Can’t knock the hustle…
The US is entertaining. Give ‘em that. Hollywood 101N.
Whether it’s a full-scalped Landon Donovan’s shifting crossover against Germany in a 2002 clash that built Oliver Kahn’s lore or going down to nine against eventual 2006 World Cup champs Italy and boxing out a draw. Whether it’s the US’s 2008 Olympic meltdown versus the Dutch, or Landon’s heart-stopping Algeria roller to win the group …. or a last-minute Sean Johnson Olympic berth-preserving
It’s the theatrical.
The US gives their fans something to watch for — and Sunday, even through a deflating ending, was no different as some dude not named Ronaldo ghosted in from the left and left Tim Howard pondering the meaning of life.
The USMNT goes toe-to-toe with Die Mannschaft of Germany early Thursday in a poker game concerned with managing scores and keeping defensive integrity intact. With the US’s stoppage-time capitulation against Portugal and Germany up big on goal tally and differential, this may be a game of red rover where no one gets sent over.
Will the US bunker? Will Germany bunker? Who risks going forward?
It’s no secret that the US under Jürgen Klinsmann has practiced a more pragmatic and conservative approach to “attacking games.”
At Brazil 2014, the US has steadfastly refused to break their shape to create chances up the field.
This is, of course, not out of character for a Klinsmann team that used possession as a defensive mechanism and employed the same three central midfielders in multiple permutations throughout qualifying.
Against Portugal, despite calls to the contrary–including here in our preview–Klinsmann refused to challenge and stretch the heart of the Portuguese defense, electing to employ a 4-5-1 and work 3-vs-2’s on the flanks instead of attacking more vertically.
It was a defensive strategy designed to mitigate risk centrally and beat back Portugal’s full-backs with their lack of cover in their 4-3-3.
It was very Sun Tzu of Klinsmann…
“By persistently hanging on the enemy’s flank, we shall succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief….almost”
I added in that last part there. But in other words, you’re not coming down the middle on us.
It’s taken full tanks of exertion from Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones–who must be in contention for World Cup Best XI at this point.
But perhaps the key to all of this for Klinsmann has been the introduction of Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman in the central midfield role. With Michael Bradley’s attacking capabilities and forward positional defense a must in a States’ attack that’s found it difficult to get chances in the run of play and Jermaine Jones proving to be too much of a destroyer for the deep midfield, Beckerman was re-inserted into the line-up against Nigeria in the final Send-Off game.
The US immediately–and finally–looked balanced.
It’s a role not wholly unlike — though not identical to — the famous libero or sweeper role that Franz Beckenbauer is credited with birthing for West Germany in the late ’70s, in matches that Klinsmann must’ve tuned into in his youth.
It’s a role that progressed forward through German all-time appearances leader Lothar Matthäus who moved aft from the midfield for the 1994 World Cup to pronounced effect. Matthäus was famously was quoted ahead of his team’s knockout round effort against Bulgaria as saying: “I am not here to be a great star but to achieve a team goal.”
That could be the embodiment of Beckerman, who few knew before this most recent US qualifying effort outside of MLS fanatics and the state of Utah.
Let’s bring in Columbus Crew center-back and one of the best technical defenders the US has ever produced, Michael Parkhurst on the necessity of Beckerman’s role and the US’s shape:
“I like the 4-1-4-1 the US played against Portugal.
Beckerman plays a pivotal role in the midfield as the holding ‘6’. He allows the outside backs to get forward and also gives Bradley and Jones the ability get up and help the lone striker.
His job will be even more important against a German team who interchanges positions with their front 6 so well and often plays with a withdrawn striker. Its also important in this formation that the other 2 central midfielders do push up and get into the attack like we saw Bradley do a bit more against Portugal.”
Game on for the RSL captain and US.
You’re not coming down the middle.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.
As usual, it goes:
About The Opponent: Germany
TSG: What Are We Looking For
11 At The Whistle
US Keys To The Match
About The Opponent: Germany
Under Joachim Löw, Germany executed a subtle identity change that had Die Mannschaft bolting through Euro 2012 until they banged up against Italy’s Azzurri–the same Azzurri that bowed out yesterday for the second straight time in the group stage. Pouring out a limoncello for you, Pirlo.
It was that match–a 2-1 defeat at the feet of Mario Balotelli–that toggled the light switch for Löw.
In the 2010 World Cup, and for the majority of that Euro 2012 tournament, Germany sat deep against teams and ignited vicious counterattacks. In the semi versus Italy, the lack of forward pressure meant Italian maestro Pirlo could ping passes forward at his leisure; the sitting deep failed to put the correct pressure on Antonio Cassano, who made himself available between the lines.
Löw, who had largely been aggressive–some thought borderline arrogant–in his player selection and tactics was faced with the realization that he wasn’t squeezing all that was possible out of his team by merely playing defend and counter.
Before the next competitive match in September of 2012, here was Löw’s sentiments on the UEFA web site:
“We will have to completely change our tactics – which used to be, ‘if we have the ball we are active, if not we drop back.
“Our aim in the next months will be to play a high pressing game, even against attacking sides. We have to be more active when defending without the ball.”
Löw is almost executing on those tactics here at Brazil 2014.
Germany steamrolled Portugal in Game One in an absolute masterclass by Löw. With more than six months to prepare for a Portugal 4-3-3 that is anything but dynamic, Löw was surgical in how he attacked Portugal. The Veloso-Alves Chasm, getting in behind Pereira, floating Mesut Ozil out to the space vacated by Ronaldo remaining high in the attack were all targeted to great effect by Löw.
However, with limited time to prepare for a less-telegraphed and physical side, Germany struggled. Falling behind 2-1 against Ghana, it took an old strategy–the cross in the box–and an old World Cup friend–the regal Miraslav Klose getting up off his rocking chair on the sideline and finishing at the far post–to dig out a draw against the physical Black Stars.
Germany rolls out in a 4-3-3 with what appears to be two distinctly tasked bands of “3.”
The first line is comprised of Thomas Müller, Mario Götze and Mesut Özil. The whole key to their attack is range of position and overloading the opposition. Though Özil will usually play a bit deeper and wider than the other two, all three are licensed to find space and create mismatches.
Since the US defense will obviously be zonal in their low block, the ability to effectively pass attackers on as they seep through the zones and/or check to the ball will be critical if the US is to avoid being victimized like Portugal at the hands of Germany.
The next band of “3” is Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Phillip Lahm. They work in unison to synchronously cover the backline while making incisive runs forward and looking to throw defenders off their marks. It is rare to see more than one get up into the attack without the other two staying back, but it happens at times.
Khedira in particular has been late to his rotations when Lahm has advanced. This present an opportunity for the US.
Much has been made of Löw’s perplexing use of four central defenders across his backline.
It appears to make little sense.
Inside is Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker and Dortmund’s Mats Hummels. Despite their club résumés and high popular opinion, neither defender–Hummels due to injury, Mertesacker due to Mertesacker–is dominant, especially when either are asked to pull outside of the center pocket. Both can be caught in the air (see goals from Ghana on Saturday and from Austria in qualifying) or simply caught out (witness Sweden’s repeated abuse of Mertesacker in their 5-3 loss last year).
“Crosses in the air from wide positions will be eaten up by their big, strong back 4. We have to get their CBs running facing their own goal while dealing with crosses, particularly on the ground.”
On the right, is Jérôme Boateng, a player worthy of his position, but who could certainly be used centrally to help narrow the space between the lines with his speed. On the left, is Benedikt Höwedes who Ghana targeted incessantly. It would not be surprising — with Fabian Johnson’s effect on the game — to see Löw go to the bench for Erik Durm, the 22-year-old Dortmund left-back with the explicit instruction to merely keep Johnson in front of him.