….or Fear and Loathing in South Africa by Fabio Capello as communicated to TSG’s “Tuesday.”
A lot has happen in the two months since GeorgeCross and I had first crack at breaking down the England vs USA match-up here on TSG. Way back then, a lot of our analysis focused on players that aren’t even in South Africa. George was rubbing his hands with Glee about the things that Walcott would do to our left back while I was hoping Charlie Davies would be fit enough to make the diagonal runs that troubled the best team in the world in South Africa last summer.
Turns out George and I both had some seriously defective crystal on hand.
We don’t want any of our readers to invite all their friends around in the spirit of Free Beer Movement only for Saturday afternoon to end in uncomfortable silences as none of your friends know how to console you to the prospect having to hear “better luck next time, guess that 1950 thing was a one-off” from every insufferable English person on the planet for the next 60 years. So, here is Tuesday’s recipe for a successful soccer day out on Saturday.
Let’s just right in shall we? Here’s how I see things lining up on Saturday:
Starting 11s: England’s qualifying 4-2-3-1 vs USA 4-4-2 with Beasley recalled to the left
Your Opponent: Eng-ER-Land
Yes, every four years England sprouts an extra syllable as the populace works themselves up into frothy excitement leading up to the World Cup. Reports out of England indicate that Barry returned to training as of June 4, but has not passed fit for the England’s opening match. His fitness remains a cloud over England’s chances in South Africa.
In Barry’s absence Capello some difficult choices: Trust in the experiments that produced forgettable performances while getting results in friendlies against Mexico and Japan to come good against the USA, or have faith in Michael Carrick as Barry’s deputy in the 4-2-3-1 with which England had success in qualifying. With two fairly similar players Gerrard and Lampard in a central midfield pairing, England often tends to lack good tempo in the middle of the pitch, and are far less coherent in possession. England still present serious danger, attacking with directness and able to strike out of nothing. Clearly, Capello doesn’t think much of the long-term prospect without Barry since he named hims to the team despite his injury.
Despite his goals Crouch doesn’t have the same effect of increasing Rooney’s influence so Heskey seems likely to return as the battering ram that creates space for England’s talismanic striker. New captain Steven Gerrard starts ostensibly from the left with enjoy considerable freedom to interchange positions with Rooney while England are in possession. With Walcott watching on telly back in England, we should expect to see Lennon start on the right, a more complete player with similar speed. Lennon tends not to be as inclined to stay out in space on the touchline and instead comes to find the game, sometimes robbing England of their only natural width. These four players are joined in the attack with forward forays of Ashley Cole and the well-timed arrival of Frank Lampard and his new band, The Missed Penalties.
Alternatively, England could better accomodate Lampard and Gerrard in a 4-4-2 were the Liverpool man playing further forward in the hole behind Rooney with the Heskey battering ram relegated to the spare parts shed. This position has often seemed to be the one that gets the best out of Gerrard and the choice may be a clearer choice for Capello now that Rooney has developed into a bona-fide leader of the line at Manchester United. The likely midfield partner for Lampard would still have to be Carrick, but a space would be available on the left for either Joe Cole or James Milner, both players that could improve England’s ability to maintain possession.
With such uncertainty further forward, the questions at the back are fewer even after Ferdinand’s training ground injury ruled him out of the Cup. It is widely expected that King will slot in to partner Terry at center back. The main question is whether Johnson starts at right back, despite some shaky defensive performances. If Capello is feeling more conservative, we’ll see Liverpool Captain Jamie Carragher return in the fullback slot he once despised enough to prefer international retirement. The US would be glad to be spared the threat Johnson brings when joining the attack. GeorgeCross was absolutely right, none of the USA’s fullbacks are going to score from the sort of strike Johnson hit against Mexico.
Capello has a mix of different attacking options he can bring off the bench in the form of Joe Cole, Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Shaun Wright-Phillips while Milner is his jack-of-all trades that can plug almost any gap. Players that I don’t expect to play much role for England in South Africa are the back-up left back Stephen Warnock and Rio-replacement Mikey Dawson. I would expect to see Upson feature as the next choice at CB.
Your Very Own USA Yanks (You-Say-Yanks)
Bob Bradley’s real worries come at the back and the front of his team while an embarrassment of riches by our historical standards cause him problems in the middle of the park. The consensus here at TSG is that Bradley will start conservatively in the first half and try to keep things level through the first 45 minutes, despite the successful return of last summers counter-attacking 4-2-2-2 in the second half against Turkey.
Three starting defenders came into training camp not fully recovered from injuries, but we should nonetheless expect DeMerit and Onyewu to slot back into the center with Bocanegra at left back. US hopes rest on these guys being able to go for 90 minutes, allowing Bradley to make tactical changes rather than spending his substitution on personnel changes.
