(Dropping our official TSG preview a little early for ya.)
Can you believe we’ve got the third group game coming up already?
In January, I had suggested that the Yanks would draw with England, beat Slovenia and then hammer Algeria.
I’ll back well off my Algerian proclamation. With a well-earned draw against an albeit listless Three Lions squad, Algeria is very much alive for play in the next round. They’ll give the Yanks a fight with their formation, their threatening left flank and because the United States can’t seem to keep a clean sheet.
Donovan and company, though, should win this one.
Of importance for the Americans’ defense is that Algeria, who employ an offensive 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 system depending o how you evaluate it, like to gun it down the flanks. The Yanks three goals conceded thus far in World Cup 2010 have come from runs and off-ball movement in the central pitch. That’s a good note; a better one? The Desert Foxes goal tally at World Cup Jabulani? They haven’t put one in yet and by my review haven’t hit the woodwork either.
However, Algeria should not be underestimated because at present they are defending quite well–long a knock on the squad–and they’ve got speed to match their US counterparts.
The dangerous duo on the port side for Algeria are Wolfsburg midfielder Karin Ziani, a magician with the ball and Nadir Belhadj,1-part Maicon, 2-parts Ashley Cole and 3-parts Peruvian and Fiorentina wingback Juan Vargas (TSG has spoken about the Fiorentina man before, just YouTube him). However, the Belhadj cocktail sorts out, he’s a dangerous player for Algeria. He comes forward fast, strong, with an array of breakdown moves that will have Steve Cherundolo burning fuel all day long.
The Algerians will typically try two things when attacking.
On the right, will be a garden variety diagonal run to the flag followed by a flood from the attacking midfielders of Medhi Lacen and Portsmouth Hassan Yebda followed by Foued Kadir.
The players receiving the ball, whether it be Ryad Boudebouz, who plays with Charlie Davies at Sochaux, or Karim Matmour, who plays with Michael Bradley at Bo’Munchen, have enough speed to turn the corner if the opportunity presents itself. More than likely they’ll hold it up and try to work the triangles of players to free someone for a cross or shot.
How Bob Bradley deploys and instructs both his central defenders and his wide midfielders will be vital to snuffing out possession from the Algerians on the flanks.
On defense, the Algerians will settle their wingbacks in a slightly advanced position on the backline, presenting the Yanks with a 5-4-1 look as the two advanced forwards will come back and splay wide (see diagram above).
If the Yanks don’t get after it on the counterattack, they’re going to need to unlock a defense that’s proven more disciplined than during Algeria’s mundane Africa Cup run earlier this year. The one soft spot appears to be sometimes in the middle where the Foxes can be late on collapsing (sound familiar?).
To the Yanks’ advantage, Algeria like to the play the up-and-down game so the Yanks should be able to show their counterattack.
Now for our customary preview. As usual we go:
TSG What We’re Looking For
11 at the Whistle
TSG What We’re Looking For
Can the States win the war of attrition on their right flank and Algeria’s left?
Algerian’s right flank attack was defined above, but all the players shift over there open a lot of turf for Algeria’s two strongest, most accomplished players.
The left flank will be the battle within the battle. Wolfburg star Karin Ziani and Portsmouth and rumored-to-be Barca-bound wingbacker Nadir Belhadj have plenty of skill they carry down the left. While Ziana can beat you with the pass and wandering dribble, Belhadj will go wide often, play a cross, beat a defender, or merely line-up a wicked shot. He’s got it by the way.
Knocking them back will be the likely threesome of Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore dragging into the same space he exploited against Slovenia. Cherundolo will be a busy man on the day. If he can shackle Behadj like he did Ashley Cole, the Yanks will knockout the major offensive initiative of Algeria.
•Do they have Wheaties in South Africa because the aforementioned Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanega will need to handle a flood of speedy flankers and perhaps be tasked in the attack.
Both England (Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson) and Slovenia (primarily Bojan Jokic) tried to get forward to and counter down the flanks when Algerian’s wingbackers got caught up the pitch. Neither team was successful because of great interior help defending by the Algerians.
I think you’ll see Bocanegra stay home more–and frankly his presence defending the US left flank scares me–but you’ll see Cherundolo get forward as mentioned.
• Track Karin Ziani
Didn’t TSG mention Ziani already? Yes, and we’ll do it again.
Ziana is that important to mention again. He’s kind of like Algeria’s Monta Ellis. He’ll draw the defense, but not always drop the assist.
