TSG’s USA vs. Belgium Preview: Dukes With Hazard

Bald is better.

Bald is better. (illustration by Ben Saufley)

The US clicked on their World Cup hazards last Thursday and backed their way into the second round, courtesy of a choppy match against Germany. Kyle Martino Thomas Müller provided the lone tally; a lash from right outside the 18-yard dance floor that spared Tim Howard what would’ve been a futile dive and parry attempt. 1-0 bad guys.

With Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo driving the stake into an infighting Ghana team, both Portugal and the US finished on four points. But not all four points are equal and the US moves on via the tiebreakers.

Against Germany, the US came up against two new challenges in the group stage that Belgium–or a later stage opponent, Thibaut Courtois-willing–should exploit.

First, Thomas Müller–man that guy is good–continually danced along the US back-line. It was cerebral play from Müller and fabulous recognition from Joachim Löw and Germany.

Muller would pick pockets–Inzaghi-like pockets–typically in the channels between a US center-back and full-back–and remain offside. As Germany pushed up the field, the back-line, led by Matt Besler controlling that line, would drop, rendering Muller onside just in time to present himself as an option. Germany created numerous overloads and problems by Müller’s sharp off-ball work.

Compounding this was Germany’s desire to attack the flanks like Portugal did in the second half of the game before. This was not an expected tactic as Germany’s fullbacks–center-backs by at their respective clubs–struggled to get forward against Ghana and before the man advantage against Portugal.

Müller’s movement and Germany pushing their fullbacks would immediately present problems for the US.

The US’s two bands of four were immediately disrupted. On the left which was targeted most frequently, Besler would play “sweeper” defense, looking to come to the aid of DaMarcus Beasley if he got beat and Germany would fill the channel.

Özil, Müller, Boateng, Kroos or Lahm would join the party and the US midfielders, specifically Brad Davis would get caught in no-man’s land, at odds with whether to collapse and help support the channel or stay wide and defend the fullback–as is customary.

The Germans would abuse that left channel so much so that I suggested the US go to a formation featuring two defensive central midfielders to help. The US was lucky to escape a concession in the first 20′.

sdfsdf

(Above) The heat maps for Germany’s midfield three and their full-backs. (Below) Initiated tackles by that same player grouping against the US.

Second, Germany attempted to defend and win the ball in a different place than the US’s other two opponents (see images above). Portugal sat a little deeper for the most part. Ghana pressed high and then dropped after the first pass.

Germany defended in the high middle third and made a concerted effort with their midfield to smartly shutdown the outgoing distribution of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. With less time on the ball, Jones and Bradley were forced to play more square balls rather than passes over the top. They did not have, and could not take, the extra second to let the Fabian Johnson or DaMarcus Beasley overlaps develop. It became Clint Dempsey versus the German rearguard. The latter will win that battle nearly every time as fans saw.

Jones countrymen did him no favors on Thursday as the US barely escaped.

Jones countrymen did him no favors on Thursday as the US barely escaped.

The US, of course, capitulated to this strategy because they didn’t have the legs to get out and run often enough. It’s remains a blueprint for beating the US, who find themselves against tough, but imperfect, opposition in Belgium in the next round–a team whose attack is not all too different in form to Germany’s.

That said, the States’ disposition against the Germans suggested it was attempting to survive the game more than compete.

The US refused to break shape except to send one midfielder beelining up the pitch to the opposing end-line when in possession.  It was a targeted and methodical way of looking to clear space and systemically save the legs of the front six. Both Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones saw a few opportunities come their way from this type of strategy.

For long stretches of the game, the US’s “Big Three” in midfield — Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman — looked to be laboring merely to maintain shape and defensive integrity. They had little left to get up the pitch and attack.

Klinsmann did attempt to get some fresh-leg relief by inserting Brad Davis on the left in a dumpster-fire of an attempt to get some diagonal balls going forward. Despite clocking in with the least pitch time in the Group, Davis struggled to acclimate to World Cup game speed. Klinsmann acknowledged the mistake of his gambit as Davis was the first player sacrificed by the US manager in the 60′ in a like-for-like substitution with Ale Bedoya. Germany repeatedly targeted the side Davis was on until then.

Omar Gonzalez was played in the back and did what he does well: emergency defending.

It was an aggressive substitution by Klinsmann and one likely borne out of watching Mario Götze–who only played as a sub here–and Thomas Muller split central defenders time and time again in qualifying. Through those sets of games, Mesut Özil and Philip Lahm continually found those two players with lofted service from the outside and they often converted.

The Davis insertion may not’ve worked, but Klinsmann gets credit with Gonzalez performing better than most–including here–thought he would.

Regardless of the components and the fatigue, the US moves on and will need to ready itself for its first attempt to get passed the second round in over a decade.

Belgium Red Devils hunting saison.

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview. As usual, it goes….

About The Opponent: Belgium

TSG What Are We Looking For

11 At The Whistle

Keys To The Match

Can he be talismanic in the knockouts? Hazard for Belgium.

Can he be talismanic in the knockouts? Hazard for Belgium.

About the Opponent: Belgium

Belgium arrives in the second round after a soft 3-0 record, slipping their way past every opponent in Group H by a one-goal differential.

They snagged a 2-1 victory that could’ve gone either way versus a tough Algeria side, a 1-0 result against a fits-and-startsy Russian side. And finally another 1-0 win against a hard-working, but unimaginative South Korean team after the Red Devils had gone down to ten men.

The victories, however, extracted their tax.

Center midfielder Steve Defour pocketed himself a shiny new red card to gaze at on the bench Tuesday. Vincent Kompany is still in serious doubt over a groin issue. Thomas Vermaelen is not fully fit as well; he is not expected to play if Kompany cannot go. Leftback Jan Vertoghen–who was having enough difficulty when fit managing the left fullback spot-apparently may have knock as well, but that’s uncomfirmed.

Belgium, however, are in danger of becoming the Alt-J of the soccer world and Brazil 2014. Talented beyond question–only Brazil’s roster surpasses Belgium’s for total player value at the World Cup–but in danger of not managing that talent and extracting everything out of it. Alt-J’s rise to indie pop stardom hit its apex months ago despite talent to the contrary.

The cliched refrain you’ll hear on the Red Devils over the next few days is the “sum does not equal the parts.” Despite wonderful individual talent, Belgium still struggles with individuality in attack–a notion of drive-and-shoot/dish rather than motion offense. Many of the players are the same age and, though Vincent Kompany is their captain, there isn’t a natural hierarchy of core-support-squad players. It’s all just “squad.” This notion has been further excerabed by Belgium manager Marc Wilmots, codename: Warpig in his playing days, rotating the front six quite frequently. Though communicated as a big to keep players fresh; it’s hurt continuity.

Depending who you speak to, manager Wilmots’ squad either deploy in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Really, the only difference is in how high they get their wingers and whether they are pushing two or one midfielder into the attack.

Defensively, Belgium claim to be a pressing team but that’s a dangerous description for it. They’ll occasionally go through spells when they’ll press high when commanding the run of play; but, if not, they’ll usually just retreat behind the halfway line and attempt to loosely swarm the ball. <– i.e. not pressing defense. Sampaoli would be mortified.

At the top of the attack for Belgium is Romelu Lukaku, a curious talent in the same vein as Jozy Altidore. (Note: Odd seeing Altidore in street clothes and with the team. Is he rehabbing? Enquiring minds would like to know.)

Lukaku came alive this year at Everton under Roberto Martinez after waiting for his turn at Chelsea. By all regards, Lukaku has huge potential, but suffers from the same “big man” syndrome that Altidore does. Though blessed with a sturdy physique, he–like Altidore–is more comfortable sweeping wide and running the channel than playing as a target-man–think Thierry Henry more than Victor Anichebe. Wilmots also appears to be having a difficult time managing the confidence of Lukaku alternately condemning his efforts and then publicly commenting a few days ago that Lukaku puts too much pressure on himself. True to from, Wilmots has been tinkering with inserting Lille youngster, 19-year-old Divock Origi–only brought due to Christian Benteke’s absence–in Lukaku’s spot. Again, breaking continuity.

Origi though is a premium version of a young Juan Agudelo and will threaten the US if he gets in there.

A possible Belgium deployment on Tuesday.

A possible Belgium deployment on Tuesday.

The next band of a three is some permutation of Eden Hazard, Kevin DeBruyne, Dres Mertens, Adnan Januzaj and Kevin Mirallas. DeBruyne and Hazard are mainstays in the line-up with Hazard the key player who owns the LFW spot. Here’s Geoff Cameron when I asked him about Hazard–who he defended when Chelsea played Stoke–in the US training camp.

“Hazard? He’s a really shifty player. One second he’s there you blink and then he’s over there. You just work to keep him in front of you and contain him.”

The challenge for Wilmots here is that none of the lot likely to run the right toughline and going wide is the way to beat a DaMarcus Beasley–Januzaj, Mertens and Mirallas all like to come inside. Look for Wilmots to likely start Mertens on the right, but see him switch often with DeBruyne who has some of that wide right ability.

The two central midfield selections come from a grouping of Alex Witsel, Moussa Dembele and Manchester United giant Fellaini with Witsel owning the deep CDM role. More on this group below.

It’s in the back where Wilmots face a selection challenge. If Kompany can’t go, it’s a big loss for Belgium. While others can replace most of his quality in the back and his aerial prowess, no CB steps as high and strongly as Kompany to compress the space between the lines–a space that’s often exploited by opponents anyway.

The Red Devils backline will likely Toby Alderweireld, Daniel van Buyten, Nicolas Lombaerts–if both Kompany and Vermaelen can’t go–and Jan Vertonghen.

In the back is the marvelous Thibualt Courtois who merely helped Atletico Madrid to the Champion’s League final this year with some spectacular saves against the team he was on loan from–Chelsea.

The big man between the sticks for the Red Devils.

The big man between the sticks for the Red Devils. (design by Don Whelan)

Upon review, despite the embarrassing wealth of talent Belgium has, a few clear warts stand out:

⇒ The midfield engine: Witsel, Fellaini, Dembele and, at times, Chadl struggle to move the ball effectively up the field.

Belgium likes their wing play, but if the guy offering you the ball is passing it from deep or not drawing a defender by attempting to dribble, those wingers have to check back to the ball…far. This has been a key breakdown in the attack for Belgium–the ability of their midfield to get into the attack on the dribble or with an incisive pass. Additionally, only Dembele among those midfield options makes any sort of penetrating, looking-for-the-give-and-go run. That lack of movement further bogs down the attacking process.

Below are the passing charts from the Russia and Algeria games for Witsel, Fellaini and Dembele. Terrific pass completion, but all of them sideways.

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In defense, all three players can be terrific man-markers when they apply themselves, but too often they are lackadaisical about their shape or just plain negligent.

Below is a sequence of passing from Croatia in a 1-1 draw in qualifying that leads to a goal. Dembele and Defour are drawn high and Witsel is left to track and support the winger. It’s a broken play, but nobody is covering the trailing runner. A nearly identical sort of breakdown with a late trailer happened for Germany’s second goal when they discarded the Red Devils from Euro 2012 qualifying, 3-1. This is normally Michael Bradley country, but can the US get out on the run.

belgium_center_mid

⇒ Compromising the fullbacks: Like the Germans, the main concern for the Belgians coming into the World Cup was their fullback play. Seven out of the eight defenders on the roster inhabit the center-back spot at their clubs. Pairing their converted fullbacks–with their lack of pace and awareness–with some of the porous play of the midfield is the perfect set of ingredients for attacking Belgium’s flanks as all three Group H opponents did.

Here’s Belgium’s lone concession in group play below. Lack of awareness and urgency in the midfield is the catalyst to Algeria going left-to-right and earning a penalty which they would convert.

The Algerian team finds their forward between the lines who checks to the ball--bringing aSDFASdfasd with him--and drops it back to the distributor. Next their wingback flies ahead and bangs across in the box far post. Algeria's far wingback has put Vertoghen on a luau stick. Roasted. Penalty.

The Algerian team finds their forward between the lines, who checks to the ball–bringing Alderwereld with him–and drops it back to the distributor. Next their wingback flies ahead and bangs a cross in the box far post. Algeria’s far runner, Sofiane Feghouli has put Vertonghen on a luau stick. Roasted. Penalty.

And the coach… Wilmots’ game-by-game tactical decisions throughout the group have been curious and bear discussion here.

Against Algeria, a team that packs numbers centrally, Wilmots elected to deploy Nacer Chadli and Kevin De Bruyne, with Moussa Dembele carrying possession from deep in an attempt to fight their way through the opposition. With Hazard cutting in and DeBruyne coming central as well, Belgium didn’t have any room to work. Algeria threw their full-backs up on a turnover and threatened (discussed above.). It wasn’t until Fellaini was brought on late that Belgium really started moving the ball, using the big Manchester United man almost as a false-nine to be a high pivot and manage distribution.

Against Russia, Wilmots attempted the same strategy that closed the Algeria game. However Russia effectively dealt with Lukaku and Fellaini centrally and it wasn’t until Wilmots brought on the speed merchant Origi and showed linking intitiative late that Belgium looked anything like a class team.

Against the States, a bit of pick your poison. It would not surprise me to see Fellaini high and occupying Kyle Beckerman and dishing to runners. This would force Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones deeper than they want to be and make it a challenge for the US to play on the floor vertically to Dempsey or quickly wide to their fullback options.

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TSG What Are We Looking For:

* Possession Mongering & Plan B.

(Building on the point from the last paragraph….)

Twenty-three minutes.

That’s the number of minutes the US had Jozy Altidore — and, in turn, their hopes of running players off of him after finding him on an outlet.

Twenty-five.

That’s the number of touches Clint Dempsey had on the ball in the attacking third in the two games following Jozy’s trip to the caprihini stand.

That’s not going to cut it. And further, that’s putting a lot of pressure on your defense if your guy up top is getting one touch every 7.5 minutes or so in an area where he can do something with it.

Against Portugal, the US had some success throwing Fabian Johnson forward on the right in support Dempsey for outlets. Against Germany, with the flanks being virtually shut down, Jones, Davis and Zusi took turns supporting Dempsey, while Bradley held back a little more.

The US needs to have a Plan B ready if they can’t support Dempsey up top.

With Bradley not having his best matches on the ball, Dempsey wearing down during games, and Eddie Johnson not being in Brazil, the US needs to get more productive off-ball movement from its wide players and or consider bringing in someone to support Dempsey up top — be it another striker or even a Mix Diskerud sitting underneath. Yes, we’re going eleven outfielders. Hardly ever been done as far my web searches tell me.

But in all seriousness. If the flanks aren’t working the US needs a plan before they take the pitch. Maybe it’s Zusi coming to the middle to support in more of a 4-2-3-1–doesn’t matter. Can’t do the same thing over and over again unless you produce results.

* Mowing the Garden of Eden

If Belgium tend to defer to anyone up top, it’s Chelsea hitman Eden Hazard.

Algeria kept their fullback Mehdi Mostefa matched up on Hazard all day,  but also ran their key central midfielder Sofiane Feghouli out there for support. Belgium countered by basically giving up on routing through Hazard in the second half and instead found success through the reception, heading and distribution of Fellaini.

Against Russia, playing in a 3-5-2 for the most part, Hazard should’ve been dangerous, but Russia ran two and three men at him every time he had the ball.

Hazard, who loves in-cutting as many of his ilk do, didn’t have any overlapping support to drag away help in either of those matches — and likely won’t on Tuesday.

In a previous preview–USA vs. Ukraine–we discussed Geoff Cameron’s challenges with handling Hazard for club and country (below is club).

The question more for the US will be how to manage the threat of Hazard without compromising the attack. The US could go one of three ways and Belgium’s squad selection on the day will show you what they’re thinking.

The US could elect to cover over the top with a midfielder–like Ale Bedoya. They could slot Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman at right-central defensive midfield and task either with basically stopping the in-cut and forcing Hazard wide.

Could this be the pairing when the whistle blow Tuesday?

Could this be the pairing when the whistle blows Tuesday?

Or they could be aggressive out of the gate and put a DeAndre Yedlin into the line-up and basically force Hazard to help out with the trouble on that flank presented by an advanced Yedlin and a forward-thinking Fabian Johnson trailing just behind.

Here’s the crib sheet for what to look for:

1) If the US goes with option A (Bedoya with over the top support) then the concern is Origi up top, who can dart through channels. Lukaku, of course, can as well but he’s not going to round a player like Cameron as frequently.

2) If the US goes with a CDM support, then watch for how much Fellaini, Chadli, or even Witsel advance into the attack. Witsel particularly has his long bomb game dialed. This tactic would force a lot of work out of a Pinocchio-nosed Jermaine Jones.  It’s not favored here.

3) If the US goes with Yedlin then there is concern of this becoming an end-to-end, high tempo’d affair where Hazard could still squirt out on a change of possession after the US has advanced on their right flank. This would be an aggressive approach for Klinsmann, who has favored a more measured, pragmatic style of play.

Klinsmann has been pragmatic to a fault thus far here at the World Cup, but this is the knockout stage and each game demands its own strategy. It’d be hard to fault a strategy even if fails where the US doesn’t attack Belgium’s left flank immediately out of the gate and see what it’s failover centerback defense can do or not do.

* Unfriendly Skies

Only one team conceded less in run-up play to the World Cup per game than Belgium: Spain. That meant something totally different when I researched it about a month ago.

Belgium holds a decided advantage on service into either box. In defense, Courtois swallows anything skyward and if he can’t get to it, the likes of Kompany, Vertonghen, Vermaelen and Fellaini ably contend with aerial challenges.

Those who’ve read TSG for years know TSG’s love affair with Fellaini–the Everton days that is.

So have to trot out the old tribute video

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In the attack all of the four–and specifically Fellaini–are UEFA class threats on set pieces.

If you’re attempting to stop a set piece by playing defense in the box, you’ve already lost. The key is ball pressure outside the area when players are in range of being able to float one in. And limiting the fouls.

The best opportunity to defend set pieces and service in the box versus Belgium is not letting them happen. And that’s not easy when service in the box comes from wingers like Hazard who you don’t want to crowd.

A possible US deployment on Tuesday.

A possible US deployment on Tuesday.

11 At The Whistle

GK: Tim Howard

The skinny: Sterling when he needed to be. Only the current Memo Ochoa with a two-second headstart makes a save on that Müller beauty.

DEF: Fab Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley

The skinny: Maybe the call was to give Geoff Cameron a physical or mental respite. Either way, the call worked. But unless it’s an injury, the decision between Cameron & Gonzalez will be a critical one…even for a kaiser whose on a roll.

You have to fearful–especially is Lukaku plays–about the US ability to defend set pieces. Gonzalez struggled through the year on doing his job–winning the skies–but he was solid against Germany.

But then you have the threat of Belgium’s mighty mites and could easily select Cameron for his speed.

The shout here if for Cameron. Because TSG favors Cameron but the money should be on Gonzalez.

CMF: Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley

Beckerman: A nose for the ball...

Beckerman: A nose for the ball…

The skinny: Hey, if that “Barka” training coach in Oregon is still out there, spoiler alert! I’m about to use an American football reference to parallel soccer again. Fair warning. Fair warning.

Here’s the way to think about how the US central midfielders are functioning right now. Michael Bradley is the central linebacker. Jermaine Jones, the strong safety. Kyle Beckerman, the free safety.

“Blow-up” tacklers in the NFL often like playing the strong safety role–the linebackers ahead of them eat up the blockers. Same here with Bradley. He’s still bringing down the running back often enough, but he’s got to take-on/navigate a blocking back or offensive lineman first.

Kyle Beckerman, by design, is there to help clean-up wherever’s necessary and support the cornerbacks (fullbacks).

Okay, now back to more serious analysis.

What are the odds for the next snoz to get crushed. Glad you asked:

Beckerman: Even money

Dempsey again: 2:1

Fab Johnson: 4:1

Besler: 7:2

Jones again: 10:1

RM/LM: Graham Zusi, Ale Bedoya (DeAndre Yedlin)

The skinny: First, let’s address the former.  Graham Zusi’s crosses have been perfect … if he’s aiming them well short of the near post. (Yes, of course, save the John Brooks noggin-knocker that basically was the group difference.) That’s got to improve. And Zusi hasn’t really had many . But he’s not looking off or away from the ball. He’s making himself available. Zusi can be a playmaker in between the lines in this one and still make it back to play cover defense over DaMarcus Beasley.

STR: Clint Dempsey 

The skinny: Dempsey–like Bradley–is sacrificing for the team by playing an unaccustomed position for the US, taking a beating and filling the role. In short, he’s being a captain.

Keys To The Match for the US:

⇒ Mark Fellaini on set pieces. No sh*t.

⇒ Don’t get isolated 1-v-1 vs. DeBruyne, Hazard & Co. on the outside.

⇒ Hassle Witsel in possession; pull him out of the center if you can in the attack.

⇒ Put pressure on Belgium immediately. They are slow starters & strong finishers.

⇒ Attack the flanks incessantly. Force support–a win–and switch field accordingly.

Note: We’re going to take a break on previews if the US gets to the next round. We’ll be back, perhaps, in the semis. :>

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32 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve on 2014/06/29 at 10:14 PM

    Using American Football references don’t help when your readers have no clue what any of that means. Try sticking with association football… uh… associations.

    Reply

    • Posted by CJ on 2014/06/30 at 12:31 PM

      I like the variety Mattew brings into it… if you can’t understand American Football references then you can simply work around them in the read…

      Reply

  2. Posted by Bob smith on 2014/06/29 at 10:37 PM

    Don’t agree. Wondo or Johannsonn have to start. It’s as simple as that. We have to create more chances and be able to hold the ball up top. My preference is for Wondo but either will do.

    Will be so disappointed if we go out losing like vs. Germany. At least give ourselves a chance to create opportunities. We’ve rode Jones legs 1 too many games and I’m worried about Beasley as well, we are wasting Dempsey up top by himself. 4 games in 2 weeks is too much, there is a reason Champions league teams carry basically 2 squads.

    ——–Wondo————–Dempsey——-
    ———————Bradley——————–
    —–Jones———————Bedoya——
    ——————–Beckman——————-
    Chandler—-Besler—-Gonzo—Johnson

    Reply

    • Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/06/30 at 8:41 AM

      Jesse Marsch, who has been doing some amazing WC coverage for MLS, agrees with you: http://www.mlssoccer.com/video/2014/06/29/usa-vs-belgium-world-cup-knockout-round-preview-brazil-bound

      I’m really torn about putting on another forward and getting Jones out of his wheelhouse in the middle.

      Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/30 at 8:46 AM

      The comparable versus Germany is a poor one. Belgium don’t press nearly as well and the US had heavy legs.

      But the US does need own the ball more. The question is how to do it. A 4-4-2 diamond makes sense, especially if AronJo is fit enough to start and get behind Belgium, but the answer really isn’t about about whether it’s two forwards or not. It’s supporting Dempsey which the US did in only one game–Portugal–by getting Fabian and Yedlin advancing.

      The US should be able to match or better Belgium’s midfield. If they do that, whether it’s 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 or whatever they’ll get chances. Belgium at minimum has been very vulnerable for years to the wings. How you go get there–forward making a corner run or FB making an overlap run–is the second question.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/06/30 at 5:53 AM

    I think you could pin 3 of Belgiums 4 goals last year at least partially on Gonzalez. Ball watching on the first (parried save from Howard), second for dribbling backward in the box straight to KDB. The 3rd though, was a headed knockdown by his mark Fellaini. No easy task for anyone.

    Cameron wasn’t perfect either, and equally culpable on the first goal, but he bagged our only legit goal of the 2013 Belgium game, heading in on a second ball off a corner.

    I’d go w Cameron. Omar playing the 2 games of his life in a row seems highly unlikely.

    But if I were the coach, honestly, I’d probably just ask Matt Besler who he wants to partner with.

    Reply

    • Does anyone else think the back line needs to push higher? It seems like they are playing awful deep and leaving acres of space for Bradley, Jones, and Beckerman to cover. It limits teams getting behind but it makes it difficult to get possession back.

      Reply

      • When Omar’s on the field, it’s almost impossible to ask your back four to step forward that much.

        Reply

        • Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/06/30 at 8:44 AM

          Goes without saying that part of our backline playing higher has to come as a result of our midfield possessing the ball higher and holding onto the ball in midfield and the attacking third. More than a high line from our defense, I want to see our midfield and attack (and defense) all possessing the ball higher.

          Also, check out Belgium’s 4th goal in the friendly last year. Comes from a nasty chip over a highline to an onrushing Benteke, who actually outruns Matt Besler. Thats the danger.

          Reply

  4. Posted by Steele on 2014/06/30 at 6:57 AM

    No Breaks!!!!! Loving this analysis

    Reply

  5. Posted by drew on 2014/06/30 at 8:18 AM

    If the US are chasing the game, I feel that we need to sub in Mix for Zusi, push Jones slightly to the left and allow for an attacking 4-2-3-1. If we need to add balls into the box, throw in Davis and Cameron. The Cameron call is based on the idea that he’s an aerial threat and Altidore is not healthy enough. He also keeps defensive cover in the event that the game heads into extra time.

    Reply

  6. Just thinking out of the box… does anyone think this looks like a good formation?

    ———-Wondo————
    ———-Deuce————-
    Jones————–Bedoya/Zusi
    ——Bradley-Becks——
    Beas-Besler-Cameron-Johnson

    Its a 4-2-3-1. I’m just not sure Bradley has looked good enough to continue to push forward. I’m not entirely sure Wondo is best but I do feel he’s better in lone striker than Johannson. This allows Deuce to move around more in midfield as he would have has Altidore not gone down. Jones on the left side helps protect Beasley and Bradley is still allowed to go forward with Beckerman behind him. Bedoya/Zusi can still backup Johnson when he goes forward. My biggest concern would be Jones moving up field too far while Bradley is up field and Beasley leaving a big whole on left side. I really feel moving Bradley back to CM would be better for him with the ability to manage the game better from farther back and still able to go forward.

    I don’t mind Bob Smith’s idea above either.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/30 at 8:52 AM

      With Courtois and the Belgium centerbacks, I think you really have to feel “this is Wondo’s game” to start him. They eat up everything in the air.

      That Croatia cross on the floor is by design. You want to play on the floor against Belgium.

      So you really have to believe that Wondo is on form to run him out here against Germany as a starter.

      Reply

  7. Question: Should we be concerned with Fellani 6’4, Lombaerts 6’3, Van Buyten 6’5, Kompany 6’5 (not positive he’ll start), and Lukaku 6’3?

    If we go with TSG’s starting 11, I only see Gonzalez 6’5, Besler 6’2, Bradley 6’1, Dempsey 6’1, Jones 6’0-6’1, and Bedoya 5’11. There is definitely a height advantage but Germany may have had one too.

    I’m surprised no one has asked why Cameron is not in starting 11? Or why not even consider in Beckerman’s spot? I’m starting to wonder if we could see Cameron start for Beckerman.

    Yellows:
    Jones
    Beckerman
    ?

    Reply

    • Posted by Arthur on 2014/06/30 at 5:08 PM

      Adrian: Nice thoughts. I think the US’s physical ability (esp. strength) and fitness helps prevent Belgium’s size from being an issue. I am more worried that we will mix up assignments, or decide to go zone to mark runners, rather than a height difference.

      On Cameron. I do agree we need to get him in the starting eleven. I would prefer not to pull him for Beckerman, as that seems to screw with the balance he, Jones, and Bradley have created. Perhaps slotting Cameron at right back, and moving Johnson to left wing, is an option. If Jozy cannot start, we will need to increase our offensive attack, especially if Clint is alone at striker. Pushing Johnson further up the field allows him to get more touches inside the attacking third, which is where he has been particularly dangerous in Brazil. This option does mess with the back and midfield lines, so it faces the same worries I posed for your suggestion. The team needs to figure out a way to create more chances, beyond simply keeping more possession.

      Reply

  8. Posted by jon on 2014/06/30 at 11:48 AM

    I have seen some analysis showing the US backline was out of sync against Germany, requiring Gonzales to make more emergency clearances than necessary. Though Gonzales made only one clear mistake and very early on, I seem to recall during qualifying a pattern of players getting in behind the Gonzales/Besler pairing. The US has to respect the aerial threat posed by Belgium, but I feel like Cameron is just more reliable, even despite the gaffes against Portugal.

    I definitely feel like Yedlin has to see the field against Belgium, unless the US is up a goal or more.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Troy on 2014/06/30 at 1:11 PM

    So hard to say what US approach will give the best chance for a quality possession/attacking game. There are people getting paid a lot of money to make these decisions, and I hope they’re up to it.

    That said, I have a few thoughts I pray Klinsman and his staff are thinking about as well:

    1) I think Belgium (like Germany) will have seen the Portugal game and will know how to deal with Johnson coming forward. They’ll also anticipate the Yedlin 70 minute speed sub. That can’t be our only option for supporting Dempsey up top.

    2) Learn a lesson from our own group stage games and the other CONCACAF teams in the round of the 16: if you get a 1 goal lead, don’t put on the breaks. Sooner or later, the fatigue and drama will lead to an equalizer. A 1 goal lead is not safe. Go get another. If you’re possessing/attacking, they aren’t. Counterattacks are a danger, but there’s too much attacking quality on the Belgium side (and every other side we’ll face from here on out) to think you’ll be able to just sit on a 1 goal lead and kill the clock.

    3) Wondo time. Wondo isn’t a sexy pick, but that guy is a competitor with great positioning instincts (his positioning is his quality underlying the punditry’s descriptions of him as a guy with “a knack for scoring goals”). Look at the friendly earlier this year against Mexico where he played opposite Dempsey with the Bradley topping the diamond. His instinct to go near side goal and then back off and run far side when he sees Bradley making the nearside late run; that change shows some real attacking awareness that could cause big problems for Belgium’s back four.

    I also think it’d be a real shame if we went out of this World Cup having left Dempsey alone up top and never let this guy had his chance absent the ‘go kill time’ 10 minutes he got against Portugal (during which he did beautifully I might add). I believe in Klinsman’s mission of progressing the US to a team that possesses and attacks. Time for him to put his money where his mouth is when it counts.

    (As an aside, I haven’t been too quick to get on the Wondo bandwagon. But after that Germany game, if it looks like the same thing is going to happen against Belgium, I think you need to do more than just trade out midfielders.)

    4) Save Altidore as a sub. Reports are coming that he’s cleared/fit. If you start him early and he re-injures his hamstring, you have to burn a crucial sub. Better to start early, see what you can get without him. If it’s even or you’re down after half time, bring him in and roll the dice.

    Reply

    • Posted by Freegle on 2014/06/30 at 6:38 PM

      If Altidore plays he has to start… Better to burn a sub on him than to burn a sub to bring him and then potentially need to burn a second sub if he gets hurt. Then we’ve REALLY wasted a sub which we cannot afford in a knockout match with potential overtime.

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/30 at 9:41 PM

        Agree. If you *could* get 65′ out of Altidore (and I don’t think he gets a sniff of the field in this one), that’s the way to do it. Let him give Clint help up top for 65′ if he can hack it.

        Reply

      • Posted by Kirk on 2014/06/30 at 10:07 PM

        Better to not take any chances… leave Jozy on the bench.There is ittle chance he is fully fit. Why bother? It’s why you bring 23 players. A Jozy at 70% just isn’t that good.

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/30 at 10:49 PM

          Well passed the point of lunacy of not bringing a back-up. This game is how much you want Kompany and Van Buyten…van Buyten is tough… hammering on Dempsey in the air.

          Reply

          • Posted by jon on 2014/07/01 at 5:16 AM

            I have to say, I do not think Klinsmann’s decision to leave Boyd (or especially EJ) out was “lunacy.” Even if Boyd is stylistically similar to Jozy, Klinsi must have thought he could not hack it and would just have been a “fool’s” back-up. A hold up player who cannot hold up the ball is not really worth deploying. I am not saying I feel Boyd would have struggled that much, but given the way most of the squad is built to be 2 deep in each position, I cannot imagine the Boyd/EJ decision was made lightly.

            Reply

            • Posted by KickinNames... on 2014/07/01 at 7:23 AM

              But again the Green inclusion rears its ugly head. With Davis also apparently out of his depth that’s 2 spots that could have been used to include a holdup sub that is so essential to the style that they play. It keeps coming up because the situation continues to plague them as the physicaly brutal conditions have become a 12th man in the tournament. With only 23 slots it’s imperative to bring those who give you the best chance to compete and advance not send messages to the past (LD) OR the future (Green). Rant completed….

              I’ll now wait for Schmutzie to begin “quoting” and lecturing on how questioning Klinsman is ridiculous because I haven’t talked to him directly…Times yours….

            • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/07/01 at 8:51 AM

              Hard to make that claim on Boyd’s or EJ’s ability to hack it when you see Davis’s single appearance against Germany. EJ would’ve made three World Cups if he wasn’t injured in 2010.

              “At 6ft 1in Eddie has the presence that will complement the other forwards within our squad and he has the ability to offer us another dimension to our attacking play. I have made no secret of the fact that I believe the squad lacks a certain balance in specific areas of the team and following the loss of Brian McBride to injury.” Hodgson for Fulham in *2008*.

              Never been about ability with Eddie Johnson.

              Jay DeMerit (Watford, Prem // South Africa 2010) calls him one of the toughest target striker he’s ever went up against.

    • Posted by Soccertes on 2014/07/01 at 5:39 AM

      This is a fantastic comment, Troy. Thanks. God I love the analysis here! Keep it up everyone.

      Reply

  10. Posted by chrisoralen on 2014/06/30 at 5:44 PM

    While Beckerman has been outstanding this WC, I’ve always viewed his insertion as more of a tactical ‘training wheels’.

    I get it, we had a tough group and Beckerman allows both a defensive security blanket and the opportunity for Jones and Bradley to create more havoc offensively, but at the same time I really feel our offensive punch has suffered because of it. Shame Jozy isn’t 100% fit. I’d love for Jurgen to unleash the original 4-2-3-1 that gave us so much success in 2013.

    Reply

    • Posted by FellainisFro on 2014/06/30 at 10:16 PM

      I was once in your shoes. I derided Beckerman constantly on his lack of offensive chops. His constant square or back passes. This past year and especially through the three group games I have come to appreciate exactly what he brings to the team and game. Your right he does not bring an offensive punch, even he admits it himself. But what he is asked to do he does very well which is help cover the back line from marauding attacks down the center. Through his positioning skill and reading the game he puts out a lot of fires before the become conflagrations. As a fifth defensive specialist this allows others including Johnson to join the attack without leaving the back line completely open to counters in number. Their may be others with better offensive skills, but he as a career long MLS guy in his first World Cup, I have yet to see a so called World Class player own him.

      P.S Who knew my sign in name would come back to haunt me in the four years since I have been using it.

      Reply

      • Posted by the original jb on 2014/07/01 at 5:59 AM

        Love the postscript! Agree with your post, and as a longtime Beckerman fan (and I readily admit my bias), I would like to add that Beckerman does possess some offensive chops, as we have seen with RSL, but with the USMNT he has been tasked with a strict role as the DCM and (I presume) has been ordered to hang back at almost all times.

        I agree with the others that we must be aggressive in this one, possess the ball, and attack. This being the best defense against giving their playmakers too much time with the ball. We seem to have an advantage in “team chemistry” so the point about jumping on them early is very important, maybe if we score early or even just outpossess them and get them on their heels they get frustrated and our chance of winning increases.

        Reply

  11. […] Get your game preview fix from the wonderful minds of the guys over at The Shin Guardian and The Yanks Are […]

    Reply

  12. Posted by Eiffel on 2014/07/01 at 4:44 AM

    Thanks!

    The quality of these implies that they take a while to do. I hope you have to take a break!

    Reply

  13. Posted by ATroy on 2014/07/01 at 4:52 AM

    Klinsmann’s lineup decision is really intriguing to me. There are so many ways he can go, and I really appreciate Matt taking the time to point out some of these options available to Jurgen.

    I’m of the belief you cannot continue to “hang on” against the best the world has to offer, and hope to get a lucky bounce here or there in order to even give yourself a chance at an attack. That is the way the Germany game felt, and very large portions of the Ghana match. I just don’t see that as a strategy that can hold true for very long and see continued success.

    I feel like this could be an opportunity to take the game to Belgium. I LOVE what Beckerman has done so far in this Cup, but I feel like now could be the time to move Bradley back to his more natural “free safety” role, as Matt put it, and insert Mix as the #10. IF Jozy is available, bring him on for the last 20-25 minutes for Mix, move Clint back to the #10. Think about possibly starting Yedlin opposite Zusi/Bedoya on the flank. Put Hazard in a position where he has to decide if it is worth it to track back to help contain Yedlin/Johnson. And, if you are planning to see more of the ball today, use Cameron instead of Omar. Cameron has played against many of these Belgian attackers in the BPL. I also feel he handles the ball better under pressure than Omar (minus the Portugal fiasco).

    Make Belgium feel the pressure and adjust to your tactics rather than vice versa, which we’ve seen for the majority of the group games.

    Reply

  14. Posted by KickinNames... on 2014/07/01 at 7:32 AM

    Matt,

    Not to be redundant here but I have to thank you once again for providing the best, balanced analysis that I’ve found anywhere on this great land called The Internet.

    Look forward to whatever your life can churn out. Maybe just open a dialogue for tonites match and let the collective genius of your followers fill in the blanks…Greatly appreciate what you do and we have to figure out how to get you paid for this stuff….

    Reply

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