Goodson is a passable back-up but Bornstein showed that his inclusion could be full of Apocolyptic possibilities as soon as he stepped on the pitch against Turkey. After a shaky first 10 minutes where he over-committed to the ball and sprang an Aussie counter with a ball to no one in the center of midfield, Bornstein seemed to settle and be a little more assured. Don’t expect him to figure against England, but don’t count him out… ever. Unfortunately.
At right back, Bradley has to select from two options: Spector – a more traditional fullback, larger, more physical and perhaps better equiped to tuck in and deal with Gerrard’s attempts to cut inside – or Steve Cherundolo – a veteran wing-back whose quickness and ability to get forward could come in handy. In good form, each player offers about the same influence going forward and defensively with each having different qualities. It seems almost certain that ‘Dolo has won the battle for Bob Bradley’s confidence given Spector’s indifferent form.
After seeing Dempsey start up top in the final Send-Off Series match, I believe the same pair will be Bob’s preference against England, as long as Altidore is recovered from his training knock. Otherwise we’ll see Buddle start with his confidence high after netting a brace against the Aussies. The solid running of Findley against Australia, despite eye-catching goal-mouth failures, also make him a potential starter. After months of despairing the loss of World Cup absentee Charlie Davies, the quality of our strike force has come as quite a pleasant surprise.
However, if Dempsey slots up top, he needs to play a little deeper and do a better job as the bridge between the central striker and midfield. Altidore is just not a ball-winner and prefers the ball to feet with time to turn and run at the defense. That simply didn’t happen in the first half against Turkey. England would love us to resort to knocking long balls towards John Terry’s head all day and if that’s the game-plan Edson Buddle, who was dominant knocking down air balls for Findley against the Socceroos, is the right man for the job.
If Bob feels he needs to add defensive solidity to resist England’s strength in midfield, I think he gives the start to either Stu Holden on the right or DaMarcus Beasley on the left. Up until this point, I’ve been in favor of Stu Holden working the right side of midfield since England’s build up favors the left while. Alternatively, Beasley could provide speed to help Bocanegra deal with Lennon and Johnson when space opens for them.
Holden has the strength to mix with Stevie G and the little bit of extra speed to cope with an onrushing Ashley Cole. He kept both Sneijder and Elia well-contained on from a narrow right position against Holland until he was injured by a De Jong tackle. He is more than capable of putting in a sturdy defensive shift at a very high level while adding the threat of a quality final ball whenever he gets the chance to join the attack. I think a start for Holden would improve our chances.
Despite his ability to play up top, Dempsey is far more dangerous coming from midfield and he must be on the pitch for a full 90 minutes. If Bob has decided that Dempsey’s threat makes up for whatever he lacks defensively, we could see a differnt strike partner for Altidore.
On the opposite flank, Donovan will be first to provide attacking support from midfield. Expect him to stay in more advanced positions as he did at times against Turkey, looking to get forward as much as possible both in wide areas on the left and coming centrally to link up with Dempsey and Altidore. Hopefully his speed on the counter will give England’s fullbacks second thoughts about bursting forward.
Much has been made about the potential pairing of Jose Torres with Mikey Bradley at the base of midfield. Since Barry isn’t fit to play, I see this as a more serious possibility given that England struggle to maintain possession in his absence. Bradley seems to prefer Ricardo Clark paired with Bradley, giving both players 90 minutes against Australia. I would prefer Mo Edu to Clark. Edu is a more conservative defensive player whose superior positioning makes him quicker in play than the speedier Clark, who is too often clicking off the kilometers in recovering runs from poor positions. I would love to see Torres get a real chance in a starting role, but I think that’ll have to wait for the later group-stage matches.
While TSG reported that Bradley instructed Clark and Bradley to press high up the pitch against Turkey, two marauding players who tend to leave a vacancy just in front of the back four seems like an invitation that Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard just don’t need. This tactic was modified against Australia, with one player pressing while the other supported positionally.
2nd Frame possibilities: England 4-2-3-1 vs a USA 4-4-2 with Findley up top
Highlighting Key Battles
The US must defend against England from the front, something Buddle and Findley did an excellent job with against Australia. Findley frequently dropped deep to pressure the base of Australia’s midfield and deny space for Grella to operate. This led directly to the first US goal. Whichever striker is deepest needs to drop deep to disrupt the base of England’s midfield, whether its the out-of-form Carrick or Gerrard.
