Part I: 60 Days To The Rumble At Rustenburg

Battle Royal: Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg South Africa

* En Espanol

As you might have witnessed here at The Shin Guardian, we’re poised for, preparing for and downright giddy about a singular date: June 12th.

We don’t eschew speaking about the other United States group stage opponents so much as relate ad nauseum to the opening battle because of the familiarity and relevancy of the players and various subplots as many Americans now compete in the EPL, matching up head-to-head against their forthcoming World Cup opponents.

In that spirit–and with just a short two months until the battle–TSG takes a deeper dive into the game. We do this now primarily so that the community can interact and debate the event, but also follow the critical players in club ball that will compete therein.

England vs....

So today, we’ve got a doozy and a double dose. I’ve asked England fan and TSG contributor “GeorgeCross” and USA fan and TSG contributor “Tuesday” to guide us through the two teams from strengths and weakness to play their best Fabio Capello and Bob Bradley respectively and break down the key tactical battles.

....the States

Part I is issued this morning, jumping into the overview and players. Part II will be issues later today and delve–primitive illustrations and all–into the on-field chess game.

Thanks guys and here we go…. Tuesday, Part I, you’re first:

England’s Starting Eleven and Tactical Mindset

England’s staring 11 is full of stars, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t missing a couple of key ingredients that tend to be imported by the best sides in the Premier League.

Does this mean the side will add up to less than the sum of its parts? Sometimes having too many of “the best” players can be to a team’s detriment since the many of them find the systems of their clubs are built around them – a luxury few players can have at this level. England have a knack of nervy starts to tournaments so I think it’s good luck that we’re playing them in the first match.

Ricardo Clark battling the Arist Formerly Known as Hargreaves

England seem to be missing that one technical player in midfield that ties everything together so last World Cup they got a Canadian to do the job. Without a fit Owen Hargreaves, England have no proper holding player to provide defensive cover and set the tempo at the base of midfield. Frank Lampard sometimes manages to set the tempo, but sometimes doesn’t. As Jose Mourinho noted when guiding Inter over his former club, and Barcelona found before him, Lampard needs space to thrive, but wilts in the heat of close attention. Though Barry is a good midfield player, he’s more in the Mike Bradley mold than a true holding player – the defensive steal of De Jong and Van Bommel is not something you’ll find at the base of England’s midfield.

Along the back four, England have their own questions. Will Ashley Cole be fit? He and Rooney are the two English players who truly contend among the all-world first-team. Cole is the key player that turns England from a quarterfinalist into a serious contender so his recovery is essential to England making a late run in the Big Cup. His absence makes England’s attacking far more predictable since he provides the wide threat on the left flank essential to the balance of Capello’s asymmetrical 4-2-3-1.

At right back, Glen Johnson’s loves to get involved in the attack, and presents a real danger on the overlap but his defensive positioning can be questionable and he tends to get caught upfield. Can Capello reign in his attacking instincts? John Terry is always willing to put his body at risk, but never seems the commanding figure he does at Chelsea in an England shirt. Ferdinand has sometimes been prone to lapses of concentration of Borsteinian dimensions along with patchy fitness.

Will Terry rise to the occassion....again?

With no true holding player, two attacking fullbacks, and a pair of central defenders in Ferdinand and Terry that aren’t the fleetest of mind and foot, respectively, England’s vulnerability is to the sort of swift counterattacks that have become a US trademark. In addition, the onus in this match will fall disproportionately on England, giving the US the chance to turn that fact to their advantage. If the US can apply high pressure to Lampard and the English fullbacks, England may find it difficult to find penetrative possession and play the ball backwards to cycle possession to the back four. The US should shorten the game by simply conceding possession to England deep in their own half.

Do the US have any players who would start for England?

If I were Capello and I could do a couple no-questions-asked swaps of allegiance at the last minute, would I take any of the American players over my own?

To start with the easy one, I would take Howard over whoever England will stick in Net. I would also take Guzan, permanently understudy to the ageless Brad Friedel at Aston Villa, over England’s options. James? Green? Foster? Hart? Uh… No thanks. If I were to invent a Goalkeeping VORP stat based entirely on my own non-scientific whim, Tim Howard is generally worth as much as 2 goals per game over the average replacement goalkeeper. Guzan, in precious few minutes, has shown he is capable of the same level of heroics as Howard.

I would take Donovan over Walcott. Seriously. Donovan is the more seasoned and has been a remarkably consistent play from a position known for patchy form. He excelled during his loan spell at Everton, leading them to the highest points total in the league over the term of his loan. It was enough to catch the eye of someone at Chelsea, though Donovan was also quick to master another English art-form: badge kissing.

Dempsey: Charging ahead of Gerrard this year?

