This is a guest post by TSG’s Mr. Tuesday.
Keys to breaking down Ghana
Since Ghana play with a holding midfielder, in a flexible system that at times resembles both 4-2-3-1 (against Australia) and 4-1-4-1 (against Germany) they’re intent on locking down the spaces directly in front of their back four. However, when the ball is in their wide areas in the defensive third, Annan quickly drops in to become the second defender in support of his fullback, forming a five-man back line. This means it’ll be important to suck Annan out to the flanks to open spaces in front of the back four. Slip passes will be cut out all day so midfielders must either play it back out wide or shoot whenever they have space within 25 yards. Lahm drawing out Annan to help on the flank combined with Ozil’s willingness to shoot was exactly how Germany found their goal vs Ghana.
Ghana play a pressing style with a very high line. They compress the vertical space limiting space in the midfield. The USA will no longer enjoy the 2v1 situations along the flanks they found against Algeria and instead Donovan and Dempsey will encounter the sort of 2v3 situations Germany faced in the middle third. Boateng or Asamoah will quickly get out to the flank to pressure with their wide players. Still, it’ll be important to use the entire width of the pitch in possession since immediate pressure will limit their time to pick a pass to break the offsides trap.
Against Algeria, the US often employed almost a 4-2-4 shape, defending with four players across the front just outside their own half when their opponent was in possession in their own defensive third. (More on this later.) Interestingly Ghana employed a similar tactic against Germany, trying to limit the time and space available to the German fullbacks in possession by pushing their wide midfielders high up the pitch. This tactic robbed Germany of much of their fluency in possession.
I expect Edu and Bradley to continue in central midfield together. Support from Clint Dempsey coming central from wide areas may be key to holding our own in midfield despite losing the number battle. The US midfielders must have the composure to find the free man centrally. If we come out on top, expect Michael Bradley to have played a key role in the attack.
Bob Bradley, USA’s hustler of a manager, is well aware that speed kills in international football and knows it’ll be important to stretch Ghana’s defense by getting in behind. This is why I fully expect Findley to return to the US lineup. Findley and Altidore must use their speed to try to get behind the Ghanaian full backs and force Annan to cover in wide areas, exposing the high-IQ center back pairing.
Keys to Keeping a Clean Sheet
Against Algeria, one of Gomez or Donovan always slotted into the right mid spot when possession was lost. At times Gomez was tracking Belhadj all the way through the middle third of the pitch while Donovan stayed in an advanced position. No coincidence that Belhadj only became a danger as we pressed on to try to score in the second half. Gomez was excellent, was a constant threat and created tons of space for our other attacking players with his running. Altidore and Findley, restored to the line-up, will need to do a different job against Ghana.
The key to Ghana’s fluency in possession is Annan and their “out” ball from the back is generally between he and Paintsil. We need to defend from the front, but it must be done very differently than we did against Algeria. One of Dempsey stepping up from left midfield, Altidore or Findley dropping deep must always be in the passing lanes between Paintsil and Annan. Findley and Altidore could simply be asked to “front” Annan to prevent him receiving the ball from the back four. Instead, invite the ball straight up the wing to Tagoe, by far the worst passer of the ball on the Ghanaian team, from Paintsil and the USA will frequently be gifted possession.
It’s actually hard to believe but Jonathan Bornstein was very solid at left back and helped keep things far more comfortable against Algeria, despite the USA committing numbers forward. Bocanegra seemed much more assured coming out wide from center back than he does tucking in narrowly from left back. Bornstein was excellent tucking in to form a narrower defensive line whenever a center back was pulled out wide or when Cherundolo had burst forward.
Ghana are quite narrow in the attacking third, which helps explain their difficulties scoring from the run of play. Bornstein has the pace to get out out to a wide player from a narrow position while Bocanegra needs to be more watchful of leaving space on the flank. Tagoe on the left is less of a concern but Asamoah making diagonal runs into the outside channels from central areas might present a bigger problem. Bob has a tough decision whether to stick or twist and restore Onyewu to the line-up.
In midfield, Edu’s positioning was very solid and he was never caught behind the play as Clark often is. He’s got a Viera-like stride and speed to burn when needed. Edu should start and will have an important part in limiting the space of Asamoah, usually the first player to support Gyan from midfield. Boateng is the next player to arrive so Edu and his CBs will have to coordinate handing off marking responsibilities in the danger zone. If they do this well, it’ll free Michael Bradley to play an advanced destroyer role and limit the time and space of Annan to pick the medium-length passes that give Ghana their attacking thrust.
While Algeria was a bit toothless in attack without a proper striker, Ghana have some good quality going forward in Gyan. Their main failing is that they don’t often get sufficient numbers into the box for the number of crosses they send in from wide areas. Of 48 crosses in 3 group games, only 11 found their target. They rely heavily on their midfielders running at defenders 1v1 to create opportunities in the run of play. Our fullbacks must simply show them the wide areas and rely on aerial dominance from our center backs to deal with the danger.