With Barry out, England could struggle in possession if pressed effectively just after they win possession and as they attempt to enter the attacking half of the pitch. Overzealous pressure could be punished once it is broken, so it must be intelligent without over-committing. Bradley’s preference for Clark seems to have to do with his speed and ability to press. Clark could actually play a very important role against England if he can get close enough to Lampard to disrupt his ability to set tempo for England’s attack without getting pulled out of shape.
England’s build-up tends to favor their left flank, with Ashley Cole overlapping Steven Gerrard as he cuts inside. Capello looks for his right midfield player to hug the touchline before England look to play quickly through the middle to the player in space on the right as they enter the final third. It was this movement that repeatedly terrorized Croatia, England avenging their absence at EURO 2008with their best result in qualifying. If one half of our central midfield pair is pressing high up the pitch, the other must maintain shape in this area to prevent England from playing through us out to a player in space on the right.
The US must decide how best to deal with England’s movement on the left. Gerrard cuts inside in combination with Ashley Cole providing width on the overlap. Bradley may follow Cruyff’s adage “every disadvantage has its advantage” and deploy Donovan in advanced positions on the right flank in the hopes of getting behind Cole and pulling Terry out wide. This could make Cole reluctant to get forward but the US must be convincing in the attack for it to work.
What more likely is Mourinho’s solution to the attacking fullback – using advanced wingers to track their advance all the way to the fullback position if neccessary. If England line up with Gerrard to the left, regardless of formation, Bob should have Clark or Bradley track Gerrard’s central runs, leaving Dolo to keep shape in anticipation of Cole’s overlap. Whenever England’s left flank player stays wide, Dolo should track the first runner and look for a defensive midfielder to tuck in behind to help deal with a late cut-in.
Since his running is also key to reigning in the advance of England’s attacking fullbacks Findley should see significant time during the match and could potentially find himself starting up top. During the second half against Turkey and again versus Australia, Findley frequently takes up wide starting positions and makes diagonal runs into the outside channels when Dempsey cuts inside from the left.
Rather than having the left back provide width like England, Findley’s running provides dynamic width to conmpensate for Dempsey’s narrow positioning leaving Bocanegra at left back primarily concerned with defending and supporting the midfield in possession. When Findley found himself above Donovan on the right he would come short, dragging out a central defender as Donovan ran beyond him to get behind the defense. This amount of pace could seriously trouble an isolated John Terry.
Findley is something like our Heskey – he offers great running and movement that makes the entire team better. This is exactly what Charlie Davies did that was crucial to last summer’s South African success. Findley is also excellent at taking down the ball, though his final ball and composure in front of goal too often let him down. The fact that he needed these three paragraphs has almost convinced me that he should rightfully start.
I suspect Bob was testing out tactics that weren’t particularly suited to Turkey, who have natural width on the left, but a trial for England. I think Landon’s staying in advanced positions on the right was designed to pin back Ashley Cole rather than trouble Turkey. These tea leaves make me suspect that while Holden will be given the chance to continue his stellar run of form, he could be doing it from the left of midfield.
Findley would likely be Bradley’s first attacking substitution if he doesn’t start. If the USA were down a goal but not being dominated in the match since England were struggling in possession, Bradley will likely bring on Torres at the center of midfield to set tempo and take the initiative from England. I’m not so sure this wouldn’t be a clever move from the start since England are without Barry. With the rise of Torres, Feilhaber seems to have dropped from first attacking option off the bench to the bottom of the central midfield depth chart in the space of a year.
With Both Buddle and Gomez primed to make contributions on the bench, Bradley has good options up front. Buddle was dominant in the air against Australia, making it possible that he could be a surprise starter. Buddle has similar speed and strength to Jozy but is more of a target forward and a much better ball-winner. Gomez is a flat-out goalscorer who’s quickly developing a Crouch-like goal scoring record with 2 goals in about 55 minutes in the pre-World Cup friendlies. Gomez movement and quickness is outstanding and his ability to find the right space in the box is uncanny.
Beasley is a great substitute for when we have a lead – he offers enough threat on the counter to keep the chasing team honest while being excellent at coming back to help defensively. As a starter, I’m afraid he might end up playing too deep to help with Lennon, giving Glen Johnson too much space and inviting England onto us. While this could create counterattacking opertunities, it is playing with fire.
Bradley could also bring on Edu for Clark if we had a lead as a substitute to go more defensive. As mentioned above, Clark is speedier and better at pressing, but if you’re absorbing pressure Edu is better in the air, stronger, better positioning and more tactically aware. The consensus among those that cover the US team seems to be there’s really nothing Clark has over Edu, besides perhaps Bradley’s favor.
I expect all of these players to make big contributions during the 2010 World Cup. England is just one game, but it’s going to be one hell of a game.