On this seasons form alone, I would take Dempsey over Gerrard. Seriously, there’s a reason behind those “Dempsey to Liverpool” rumors that pain me so much to hear. Gerrard has had an indifferent season and doesn’t always show up for England, even though Capello has them playing a system that papers over his tactical deficiencies. Rooney has far more tactical discipline than Gerrard, which is one reason why you’ll find them swapping places in England’s attacking midfield trident.

And finally, though GeorgeCross will have my hide for saying this, if, as England manager, I were as intent on a surprise inclusion of Svenian proportions to keep the punters guessing, I would take Altidore over Heskey. They’re at very different places along the arc of their careers. One is clearly on the up and up and troubling the best defenders in the Premier League with man-of-the-match displays for a club flirting with relegation. The other is third in minutes up front for his club, ensconced comfortably in the final European slot. There’s a reason behind the whispers of Zamora for England.

Beyond the Starting Eleven

England have an advantage here, but it’s not too great an advantage. Defoe and Crouch are both solid substitutes that present Capello with diverse tactical options to change the style of the attack. In midfield, with Beckham out and Lennon doubtful on the right, it’s likely to be Shaun Wright-Phillips relieving. Wright-Phillips can be dangerous but often lacks the final ball and hasn’t returned to the form which saw him score 10 goals for Manchester City 6 seasons ago.

Milner: An unsung cog in the England machine...

James Milner has excelled for Aston Villa this season and presents the option of returning to a more traditional 4-4-2. Joe Cole, who seems to make a team play better even when he isn’t, is always capable of creating something though he has yet to find form. Defensively, England’s options are all a step down from their starters and include Spector’s West Ham team-mate Matthew Upson.

While they aren’t all Premier League starters, the US do have good quality players they can bring on to freshen up the side and change system if needed: As they recover fitness from their injuries, Holden and Davies would seem most likely to appear as a substitutes.

Beasley showed there’s still something in the tank, though like Wright-Phillips, his salad days seem to be behind him. Bedoya, a possible wildcard to make the squad, showed in Amsterdam that he can positively impact a match against top-level competition.

With Bocanegra likely to start at left back, there are tactical options available in defense with Cherudolo, Pearce and Bornstein. Though Bradley will likely start with two defensive midfielders, he has a solid attacking option in Feilhaber, who can play centrally or link play from the left. If Jones adds himself to the mix, this US team has enough depth to provide for solid options off the bench.

————–

Okay “GeorgeCross”…you’re up:

————–

Well, I’m going to let Tuesday have the first say here and offer up a breakdown in list style and attempt to counterattack on him in the tactical section. So….

Just some of the Queen's key players...

England Strengths

Fabio Capello

Wayne Rooney’s form – he’s playing like a “No. 9 ½”

Speedy right-wingers

Frank Lampard’s timing

Goal scoring midfielders – team not reliant on one player for goals.  WCQ GFA 3.4

High tempo game / pressing high up the pitch

Ferdinand and Terry’s balance

Glen Johnson: Just one of England's attacking backs...

Offensive full-backs

Impact subs

Set piece offense

Champion’s League experience

England Weaknesses

Goalkeeping uncertainty

Johnson’s positioning / inability to cut crosses out

Wayne Rooney’s value to the England team

Ball retention

Defensive concentration – inability to keep a clean sheet

Off field issues

Expectation, pressure and scrutiny having not won since 1966

US Strengths

Tim Howard will be counted on to organize the defense...

Tim Howard

Landon Donovan’s pace

Clint Dempsey’s timing

Swift counter-attacking

Physically strong team

Putting planks of wood on the side of station-wagons

US Weaknesses

Bob Bradley

Tim Howard and Landon Donovan’s value to the U.S. team

Left back spot

Ball retention / cheap turnovers

Defensive concentration – inability to keep a clean sheet

Lack of squad depth / options from the bench to change game

Pressure / inexperience/ stage fright – first WC for many players

—–

There are obviously hundreds of possible scenarios (or ‘plays’  as you Americans like to call it) that can occur out on the pitch, and it is almost impossible to summarise every single one.  However, I have tried to capture the most likely ones given the teams’  strengths and weaknesses and their general modus operandi under Bradley and Capello.

As Cole and Davies are running now, I have taken the liberty in assuming that they will be fit in 10 weeks.

Part II…..coming shortly….

More on United States vs. England

150 Days Until the Lions Come Calling

Three Months to Victory? Snapshot, 2008.

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44 responses to this post.

