Almost Back at Full Strength, Do the Red Bulls Change Formations?

USA TODAY Sports

After a quick bout with injuries, the Red Bulls are almost back at full strength. What do they do tactically?

So Thierry Henry is ready to go for this Saturday's game against D.C. United, but he's unsure if he'll start. Fabian Espindola could feature this weekend, too, but unlike Henry, it seems certain he won't be in the XI.

With Juninho out for the San Jose Earthquakes game, the team switched to a 4-4-2 and they haven't looked back. When Henry and Espindola went down, they pushed Tim Cahill -- who had his own injury issues -- up front and slotted in Peguy Luyindula (who's out Saturday).

Needless to say in the quick tactical review and injury report above, the Red Bulls haven't been in the best shape in the world. At various points since the season opening draw against the Portland Timbers, they've been without key players. That makes the 4-4-2 easy, since head coach Mike Petke hasn't had the figure out a way to get all his best players on the field at the same time. And while they won't all be back Saturday, Wednesday night's game against Sporting Kansas City should have the squad back to something resembling full-health.

That puts Petke in a tough situation. Does he stick with the 4-4-2? That would either bump Dax McCarty out to the wing or force Juninho or Cahill (who's probably playing hurt) to the bench. Or, is it time for the 4-3-3 to make a return?

In the 4-3-3, Petke can play all his best midfielders in their best positions. The three forward slots can be the tough part. Henry would start as the center forward, but in Petke's 4-3-3, the team plays more fluid, with Henry flipping with whoever the left winger is (ideally, Espindola). But with Henry coming off an MCL injury, playing in a more demanding position out wide might not be the best option.

Petke can have the team line up with a bit more rigidity and keep Henry up front alone. The issue, with Luyindula out and Espindola only available as a sub, is filling in those other two spots up front. Ruben Bover has been an option off the bench, seemingly relegated there after a lackluster performance against the Timbers. Lloyd Sam is back and has featured as the first man off the bench for the team so far and could certainly be deployed as a winger. That does not completely rule out Jonny Steele or Eric Alexander, either, though both are learning how to play wide.

In a 4-4-2 the line-up would look much the same as it has through most of the season, only with Henry lining up next to Cahill up front. The issue with the 4-4-2, is that the team hasn't looked particularly dangerous in that formation. Part of that is finishing, part of that are defensive gaffes, but part of it has to be tactics, too. The advantage comes, in a congested schedule, giving players some rest.

Of course, how the Red Bulls line up Saturday (and Wednesday) all comes down to Petke and his confidence in his personnel.

What's your ideal formation?

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