t both be attacking midfielders so the typical solution was to play Gerrard elsewhere.

Of course, what was overlooked was that even though Gerrard could start deeper or on the wing for Liverpool, he was given license to roam.  Furthermore, his teammates were mandated to accommodate him in this flexible role.  Crucially, he didn’t have to be concerned with a chubby cockney taking up his space.

As a result, no matter where England played Gerrard, he and Lampard never truly clicked as a duo, despite playing together for years.

The Gio/Keane dynamic is similar.  Put Gio where you will and unless he plays with restraint, he and Keane will get in each other’s way.

The answer?  I don’t have a conclusive one.  So far, the tendency has been for Giovani to modify his role.  I personally think the time is right to start strategizing around him.

If we can convince Keane to stick to a more advanced position and let GDS pull the strings behind him, we may get the best out of him.  Will compromising Keane’s movement, reduce his own effectiveness?  We may have to take that chance.

The fact is, Keane is now surely year-to-year on his retirement.  Donovan is reportedly back just to help out due to the Galaxy’s reduced roster.

There is little sense in compromising a star player at his peak.  The best long-term solution is making him the focal point.

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