Don’t defend him and he’ll light you, but his team may only win one out of ten games when he does this.
If the Yanks don’t handle Ziani–meaning be aware of him, send help– they might become the one in that statistic.
•Don’t be afraid to shoot and win the service in the box.
In my opinion, it was absolutely poor that the Three Lions didn’t shoot more on Algeria–they resorted to “cute” cut back passes. Algeria dropped goalie Faouzi Chaouchi who bungled a Robert Koren shot to give Slovenia a win in the opening game for Bulgarian League keeper of the year Rais ‘Bolhi.
Bolhi didn’t look particularly strong against England, but he was only truly tested once.
Right in front of Bolhi is a very disciplined if not physically imposing side. In another poor tactical move, England often kept their best target forward Emile Heskey out wide to run up the right flank. Beyond Maurice Edu’s Ranger teammate, Madjid Bougherra, the Algerians are not big and should be tested in the air.
The Foxes nearly lost their ticket to South Africa after Egypt battled back through the air to force a winner-take-all game in qualification.
Landon Donovan has the service for it and the Yanks shouldn’t waste it.
11 At The Whistle
*Remember, this is what we think Bob Bradley will do.
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Howard, upon review, looks like he took a questionable angle to the 2nd Slovenian goal so he didn’t have to dive right and land on his bad rib(s). The US team has to keep the pressure off Howard and not force him into uncompromising save situations.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit,Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra
The skinny: Not only can Bob Bradley be second-guessed for playing Oguchi Onyewu in both games thus far, now he can be second-guessed for getting no one else ready. In my opinion, whether Gooch merits a breather in this one or not, he has to play. Everyone else has been sitting.
As we saw with Jose Torres (and as we’ve seen with Onyewu), minimal game reps make for lack of sharpness.
Carlos Bocanegra cannot be turned on the outside and Steve Cherundolo has to be “smart” in his forward forays.
MID: Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, *Stu Holden
The skinny: The question of Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark to pair Michael Bradley in the midfield will likely come down how Coach Sweatpants chooses to deploy son Michael. If Bradley is going to attack aggressively up the pitch which may be the play against a 4-5-1 then you’ll see Maurice Edu in more of the holding role you saw him inhabit in the 2nd against Slovenia.
If Bradley elects to go standard 4-2-2-2, then you’ll see Rico Clark, who will also be deployed on the right to shut down Ziana on a counter when Donovan pushes forward.
I’m betting that Dempsey moves up top for this one. His replacement? I think it’s either *Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber or even DaMarcus Beasley. Holden plays defense and can be useful on set piece service. Benny’s got experience and was on the field for the Game 2 comeback. Beasley? He’s got the left foot and speed to deal with the Algerians on the right.
My odds distribution on this one (Holden 45%, Beasley, 35%, Benny 20%).
It’s a toss-up in my mind.
FW: Clint Dempsey, STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: The Yanks didn’t find Dempsey enough against Slovenia and I think this may the game to move him up top. Algeria can sometimes be lackadaisical in the center of their defensive third as they’re late getting back from an attack. Perfect for Dempsey to sneak into the open space behind Altidore.
Altidore will drag in front of Donovan to open space. Herculez Gomez will surely be used in this game and most likely in his customary role off the bench.
• Buddle enters for Findley and the Yanks start off with Dempsey in the midfield
This is essentially the other line-up that Bradley goes with. I just don’t see it because I don’t think that Bradley trusts Dempsey’s help over Bocanegra here when the Algerians are fresh. It’s worth noting that until his offense was needed, it was Donovan over Bocanegra on the left against Slovenia, not Dempsey.
• Bradley elects to play two traditional fore-cheking central midfielders and Rico pairs Junior
Frankly, I think this it’s another toss-up between Rico and Junior starting.
Clark can be used to cover on runs by Dolo and Donovan up the right flank and also man-mark Ziana if called on.
• Move Bocanegra inside and try out Jonathan Spector or “that other guy”
The US should not get beat through the air by Algeria. Having Onyewu’s big body in there for this one is not essential like it was versus Novakovic for Slovenia and Heskey for England.
• Onyewu gives way to Clarence Goodson
In a World Cup where Bob Bradley has deviated from you qualifying playbook with a number of surprises, I’m not ready to discount anything with Coach Sweatpants.
Pivotal players: Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez