When was the last time the Red Bulls won an MLS game? Don't remember? Their last win was May 10th against New York City FC at Red Bull Arena. Obviously things haven't been going according to the 300-page plan. In order to break out of this slump, Jesse Marsch needs to recognize that it's time for a change in tactics. Marsch's predecessor, Mike Petke, was criticized for supposedly not knowing much about tactics and when to change them. In order to justify his hiring, Marsch needs to show he possesses the tactical acumen Petke allegedly lacked.
Full disclosure, I have an irrational hatred of the 4-5-1. I believe all teams should play at least two strikers unless they are in a situation where they're trying to defend a lead. Of course, the 4-5-1 and its variants can be effective, and they are popular at the moment. Chelsea along with many other top European clubs employed the 4-5-1 with great success this year. However, the Red Bulls lack a striker that is suited to play up top alone.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is a good striker despite his recent scoring troubles, but he needs to play with another striker to be successful. BWP's hold up play has been much better this year but it is still not good enough to justify playing him as a lone striker. Yes, he set club scoring records last year playing largely on his own up front - but that was an atypical formation: the team used the threat of Thierry Henry joining the attack to draw opposing defenders and create vital space for BWP.
Typically, in order for a striker to to be successful in a 4-5-1, the player either needs to be a strong target man who can hold the ball up, like Didier Drogba, or a speedster who can stretch the backline, or they need a midfield that scores a lot of goals. BWP and the RBNY midfield lack these atrributes needed for a lone striker to thrive. Wright-Phillips is a pure finisher who is lethal in the box. And he needs help.
Jesse Marsch needs to switch to a 4-4-2 and should start Anatole Abang in order to help BWP regain his goalscoring form. Switching to a 4-4-2 would also necessitate that the Red Bulls acquire another forward. Dane Richards and Mike Grella are listed as forwards on the team's website, but Marsch uses both as midfielders. Abang is talented but young and still developing. To get the best out of a two-man forward line, another starting calibre forward will be a necessity. The Red Bulls should acquire a solid MLS foward such as C.J. Sapong who would get some goals but more importantly would stretch opposing defenses and allow BWP to be successful.
Also, in order to switch to a 4-4-2 Marsch will need to drop Felipe. Felipe's service on set pieces has been abysmal and he has been mediocre during the run of play. Felipe's struggles are in part due to Marsch playing him as a central defensive midfielder despite the fact he's better suited to a more attacking role. If the team's formation was switched to a 4-4-2, Felipe would be the obvious candidate to be dropped from the lineup.
While a change in formation would certainly - in my opinion - help the Red Bulls, Marsch also needs to consider altering his tactical philosophy. Over the past few game it has become apparent that Marsch's high pressure system cannot be sustained for an entire season. Midfield players have looked fatigued and the team has failed to successfully apply the relentless pressure that allowed them to dominate the first month of the season. Opposing teams have learned how to handle the Red Bulls' high pressure and now are devastating RBNY with swift counterattacks.
The next two weeks are critical for the Red Bulls as they have five games in 18 days. Hopefully Jesse Marsch realizes before the Real Salt Lake game that now is the time to change his tactics.