Tuesday is back with some phenomenal vertical imagery of the USA-Turkey affair.
I agree with his commentary below and add the rhetorical question of: “Bob Bradley wanted his midfield to press high up the pitch, how could the USMNT avoid gaps between the middies and defenders.”
Okay, to Tuesday:
Turkey Day Tactical Reconnaissance
Afternoon all, Tuesday here with more tactical images from Turkey Day – new and improved with color-coding!
As predicted in my previous tactical review, we saw a lot less of the rather static 4-4-2 shape that prevailed against the Czech Rep. once Donovan and Dempsey hit the pitch.
This was especially true during the second half which included some US fireworks. We were not as solid defensively in the first half of this match as we were for the first 44 minutes against the Czech Republic, up until we went in a bit early for halftime, but it’s not a problem that isn’t easily addressed.
To kick things off, here’s a photo from early in Saturday’s match, just after we’d lost possession on the attack and were reorganizing. The US was attacking the near goal in the first half.
US 4-4-2 vs Turkey 4-1-3-2 (All pictures can be enlarged by clicking)
The US (squares) is in a pretty standard 4-4-2 which remained our defensive shape throughout the match. Marked by orange, Altidore (orange, right) tended to be more advanced than Dempsey (orange, left) behind him but they tended to play more as 2 across rather than 1 over 1 which prevented.
Donovan (pink, left) tended to get into more advanced positions, often remaining high up the pitch after we lost possession, with Feilhaber (pink, right) getting back to defend along with Bradley (blue, left) and Clark (blue, right). Our back 4 is quite flat in this photo, as it was throughout the first half, with both Spector and Bocanegra (yellow) dropping off to respect the speed of the Turkish wide players while Goodson and DeMerit (teal) kept a high line.
Turkey (circles) are set up in a 4-1-3-2, with fullbacks (yellow) getting fairly high up the pitch, one holding midfielder (blue), three attacking midfield players (pink) and two forward players (red). One tended to play as a central striker central while the other drifted out into the wide areas, augmented by an attacking midfielder high up the pitch.
Immediately you can see the issue which gave Turkey the upper hand in the first half. Since Dempsey generally didn’t play deep enough to disrupt Turkey’s holding player (blue), Turkey always had three central midfield players against our two.With Clark and Bradley instructed to press high up the pitch, Turkey didn’t dominate the first half, but our midfield tactics caused defensive problems. When the US central midfield looked to pressure Turkey’s midfield, they got sucked too far up the pitch, leaving a Turkish midfielder in space directly in front of our back four. Here’s an example of Clark getting sucked too far upfield.
When Clark Happens – 1st Half: 33:36
The Turkish right back (teal) is in possession heading back towards his own goal. Feilhaber (yellow) pressures to prevent the turn, with Dempsey (Orange) in support. Bradley (blue-right) is up tight on a Turkish midfield player. Clark (blue, left) is pulled towards the ball, too far up the pitch leaving a large space in front of the back four.
With Bradley pulled out towards the wing and in a fairly advanced position, Clark should retreat and keep shape by getting in a position where he can offer defensive support. A slightly deeper route from Dempsey could prevent the ball to Turkey’s holding player (arrow) but instead Clark is stepping up to get tight, allowing another player to slip by him into dangerous space (large pink rectangle).Good US pressure prevents the switch, but Clark’s positioning causes cascading problems, leaving us exposed at the back.
Emergency Defending: 7 seconds later
Turkey’s wide midfielder (red circle) is driving up the wing having beaten Bradley (blue, right) who is now on the floor. Clark (blue, left) has overcommitted and gotten caught behind the play so DeMerit (teal, right) has had to step out into the midfield to cover.
DeMerit is now with his back to the play trying to get back into position as Feilhaber (pink, right) is chases back and Bocanegra (yellow, right) prevents the most dangerous pass into the space DeMerit was pulled out of.A clever ball around Boca to the striker in the inside channel, could put 3 Turkish attackers into the box against two defenders – Goodson (teal, left) and Spector (yellow, left).
Goodson is caught trying to defend two players but takes up a solid position. All in all the situation was not badly defended given the pressure but would have been far more comfortable with a better understanding between Clark and Bradley. These two make a bad pair because they’re both aggressive with similar instincts on the pitch.You can also see Donovan’s tendency to remain higher up the pitch than the rest of the midfield during the first half as he loosely shadows Turkey’s holding player, walking only about 10 yards diagonally between frames.
At times his positioning created more of a 4-3-3 shape, as in the picture below. I’d like to see more awareness from the other midfielders of when Donovan stays in an advanced position so the wide midfielder can tuck in and the midfield line can shift across so the fullback isn’t as isolated as Spector (yellow) frequently was during the first half.
Donovan’s Position High Up the Pitch
Second Half 4-2-2-2 Shape
To start the second half Bob made 3 good substitutions, taking off the ineffective Feilhaber for Findley (red, right) and pushing Dempsey (pink, left) back into midfield, adding an organizing player in his midfield fulcrum with Torres (blue, left) coming on for Clark and bringing wily vet Cherundolo (teal, furthest right) for a struggling Spector, replacing a more traditional fullback with a quicker wingback. These changes worked well, allowing the US to get into our second, more attacking, 4-2-2-2 shape with the US defending the near goal.
