See this: “*”
That asterisk is a huge disclaimer on this match.
You have a Spain team with many players coming off an arduous and elongated (read: Champion’s League schedule) club season preceded by a lengthy World Cup run. Victory and dominance may be invigorating, but a whole year of it for the Spaniards? Who could blame most of the players if they took a few late night sojourns to Top of the Hub, Toro or some other full service Beantown late night dining location?
The last time Landon Donovan, Bob Bradley and company played Spain, the States emerged victorious through a gritty 2-0 win that saw big plays from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. The US absorbed wave and wave of attack while displaying some pretty nifty counterattacking to get the “w.”
It was a batten up the hatches and defend the spine at all costs approach as Bradley’s battalion survived more than thrived.
But there were undeniably glimpses that game of the moxie that the team if not the specific players would show a year later on the same stage: Altidore with a dastardly seal-off-and-score job on his then-teammate Joan Capdevila, Clint Dempsey throwing junk all night and getting loose on multiple occasions, Tim Howard with more than one magnificent save and Charlie Davies continually flummoxing Spain’s defense, driving back defenders with non-stop angular runs.
The tactics and execution were applauded by managers and media alike, none more praiseworthy that English tactical guru Jonathan Wilson.
This Saturday the US takes on Spain again, this time on the home soil of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30pm EST, 1:30pm PST.
Spain brings with them a near A+ class team that will look to dominate possession and slot passes to in-cutting forwards in Pedro and David Villa.
Perhaps as many as eight or even nine players that take the field Saturday in the ‘Borough will be the same starters who were on the pitch that day in 2009 when the US halted Spain’s 35-match unbeaten streak.
Without further adieu we get to our traditional TSG preview. It goes:
TSG: What are we looking for/at?
11 At The Whistle
TSG: What are we looking for?
1) What’s Bob looking for here?
Well, what’s Bob looking for here? Because it’s not specifically clear.
We know the the following from Bradley’s friendly match history against quality opponents. He plays conservatively in the first half and goes for it in the second. Against the top level opponents, he rarely risks multiple new inclusions in the squad.
For this specific friendly, the strategy by Coach Bradley less clear.
Just three days later the US will play the first of three important group stage games in the Gold Cup. There’s fatigue–key fullbacks Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra are now in their thirties. There’s testing out the mettle of the non-core players, like Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj. And there’s the need to have a good showing to build momentum for the CONCACAF tournament.
All need to be balanced by Bradley.
Hard to predict what specifically what Bradley will do here, but you’ll likely get the Argentina deployment model of veterans in the first half followed by at least three scripted substitutions in the second. History has shown Bradley introduces subs earlier–one or two at the half–if the team is trailing and usually waits to the 65th minute if the team is the equal or better of their opponent.
2) No Jay DeMerit. Uh-oh?
The impact of Jay DeMerit on the defense against explosive offensive sides cannot be understated.
DeMerit may make an “I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that” play once or twice a game, but his presence in the line-up is invaluable to the Yanks for two reasons: 1) he’s adept at knowing when to come up aggressively and win a tackle or 50-50 ball that immediately thwarts an attack and when to stay back and 2) he’s got an innate sense of knowing when to play help defense on the right flank and when to stay at home.
Through the past two years–be it Steve Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector on the corner–DeMerit always seems to be Jay-on-the-spot if an attacker breaks down the flank.
Against Spain, no such luxury with DeMerit with his club team, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
So what does Bob Bradley do? He’ll obviously help out per usual with a central midfielder covering over the central defender on the right, that most likely being Jermaine Jones.
Does Bradley go with Oguchi Onyewu in DeMerit’s spot and test the veteran further against the likes of Pedro and Iniesta?
Or does Bradley go with Clarence Goodson–a player who has been prone to one gaffe in the box per game for the States, but who is probably on form more than any other central defender for the States right now. Additionally, in terms of exhibiting “DeMeritness,” Goodson probably is the closest.
….Or does Bradley go with both and sit the promising lefty Tim Ream who’s been off-form lately?
3) Who plays the Charlie Davies role?
Last time up against Spain, a fully fit and committed Charlie Davies did an outstanding job, especially down the left flank, of pulling Spanish defenders out of the center of the pitch and opening up the transition game. The movement was instrumental in Jozy Altidore notching the first US goal by sliding into the center of a sagging Spain defense and turning his mark, leading to a score.
No Charlie Davies this time for Bob Bradley and Juan Agudelo–the best physically to mimic Davies offball movement–has just not exhibited Davies off-ball prowess to date. Agudelo has preferred in his nascent career to wander back or wide looking for the ball or jut back to space as oppose to forward.
Perhaps Bradley has given Agudelo enough of an education for him to handle the chore–and to show he has the all important Bob Bradley defensive chops–to have the Coach employ the same game plan.
If Agudelo–or even Chris Wondolowski who moves extremely well without the ball despite lacking pace–are not up for that task yet, more than likely you’re going to see the Yanks start out in some manner of a 4-5-1 with Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, and Michael Bradley all in the midfield with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore ahead of them.
This seems more plausible if only because Agudelo’s impact off the bench if Spain plays a high defensive line is more appealing than Wondolowski or an advanced Clint Dempsey.
4) Can Landon Donovan get loose against The Fall Guy, Sergio Busquets?
Perhaps a minor point on the evening in Foxborough, but the young Busquets, despite his theatrics, has been a phenomenal defender for club and country over the past year continually marking the opposition’s #10 or striker out of the match. Busquests will be charged for a good portion of the game with containing Landon Donovan.
Given Donovan’s penchant for
sometimes being content to be in the background and let the game come to him getting taken out of his game by aggressive man-marking, this match-up will bear watching on Saturday. Donovan needs to show a little more in this department
First of all, this is not your complete La Furia Roja.
Missing from the Spanish contingent headed to Boston: Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Puyol and Jesus Navas.
Whereas Argentina present a similar looking pitch complexion to Spain; the attack manners of the two teams are decidedly different.
Argentina, through primarily the feet of Messi and DiMaria, attempt to drive-and-dish so to speak, looking to force the issue and either beat a defender or draw another and then find the open player with a pass. Argentina’s midfield hub looks for individual match-ups to exploit and then swings the offensive support to complement that attack.
Spain is decidedly more methodical and patient in possession. Their offense a “beautiful” struggle between creating space and width balanced with interior runs that create a scoring opportunity with one pass.
Though maestro Xavi is missing, expect Spain to use the seasoned feet and decision-making of Iniesta and the off-ball movement in the middle and rely on Pedro and David Villa to dissect–or attempt to dissect–the States’ defense ahead of him.
The mimicking of Xavi will be the biggest inflection point to Spain’s Saturday attack.
Iniesta–the accomplished passer and attacker who typically slots out to the left for Spain–has been the typical selection (3-2 Spain win over Scotland, October 2010) to play inside when Xavi and Fabregas are both absent. In the scenario below, Iniesta moves to the middle, while Pedro slots out left, and David Silva plays a somewhat “Iniesta-looking” role on the right.
(Another wrinkle here on Iniesta moving centrally is the addition of Santi Cazorla–instead of Silva perhaps. As Pedro and Cazorla can play with either foot, this deployment would give manager Vincente Del Bosque more flexibility without substitution.)
Iniesta to the center, however, is a suboptimal deployment for Spain here for two reasons in our opinion.
First, Iniesta’s slight frame would face a constant barrage of hits, tugs and swats from the interior of the States central defense in at least Michael Bradley and one or more of Edu and Jones; the La Masia graduate has been banged up all year and might falter if he lacks desire and needs to put up with physical play for 90 minutes.
Second, taking Iniesta off the flank removes his best skillset, knowing when to move his attack vector inside or outside depending on the opponent’s defense and where he can receive the ball.
When Iniesta aligns with the edge of the box, the threat of his dribble usually forces the wing defender to collapse and opens up the flank for a run from the fullback.
Thus Del Bosque has another, though less probable option here–though recommended by TSG.