  1. Wood planks on station wagons, that made my morning.

    Reply

  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 6:30 AM

    Not wanting to sound pedantic, but the Union Jack is not the English flag, it’s the British (union) flag. It brings me *immense pleasure* to remind the TSG community that other union members, (Scotland, Wales and NI) did not qualify.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 6:31 AM

      I needed something….any ideas? I should flip that out — I so wanted to use that picture…

      Reply

    • Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/12 at 8:17 AM

      George does the english flag actually have a nickname. I still like the three lions (crest), but just wondering. Also, It’s not the Union Jack, as you said it’s the Union Flag. It’s only the Union Jack when flown on a ship. Don’t blame us, just our american education system. :)

      On a side note, I think Walcott is a real wild card for England. If Cappello plays him correctly he could run rampad on our struggling left side. Only bornstein can keep up with him, but that just creates an opening for jb to make another game changing mistake/pk.

      Reply

      • The English flag’s nickname is the St. George’s Cross.

        Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 9:38 AM

        Jim – I didn’t know that about the Union Jack and ships. Thanks for the education. The Union Flag is made up of the St. George’s Cross (England), St. Andrew’s Cross (Scotland) and St. Patrick’s Cross (NI). St George must have slayed the Welsh dragon, hence no Wales representation!

        Reply

  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 6:55 AM

    I feel a little bad in including Bradley Sr. under weaknesses. The reason for this, is that I have already conceded that he lacks options from the bench, so how can one slate his substitutions? So I just wanted to clarify that it was more to do with timing of substitutions and tactical decisions rather than ‘personnel’.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 7:19 AM

    Charlie will be fit in les than 10 weeks. Don’t put him in the same boat as Cole -__-

    Contrary to popular belief, I think Dolo will make an appearance in this match. Bob Bradley HAS to be thinking about cancelling out the super-sub speed on the wings. Whether it’s LB or right back, he should know that neither of his top 3 options for outside back will be able to keep up with the pace in the latter stages of the match.

    Which brings me to my next point: George, you’re missing another vital strength. Team Fitness/Stamina. Different from the Physicality you mentioned.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 7:43 AM

      These are all top level athletes, with access to the best sport scientists, physios, bio-mechanics, nutritionists so on and so forth, so I do not see this being a strength for any of the top teams – they’re all going to be in tip top condition. In 2010, I would say that this is the norm, rather than an exploitable strength.

      Not many players can keep up with Walcott anyways (he can run 100 metres in a shade over 10 seconds), so to blame fitness of the left back for not being able to keep up with him if he is introduced as an impact sub is a little harsh. Players’ energy will deplete during the course of the game – this is normal. But I am not talking about being completely knackered and running on empty.

      Reply

      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 11:50 AM

        If it was a strength for all the top teams then we wouldn’t be hearing reports from their espective managers saying that the team has to “get more fit” and “improve stamina”

        If Chuck is back to pre-injury form, I think he can pin back Glen like he did Sergio Ramos and force a bit of tracking back as well. 60 days….

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 11:51 AM

          Antonio — you’ll enjoy our next column dropping in just an hour or so…

          Reply

        • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 12:13 PM

          hmmm i woner…( :D)

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 12:50 PM

          Antonio, how often to you hear managers talking about the fitness of non-injured players outside of pre-season? What I have heard prior to this tournament are concerns about altitude – and to me that’s a different issue facing most teams.

          Reply

      • The speed of players like Walcott is why I’m praying for the development of a player like Marvell Wynne. If he can learn to play outside back positionally he’s got the pace to stay with anyone in the world.

        Reply

    • Also, heat will not be a factor in this World Cup.

      Reply

  5. Bob Bradley is in no way a weakness.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 9:41 AM

      That’s your opinion and you’re perfectly entitled to it. I guess we shall all see – let’s wait til tournament time…

      Reply

      • Fair enough. All I know is that I am not unhappy at all with the job he has done. His game plan vs Spain was genius.

        Reply

        • I’m so conflicted on Bob Bradley that I agree with this viewpoint too.

          Was it genius? Or was it. Stopped Clock. Right. Twice a day?

          The reality is its somewhere in the middle. Bradley could get it right on the day, he could get it wrong. The same could be said of Capello.

          Reply

        • All I know is that if you count Spain’s Euro 2008 quarterfinal game vs Italy as a win (it went to pks), according to World Soccer Magazine, Spain has won 33 of their last 34 competitive games. Surely Bob Bradley did something more then just “not get it wrong” to be the only team that beat Spain. The fact is that Bob figured out and did what Hiddink, Lagerback, Rehhagel, Donoldoni, Low, and many other managers over the past 3 years haven’t been able to do. I don’t see how Bob Bradley should even be questioned at all after this.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 4:16 PM

          So if your keeper plays a absolute blinder, then that’s down to Bradley’s management and tactics? Any other day, Spain would have won as Howard had the game of his life – but you cannot rely on him to repeat those heroics every game. Your two goals came from two Spanish mistakes rather than genius offensive play. You won fair and square and got to the final, so I give USA all the credit they deserve, absolutely, 100%.. But I am sorry, but I am not sold on Bradley.