You can see this in possession as Bradley is looking to beat Turkey’s three player press and play the ball out the back. Torres stayed put just in front of the back four to organize and set tempo, allowing Bradley more freedom to roam the pitch in possession. Along with Findley coming deep into midfield to link up play, this allowed the US to deal overcome Turkey’s extra midfield player.
Findley’s threat to get behind and good diagonal runs into wide areas opened space for Donovan and Dempsey to be more influential in the build up while Torres deeper positioning freed Bradley to get vertical to his partner creating more penetrative passing routes.
The greatest benefit of this 4-2-2-2 shape is that it allows the US to do what they do best – get into the final third quickly with medium-length passes to feet and through balls into the channels. And indeed it was Findley coming deep and bringing down a long ball from DeMerit nicely before finding Donovan running beyond him with an exquisite lobbed pass that unlocked the Turkish defense. The second goal was a product of Dempsey’s closer proximity to Donovan in the 4-2-2-2 which allowed our two best attacking players to link up centrally from a throw-in to create a great individual goal while Turkey’s defense was primarily occupied with Altidore and Findley.
Another 4-2-2-2 Shot
Bocanegra’s lack of match fitness combined with Dempsey’s narrow positioning eventually tempted Bradley to bring on Bornstein whose overly aggressive approach to 1v1 defending immediately exposed the defense while only marginally adding a forward threat. Bocanegra’s lack of forward runs isn’t a problem as long as Findley makes diagonal runs into the left outside channel that Charlie Davies provided during the Confederations Cup, opening the inside channel for Dempsey to exploit from his narrow position. On the right flank, Donovan (pink, right) tends to provide dynamic width with a run out to the touchline while Cherundolo is a bigger threat to get forward on the overlap.
Defensively, the 4-2-2-2 shape leaves us less vulnerable to the counter than a flat 4-4-2 immediately after we lose possession, since the vertical space on the pitch tends to expand without the back four needing such a high line to maintain good spacing with the midfield. When Bornstein did venture forward, Torres quietly slipped into the left back slot to provide defensive cover and offer support in possession, yet another thing he did well. It was an ironic feature of this match that a midfield player considered to be an attacker (Torres) made us for more defensively solid than one considered primarily a defender (Clark).
Out of possession, Donovan and Dempsey eventually retreat to defend in the classic 4-4-2 shape. Dempsey’s preference for a narrow position can leave us somewhat exposed to a maurauding right back, so the material threat to get behind the defense when that player advances is essential for the system to work. It’s definitely a trade-off worth making, especially if it is made to pay on the counter-attack.
Retreating to 4-4-2 Defensive Phase
Final Thoughts on the Send-off Series
The fluidity with which the US attacked in the second half against Turkey was the first taste in some time of the type of play that made last summer’s Confederation’s Cup team capable of beating anyone. Bob Bradley played it conservatively during qualifying with his cards close to his chest, but he seems to have an approach which could see the US reach a new pinnacle on their second visit to South Africa. The victory against Turkey was actually something new with us hungry to keep possession and breaking down the defense. The goal didn’t come from a lightning counter, but from creating a situation that was like a counter with good running and clever interplay.
It’s no longer an exaggeration to say that only a handful of countries boast better attacking midfield players than Dempsey and Donovan. Michael Bradley is a very good young player if he is simply asked to do what he does best.
The emergence of Holden and Torres on star trajectories, the return from injury of Mo Edu and Beasley’s rediscovery of form have given us tactical options in the midfield that we simply didn’t have last summer. Feilhaber and Clark, two solid players that led last summer’s Confederation’s Cup charge, now provide depth.
While the tragic loss of Charlie Davies to injuries sustained in a car crash made it look like the successful 4-2-2-2 system was no longer a possibility, Robbie Findley’s development seems to have once again provided the key missing piece.
The ability of both Dempsey and Donovan to slide up front adds flexibility while Altidore will benefit from the return to a side that plays to his strength. Buddle and Gomez are different types of dynamic young players that should be able to make solid contributions up front if called upon.
With the strong play of Goodson at centerback, the back line is no thinner than it was during the summer of 2009 despite three key players only just returning from injury. However, Spector is now lacking form and Bornstein is still out of his depth at this level, so our starting wide defenders need to avoid injury and card accumulations. Hopefully, our improved ability to maintain a solid shape and command a fair share of possession means the back line will be under far less pressure this time around.
There is no longer any of the dead weight on Bob Bradley’s bench (Bornstein doesn’t weigh much) that plagued us during 2009. In 2010, Bradley has the players that allow him to change a game with a good substitution so we should expect to see him be more decisive and make them earlier in the match. Hopefully richer resources allowing Bradley to change things when they aren’t going well will bring more consistency. He has developed both a solid 4-4-2 shape and a more attacking 4-2-2-2 shape which should give us just enough tactical variety.
This US team is another improvement on the one that lost to Italy and Brazil twice last summer yet defeated Egypt and Spain. The best part is that the world doesn’t know it yet.