Tuesday’s here. (Pun intended) with a follow-up on how Bob Bradley should play the Slovenia affair.
Keys to breaking down Slovenia:
1. Mobility in and around the box. Our strikers cannot be static in the box, simply standing on the shoulders of the defenders waiting for a cross. Against a defense that drops deep quickly, sometimes the striker’s best run is to create space by standing still as the defense drops before attacking the aggressively ball as it arrives.
At times they will need to come deep and wide to link up play in the hopes of pulling defenders out of shape and creating gaps for late-arriving players to run into. With Donovan and Dempsey narrow positions discomforting the English fullbacks, a similar approach will compress the Slovenian back 4. It’ll be important to get runner’s into the outside channels to exploit the space they create.
2. Get behind the opposition. This is key to getting quality balls into the box but can be a real challenge against a defense like Slovenia’s. Once the defense has dropped deep, our wide players must play the ball back out to a supporting player and make a run along the offside line hoping to curl onto a one-touch return ball behind the defensive line.
Alternatively a striker can make a run coming to the outside along the line and cut the ball back to the wide player slashing into the center after playing the ball. Runs along the lines will open gaps to exploit and the speed of one-touch football denies the defense time to adjust. (I originally wrote this about a month ago, but Gerrard provided a good demonstration for me this type of running on Saturday.)
3. Dictating the attack. One of the CMs Bob normally deploys at the base of midfield in front of the back four will need to dictate play and vary the point of attack with accurate passing. This player must quickly switch play from flank to flank with interplay through the center of midfield. The midfield will also be counted on heavily to finish the chances created by good movement up top and in the wide areas.
The Slovenia match will be young Mike Bradley’s chance to channel his inner Xavi on the biggest stage or Torres could be given the opportunity to announce himself as the true heir to Claudio Reyna. It’s break or break-out time for Jr. It should also be an opportunity for our attacking midfielders to show the extra class they enjoy over their opponents.
The key is to bring the effort and intensity we showed against England to a lessor opponent.
Bob realizes that there’s no better way to create chances against a well-organized defense than to win the ball back in their defensive third. We don’t use our pressing strength as effectively as we should against more defensively inclined teams. Too often we press really well against teams who have more possession but we aren’t set up to do the same after losing possession when we are dictating the play. Strangely we choose to sit off and let them organize their attack. Given Slovenia’s toothlessness in attack this might be tempting, but is the wrong way to go.
Pressing can be more challenging against the deliberate sides that tend to keep a fairly well-organized in shape and spacing even in possession. The US must remember that pressing is not only about closing down space but also limiting passing options. The goal is to force a player to panic in possession or play a risky ball that could be cut out without having to go to ground.
Slovenia play very deliberately out of the back and could make mistakes if pressed effectively. In 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2, the fullback is so often accustomed to having time and space to play the ball. If this is taken away, they can be pressed into giving the ball away in dangerous areas. Since their fullbacks don’t push on, things are slightly different against Slovenia – the key passing lane to disrupt is the diagonal balls from LCB to RCM and RCB to LCM mentioned above as well as the RB-RCB-RCM triangle.
No team can press effectively for 90 minutes. Barca’s amazing onslaught of pressing away to Arsenal in the Champion’s League lasted only 30 minutes. Too often we seem to wear out after pressing with too much effort and not enough intelligence. True-pressing is best done in short spurts (15 minutes to begin a match, 5 and 10 minutes on either side of the half), followed by half-pressing (conceding possession in the opponents half, before pressing just inside your own) or false pressing (pressing with one player). If your striker is always cutting off the pass between the fullback and center-back he doesn’t have to expend much energy to put the fullback under far more pressure. This means other players efforts aren’t wasted with an easy “out” ball. No lunging tackles though, boys.
Preparation For The Whistle
With friendlies against Slovakia, Czech Republic and Turkey in the bag, it seems clear that our preparations were very focused around the Slovenia match. The Czechs were in the same group as Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland. While on a downward trend, the Czechs remain a capable defensive side, conceding just 6 goals in their qualifying group. Their attack is now somewhat less potent than the one that dismantled Bruce Arena’s side in 2006 but our young side successfully broke them down only to concede goals on the counter. This is a good reminder of what a team like Slovenia can do if you get caught up the pitch. They don’t expect many chances so they expect to make them count.
Our defensive concentration seems to be best when we spend the majority of our time defending. Bob will need prepare the side to deal with the transition from attack to defense and to keep defensive concentration in more even matches. It is as often our defensive frailty that hurts us in matches against other counter-attacking sides rather than a real lack of quality in our own attack. A good balance between our commitment to attack and need to defend must be struck.
The whole point of football tactics are to set up individual battles that your players have the best chance of winning given their best qualities. Bob Bradley knows this: “And so again, with everything that we look at, it still does come down to these moments in the game, these plays, an individual making a special play at a moment when it really counts, a team that doesn’t give up.” When you’re faced with 9 players behind the ball, so often it’s that little bit of quality that tells.
With a draw against England in the bag, we should believe in our attacking players. They have enough quality to win Group C.
Up Next: TSG’s Official USA vs. SVN preview….