          Reply

        • Howard had a great game and didn’t put a foot wrong, but all the saves he made were saves that I would expect any USA keeper to make. Guzan and Hannehman both would have done the same. The fact is that nearly all the times Howard had to make a save, it came from a half chance. I have watched that game three times now and there wasn’t one clear time when I was left saying, “Spain should have scored there.” I believe this is directly a result of Bradley’s game plan which was to force Spain wide and limit Xavi’s effectiveness in the final third, of which they did both. I don’t think Xavi played a single ball that really tested the US defense the entire game which is a feat considering he was Euro 2008′s player of the tournament.

          Here are a list of things that USA has accomplished under Bob Bradley:

          Won 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup
          Finished First in CONCACAF Qualifying Group
          Made the Finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup
          Took the USA C team to the 2009 Gold Cup Final

          In addition Bradley’s team posted impressive wins over Switzlerand (2007 away), Poland (2007 away), Mexico (2009), Egypt (2009), Spain (2009), Honduras (2009 away), and were the first USA team ever to lead Mexico in Mexico.

          Bradley gets such negative press and I honestly have no idea why. If Bruce Arena did all of this everyone would be talking about what a great coach he was just as they did the last cycle.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 5:23 PM

          Howard made the saves look like he ‘should have made them’ because of his positioning and angles in the first place. Not all goalkeeping is about acrobatic dives at full stretch.

          Seeing as Matthew has a piece coming soon about Bradley, I will wait until then to comment further.

          Reply

  6. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 3:45 PM

    Guys–I’ll actually have a Bob Bradley piece coming next week that will devle into some of this….

    For now…the USMNT won against Spain–primarily–in my opinion because of their defense…not their coaching. Yes…its the coach that selects the players and the game plan…but with the USMNT against the best teams, just near perfection is demanded by our backline.

    I’ve said it before as the USMNT’s backline goes, so goes our South Africa.

    Of course, this is a team effort with the offense taking pressure off the defense.

    Here’s where I think Bob Bradley excelled against Spain…in selecting that game plan and employing…but it was the player’s flawless execution that won the day.

    Thing about it a few days later…the USMNT nearly did it again…only this time two of those chances fell in.

    The danger here in the World Cup ….is that there are finishers a plenty that will not miss as many chances as Spain did that day (or the US preempted) or the CONCACAF foes did in qualifying…

    …gosh I have to write more in the comments…this is fun…

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 3:58 PM

      Here’s the key question that favors Bob Bradley immensely… (and I won’t go further so as to not giveaway my article next week):

      Can you envision a strategy against Spain that would have worked beyond the one the US employed? I can’t….

      Tim Howard said it succinctly in an article a few weeks ago…”Even if we get another coach, I’m still the same Tim Howard…”

      The US only had so many horses right now…

      Reply

      • My bad I didn’t read this before I posted my last comment. I will save my comments for the Bob Bradley piece. I got his back any day

        Reply

      • and as for Tim Howard, what is Bob Bradley supposed to tell him that would actually make a difference in a game? Can you really include a keeper in tactics? This statement would be more telling if Landon or another field player said the same thing

        Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 4:55 PM

        If that’s his attitude, then why move away from MLS (other than economic reasons)? The vast majority of people on TSG have talked gleefully about the number of USA internationals playing in Europe. But if no improvement is to be made, then why bother?

        Reply

        • That’s not my point. Of course Tim wouldn’t be the player he is without moving to Europe, but as far as I’m concerned it is because of the competition, not the managers. What I mean is that tactically there is very little a manager can do with a goalkeeper compared to a field player. So while Tim may have improved because of the better training methods and competition on a day to day basis I think there is very little you can do tactically to prepare a keeper for an individual team. Maybe you can inform the keeper on the tenancies of the other team or tell him to play off his line a bit because they play a lot of through balls, but you are not going to change anything groundbreaking about a keeper for a single game like you might change the position or mindset of a field player for each game.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 5:35 PM

          So if there is very little a manager can do, then how can Bradley take credit for his tactical genius against Spain when Howard was your best player and saved your skin on multiple occasions?

          Reply

        • I don’t think any manager can take credit for doing anything but selecting the right keeper. What I’m saying is that Tim Howard or whoever is in goal is independent of the tactics of the game. As a manager, especially as one that doesn’t have a lot of say in the keeper training, all you have to do is make the right pick as to who to start at keeper, which Bob did.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 7:32 AM

          Evan I agree with goalkeeper training and selection – that’s not what I am getting at. I guess where we disagree is Bradley’s overall strategy. I believe that you are given him far too much credit for the Spain game because I feel that Howard saved the USA.

          Reply

        • Fair enough. I can see how you would think that way, but I still think Bradley did a great job.

          Reply

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