He could choose to keep Iniesta in the withdrawn forward role on the left and insert Borja Valero, instead, in the “Xavi” role.
Valero has yet to start for Spain in 2011 and has but a single cap in 2009 to his resume, but the Villarreal man was extraordinary for Villarreal during the ’10-’11 campaign at being the creative link in the center of the pitch.
In the back, it’s near status quo for the Iberians.
The long-maned Carlos Puyol misses out on the trip and Spain will empoy Barca veteran Gerard Pique in the middle with ex-Liverpool man Alvaro Arbeloa.
Both of these players are excellent, but they can get caught out against quick attackers.
Pique and Arbeloa will be bookended by Joan Capdevila on the left and either Sergio Ramos or his Real Madrid brethern Raul Albiol on the right. The elder Capdevila, 33, can get up in the attack, but Spain is more likely to play off-center to the left with the ball and see Ramos or Albiol bomb on the right if they want width through a fullback.
Iker Casillas–without his girlfriend standing guard unfortunately–keeps the net.
11 At The Whistle
Summary: TSG spent no less than five hours contemplating what Bob Bradley might do here.
And despite our head telling us–because of the roster and his most recent experiments–Bradley will go with a 4-2-3-1, we go with our gut.
We’ll go with the Yanks employing a narrow 4-4-2 here to counteract Spain’s 4-2-3-1. The main impetus for this selection is that we expect Bob Bradley to defend the interior at all costs (the States’ deployment will often look more like a 4-2-2-2) and then use the counterattack, primarily on the left, to pin back the Spanish fullback advancement and or exploit it.
G: Tim Howard
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra
The skinny: Gut feeling tells me Bob Bradley wants to get a good look at Clarence Goodson in advance of the Gold Cup after Goodson was unable to make the March camps with an injury. A bet there that he starts here; the Denmark league star has earned it.
With Bocanegra staying out wide, it will play into Bradley’s countterattack strategy as the left side of Spain’s attack is sucked in with the open space on the wing.
A quick turnover in possession and perhaps the Yanks can get vertical in a hurry in the exposed, vacated space.
CM: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley
MID: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey
The skinny: Jones and Bradley protect the backline and provide cover over the flanks where some coupling of Spain’ Silva, Pedro and-or Cazorla will put ample pressure on the Bocanegra and Cherundolo.
Donovan and Dempsey will be used in transition and also come back centrally to defend deep-lying Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets on defense. The understanding (and experience) of Donovan and Dempsey knowing when to stay narrow is vital to the strategy working on defense.
STR: Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo
The skinny: The pairing of Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo will be tasked with dragging Spain’s central defenders to the wings and keeping Spain’s outside backs from getting forward or getting in behind them. Agudelo matches up on the left with Donovan, while Jozy works with Clint on the right–at least to start.
Bradley–as he is wont to do on many occasions–will mix and match Donovan and Dempsey and their forward counterparts depending on Spain’s tactical moves.
• The US goes 4-2-3-1; Edu steps in for Agudelo
» The skinny: Using this formation, the US typically likes to pummel the rear left flank (the Yanks’ right flank) of the opponent. Cherundolo bombs up the pitch, Jozy drags across the backline and Clint Dempsey enters.
The conduit of the attack is Landon Donovan.
A different wrinkle here if this is the case and I see Bob Bradley moving Michael Bradley up into the CM role as oppose to Maurice Edu who occupied that spot against Argentina.
• Jonathan Bornstein goes out left, Carlos Bocanegra to the center
» The skinny: Given that we believe a Goodson start is in the offing, this would put Onyewu on the bench. Not likely, but with Spain little threat through the air–unless they start Llorente–that’s not necessarily a bad decision. All up to Gooch’s fitness, so hard to call this one with Bob Bradley.
• Tim Ream for Goodson.
» The skinny: Hard to believe an off-form Ream gets the start against Spain, but….
• Chris Wondolowksi for Juan Agudelo up top. Wondo plays target man to Altidore’s free role.
» The skinny: Stranger things have happened. Was just fun to throw this one in there.